Angry Robot

Hypertext Cinema

Jason brings this up while mentioning this Denby piece, in which Denby uses Babel as a springboard into films with “disordered narratives”, a much broader grouping that includes surrealist film, Resnais, Goddard, Pulp Fiction and Memento. But that category is too broad – let’s return again to multiple intersecting storylines.

I highlight Altman since the recent trend in these films seems to have started with Short Cuts. ( Magnolia in particular is painfully indebted to it.) So you could trace everything back to him, even further to Nashville, or via Short Cuts’ Carver to the short story collection, or go back to Tolstoy or Dickens or other novels that share the multiple storyline feature. Alternately, you could see the trend’s growth as an example of the growing artistic influence of TV. Any ongoing storyline show like 24, Sopranos, The Wire, Lost etc. etc. traces that feature back to Hill Street Blues, which really borrowed the form from soap operas. Take this description of soap opera narrative from wikipedia:

Plots run concurrently, intersect, and lead into further developments. … will generally switch between several different concurrent story threads that may at times interconnect and affect one another, or may run entirely independent of each other.

Hey, sounds like Babel!

In a roundabout way I’m trying to point out that “hypertext cinema” is misleading, since the influence does not come from the web, but from television. “Soap cinema” does not have the same allure. (I’m not saying my term “ensemble drama” is any better though, because it doesn’t seem specific enough.) That said, there do seem to be different formal elements of cinema and TV that emulate the hyperlink, in that a tangent that runs away from the “central” narrative feels a lot like following a line of links outward from a given starting point. Things that have this: I’d say Pulp Fiction, The Simpsons and Family Guy, although I’m sure there are many more examples. If anything, the web correlative to intersecting storylines is tabbed browsing.

I had more about this but for the moment it escapes me.