Altman and After

Multiple Narratives in Film

By (author) Peter F. Parshall

Hardback - £64.00

Publication date:

21 June 2012

Length of book:

264 pages


Scarecrow Press

ISBN-13: 9780810885066

In American cinema, films with multiple plots can be traced back to Grand Hotel in 1932, but the form was used only sporadically in subsequent decades. However, filmmakers of the 1970s and 80s, notably Robert Altman and Woody Allen, repeatedly employed complex narratives to weave sprawling stories in their films. Later filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Haggis embraced multiple plotlines, a device that eventually achieved mainstream respectability in such Oscar winners as Traffic and Crash. In the past two decades, more than 200 films utilizing some variation of this format have appeared worldwide. In Altman and After: Multiple Narratives in Film, Peter Parshall carefully examines films that feature various plotlines. Parshall asserts that although this form may lose some of the close psychological identification and forward drive of linear narratives, such films gain a corresponding strength by developing thematic relationships in the various story lines.

In each of these chapters, Parshall examines a different example of the multi-plot form, such as network narrative and the multiple-draft narrative, demonstrating that the structure of each is central to their artistry. He also argues that these devices open up a variety of creative vistas, a strength that appeals to directors and audiences alike. Films studied in this book include Nashville, Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros, Code Unknown, The Edge of Heaven, Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, The Double Life of Veronique, and Run Lola Run. A long overdue examination of this unique cinematic form, Altman and After will appeal to scholars, students, and fans eager to learn more about complex-narrative films.
Parshall (emer., Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) divides multiple-narrative films into two categories: "network" narratives, in which the film focuses on multiple characters and multiple plot lines, and "draft/database" narratives, in which the text tells the "same" story in different permutations. His examples of the former include Nashville (which is so scattered he actually calls it a "mosaic"), Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros, Code Unknown, and The Edge of Heaven. He uses Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Run Lola Run, and The Double Life of Véronique to illustrate the latter category. Admirably international, the book brings readers' attention to not only cult favorites but also less familiar Korean and German-Turkish works....The readings of the individual films plumb the depths of these complicated movies with clear prose and great sensitivity. For several of these films, Parshall's discussion is the best analysis available, and teachers and students have much to learn from his searching intelligence. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above, including professionals.