About us
Croatian film


Narration and Space

A single concept has dominated theoretical considerations of filmic space and position. Mainstream mimetic theories, much like diegetic theories, attribute every image to an invisible observer incarnated in the camera, making the observer at once narrator and spectator. The totalised space built up from editing is thus attributed to an idealised invisible witness, the occupant of an absolute position. The discourse becomes a series of views whose source is the viewer’s position.

Just as there is more to narration than the camera, claims David Bordwell, so is there more to cinematic space than effects of the viewer’s position. Instead of seeing the spectator as the apex of a literal or metaphorical pyramid of vision, we can treat the construction of space dynamically. The syuzhet’s presentation of information can be facilitated or blocked by the style’s representation of space. No theory of narration can omit the question of position, but it needs to be integrated into a broader account of how films mobilize spatial perception and cognition for storytelling ends.

On an example of ideal positioning shot/reverse shot, Bordwell points to limitations of Jean-Pierre Oudart’s suture theory. Oudart claims that in shot/reverse shot figure, the first shot entails a space offscreen, behind the camera, ’the fourth side, a pure field of absence’. The next shot in the series reveals that something occupies that offscreen space. The viewer has to anticipate and recall: the first shot foreshadows what could replace it, while the second image makes sense only as an answer to its predecessor. The suture works by creating gaps and filling them up, imposing the existence of some imagined space shown in the next shot.

Bordwell thinks that Oudart makes a step towards the characterization of observational activities performed by the viewer — anticipation, recall and recognition of the space narration represents, however, introducing the phantom narrator as the maker of the first shot, he returns to the theory of the invisible observer. Suture simply designates certain aspects of the schemata that we activate in order to make spatial and causal sense of a scene’s total space. However, as a theoretical concept, ’suture’ is not an adequate explanation of how this process occurs.

David Bordwell

Towards a Theory of Film Editing
Notional Editing

View other articles in this edition...


new edition

Web Statistics