Fictional film  

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"A self-referential film is one which is about itself. Unlike the traditional narrative film, which seeks to maintain the illusion that what we are seeing is reality, the self-referential film wants to show that it itself is an illusion. Consequently, one often sees the camera, the mike, the movieola, the cutting board, even, occasionally, the audience—us. In showing that it is an illusion, however, the self-referential film also suggests another reality—that, for example, of the makers of the self-referential film we are seeing. This reality is presented as a more real reality than that which the ordinary illusion-film offers. All self-referential cinema becomes, then, a search for reality, or for truth." --Donald Richie, "Self-Referential Cinema" (1971)

A film still from the Great Train Robbery, a robber shooting at the projection screen.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Fictional film or narrative film is a film that tells a fictional or fictionalized story, event or narrative. In this style of film, believable narratives and characters help convince the audience that the unfolding fiction is real. Lighting and camera movement, among other cinematic elements, have become increasingly important in these films. Great detail goes into the screenplays of narratives, as these films rarely deviate from the predetermined behaviours and lines of the screenplays to maintain a sense of realism. Actors must deliver dialogue and action in a believable way, so as to persuade the audience that the film is real life.

Probably the first fictional film ever made was the Lumière's L'Arroseur arrosé, which was first screened at the Grand Café des Capucins on December 28, 1895. A year later in 1896, Alice Guy-Blaché directed the fictional film "La fee aux choux." Yet perhaps the best known of early fictional films is Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon from 1902. Most films previous to this had been merely moving images of everyday occurrences, such as L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat by Auguste and Louis Lumière. Méliès was one of the first directors to progress cinematic technology, which paved the way for narratives as style of film. Narrative films have come so far since their introduction that film genres such as comedy or Western films, were, and continue to be introduced as a way to further categorize these films.

Narrative cinema is usually contrasted to films that present information, such as a nature documentary, as well as to some experimental films (works such as Wavelength by Michael Snow, Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, or films by Chantal Akerman). In some instances pure documentary films, while nonfiction, may nonetheless recount a story. As genres evolve, from fiction film and documentary a hybrid one emerged, docufiction.

Many films are based on real occurrences, however these too fall under the category of a “narrative film” rather than a documentary. This is because films based on real occurrences are not simply footage of the occurrence, but rather hired actors portraying an adjusted, often more dramatic, retelling of the occurrence (such as 21 by Robert Luketic).

Unlike literary fiction, which is typically based on characters, situations and events that are entirely imaginary/fictional/hypothetical, cinema always has a real referent, called the "pro-filmic," which encompasses everything existing and done in front of the camera.

Since the emergence of classical Hollywood style in the early 20th century, during which films were selected to be made based on the popularity of the genre, stars, producers, and directors involved, narrative, usually in the form of the feature film, has held dominance in commercial cinema and has become popularly synonymous with "the movies." Classical, invisible filmmaking (what is often called realist fiction) is central to this popular definition. This key element of this invisible filmmaking lies in continuity editing.


See also

For examples of non-existent films that are referred to in works of fiction, see List of fictional films.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fictional film" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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