The Classic Hollywood Narrative Style


  1. A style determines how the film is organized with the elements of story, sets, scenes, shots, sound.
    • central themes: corporate conspiracy, inability of man to control reality, threat of disaster, investigative media necessary; Hollywood is not simply escapist or exploitative, but responds to and uses social themes and events to construct a narrative.
  2. A plot is the sequence of actions in chronological order.
    • "the damn shutter"
  3. A story is the narrative, or cause-and-effect chain of events, sometimes unseen and able to change time and space.
    • parallel structure of illusion and truth/on-air monitor and preview monitor/observation room and control room/media and power complex
  4. A character has certain traits and reacts to certain situations as an agent of action and decision.
    • Kimberly Wells and Jack Godell want to tell the public the truth, are not helpless victims or anti-heroes
  5. A protagonist is the central character, active, goal-oriented, positive motivations. The antagonist is in conflict with the central character's effort to solve a problem.
    • Kimberly vs. TV station owner Jacovich/Jack vs. board chaiman McCormack
  6. A story must have resolution, an ending, closure for characters and situations.
    • Jack takes gun, seizes control room, is killed/ Kimberly tells her subjective viewpoint in tears; the truth is not objective but in her feelings
  7. Editing is the physical rearrangement of frames of film and the adding of effects such as sound
    • Jack and Hector's car chases
  8. Continuity is the arrangement of shots to tell a consistent story.
    • cross-cutting around NRC hearing
  9. Genre is a standard formula for a particular kind of story.
    • political thriller genre, based on cultural fears
  10. Auteur is the filmmaker.
    • James Bridges, Mike Gray, George Jenkins
  11. Mis-en-scene is the arrangement of space, to "place on stage" the characters, props, lighting.
    • spacious well-lit control room/crowded dark watering hole
  12. Chiaroscuro is the range of lighting from dark to bright.
    • the dark TV studio, the dark chasm of steam pipes in power plant
  13. Montage is the arrangement of images for effect.
    • Jack looks for the truth deep inside the caverns of the containment building; Kimberly comes home to her empty apartment at the end of the day
  14. Metaphor is a symbolic construction
    • KLAX or KXLA, wall signs FBI and RAP (Richard Adams Productions); Hollywood films construct metaphors to expose and calrify and define issues and events and crises that appear at random in the real world, causing confusion and fear.

revised 2/9/01 | China Syndrome | Filmnotes