Cinematic Discourse Notes 12:
Cinematic Events

A) Events: importance and analysis

Events are important for the analysis of films: a feature film consists of a series of filmed events. But events in a film are not always easy to isolate. They are not uniform: they vary in length and in various other characteristics. Moreover, an event is not always discrete: an event may overlap with other events, which have different commencement or end points from the event. Events can also have hierarchical relationships with other events. The hierarchicalisation of events does not make the task of analysis easier, as the level or levels to be analysed should be determined.

Events may also interact or coincide with other features of a cinematic text. A lengthy shot, for example, can act as a bracketing device for events: depending on the nature of the shot, everything in it may be bracketed as belonging to a single event or a single set of related events. There is of course the other possibility: an event acting as a bracketing device for shots, instead of the other way round.

B) Sequencing of shots

A shot may thus be helpful for the analysis of events, even if it does not always coincide with events. However, the analysis of shots may not be easy. In order to appreciate some of their complications, it may be useful for us to take a look at how they are sequenced during the editing process. The shots may have been taken at different times, and they are quite often not taken according to how they would be sequenced in the film. They are then rearranged by the editor according to how they would appear in the cinematic discourse. In this regard, it could be noted that the sequencing of shots may become even more challenging in some action sequences. Some cinematic artistry and editing skill are undoubtedly needed in the sequencing of shots of some action sequences involving a good number of shots, some of which lasting only one or two seconds.

D) Two further characteristics of events

Two further characteristics of events may be noted here:

Events may be psychological

An event may be purely psychological (NT 5.6). No actual physical actions are involved. There may also be a mixture: a dream may be based on an actual event in the past, and the perception of an actual event may be distorted by psychological factors.

Differences in story and discourse

There may be differences in the same event as it appears at the level of story and at the level of discourse (these concepts were broached in Notes 1). An event occurring in the story of a narrative appears in its appropriate chronological order, and does not go slower or faster than is the case. An event in the discourse however, may not appear in its proper chronological sequence, and may be slower or faster than should be the case.

E) Further perspectives on cinematic events

In addition to events as seen from the perspective of story and discourse, it may be useful to view them from other perspectives, so that we will have a better understanding of how events function or are (re-)constructed in cinematic discourse (only the last two items below are from the perspective of story and discourse):

  1. Shooting events: the actual time taken or the actual sequencing of events during shooting
  2. Raw events: the events as they appear in the raw footage
  3. Edited events: editing done to the raw footage, to (re-)create the events
  4. Story events
  5. Discourse events

Edited events, together with story and discourse events, should be quite clear to you, but further explanation of shooting and raw events need to be given below.

Shooting events

Understanding shooting events can also be useful in the analysis of cinematic discourse. These events may intrude, either positively or negatively, in the discourse of the final version of the film.

Among considerations in cinematic discourse that crop up when discussing shooting events, is the congruence or discrepancy between the duration and sequencing of the events as they occur in the real world during shooting, and the duration and sequencing of events as they appear, after editing, in the cinematic discourse. In the technique usually deployed for a shot reverse shot sequence, shots cut from two or more takes, which are quite often filmed at different times, are merged together to create the impression that there is an uninterrupted conversation.

However, the shots of a shot reverse shot sequence as they appear in the cinematic discourse cannot be examples of real time, either in terms of actual time stretch, or their sequencing. The re-ordering of time as it originally appeared in real time, may also occur at a higher level during the production of a film, as longer stretches of time occurring at different locations are filmed out of sequence, in order to save costs.

Nevertheless, there are examples where the filming is done according to the set of events as they would occur in the discourse of the film, in spite of to-ing and fro-ing between locations. This may be of some benefit to acting, as the actors would be better able to capture the developing relationships between characters, in spite of the fact that this may be costly.  But even in films that do not re-order events at a higher level, re-ordering at the lower micro-textual level, such as in the shot-reverse-shot technique, does occur.

Raw events

Raw events are the events as they appear in the unedited footage of the film. Raw events are naturally crucial to the cinematic text, as without them, to begin with, there is no cinematic text. They are also important when the film is restored, either by the director (eg. the ‘director’s cut’), or by other persons, as they may help to reinstate material that has been taken out in the earlier commercial version of the film.

Raw events by themselves are not usually regarded as important as discourse events and story events. They are not readily apparent in the finished product, and are also usually not of concern to the audience, as they are not directly seen. However, discussing raw events  ̶  how they are used or not used  ̶  will give us some insights on cinematic technique: for example, how are raw events edited and assembled to form the cinematic discourse in a particular work?

Raw events are not necessarily filmed in the chronological order of the film's story. The same discourse event may also be filmed, at the production stage, more than once, at different angles. The shots from the separate takes are then edited and combined to form a seamless series of events or micro-events. They may then have the final appearance of occurring in chronological sequence.

The knowledge of the use of raw unedited (or yet to be edited) events benefits the understanding of some basic cinematic techniques and procedures, such as the shot reverse shot technique, and the creation of cinematic discourse in general.

F) Order of events and anachrony


We have dealt with the concepts of story and discourse in the first lecture. The discoursal re-arrangement of events means that there will be a disjuncture with the events are they appear in the story. This will result in what is known as anachrony (the following is a further discussion, in cinematic terms, of section 5.8 Order of Events and Anachrony in NT).


There are two types of anachrony: analepsis and prolepsis. The terms anachrony, analepsis and prolepsis were introduced to narrative research by Gérard Genette. Although they were used for the analysis of written narratives, they could easily be used for the analysis of cinematic discourse as well. Analepsis is more widely known as flashback. It involves the narration of a story event or sequence of events after later events have been told. Genette’s term analepsis may be more technically accurate and less ambiguous than the term flashback. However, the term flashback has been used very often in relation to the cinema, and cannot be ignored. For this reason, we will continue to use the term.

A flashback does not refer to the mere recall of something that happens in the past: One must be brought back either aurally or visually, or both, to the earlier events. A verbal recall by itself is not sufficient for the narrated events to be described as constituting a flashback.

A cinematic analepsis or flashback may be:

  1. Purely visual. In this case, the character must be visually brought back to the flashbacked event or series of events – just describing it is not sufficient.

  2. Purely linguistic or acoustic. In this case, the voiceover heard in the movie must be a voice from the past: the mimicry of the voice and words of another person is not sufficient.

  3. A combination of both the visual and the acoustic. This is the most common kind of flashback in the cinema.

A flashback may be initiated either verbally or psychologically. If flashback is initiated verbally, the character’s verbal discourse is interrupted by the enactment of the past events


Flashforward or prolepsis involves the narration of a future story-event before earlier events have been told. Prolepsis is different from merely hinting at or predicting a future occurrence. It is different from anticipation as we normally understand the word, or prediction, even if it is accurate. In a flashforward or prolepsis, we must be brought forward to what will happen, either visually, aurally, or both – a character merely telling you what will happen does not qualify as a flashforward

I) Measurement of time: duration

Events may be measured or positioned according to the clock or calendar or without it: clock time or calendar time; or, if the clock or calendar is not relevant, human time. We use the clock to measure the duration of an event, or we may resort to less formal and less quantitative judgment of the length of time. An important consideration in the study of events is duration (NT: 5.9) how long the event is?:

  1. a few minutes,
  2. an hour,
  3. a few months
  4. a year
  5. whether the event is ‘long’ or ‘short’.

The first four are according to clock time or calendar time; the last item can be according to clock time or calendar time, or it could be according to human time.

j) Conjunction and disjunction of story and discourse

Story and discourse may have different effects on duration (NT: 5.10). The disjunction between the two, or their correspondence, may result in the following:

  1. scene.
  2. acceleration,
  3. deceleration,
  4. ellipsis
  5. pause

i. Scene

In a scene, time in the story is equivalent to what we find in the discourse. Of the five conceptions of the conjunction or disjunction of time, scene is perhaps the one that is most frequently encountered.

ii. Acceleration

In acceleration, one devotes a shorter segment of the text or discourse to the event. Thus shorter duration is given to the event in the discourse than how it should appear in the discourse. Acceleration is relative to the norm established for the narrative, or what is possible within the world presented by the narrative. Technically increasing the speed of the shot, such as in fast motion or time lapse photography, may not result in acceleration, if that is supposed to be the normal time in the story or the speed that a particular character is able to attain.

iii Deceleration

In deceleration, one devotes a longer segment of the text or discourse to the event, which occurs over a comparatively shorter time span in the story. The speed in the narrative discourse is thus slower than in the world of the story. Deceleration is perhaps more commonly found in cinematic discourse than acceleration. Slow motion is perhaps the purest form of deceleration, and does not have an exact equivalence in written narrative.  However, like acceleration, deceleration is relative to the norm established for the movie.

iv Ellipsis

The contrast between story time and discourse time may also result in ellipsis: an event or a stretch of time in the story is deleted in the cinematic discourse, or, a stretch of time, an event, or series of events is not deemed important in the story, and hence is not found in the cinematic discourse. An ellipsis leaves a gap between two or more events. Like acceleration and deceleration, ellipsis also depends on the norm that exists in the story, or for some characters in the story, or what is possible in the narrative. Thus it cannot be said that there is ellipsis if a character teleports from one location to another, as surely, the character needs some time to move between the locations. Teleportation is a mode of transportation found in many science fiction or space fantasy movies.

v Pause

Time may be stretched or suspended in discourse to create a pause. A pause may occur in order to describe or explain something, in which case it may be called a descriptive pause or an explanatory pause. In the movies, a freeze frame is usually used for a pause, whether it be a simple pause, or a descriptive or explanatory pause. While the freeze frame is played, a voiceover describes or explains something that is relevant to the cinematic discourse. 

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Last revised: 06 July 2011.