Branigan on Point of View

A few notes from Edward Branigan’s Point of View in the Cinema (Mouton, 1984)

Gerard Genette has observed that a dissymmetry exists within verbal narration. A story may very well be told in words without specifying the place where it happens and whether this place is more or less distant from the place where it is now being told; nevertheless, it is almost impossible not to locate the story in time with respect to the narrating act since the story must necessarily be told in a present, past, or future tense. Thus in a verbal narrative the temporal determinations of the narrating act are more salient than the spatial determinations. By contrast, this dissymmetry is exactly reversed in pictorial narration. A picture initially is atemporal and will remain so unless the discourse assigns it a temporal reference; nevertheless, a picture invariably discloses its spatial determinations for the reason that the picture must necessarily be taken from some angle and location. (44-45)

This is an area where comics have great power and versatility. Textual captions can anchor a pictorial narrative in time, while images can anchor a text narration in space. The combination used or withheld (a wordless series of images, or a sequence of text only) can create a wide variety of functions in this respect, especially when one considers parallel text-image interactions that might subvert one’s reading of text or image and create a sense of dissonance, suspense, or purposeful obfuscation.


Branigan divides p.o.v. shots into two major variants: prospective and retrospective (“discovered”) (111). Prospective shows the seeing agent first then the object seen, while the retrospective shows the object seen first then the seeing agent. I imagine one could defer the retrospective pov shot for a long period of time, showing many objects seen before revealing a seeing agent. This might have a visual correlation in Robbe-Grillet’s Jalousie where the fact that the book is kind of narrated pov shot is only revealed subtly over time. In something like Brian Ralph’s Daybreak, the seeing agent is never revealed, but we are early on made aware that there is someone there, behind the panel, so to speak.

He also elaborates a number of “simple structures” for p.o.v. shots (111-117):

a) closed: This is a sequence where the image shows agent then object before returning to the agent again.

b) delayed: The moment between the again and object shots are separated by some amount of time or images.

c) open: The agent is shown looking but the object is not shown (one assumes a opposite version where object is missing an agent, though it is not explicitly noted). A great comics example are the Peanuts, cloud watching strips.

d) continuing: A sequence showing several objects related back to one agent.

e) cheated: A use of the object view which is not realistically attributable to the agent (close-ups, alternate angles, etc).

f) multiple: Where the same object is seen by multiple agents.

g) embedded: A p.o.v. shot within a p.o.v shot (A(person) looks at B(person) who looks at something).

h) reciprocal: Best explanation would be two facing characters looking at each other.

Branigan offers examples and variations on all of these which are too numerous and involved to detail here. I imagine we could find these in comics if enough effort were spent in searching them out.