Woody Allen and Diegesis

posted Mar 6, 2009, 12:11 PM by David Neumeyer   [ updated Mar 6, 2009, 1:09 PM ]

Woody Allen's films are replete with violations of diegetic space that are, of course, played for humor, part of which is triggered by the audience's recognition of the film's constructedness. Beyond their specific functions, these ruptures of the diegetic are valuable pedagogically as exceptions that prove the rule about filmic conventions of space and time, of diegesis and synchronization (we discuss these topics in HtM, chs. 3 & 4).

Perhaps the most familiar instances are when Allen suddenly breaks out of his character to address the audience directly. In Annie Hall (1978), for example, he does this as a frustrated movie-goer forced to listen to the pompous blather of a person behind him in the ticket line. Allen compounds the confusion by dragging in Marshall McLuhan from offscreen (?) to rebut the offending would-be critic, who had mentioned the famous media theorist. Direct address to the audience is hardly unknown -- the voice-over narrator, after all, is addressing the audience, not characters in the film -- but voice-over narration exists in the nondiegetic realm. The barrier of the screen makes direct address to the audience difficult and problematic, not so in the traditional theater, where that barrier is the far more permeable front edge of the stage, so amenable to monologues and soliloquies. Managing voice-over narration in a similar way is ironic or funny, as in Allen's usage, or complex and often ambiguous, as when a voice-over narrator is at some other time revealed to be a character.

The device is pushed to its reductio ad absurdum in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), when one of the actors in a film spots Mia Farrow in the audience (see the first screen still below) and talks to her. He then walks through the screen out into the theater, to the consternation of audience and screen actors alike (see the second screen still). The plot then revolves about the "real life" actor and his newly acquired shadow, both of whom claim to have fallen in love with Mia Farrow's character. If at the end we are suspicious that she might have imagined the whole thing in the course of watching the movie multiple times, the film staunchly refuses to let on.

5.1 Fetish

posted Feb 21, 2009, 8:26 AM by Jim Buhler   [ updated Feb 21, 2009, 8:28 AM ]

In the text, we note that The Godfather (1972) provides only a 5.1 sound track mix despite the fact that the film was originally released in mono. Here is a screen grab of the audio menu:

I have no objection per se to remixing and cleaning up sound tracks for release on DVDs, just as I have no objection per se to pan-and-scan versions or to colorization, for that matter—so long as the altered version does not make the "original" version inaccessible. Those original sound track mixes are often of great historical interest and, among other things, we lose a lot of lose information about how film makers thought about sound when a sound track is remixed according to today's standards. I much prefer it when DVDs provide an option for the "original" theatrical sound track, as for instance, this one for Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Yet even when given the appearance of a choice we must be careful. Here is a shot of the menu of the sixth installment of the series Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991).

The claim that the "stereo" mix represents the theatrical release is misleading inasmuch as the original theatrical release was in Dolby Stereo (actually Dolby SR), which in fact carried four channel (left, center, right, surround) stereo. Here, the 5.1 mix might in fact come closer to the theatrical SR mix than does the two-channel stereo. Yet this stereo mix is no doubt of historical interest itself since it most likely reproduces the two-channel stereo of the original VHS release.

Crowd Control

posted Feb 21, 2009, 8:14 AM by Jim Buhler   [ updated Feb 21, 2009, 8:22 AM ]

I've always liked this particular stereopticon slide, which was used in movie theaters around 1910. It is from an ad in Moving Picture World.

Clearly, the slide projects a particular view of appropriate audience behavior. Yet the prohibition it commands also bears witness to the existence of the very activity it would proscribe.

I can almost hear the whistling and the stamping...

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