The delay of an establishing shot in narrative film openings
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This thesis offers a detailed critical examination of the delay of an establishing shot in narrative film openings, one of the most frequently used but not sufficiently theorized techniques in the filmmaker's arsenal. Attempting to resolve the conundrum of terms employed to refer to the inaugural element in literary and film narrative, this thesis discusses the phenomenon of expositional retardation that aims to create the general effect of postponement. Expositional retardation establishes the pattern of retrospective understanding for the reader/spectator who has to be actively involved in the cognitive reconstruction of the order of events in the narrative. The argument of this thesis rests on the differentiation between fabula and syuzhet , or story and plot, advanced by the Russian formalist critics, as well as Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of chronotope and Mikhail Nikitin's mirroring concept of topochronos . The latter theories further elaborate the spatiotemporal organization of narrative in addition to emphasizing the distinction between surface and deep structures. They help us to understand better the mechanism of expositional retardation, explicate the dispersed representation of expositional information in the narrative unity, and interpret the mixed mode of signals in opening sequences. Cinema adopted many storytelling techniques from literature, utilizing both the canonical conventions of preliminary exposition and the compact way of opening in medias res . In literature, the effect of in medias res , or "beginning from the middle," creates a chronological discrepancy between fabula and syuzhet that entails the delay of expositional information and is often signaled by the permutation of linguistic signs in the surface structure of the narrative. I contend that even though cinema presents a different semiotic system, the functioning mechanism of the opening signals is similar. I claim that the delay of an establishing shot in filmic openings belongs to the system of retarding narrative devices and that the permutation of shots in a cinematic sequence accounts for the same effect of a stylistically charged opening as the deliberate transposition of the elements in the normative linguistic reference chain. The delay of an establishing shot may be defined as the imposition of the illusion of familiarity through defamiliarizing techniques. As the filmmaker takes the establishing shot out of its habitual placement and supplants it with one of the subsequent shots, we respond to the cognitive dissonance either by adjusting to how the defamiliarized shot could be made to look or feel "familiar" and/or by setting out in search of the normative shot that has been displaced by the strange one. At the same time, the delay of an establishing shot is a calculated communicative strategy that aims to impose on the viewer a discomfiting "familiarity" with the subject or object presented. The permutation of shots within the opening sequence appeals to the "presuppositional" knowledge that the viewer lacks (given the absence of contextual dependence at the outset) and thus aims to give the illusion that the necessary information has already been rendered, creating an effect of déjà vu . In my thesis I demonstrate that the degree of stylistic effect in filmic openings is variable and depends upon such factors as the scale of the opening shot, the length of the delay of an establishing shot and the employment of a vast repertoire of accompanying cinematic devices. In my cognitive-structural and pragmatic analysis of the delayed establishing shot, I have sought to make a significant contribution to both narrative studies at large and film narratology in particular.