Film narrative can be described as the art of storytelling through image, light and sound. The vision of a filmmaker is inspired through story elements and is brought to the screen through production elements.
Audiences have been watching on-screen films since 1895. The initial thrill cinema soon gave way to narrative and stories created through film. The reception context in which a narrative is viewed can affect the way the audience understands, experiences and responds to a film. Context can include the culture, time and history in which the film was set and released. Often audience enjoyment or disappointment is based off expectations including that of genre and typical codes and conventions. Often audiences can react to a film personally due to their experiences. The method of reception further effects the way in which an audience understands and experiences the film.
Modern film audiences are aware and are familiar with codes and conventions of film genre. Audience’s expectations are based off the genre they are going to see. This often enables the suspension of disbelief. Referencing of other texts is known as intertextuality.
The genre of Sin City is a neo-noir action thriller film. The film uses the typical convention of film noir with the inclusion of some colour as well as high level action scenes.
Narrative progression entails the opening, development and closure of a film. Opening sequences or ‘set-ups’ provide a platform for the narrative to launch off. Often characters and settings are established. The opening begins the process of posing several narrative possibilities to the audience. Throughout the middle of the narrative the characters, storylines and themes are developed. This involves changes in character relationships or the introduction of new characters. The closing sequence then brings the narrative to its conclusion, often through climax and invites the audience to reflect.
The use of The Salesman in both the opening and closing of Sin City helps both to establish the setting of the narrative and bringing it to a close. The opening scene with the murder of The Customer indicates that Basin City is a corrupt and violent place where blood runs the streets. The development of the narrative through the different storylines of Marv, John and Dwight indicate an array of narrative possibilities as new characters such as Jackie Boy and the girls from Old Town are introduced. The final scene with The Salesman and Becky shows the audience that despite all that has happened, nothing has changed, Basin City is still a place of blood and violence.
Multiple storylines are common in narrative films such as having backstories or complementary stories running concurrently with the film’s main plot. Often storylines are linked without the characters knowing.
Sin City contains three main stories, following the lives of Marv, John Hartigan and Dwight McCarthy. All the stories are set in Basin City creating a sense of commonality which is furthered by scenes set at the bar, which acts as a central location for all characters who visit there.
Narrative possibilities are potential possible events within the narrative. All possibilities take the characters and the film in a different direction. Often possibilities are dependent on genre and audience expectation. Possibilities intrigue the audience and make them curious about how the narrative will unfold. Possibilities can further be used to shock the audience by leading them down a different path.
When Goldie is murdered while sleeping with Marv in Sin City the audience is presented with an array of possibilities of what Marv will do next. The film suggests that Marv could either go to exact revenge or to ignore it, yet chooses to hunt down Roark and along the way he meets Wendy, the twin sister which initially to the audience is unclear and presents more possibilities
Character development is the revelation of a character’s personality, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses and emotions to the audience. It also examines the way in which characters relate to each other. The audience is introduced to the protagonist early on who then develops through the film. Often a film can track a whole characters life and maturation or can use flashback to reveal key developments.
Sin City details the last mission of cop John Hartigan who is initially introduced to the audience through his voice over, reveals that he is cop and on the last day of his job. When the character of Nancy is introduced we see Hartigan’s compassionate side and when Roark is introduced we see his violent, angry personality.
Cause and effect is the narrative device that allows the understanding of character motivations and decisions. Narrative relies on characters and their changing circumstances. Cause and effect can consist of character motivations/decisions happening outside of their control. Often action triggers other action.
The crimes involving Nancy Callahan and Goldie lead both John Hartigan and Marv on an individual quest in Sin City. The murder/rape leads to the two men to chase down the criminals and to exact revenge.
Setting is the location and historical period in which the story takes place. The setting allows the audience to place it within the context of its genre. Setting can also help further character development.
Basin City is the location of Sin City which is introduced and known as a city of blood, violence, deception and corruption. In the film, the bar acts as a central point in time and is the only location which all characters are present at some stage; bringing together the interweaving storylines.
Structuring of time is the way codes and conventions are used to overcome limitations of real time. Audiences accept the convention that films compress time so that events occur within a shorter time frame. Directors can also use flashbacks/flash-forwards and dreams to manipulate time.
Through its interweaving storylines Sin City is able to manipulate time. Stories take place at the same location yet at different times leaving the audience to believe that action is always present in Basin City.
Point of view is from whom the story will be told in the film. In a conventional narrative structure the story is told from the protagonist however sometimes it can be told by multiple characters.
In Sin City each story comes from a different character’s point of view. The point of view in this film is characterised by the use of internal diegetic dialogue which shows the audience who is telling the story. The various characters include The Salesman, John Hartigan, Marv and Dwight.
Film format affects both the mood and the look of the film. Film originated with a black-and-white format running at twenty-four frames a second. Today options include 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, black-and-white, colour or digital animation. The film format reflects the genre as in film noir.
The neo-noir genre is shown in Sin City through the use of a back-and-white format which touches of colours to emphasise the blood red. It was shot on a 35mm format yet is known predominantly for its neo-noir qualities.
Camera techniques is a broad element that details all angles, movements, lens’ and shot types a camera can attribute to. Firstly, the camera angle can create the mood of a scene, with the use of high camera angles painting characters as vulnerable. Secondly, camera movement involves panning, zooming, tilting and tracking as a means to create emotion and draw an audience’s attention. Camera lens’ can range from wide-angle to telephoto and contributes appropriately to the style of the film. Lastly, camera shot types can include LS, ELS, CU, ECU and POV, and establish the context of the characters in their surroundings during that point in the narrative.
Directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez use low angle shots to depict John Hartigan as a powerful protagonist in their film Sin City. Often establishing shots are used by the directors to create a sense of context for their characters, as they are all overwhelmed by Basin city, run by ideas of blood, violence and corruption.
Lighting while often taken for granted is a key element in creating a realistic view of reality. Lighting allows objects and actors to be seen. Lighting however can be used creatively, by evoking a certain mood in the audience. Soft lighting can be used for romance while harsh lighting can provide contrast. Lighting also establishes relationships between characters. Light is either hard (direct) or soft (diffused). Hard light is typical of film noir.
Sin City as typical of its neo-noir genre uses hard lighting to create both contrast and chiaroscuro effects. The lighting during the scene with Dwight and Gail uses hard lighting to convey their kiss as full of angry passion. Furthermore while the film is predominantly black and white, spots of different colours such as red are used to emphasis certain themes such as blood.
Sound falls into two categories: Diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic sound is that which is in the world of the narrative, which characters are aware of. Non-diegetic is outside the world of the narrative such as the films music. Sound also encompasses dialogue, voice-over, music and sound effects.
Internal diegetic sound is used in Sin City as all main characters reveal their inner thoughts through narrated dialogue. This reveals the characters main motivations, thoughts and feelings.
Editing is the process of placing sounds and images in an order that establishes story and evokes emotion in an audience. Editing functions to establish setting, develop characters and express point of view. A main type of editing is transitions.
When John Hartigan runs to find Nancy who has been taken by Roark in Sin City the editing combines both sound and image to create a chase scene. Hartigan is seen running to get to Nancy and the cuts between places and the internal diegetic sound combined aid to heighten tension.
Mise En Scene is the collaboration of many elements to create the visual composition of a shot. Visual composition can create meaning and a desired emotional response. Motifs can also be used throughout films.
of the character Edward who resides there.
Throughout Sin City the recurring motif of the colour red is used to represent blood and the violent nature of the town. It is seen in various scenes most notably on the customer’s lips.
Acting is the most obvious production element as it is how the actor brings their character to life. The actors do this through body actions, posture and delivery of lines.
The acting in Sin City is extremely exaggerated and stylised evident of the neo-noir genre. Mickey Rourke who portrays Marv is very over-the-top with his facial expressions and the way in which he delivers lines and uses big, strong and powerful movements and gestures to act his part.