The Short and the Difficult
Because of its analogies with drama and novel, the analyst of fictional narrative film can draw upon literally thousands of years of critical analysis—stretching back through Aristotle's Poetics , which laid out the fundamental critical categories (plot, character, spectacle, and so on) which go echoing on, even now, through the columns of your daily paper's film review section. Generations of Hollywood practitioners have put down on paper their accumulated how-to-do-it structural wit and wisdom. More recently theoreticians have attempted to deploy the machinery of linguistic and folk-tale analysis in order to understand how narrative films are put together. Though individual films continue to offer puzzles that tax even brilliant critics, there do not seem to be any greatly challenging theoretical lacunae in this area.
But astonishingly little work has been done on non-narrative forms. It is as if, in the history of literary study, virtually no attention had been paid to lyric poetry or the short story—only to novels and plays.
It seems likely that the structures of short, lyric forms are distinctly different from those of longer forms. The familiar, reliable devices of tension and suspense do not seem to apply, at least not in any easily recognizable way. Effects are often more akin to those of song than of drama. Visual considerations carry relatively more weight than in the story film where "action" tends to predominate, yet they are hard to describe and assess. In short, if we are to understand how the lyric film "works," we evidently need an entirely different sort of critical and theoretical approach than we use for the narrative film. Yet even the devotees of independent or experimental or "underground" cinema have failed to develop the new ideas that might enable us to understand such works on a more than impressionistic basis.
It is time to begin to try to remedy this situation. Here are several articles which attempt to deploy a critical methodology appropriate to non-narrative works. Perhaps significantly, two of these deal with films by Bruce Baillie—whose works are among those in our independent cinema that most resist paraphrase into verbal structures.
[Ed. note ]