Flashbacks Chapter One Draft continued…


alita battle angelFlashbacks

A flashback can be a means to inform the spectator about events from a protagonist’s past that influence their future actions in the chronological or linear timeline. Flashbacks can also be used to disseminate knowledge to the spectator of events that the protagonist did not personally experience, the telling flashback.

An example of the telling flashback can also be found in the film Oldboy (2003). In the final sequences of the film the main protagonist Dae-su is led through the sequence of events following his release from incarceration, of his being hypnotised and his actions being controlled by external events. This is delivered through an external or telling flashback the narration of these sequence of past events recounted by Woo-jin, his adversary, and revealed through a series of flashbacks. In addition, the flashbacks involving Mi-do who has also been hypnotised could not have been witnessed by the main protagonist Dae-su or Woo-jin as both was not in attendance. The flashback sequence in question is set in the past and by using a split screen with Woo-jin in one half and the flashback sequence in the other, Woo-jin through his narration describes the scenario in the flashbacks as he understands it through being informed of these events, rather than as a personal memory. However, this example of the flashback appears to conflict with another statement of Bordwell’s “If the film depicts a flashback, the jump back in time can be attributed to a character’s memory; the act of remembering thus motivates the flashback. (Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson, 2002: 30). I suggest that Bordwell meant this statement to be preceded by “typically” as of course there are many examples of flashbacks which are not direct memories of the protagonists particularly in contemporary cinema. Such as the example from Oldboy (2003) where the flashback is not derived from a protagonist’s memory but from the retelling of events by a character not revealed to the spectator. Turim offers another more simple definition of the flashback as, “In its most general sense, a flashback is simply an image or a filmic segment that is understood as representing temporaI occurrences anterior to those in the images that preceded it”. (Turim, 2014: 14). This definition appears to fit with the example above where none of the protagonists were present in the events revealed in the flashback, and therefore a flashback not derived from the protagonist’s memory. Bordwell offers another example of a flashback which may offer an explanation “[a]n alternative is to break with character altogether and present a purely objective or “external” flashback. Here an impersonal narrating authority simply takes us back in time, without justifying the new scene as character memory or as illustration of dialogue” (Bordwell, 2009). Expanding upon this definition using the case study of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

This can be a confusing film in many ways, particularly in the use of flashbacks, the spectator does not always receive a classical indication that the sequence is a flashback and where they are in the film’s timeline. However as Bordwell states “Flashbacks usually don’t confuse us, because we mentally rearrange the events into chronological order” (Bordwell, Thompson and Smith, 2016: 80). There is a lack of flashback conventions by this I mean the conventions associated with entering and exiting a flashback sequence are not always present. In addition, there are flashback sequences, memories of events, that as the main protagonist memory has been erased could not have been recounted by the main protagonist from memory. These flashbacks are examples of telling flashbacks where the flashback is used to inform the spectator of events that the main protagonist in this case has himself forgotten through having his memory erased. Another important use of the flashbacks is to add to the confusion of the spectator, the fragmented memory of the protagonist is represented by the out of sequence flashbacks, these sequences of events and in this example taken from the lost memories of the main protagonist. Sometimes a flashback and dream sequence can be interchangeable, Pramaggiore argues that “[i]f the plot requires a flashback or dream sequence, to minimize disruption editors will include an appropriate shot transition, such as a fade or a dissolve. Such transitions ease audiences into the new location and time. An abrupt, inexplicable shift in the time and place of an action which is not “announced” by a transition results in a cut. (Pramaggiore, 2008). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) transitions from linear time and flashbacks without conventions just cuts and cross cuts, which can be confusing, but can also be representative of the fragmented memories of the main protagonists. As Bordwell states “Scene by scene and moment by moment, flashbacks play a role in pricking our curiosity about what came before, promoting suspense about what will happen next, and enhancing surprise at any moment. (Bordwell, 2009). This opens the definition of a flashback to “a film sequence that is not present in the linear timeline”. A more recent example of the use of flashbacks can be found in the contemporary film Alita (2019) a film, much of which is concerning memory loss of the main protagonist Alita. The missing memories are explored using a series of flashbacks, revisiting long lost memories of a previous life and events, filling those character memory gaps and at the same time informing the spectator of a past life. Alita is unaware of who she is and what was and is her purpose in life. This becomes a key element in the development of the character and the films narrative as Alita embarks on a quest to recover her lost memories and therefore her identity. As Turim states “[s]ome flashbacks directly involve a quest for the answer to an enigma posed in the beginning of a narrative through a return to the past” (Turim, 2013: 24).

In Alita {2019} the flashback sequence is always preceded by an act of violence where her life is in imminent danger, in these life or death struggles the flashback is triggered, in each flashback a forgotten memory is remembered. The use of violence as a trigger for the flashback and a return to a traumatic memory from the past. These flashbacks form a violent/traumatic interruption in the chronology and linear continuity of a film. The flashback in cinematic terms, is achieved by the camera zooming into one of Alita’s eyes passing through into what becomes a portal to a forgotten memory and previous life as the image flashes to white, the flash then cross dissolving into the start of the flashback sequence. This is a classical form and use of the flashback sequence, using the conventions of both visual and sound cues to enter and exit the flashback sequence. Pramaggiore a film theorist argues that “The most common example of [re-ordered chronology in a film’s plot] is the flashback, when events taking place in the present are ‘interrupted’ by images or scenes that have taken place in the past.” (Pramaggiore, 2008: 244).


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