New media, new stories – The Art of Story-telling

by Karyen Chai

Everyone loves stories! Children grow up, but they don’t grow out of their love for stories. Novelists make use of that to appeal to readers. We love stories because out memory stores pieces of information much better when they are attached to a context. Throughout literary and artistic history, artists had used context to tell their stories. The emergence of digital culture continues this legacy of story-telling. Yet with the increasing-realism of the digital technologies, stories may begin to convey more than they are intended to.

Movies and television are excellent illustrations of the concept of dissociation from reality. We specifically examine the genre of movies that attempt to depict events in history, known as docudramas. Docudramas are great for learning. They appeal to the group of people, who are drawn to stories, which, as demonstrated above, is just about anyone, regardless of age and academic achievements. Docudramas, such as The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Elizabeth (1998), The Exocism of Emily Rose (2005), The Duchess (2008), and The King’s Speech (2010) are based on true stories of real people who once walked the earth. Such movies based on intensive research, cross-referencing of documentation and portraits to recreate the time, space, and situation of the topic concerned. Judging from the intensive research involved, the docudramas concerned should parallel the actual events. Or does it?

The problem lies in blank-filling. Assuming that history is recorded objectively, not everything is printed ink-on-paper. Contemporaries, be it docudrama producers or historians, can only speculate and fill in what is missing. Moreover, the need for an overarching storyline creates more gaps between the pieces of facts, resulting in more speculation-bridges. The audience’s impression of historical events is a product of the speculation based on multiple impressions of the actual event.

As information becomes more available, facts become less relevant. When do we, as audiences, take something seriously, and when do we take it as a pinch of salt? Perhaps categorization, into documentary, docudrama, and drama, will help. Or perhaps man’s attraction toward plots and stories will help him/her overlook the speculation-bridges that holds the story together in docudramas.

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2 Responses to New media, new stories – The Art of Story-telling

  1. In reaction to this blogpost, I wonder if it isn’t blank-creating that is the problem. When putting actual events in a storyline, you’re bound to leave some things out of the plot. You can’t (re)tell everything, since that would cost too much time, even more time than the actual event that you’re describing. So maybe research should be focused on what parts are left out by directors and creators and why.


  2. I find it interesting to give thoughts on the questions you raise here:

    When do we, as audiences, take something seriously, and when do we take it as a pinch of salt?

    For me, the act of going to the cinema to see a film is somehow always connected to leisure and therefore, even if the content of the film does not exactly reflect to the ‘true’ history, it does not bother me too much. On the other hand, if I find false or manipulated image, for instance, on a BBC documentary film, then I would find it more unacceptable than that of the docudrama film at the cinema.
    I guess it highly depends on the circumstance in which I encounter the film that makes difference in how seriously I take it.
    In ‘Coco avant Chanel’ (2009) I thoroughly enjoyed the design of a finest negligee worn by Audrey Tautou as young Coco Chanel. Whether Coco actually wore such luxury negligee at such age was no longer of my interest. It was simply a beautiful piece of clothes to see!

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