Multiform and multistrand narrative structures in Hollywood cinema

PhD Thesis

Halvatzis, Stavros. 2011. Multiform and multistrand narrative structures in Hollywood cinema. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Multiform and multistrand narrative structures in Hollywood cinema

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorHalvatzis, Stavros
SupervisorMcWilliam, Kelly
Johnson, Laurie
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages420

In the last couple of decades there has been a growing realisation that an understanding of screenwriting based on traditional Aristotelian notions of dramatic form falls short of explaining the rising popularity of a body of work represented by films such as Pulp Fiction (1995), Magnolia (1999), Donnie Darko (2000), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Syriana (2005), Babel (2006), Shutter Island (2010), and Inception (2010). These films have more in common with European art cinema than with traditional Hollywood. This thesis ties the growth of these forms to the rise of digital media, which it sees as an expression of a postmodern ethos. It suggests that the habits and practices arising from a pervasive engagement with video games and the Internet in general has contributed to a state of ontological confusion in the common understanding of time, space, identity, and agency, due in part to the habitual and widespread transgression of the virtual/real world boundary. This confusion finds aesthetic expression in formations that this thesis defines in relation to the categories of multiform and multistrand narrative, categories within which films such as those mentioned above are subsumed. These categories exist at a deeper level than that of conventional genre and are fundamental to the selection, placement, and overall balance of more traditional narrative elements within a screenplay. Additionally, the thesis proposes four major subcategories, namely, open or closed multiform and simple or complex multistrand narrative. Multiform narratives tend to be somewhat sci-fi inflected, employing multiple spatio-temporal frameworks to convey the sense of ontological bewilderment. For this reason, much of the work in this category involves explaining how the fabula, as distinct from the syuzhet, creates referential or denotative meaning by exploring the spatial and
temporal underpinnings of the narrative. Multistrand narratives, by contrast, typically spring from a single spatio-temporal framework. This category portrays the dizzying multiplicity and frenetic busyness of contemporary life from a human-drama perspective by employing multiple protagonists of equal weight. If these protagonists often fail to relate to each other in any causal way, they nevertheless cohere in a tapestry of shared complexity and verisimilitude. Here, the thesis explores how the use of symbol, theme, and the philosophical and moral frameworks operating from within the syuzhet marshal the fabula to create an overall story spine – a metastory – from individual strands through the use of parallels, contrasts, and other cues provided by the syuzhet. Lastly, the thesis identifies features from each category drawn from an in-depth analysis of nine case studies, and arranges them into a series of indicative schemas to assist in the writing of multiform and multistrand screenplays.

Keywordsnarrative structures; cinema; Hollywood
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020470107. Media studies
470102. Communication technology and digital media studies
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Humanities and Communication
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