Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.

A Brief Summary

Published: 25 Oct 2011
Revised: 14 Feb 2015

Edited on 5 Feb 2015: to recast in support of redframer.

My advice is to skip this introductory material and go directly to the essays. The introductory material is primarily for historical background.

Noir is a good one to start with.


The essays here started a long time ago as a personal project, following some professional research on cognitive modeling. You can read the history here.

Now as we start to get serious about all these projects, the essays have evolved to have two purposes. One is to capture some of the ideas that some visitors to redframer may find interesting. The capabilities of that project were originally motivated by what I thought I’d like to have in my life.

A second goal here is to demo and refine a few user interface advances, primarily in embedded parentheticals. The kutachi essays are part of this exploration.

About Movies

Long form movies are our modern literature, the slate on which we write our shared cultural narratives and the blackboard where we experiment with concepts. If you want to understand the human mind, and especially the collaborative human mind, you need to look at the central intelligent art. Right now, that is movies.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that the narrative structures of most films have several meta-levels of variety and richness not found elsewhere — not in the past, other media or parallel social institutions. While the ‘social networking’ phenomenon currently is getting attention, it lacks the depth of engagement of film. Indeed, much of what it has is borrowed from films.

Film is vital; its expressive grammars are evolving quickly, both in the structure of narrative forms and in the cinematic vocabulary used to convey them. If just for this reason, films are worth looking at for the way we reach for rich contact; the story of how storytelling is changing is just too engaging to ignore.

And there are so many interesting films!

These Essays

The study itself is fairly simple: we empirically observe how we and others engage in complex narrative and try to extract some dynamics. The only novelty we bring is the nature of the abstractions used; in this work we think of films as machines (or organisms) made of moving parts consisting of causal agents.

Agents include characters of course, and plot points, but extend to any identifiable element or even quality. Of particular interest are cinematic devices like camera stance and frame; also what we call folded devices like irony and self-reference.

These causal agents pull from one or more worlds in the story, worlds outside the story and perhaps inhabited by the viewers and mixes (or ‘folds’) of these worlds.

Many familiar elements take on new colors when modeled with this set of abstractions.

The core of what we have here is a simple bottom up study where certain principles are observed in films, informally characterized and presented. A companion site is focused on individual films, where the essays here focus on some interesting qualities of films.

This site has two purposes: to report on research and to demonstrate it. The research in this case is focused on structured narrative using some new formal tools. These tools depend on rather sophisticated mathematics, which you can read about elsewhere. Everything on this site is motivated less by arguing about the potential theoretical merits, and more by demonstrating how things really work.

The ‘reporting’ function is the first implemented, with more or less ordinary web publishing conventions.

  • A Blog area gives frequent progress reports on projects. Major changes anywhere on the site will be announced in the blog. Personal observations and infrastructure notes are in a separate section within the blog area.
  • The Kutachi area deals with graphical metaphors and user interface challenges within the new paradigm.
  • The FilmsFolded area is concerned with related visual grammars as we use them in the cinematic vocabulary we use to structure narrative in movies.
  • The GeoKabbalitter History area presents a history of one trend in structured narrative, presenting examples and their structure.

The Tool area will use some of the user interface conventions to model the GeoKabbalitter and FilmsFolded examples.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2011