Narrative Power

Maureen Thomas

   Cambridge University Moving Image Studio

THE POWER OF NARRATIVE focuses on the screen - from the cinematic to the interactive.

Today, many undergraduates have a more comfortable relationship with the screen than with the page; and the miniaturisation and accessibility of audiovisual equipment enables them to use moving images as Darwin - or Erasmus, Marlowe, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Mary Somerville, Emily Davies or Rosamond Lehmann - used paper, pencil and pen. Nonetheless, understanding of the language of moving images remains somewhat passive. This lecture, exemplified through clips and demonstrations, examines the evolution and working of screen narrative. Though often featuring actors playing roles, film drama is recorded and delivered through lenses, the camera representing a single viewpoint, mediating the story via an inbuilt observer, narrator or character. Film-makers thus wield the narrative powers both of novelists and dramatists to spellbind their audiences; but in addition, like the 19th-century illusionists who first recognised the potential of film as entertainment, they can deploy moving image magic to make us actually see - and believe - the fantastic and the improbable. The advent of interactive digital technology, virtual cameras and performers increases the strength of an already potent mix: in the 21st century, the power of screen narrative attains new heights.


Maureen Thomas is Creative Director of the Cambridge University Moving Image Studio (CUMIS), Senior Creative Research Fellow at the Narrativity Studio, Interactive Institute, Sweden; and Associate Professor in Interactivity and Narrativity at the Norwegian Film School. From 1993-1998 she was Head of Screen Studies at the National Film & Television School, UK.

A dramatist and director for stage, radio and film, in 2000/1 Maureen made a feature-length interactive digital video hypermovie, Vala, which involves interactors directly, theatrically and actively in a narrative game of chance, destiny and time-travel. (First demo prototype Nedslag, Fylkingen Centre for New Music and InterMedia Art, Stockholm (May 2000); full-length demo prototype Electrohype, Malmö, Sweden and Rencontres Electroniques, Rennes, France (October 2000); full interactive prototype Arts Picturehouse Cinema Cambridge International Film Festival UK (July 2001), and Nordic Interactive Expo, Copenhagen, Denmark (October 2001).

Press. (Svenska Dagbladet): 'Ten years. That's how long it has taken for the belief of enthusiastic American literary theorists in the artistic potential of digital media to come to fruition in practice. 'Vala' realises dreams of a fusion between computer and art. I have never seen anything like it. I felt for the first time that I was personally being addressed by a digital performance - directed by a computer - as though by a living being. Vala is truly engaging.'

(Helsingin Sanomat): 'I cannot remember encountering such profound and harmonious multimedia before .. Through music and moving images, rather than following what happens to someone else, I have become the protagonist in an interactive movie . .'


Other recent work includes Goodbye 13, (feature film- script) dir. Sirin Eide (LUCAS Award for Best Film, Frankfurt International Festival, 1996, and Best Film Award, Antwerp International Film Festival, 1997); Neanderthal (research, language invention & direction of actors) (Wall to Wall drama/documantary dir.Tony Mitchell C4 2000); Lombroso (libretto) in About Face (composer Rachel Leach, commissioned Royal Opera House Covent Garden Linbury Studio, premiered June 2000) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (based on Lewis Carroll's book - co-librettist and director, with composer Stephen Daltry, Chapter & Verse, British Library London, July 2000; New End Theatre, London, Christmas Season 2000/1).


Maureen's analysis of the relationship between cinematic narrative and the structures of 35 interactive adventure-games is forthcoming in the volume Architectures of Illusion, which she has also edited (Intellect Books, Bristol 2002).


At the Nordic Interactive Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October 2001, as well as panellist on Interactive Narrative and PhD School leader on Narrativity and Interactivity, Maureen was key speaker on Electronic Arts, Entertainment & Industry. At the Nordic Council of Ministers' Digital North conference in Helsinki in October 2001, she was a panellist on Promoting Creativity and Production. In March 2000, Maureen was advisor and keynote speaker for the London Production Show's seminar on Convergence between Film and Interactive Games, and in September 1999 she co-organised and was key speaker at the Nordic Panorama industry seminar The Impact of Digitality - Movies and Games. In 1995 Maureen spearheaded the design of the NFTS CREATEC digital media research and production centre, founded with a DTI Technology Foresight award in 1996, and from 1996-1998 she was on the DTI TF Sub-Group for Creative Media, and its Task Group for Education & Training.



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