Narrative and Nonnarrative

[Bordwell and Thompson’s] define ‘narrative’ and ‘nonnarrative’ in regards to the form of a documentary and how relations are organised between shots…

Bordwell and Thompson (2010) contextualise definitions of ‘narrative’ and ‘nonnarrative’ by outlining the concept of ‘form’ in film. Form works in unison with content as part of a system that is integrated into an organisational whole (Bordwell & Thompson 2010). They state:

…a film is not simply a random bunch of elements. Like all artworks, a film has form. By film form in its broadest sense we mean the overall system of relations that we can perceive among the elements in the whole film. (2010, p.57)

Bordwell and Thompson describe most documentaries as ‘being organised as narratives, just as fiction films are’ (2010, p.353). However, the authors claim that some documentary forms can be described as ‘nonnarrative’ (2010).

In an evaluation of what constitutes a ‘narrative’ Bordwell and Thompson state:

Typically, a narrative begins with one situation; a series of changes occur according to a pattern of cause and effect; finally, a new situation arises that brings about the end of the narrative. (2010, p.79)

Bordwell and Thompson (2010) propose that cause and effect, along with time, are integral elements that help the audience connect events together into a narrative. They suggest that in most cases in fiction characters, through their actions, play a pivotal role in producing cause and effect in a narrative. Bordwell and Thompson explain that ‘characters create causes and register effects’ (2010, p.82). In regards to the notion of time in Bordwell and Thompson’s analysis, cause and effect occur within temporal constraints. Even when events are presented in an order that is not chronological the audience uses a temporal framework to place events into chronological order…

Other motivations are utilised to connect events together into a whole in a nonnarrative (Bordwell & Thompson 2010). The authors identify different types of nonnarrative: ‘categorical’, ‘rhetorical’, ‘abstract’ and ‘associational‘ (Bordwell & Thompson 2010, pp.353–81). In their analysis the ‘categorical form’ is determined by arranging material into a taxonomy that is formulated around a structured process of classification. The ‘rhetorical form’ is motivated by the aim to communicate an argument and is used to direct an audience towards a particular point of view. The ‘abstract’ and ‘associational’ forms are categorised as types of ‘experimental film’ (2010, p.368). In the ‘abstract form’ the documentary maker focuses on using visual attributes to convey a perspective on a topic. Bordwell and Thompson state that the ‘abstract form’ is created around ‘colours, shapes, sizes and movements in the images’ (2010, p.368). The final ‘associational form’, in contrast with the categorical form, connects material together by looking for illogical relationships. A key aspect of this associational form is the juxtapositions that are created through unrelated associations (Bordwell & Thompson 2010).

taken from:

Keen, Seth. “Netvideo Nonvideo Newvideo Designing a Multilinear Nonnarrative Form for Interactive Documentary.” Doctorate. RMIT University Print.

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art : An Introduction. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.