Yesterday I presented this conundrum: Hollywood conventional wisdom is that voice-over narration and flashbacks are a no-no, yet some of the greatest movies ever produced use these narrative devices including The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, and Rashomon.
My conclusion: Voice-over narration and flashbacks are not inherently bad, rather they are tainted by how poorly they get executed by inexperienced writers.
Goal: Find five movies in which each is used well, then analyze those movies to come up with – hopefully – guidelines on how best to handle this pair of narrative devices.
Today let’s see if we can lock down five movies that are great examples of voice-over narration.
I would think we’d have to include The Shawshank Redemption seeing as it is the #1 movie on IMDB’s Top 250 list, however Red’s V.O. is there by necessity, simply no other effective way to stitch together a story that takes place over 19 years with all those time ellipses. Still that points to one of the strengths of voice-over narration, the ability to smooth over time jumps. Plus since in my view, this is a story with Dual Protagonists — Andy and Red — the voice-over narration allows us to experience what transpires in a deeply personal way by entering into Red’s take on things. Thus all things considered, I think we should probably include Shawshank as one of the five.
By the way, here are Siskel and Ebert reviewing the movie in 1994, both with two thumbs way up:
How about four more movies? Here are some of the suggestions made yesterday. Which ones of these excite you the most?
Stand By Me
Days of Heaven
And don’t forget these:
A Clockwork Orange
To Kill a Mockingbird
And if we wanted to go at this head-on, why not Blade Runner which famously added V.O. narration to the original version, then stripped it away years later for a director’s cut.
In addition to the suggestions from yesterday, what great examples of voice-over narration can you think of? See you in comments for your thoughts.