Bordwell vs. Chatman: Can there be only one?

I have a tough time deciding whether I agree more with Bordwell or Chatman on the issue of the implied author. The problem is this: I can think of times when I consider narration to be constructed by a real author and times when I consider narration to be a product of the text’s intentions, the implied author. As you will see, I can’t come to a concrete conclusion that adequately explains why. The purpose of this post is to express my confusion on the concept of implied author, not to offer a sound analysis. In any case, I’d like to present three factors which may contribute to whether I understand a film as having an implied author or not.

1.) Familiarity with the Real Author
I went into The Singing Detective with quite a bit of extratextual knowledge. I had seen Potter’s Pennies from Heaven, I knew he was diagnosed with psoriasis, and I knew this was supposed to be the greatest masterpiece on television. So naturally I had Dennis Potter in the back of my head. During the mini series, I often compared The Singing Detective with Pennies from Heaven in terms of Potter’s mise en scene, dialogue, and genre play. I thought about how the plot related to Potter’s own life. And I wondered how Potter was going to tie the whole mini series up in the most mind blowing manner.

Let’s say I went into The Singing Detective knowing nothing about Dennis Potter but having seen Pennies from Heaven. Undoubtedly, I’d know the texts would be related. In addition to a downbeat tone and a slow pace, both involve musical numbers which alter the typical musical conventions, usually representing some Freudian psychological desire. In this case, if a friend said to me, “I really liked The Singing Detective,” I’d say, go check out Pennies from Heaven. I wouldn’t say “you should look at other works by the director.” Would my recommendation be based off Chatman’s concept of a career author, suggesting the film based on similarities shared by the implied authors, or based on the narration’s similarities, independent of any author at all (implied or real)? It’s hard to know.

2.) Level of Engagement
I found myself focusing on Potter’s role in creating the narration only at times when I was either confused or bored. Sometimes I wasn’t feeling very receptive to cues in the fabula construction and sometimes I just had no idea how to interpret those cues, no idea how to form a plausible hypothesis. In either case, I stopped hypothesizing…and drifted off. I thought about Potter’s overall goals in telling the story and why this was supposed to be so brilliant. I started to wonder why Potter was making certain choices (which admittedly, were disengaging me).

Conversely, when the narration offered interesting and thrilling scenes, I blocked out any concept of a “real person” prompting the narration. My favorite sequence in The Singing Detective was the scene where Marlowe’s teacher interrogates the class. Because I was so invested in what would happen, I wondered, why did the text include this? What is it trying to tell me here? In this way, when I was deeply involved in the story, I felt as though the text was communicating to me, not the real author. Or was I so engaged in the process of narration that I forgot about any author at all, implied or real? Again, it’s hard to know.

3.) Film Major vs. Regular Moviegoer
Not to seem elitist, but studying film allows us to view movies differently than other people. In my experience, when I watch a film for class, I usually have the real author in the back of my head. I know there is someone “behind the curtain” making choices, cuing the narration. I recognize how much time, money, and effort goes into making the film. But is the regular moviegoer as aware of this? I would assume they go to the movies to see whether the text will deliver an enthralling experience, not the real author. I don’t know though, does this matter at all?

There are other factors that may affect our understanding of who is the author, such as the level of ambiguity and self consciousness of the narration, the medium of the narration, and other general extratextual knowledge. But where I get caught going in circles is when I try to distinguish between the implied author and the narration. In much of what I’ve said so far, I could replace my use of text, implied author, and text’s intent with Bordwell’s narration. I can’t decide whether the real author makes choices which cue me to construct the narration or whether the cinematic narrator makes choices and sends me a message, which I then reconstruct and encode to form a narrative.

I guess one main question that I am grappling with is this: does narration exist from the viewer’s mind, the real author’s mind, or from the text itself? You might say there is an interaction between all three. But does the text fit into the equation? Can it “invent?” Bordwell would say no way. Perhaps then, because I am so indecisive, it’s best to side with Bordwell. I can’t assign a trait to the implied author that I can’t assign to narration, so it doesn’t really improve our understanding of narrative fiction at all. Yet something “feels right” about an implied author too. Maybe because that’s the way I think about literary fiction. I honestly have no idea.

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