There’s something about a dry, objective narration that lends any film a certain gravity. It always seems to evoke a somewhat detached, bittersweet feeling. The only films I can think of at the moment that use this device are The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’d really like to know of others.
One of my favorites is Alec Baldwin’s narration of The Royal Tenenbaums. That’s just the first one that came to mind. There are dozens more that I could probably think up. Godard does it all the time in his movies, most of the narration being done himself.
It could happen to you
Neverending story (kind of)
Europa (the amazing Max Von Sydow)
Royal Tenenbaums(alec Baldwin)
to name a few off the top of my head
Yeah, I thought of Godard right after I posted, Dogville too. Traag, I don’t really count The Big Lebowski – though I may be wrong not to – simply because Sam Elliot does actually appear in it, and I was thinking specifically of films where the narrator is never named and never appears.
isn’t named technically ;) but yeah I see your point :)
Others, off the top of my head:
A. I. (Ben Kingsley)
Hamlet 2 (Steve Coogan)
Mishima (Roy Scheider)
How the West Was Won (Spencer Tracy)
Also a couple with the narrator appearing at some point in the film
The Ten Commandments (1956) (Cecil B. DeMille)
Henry V (the Branagh version) (Derek Jacobi)
Barry Lyndon, The Age of Innocence.
The Magnificent Ambersons
Orson Welles’ narration in this movie is some of the best I’ve encountered. Royal Tenenbaums was heavily influenced, specifically the beginning.
Welles’ television production, The Fountain of Youth, deals quite a bit in third person narration.
With few exceptions I find objective narration to be intrusive and often lazy. It seems a literary crutch when a film maker cannot express a story in a visual way.
“Little Children” along with the others mentioned. I don’t mind the narration at all, I see film as more than just simply visuals. In fact, that’s the thing I love most about film, you can combine almost any art form into it: literary devices, music, paintings, etc.
Those couple of really distracting interruptions in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Samuel L. Jackson. Not dry. Not objective. But third person. And totally useless in a movie that otherwise pretty much floored me.
@Frita: A fashionable and lazy sentiment; film is medium that manipulates two senses, only one of which is the eyes. Why is it obligated to live its narrative life to half of its potential?
Kenji – Yes! How could I forget barry Lyndon? Absolutely one of my favorite film narrations.
Frita- I understand that position, and I agree that it could be a crutch in the wrong hands, but when it’s used well – i.e. not simply describing what we’re seeing and telling us things we already know – I think it can provide insight and make for a richer experience. I certainly wouldn’t want it to become the norm though.
Jules et Jim
“I agree that it could be a crutch in the wrong hands, but when it’s used well – i.e. not simply describing what we’re seeing and telling us things we already know – I think it can provide insight and make for a richer experience.”
Yes. Of course it CAN be well used (EXTREMELY well used) when incorporated from the get-go of a film’s conceptualization. But of course this hardly ever happens, and we’re stuck with a ton of movies with cop-out voice-overs and last-minute-all-nighter-high-school-book-report-quality narrative structures cobbled together in the editing room. When it’s already too late.