Sunday, January 17, 2010

Extralinguistic Texts in Film/TV Narrative

To finish my minor in Literature last spring, I took a class in Film & Feminism, my first real exposure to critical approaches of the medium. And while found the class to be a bit underwhelming, I was able to familiarize myself with much of the seminal critical articles in film literature and make the connection that the critical approach to film and to television isn’t all that different. As a result, I have been rethinking my investigation of hyperlink cinema and George Landow’s axes of hypertextual development through this prism, and where I was previously stymied by examples of extralinguistic texts in film, a word of advice from my friend Steve Mollmann has sent me in the right direction.

Landow maintains that hypertexts contain extralinguistic texts, as claimed in his second axis for identification. Whether than take the approach of identifying linguistic elements that are nonnative to film, my focus here is on
narrative and there are many elements of narrative that take place apart from the narrative presented on the screen, especially in shows like Lost and Heroes and even in films like the George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. And while I cold run through Landow’s four axes pretty quickly with regards to a show like Lost, I want to pause here and look at how complex the narratives become because of their reliance on other forms of storytelling to inform their narrative.

Perhaps Heroes, which debuted in 2006, is a good place to start. The show, of course, relates the experiences of ordinary men and women discover they have superhuman powers. The story emulates the storytelling style of American comic books as well, an example of remediation, and while the premise is straightforward, the narrative world imagined by creator Tim Kring and the writing staff is a complex one. A viewer is able to watch the show as it comes on each week and receive a more or less complete experience. However, NBC selected this show to expand into the digital space, creating a television show whose primary narrative outlet is suppl
emented by web comics and other strategies that expand the universe of the show, providing back stories and additional character development outside the confines of the screen. I would argue that such a use of extra-narrative strategies is an example of the extralinguistic elements that Landow asserts are a central component of hypertexts, embodied here within the medium of film.

As the first season progressed, the web comics often provided additional background information on the main characters from the show, but about halfway through a new character, named Hana Gitelman was introduced. Although appearing briefly onscreen in two episodes, the character primarily exists within the supplemental material. Thus we see that the creators are in fact using the web comics in order to enhance the world their characters inhabit, and make the connection between events in the web comics and effects in the television show. In comic 68, ‘The Man with Too Much Brains,’ teenager Matt Neuenberg is introduced with the ability to remember incredible amounts of information. He ‘downloads’ the Company’s database in order to prevent it from being accessed by Gitelman, who has the power to control transmissions, showing that a plot hole in the series can be filled in the supplemental material. In yet another example, comic 115, ‘Truths,’ relates the thoughts of Arthur Petrelli in the moments before his death, something difficult to do with effectiveness within the medium of television, and impossible within the epis
ode because it would have derailed the overall narrative, yet possible in this additional medium and providing a richness to the character and scene that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Heroes also has been expanded in a novel, Saving Charlie, detailing what happened when Hiro traveled
back in time by six months in an effort to save her from being killed by Sylar, only to lose her to some sort of cancer in the episode ‘Six Months Ago.’ Again, the supplementary material is able to tell stories that aren’t practical to tell on television, due to narrative momentum and cost concerns.

While I could go on and on, I believe that I have effectively demonstrated the use of extralinguistic texts affecting film narrative, which would again indicate that film is indeed remediating the digital into itself. In fact, television shows like Heroes perhaps are a better example of hyperlink cinema, at least analyzed through the perspective of George Landow, but there are examples in film as well. Most obviously, there is the prequel trilogy of Star Wars in which characters had huge histories in cartoons and such that are completely unapparent in the film. I still have no idea who General Grievous was, or what the hell he was supposed to be.

Should I branch towards television in examining hyperlink cinema? 24 is the most often mentioned show in the genre, but it seems like I may want to ground my paper in film since I put ‘hyperlink cinema’ in the title. I would imagine that I will blend the two, but what do you think, about this or anything else? Feedback is greatly appreciated.

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