The film I have chosen to outline and discuss with regard to narrative construction is Taxi Driver (1976). However, before I can look further I shall need to briefly define ‘narrative. ‘ The Media Students Book defines narrative as “a complex term referring to a sequence of events organised into a story with a particular structure. ” Feature films, for example, are narratives as they tell a story using a structure. Although films may differ in the medium used and the representational conventions, they share structural similarities with tales and stories produced by other cultures.
Turner (1996) writes that this suggests there is something universal in the structure, as well as in the function, of narrative. Propp, Todorov and Levi-Strauss have all discussed media narrative processes, working mostly with myths and folk tales. However the universality of narrative suggests that these studies may be applied to film as well, in this case Taxi Driver. Firstly I created a narrative structure “chart. htm”of Taxi Driver based on ideas in The Media Students Book. I marked on the chart all events I thought significant and which may affect the audience.
The chart looks at the film’s story or fabula and plot or syuzhet. Bordwell and Thompson (1990) define fabula as “all events in a narrative, both explicitly presented and inferred. ” This is indicated on the chart as events ‘in the past’ which are revealed by way of ‘flash backs’ of information. For example, Travis says he was honourably discharged from the marines in 1973. Syuzhet is defined as “everything visibly and audibly present in the film before us; in other words those highly selected parts of the story which the narrative puts before us.
” This is marked on the chart in the form of ‘highlights’ from the plot. I have tried my best to include dates and times where given. After looking over events in the film that I thought were important in creating an effect on the audience, I looked at the debates of Propp, Todorov and Levi-Strauss. Vladimir Propp (1975) found when analysing Russian folk tales for common properties that no matter how widely the stories differed in characterisation, setting, plots.. etc. , they shared certain important structural features.
Turner (1996) notes that the most basic of these were the functions of various sets of characters and actions within the tales. Propp reduced the range of different characters to a maximum of eight character roles. The roles or ‘spheres of action’ are not separate characters but instead one character can occupy a number of spheres and one sphere can be occupied by a number of different characters. Looking at Taxi Driver I found it possible to demonstrate a degree of fit between Propp’s categories of spheres and characterisation in the film:- 1. The Villain – Sport and ‘Old Hotel Man’.
2. The Donor – Andy, the gun sales man 3. The Helper – Wizard and Dough boy 4. The Princess or sought-for person – Iris 5. The Dispatcher – Taxi dispatcher? 6. The Hero – Travis 7. The False Hero – Palantine 8. The Princess’s Father – Iris’s parents I think most would agree that Sport is the Villain. However, others may suggest that perhaps society is Travis’s greatest enemy. Admittedly, Travis is an anti-hero but the sphere of ‘Hero,’ although ‘hero’ and ‘heroic’ have moral connotations writes Turner, is much closer to describing an active way of carrying the events of a story.
However, as noted in A Cinema Without Walls, the fact “that the media hails [Travis’s] slaughter of the pimp as the action of a hero is all that is needed to confirm the decision as culturally and thus politically correct. ” The Donor, Andy, provides Travis with the guns. The Helpers, who it can be argued aren’t that much help, are Wizard, who advises Travis, and Dough boy, who introduces Travis to Andy. The False Hero, at least in Travis’s eyes, may be Palantine, a political candidate, who says he will clean up the streets.