University of Sussex
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The act of viewing: indeterminacy and interpretation in narrative film

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:14 authored by Jimmy Patrick Billingham
This thesis argues that the presentation of narrative in film involves a fundamental indeterminacy, derived from the status of the event in film. I elaborate this idea of indeterminacy through Gilles Deleuze’s ontology of the filmic image and Daniel Frampton’s phenomenology of film-thinking. I analyse various manifestations of narrative indeterminacy, looking at examples from silent-era, classical and contemporary cinema from around the world, both within the studio model and outside of it. I look at how we may theorise narrative agency in light of this indeterminacy and its various forms, proposing an alternative to previous models of filmic narration, as well as examining the implications of indeterminacy for a viewer’s activity in understanding narrative and how this relates to narrative agency. Here I use Wolfgang Iser’s reader-response theory and his theory of literary indeterminacy to propose that this act of viewing is fundamentally interpretive, exploring the extent to which a filmic equivalent to Iser’s implied reader may be identified, and the implications of this for conceptions of the relationship between the various types of viewer proposed throughout film theory. What emerges from this is a theory of the act of viewing that attends to the particular status of the event in the moving image of film and the indeterminacy that follows from this in a manner that previous theories do not, proposing an alternative to David Bordwell’s theory of narrative comprehension and the related dismissal of interpretation. I suggest how viewer activity can be theorised alongside – rather than instead of – the 'passive' spectators of ideologically oriented film theory, and that what is required is attention to this intersection of viewing positions in film theory.


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  • Media and Film Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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