Allegheny College, Meadville, PA 16335

Janet Staiger

Complex Narratives: An Introduction

Janet Staiger is William P. Hobby Centennial Professor of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches critical and cultural studies courses. Her recent book is Media Reception Studies (NYU P, 2005).



Charles Ramírez Berg

A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the "Tarantino Effect"

Charles Ramírez Berg is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Professor of Film Studies in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas-Austin. He is the author of Latino Images in Film, Cinema of Solitude: A Critical Study of Mexican Film, and Posters from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema as well as numerous essays on Latinos in U.S. film, Mexican film, and world cinema.




Elliot Panek

The Poet and the Detective: Defining the Psychological Puzzle Film

Elliot Panek is an adjunct professor at Emerson College. He recently received a Master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his thesis on narrative incomprehension and interpretation. His research interests include narrative, online motion picture distribution, and new media technologies.







Michael Z. Newman

Character and Complexity in American Independent Cinema: 21 Grams and Passion Fish

Michael Z. Newman recieved a PhD in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches film and media studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His work has appeared in Film Studies: An International Review and The Velvet Light Trap. He is currently writing a book about American Independent film.




Walter Metz

Woody's Melindas and Todd's Stories: Complex Film Narratives in the Light of Literary Modernism

Walter Metz is interim department head in Media and Theatre Arts at Montana State University-Bozeman, where he teaches history, theory, and criticism of film, theatre, and television. He is the author of Engaging in Film Criticism: Film History and Contemporary American Cinema (Peter Lang, 2004). His book on the 1960s television sitcom, Bewitched, is forthcoming from Wayne State University Press.





Hsuan L. Hsu

Racial Privacy, the L.A. Ensemble Film, and Paul Haggis's Crash

Hsuan L. Hsu is an assistant professor of English at Yale University, where he is working on a study of U.S. literary genres and geographical scale. He has co-edited, with Martin Brueckner, an anthology of essays entitled American Literary Geographies (forthcoming, University of Delaware Press), and his essays on topics such as literary regionalism, democratic expansionism, and spatial practices have appeared in American Literary HIstory, Early American Literature, Modern Fiction Studies, and other journals.



Robert Davis and Riccardo de los Rios

From Hollywood to Tokyo: Resolving a Tension in Contemporary Narrative Cinema

Robert Davis is Associate Professor of Radio-TV-Film at California State University, Fullerton. He is a regular contributor to American Cinematographer magazine.

Riccardo de los Rios teaches in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at California State University, Fullerton.










Although films with alternative plotting to traditional cinematic storytelling have existed since the earliest days of the medium, the trend seems to have gathered steam recently, especially in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). This essay presents an extensive list of alternatively plotted films along with their antecedents. The taxonomy includes twelve plot categories, arranged into three main groups based on the ways they deviate from the Hollywood paradigm, namely: plots based on the number of protagonists, plots with non-linear temporality, and plots that violate classical rules of subjectivity, foregrounded narration, and the narrative triumvirate of goal-orientation, causality, and exposition.



This article examines the recent spate of narrative fiction films produced in Hollywood that promote ambiguity and sudden narrative fluctuation over the brief isolated fluctuations and the clarity of classical narration. This new group of contemporary American movies, dubbed the psychological puzzle film, possess narratives in which the orientation of plot events to diegetic reality is not immediately clear, thus creating doubt in the viewer’s mind as to how reliable, knowledgeable, self-conscious, and communicative the narration is. By failing to promote narrative clarity in the way that is typical of Hollywood fare, these films prompt us to reconsider whether classical Hollywood narration is as homogenous or as dominant as it has been made out to be. Examples include Videodrome, Jacob’s Ladder, 12 Monkeys, Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect, and Memento.




This article argues that films with complex story/plot structures do not necessarily have other kinds of complexity, such as complexity of character. It compares the relative complexity of two independent films, one of which has a complex story/plot structure (21 Grams), the other of which does not (Passion Fish), and argues that the latter has more fully developed characterization.







This essay explores the relationship between two recent art house films -- Melinda and Melinda (Woody Allen, 2004) and Storytelling (Todd Solondz, 2001) -- and the tradition of high literary modernism. The article considers the various ways in which "two-track narratives" have been deployed in the novel and the cinema. It reads Allen's film, a presentation of a character's life as alternatively a comedy and a tragedy, via the intertwined presentation of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925). Similarly, it examines William Faulkner's two-track presentation of Lena Grove and Joe Christmas in Light in August (1932) as a frame for understanding the fiction and documentary sections of Solondz's film about dysfunctional college and high school students.




Ensemble films set in Los Angeles use techniques of coincidence and correspondence to create a sense of community amid lives isolated by race, class, urban sprawl, and suburban distance. Although Paul Haggis's Crash (2005) focuses on interracial tensions often marginalized in ensemble films, it imagines racial encounter along the lines of individual experiences of hate and forgiveness without exploring questions of structural inequality and public redress. Like the defeated 2004 Racial Privacy Initiative and various arguments against affirmative action and the politics of race, Crash normalizes historically sedimented inequalities by privatizing race and substituting interpersonal ethics for various forms of identity politics.




While commentators have noticed an evolution in the formal patterns of contemporary Hollywood genre films, they have not associated this trend with concomitant narratological developments that produce a tension between the genre film's natural tendencies and the dictates of character-driven storytelling, between fragmentation and invididuation on the one hand, and by-the-book narrative development on the other. This essay examines the ways three recent popular Japanese genre films--Battle Royale, Suicide Club, and Mohou han--indicate alternate, indiosyncratic ways of moving past the tension between spectacle and storytelling.




















Book Reviews

Michele Aaron, New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader

by Kyle Stevens

Marsha McCreadie, Women Screenwriters Today: Their Lives and Words

by Jean O'Reilly