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Ontogenic Storytelling

I’ve made up a word to identify the “gimmick” used in The Lady in the Lake.  The term is intended to fork away from the mimetic convention that’s currently used to show/tell a cinematic story from several camera angles, so I’m simultaneously dubbing the mainstream, Hollywood camera/editing tradition cryptogenic mimesis, for the sake of differentiated contrast. 

Commercial interruption, appointment televison, and this freeform-perspective-thing feel to me like absurd entertainment industry impositions which characterize a kind of zombified audience hypnotic somnambulism; stuff we deeply need to learn to live without enroute to a truly converged, participatory culture.

Cryptogenic mimesis provides the filmmaker with unlimited license to tell a story in any temporal/sequential order, from every possible point of view.  Flags of Our Fathers is  one recent example of sequential chaos telling story (extremely well) from a wildly nonlinear perspective.  But every popular film and television episode I’ve ever seen (with the sole exception of The Lady in the Lake) does the other thing, which is:

  1. The camera’s point of view belongs to a person who doesn’t exist; an ostracized ghost from Dickens or one of Ellison’s titular characters.
  2. None of the actors in any scene recognize the existence of the entity through whose eyes I’m viewing the scene.
  3. My point of view flits between physical (and or temporal) locations in the flow of depicted action in which I cannot participate.
  4. The disembodied, multiple-observer, nonparticipating entity that represents my perspective in cinema/video product results in a kind of cryptic existence that’s codified into a convention that nearly nobody questions.

Perhaps the best way to state my objection to the nearly-ubiquitous cryptogenic mimetic convention is to say that watching Monday Night Football often sent me up the wall with replays of a given situation that never included the quarterback’s helmet camera, so the choices he made that resulted in a career-ending injury, an interception, or a gain in yardage were never presented from the point of view of the most (moment-to moment) important player on the field.  No matter how often the replay would appear, and regardless of the number of camera angles presented, definitive evaluation of quarterback choice and performance was invariably interpreted from alternative perspectives…with commentary, backstory and expert revisionism courtesy of John, Al, Frank, Dan, Don, Boomer, even Howard…all of whom performed the functions of editor and historian.  Eventually, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted, and stopped watching…televison.  Of course, I have to add, since John Madden just announced his intention to retire from televized football commentary, that I’ve always loved the insight into every play his far more experienced vision afforded me.

Most any love scene is photographed from several angles.  As the actors begin to engage, the camera moves in for the exchange of tongues and saliva, but the presence of an observer, in the real world, generally leads directly to lovers backing away from one another, getting a private room, and replaying the scene without the pesky voyeurism.  The presence of an interested observer either modifies the behavior of aroused participants or they’re playing/pandering to the observer, which can be profoundly meaningful.  That’s the class and kind of mystifying unreality I’m trying far too hard to explain.  I think there’s something fundamentally insane in the way our entertaining stories are made and the 90year history we’ve inherited that prevents the raising of an eyebrow, let alone a universal objection to the treatment of viewer as nonentity, cast as above-the-line lure; staff, crew, location as interchangable (von Sternberg/von Stroheim) objects.

My defective memory mumbles a reference in Plato to a character named Thrasymachus, who was granted a cloak of invisibility with which to ply the trade of pornographer, paparazzo, birdwatcher…ringbearing hobbit.   Wikipedia and an active imagination (should) complement memory defects. 

After just one chapter of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, I see that Philip Marlowe’s profoundly perceptual and observative narration of events and complex situations is absolutely indispensible to the differentiation of character (especially Marlowe’s, and every character/locale he scrutinizes rhetorically), and that the absence of Marlowe’s inner monologue in the movie version transforms the film into just another two or three trick gimmick-pony, comparatively flat and disinteresting.  It’s also a landmark experiment I absolutely have to own.  Alain Silver’s commentary mentions independent and European NewWave experiments that lean in the same direction.  If he responds to my email, I’ll pass along some names.  Dark Passage and the Jekyll/Hyde thing are just for starters.  It’s also time for me to take another, more careful look at TimeCode.

Ontogenic isn’t a word that I’ve been able to find used anywhere previously.  It derives from the Greek root that relates to the individual entity, as opposed to the more generic term for phylum, race or species.  It also allows me to embed the colloquial suggestion that we’re onto something interesting here, whereas ontic leans in the contra-indicated direction of an omniscient entity.  Antic pertains to grotesque and obsolete forms of art. Entic, Intic, Untic…nah.  OntoGENIC is intended to emphasize the healing and restorative powers of exercizing the facility of self-aware identity.  It’s contrasted by the role of a silent partner whose wealth helps fund the entertainment enterprise, but whose observations and notes are definitively not consulted throughout the course of production.  The audience is that silent, infantilized partner.

I think ontogenic adequately describes the healthy impulse toward an individual, corporal/corporeal and coherent point of view that effectively summarizes the range of perspectives in With the Angels (at and The Lady in the Lake while contrasting this stuff (of which I’d like to find more) from everything else.  The Fourth Wall penetration moments that show up in Hitchcock and Hope/Crosby Road pictures count for something, just not one whole hell of a lot. 

Open and flexible thinking persists while learning whether somebody unnoticed has already thunk this thing all the way through.

20 Apr 09 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Alfred Hitchcock thunk it through, but I persist in the belief that Hitchcock’s conclusions were bullshit. “Pure cinema” was/is adolescent rebellion purposefully intended to differentiate the new medium from the realtime/realspace theatrical disciplines; throwing out the mature parent media along with the bedsores.

    Comment by Scott Ellington | 01 Apr 12 | Reply

  2. […] Ontogenic Storytelling […]

    Pingback by My Oldest Posts « Scott Ellington's Blog | 10 Aug 14 | Reply

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