Storytelling in Film and Television


What is a story? How do films and other audiovisual mediums tell stories, and what kinds of stories do they tell? Are audiovisual and verbal storytelling the same; for example, do films and TV shows, like novels, have narrators and single authors? And are there significant differences between storytelling in film and television? These are the major theoretical questions that we will address in this comprehensive survey of narrative and narration in television and film. We will begin by considering how filmmakers in the early part of the 20th century developed a “classical” mode of storytelling that proved enormously popular and profitable. We will examine the reasons for its appeal, such as the opportunity it affords viewers to “identify” strongly with characters. We will then look at experiments with alternative modes of cinematic storytelling that first arose in the 1920s and reemerged in the great flowering of “art cinema” in the post-World War II era. We will see how these alternatives have influenced studio and “independent” American filmmakers since the late 1960s and will then turn our attention to contemporary Hollywood to determine the extent to which popular cinematic storytelling has or has not changed since the 1910s. The second half of the semester will be devoted to television. We will consider how the “classical” mode of cinematic storytelling was adapted to television beginning in the 1940s and examine the characteristic genres that arose as a result, such as the police procedural and the sitcom. We will spend the last part of the semester on the emergence of more complex and challenging storytelling in television since the 1990s, considering the narrative and stylistic innovations in shows such as Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead. This is an intermediate course. Interested students must have taken a prior film history or filmmaking course.