Sequences, Dreams and Cinema

Ian David


Cinema’s narrative experience is akin to taking steps on a stairway, not always to heaven. Lajos Egri in his seminal work, ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’, describes the progression of a narrative as one of transition to decision, where each transition consists of incremental change rising to a determination to act. Frank Daniel, the Czech filmmaker, maintained that most feature films are made up of eight sequences—two for the first act, four for the second and two for the third. The sequential nature of film, largely the result of a mechanical imposition, isn’t unique to cinema, it appears to be the structure of REM sleep. The striking thing about the human sleep cycle is that it occurs in a sequence of four or five episodes and the cycle usually taking ninety to hundred minutes, remarkably similar to the duration of a feature film. Cinema’s sequential form of narrative, related to REM sleep, helps explain why we appear to have no difficulty divining meaning in cinema’s use of montage, and its apparent disdain for the laws of nature as they relate to time and space.

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