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Critical Narratology at Work

(Sasha Vojkovic, 2001, Subjectivity in the New Hollywood Cinema, Amsterdam: ASCA press)

In the beginning of the book Sasha Vojkovic’s proclaims that the basis of her methodology are the narratological insights of Mieke Bal. However, narratology is used here as a tool for cultural analysis, a project that is influenced to a great extent by the diverse traditions of Marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction and feminism. Blending of such different approaches in the study of culture is quite in agreement with Bal’s notion of narratology as a tool for cultural analysis, but it is hardly in accordance with Vojkovic’s implementation of Bal’s cleverly conceived analytical tools. Films discussed (mostly made by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and George Lucas) are probably good material for understanding Bal’s concepts of external and internal focalisation, but Vojkovic practically equates the point-of-view shot (subjektivni kadar in Croatian terminology) with internal focalisation.

Equating looking with focalising, she fails to grasp various possibilities for character-based focalisation in shots that show the character — focalisor. Vojkovic’s notion of the levels of narration is also somewhat unclear; especially when she claims that shots focalised externally are in fact on a higher narrative level than point-of-view shots. In addition to that, although allegedly strongly influenced by psychoanalysis and deconstruction, Vojkovic operates with a strangely strict selection of significant concepts from these traditions, at the same time equating suture with focalisation and insisting on différence merely as on a convenient tool of a rather traditional semantic analysis.

It is in her narratological attempts, however, that Vojkovic inflicts the greatest damage to her analytical effort. Some of her conclusions could actually serve as (quite obvious but nevertheless intriguing) starting points for an analysis (i. e. the loss and the traces of father in E. T.), whereas others would have hardly been possible had her narratological muscle been more strongly flexed (such conclusion is the one about the inclusion of the concerns of contemporary epistemology influenced by feminism and postmodernism in the banal Back to the Future). Since some of Vojkovic’s insights on the relation of story versus history, the crisis of male subjectivity and Hollywoods attempt to rescue and repair the patriarchal law-of-the-father are in fact quite clever (and revealing of the author’s erudition), it is a pity she has chosen narratology for her starting point.

Nikica Gilić

Krešimir Mikić: Film in Teaching Media Culture (2001, Zagreb: Educa)

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