Narrative Versus Dialogue: Comparative Essay

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“As a narrative medium in film, dialogue is overrated”, I agree and disagree with this statement. According to film reference, “Cinematic dialogue is oral speech between fictional characters”. The source goes on to say, “This distinguishes dialogue from other types of cinematic language such as voice-over narration, internal monologue, or documentary interviews, which have different characteristics.” I will discuss narratives and compare it to the role of dialogue.

To begin with, a narrative is a story. A linear narrative is when a story is told from the beginning, to the middle then to the end. Non-linear is the opposite. This is when a story is told out of order. There are claims that dialogue is not needed to tell a story. The old phrase being, “one photo can be worth a thousand words”. The language of film can be described as a visual one. In fact in the history of cinema, there was no sound put to an image or a sequence of images at all. Charlie Chaplin being one prime example. Whether it’s acknowledgement between characters, an intimate closeup of a person or object, an expressive production design or some other element of mise-en-scène; visuals can speak without words and still portray a meaning or message.

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When we decide what our favourite movies are, the first thing we think of is why is that my favourite movie? Is is the jokes? The actors? The dialogue? A moment/s we relate to best? Or a shocking reveal? The list goes on. As quoted from a source, “ In all of our favorite movies, there are a handful of lines we can recite by heart…lines that make us smile and crystallize the emotional experience of the narrative”. This is the reason one has to get dialogue right to a T if you want to make a good first impression and capture the reader’s attention.

Narratives in Film and TV

Visual storytelling in film and television is when a narrative is portrayed with images. Not just images. Images that are created through amazing technology we have in the modern day. It is a known fact that Human beings are able to understand stories. We have a visual ability that allows our brain to put certain images together. Thus, we have a mental picture. A source points out that, “It is in our nature to want to understand the world around us, and our eyes are the primary way we do so”. Everyday we are bombarded by images, but our brains have tricked us into thinking this is the norm, so we never really question it in practice. However, through well thought out arrangements, many images transform from just being a big mess of movement or “information into something we call a story”.

During my research, I came across an interesting article with an experiment relating to this exact topic. Long story short, this is to test the effects of visual storytelling on our brain. “Turn your television to a movie that you have never seen, and then turn the sound off”. Without hearing anything at all, do you know what’s going on? This is an experiment dedicated to testing filmmaker’s work but also to see how the human brain can make sense of the stories without dialogue. When you watch the film, your mind will work at its rate to give you an idea about what this story could be about. Now you must ask yourself, how quickly did you begin to put the story together? Could you tell how the actors felt? How did the actors interact? Who were their friends/enemies? How did the filmmaker communicate with you without dialogue?

Although dialogue isn’t always needed, a lot of prefer to have it. For some dialogue would be the only way for them to enjoy film i.e. the blind. They wouldn’t know what was going on. As well as this, in this modern age young people have shorter attention spans, without dialogue I’m afraid my generation would ‘zone out’. I am guilty of this myself. Between phone and short attention span, if majority of films were made without dialogue the industry wouldn’t do too well.

Dialogue can be subtle and clever. Films are for artistic and creative expression. The last thing the audience wants is dialogue that sounds too much like boring reality. The challenge here is to make the realistic dialogue sound clever and unique. As well as this, the scripts can be witty or comic. The audiences watching the movies and TV, can laugh in response to a witty phrase or joke. A source says, “Comic dialogue must keep up with a character's personality. This is often seen in cartoons. Although the jokes wouldn’t be the same as jokes we’d know them to be, cartoons also have a little bit of dialogue to illustrate a story to a child/children. It may not be a lot, but it is very effective when done right. Kids also tend to get bored easily so a sentence here and there keeps them engaged. I would say a lot of movies rely on dialogue especially for engagement. In my opinion, not everyone can engage in a silent film. I remember when I was a child, watching a cartoon; if there was no sound I would get bored very quickly. That is the only reason I agree and disagree on the statement. I don’t believe dialogue to be overrated in this case.

In conclusion, film is a complex craft that combines the talents of hundreds upon hundreds of people. These people are joined together, no matter what area of study, to tell a story to the best of their ability. But what is the story they want to tell? And how are they going to tell it. Words or no words. Dialogue should be used in moderation and depending on what genre the visual is. It cannot be generalised into it being,‘overrated’ especially when its needed as appose to when its not. All I can say is im thankful one of my favourite films, Gone with the wind 1939, has dialogue otherwise I would never of heard one of my favourite phrases of all time which is as follows, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn”.

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