Hyperlink cinema is a term coined by author Alissa Quart, who used the term in her review of the film Happy Endings (2005) for the film journal Film Comment in 2005. Film critic Roger Ebert popularized the term when reviewing the film Syriana in 2005. These films are not hypermedia and do not have actual hyperlinks, but are multilinear in a more metaphorical sense.
In describing Happy Endings, Quart considers captions acting as footnotes and split screen as elements of hyperlink cinema and notes the influence of the World Wide Web and multitasking. Playing with time and characters' personal history, plot twists, interwoven storylines between multiple characters, jumping between the beginning and end (flashback and flashforward) are also elements. Ebert further described hyperlink cinema as films where the characters or action reside in separate stories, but a connection or influence between those disparate stories is slowly revealed to the audience; illustrated in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu's films Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006).
Quart suggests that director Robert Altman created the structure for the genre and demonstrated its usefulness for combining interlocking stories in his films Nashville (1975) and Short Cuts (1993). However, Satyajit Ray's 1962 classic Kanchenjunga has a narrative structure similar to hyperlink cinema and predates Altman's Nashville by 13 years. Ray's contemporaries Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak employed the structure in their films Calcutta 71 and Titash Ekti Nadir Naam respectively, both predating Altman's Nashville.
Quart also mentions the television series 24 and discusses Alan Rudolph’s film Welcome to L.A. (1976) as an early prototype. Crash (2004) is an example of the genre, as are Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000), City of God (2002), Syriana (2005), and Nine Lives (2005).
The hyperlink cinema narrative and story structure can be compared to social science's spatial analysis. As described by Edward Soja and Costis Hadjimichalis spatial analysis examines the "'horizontal experience' of human life, the spatial dimension of individual behavior and social relations, as opposed to the 'vertical experience' of history, tradition, and biography." English critic John Berger notes for the novel that "it is scarcely any longer possible to tell a straight story sequentially unfolding in time" for "we are too aware of what is continually traversing the story line laterally."
An academic analysis of hyperlink cinema appeared in the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication, and referred to the films as Global Network Films. Narine's study examines the films Traffic (2000), Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Beyond Borders (2003), Crash (2004; released 2005), Syriana (2005), Babel (2006) and others, citing network theorist Manuel Castells and philosophers Michel Foucault and Slavoj Žižek. The study suggests that the films are network narratives that map the network society and the new connections citizens experience in the age of globalization.
- Kanchenjunga (1962)
- Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (1973)
- Zavallilar (1974)
- Nashville (1975)
- Yol (1981)
- After Hours (1985)
- Short Cuts (1993)
- Before the Rain (1994)
- Exotica (1994)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
- The Opposite of Sex (1998)
- Playing by Heart (1998)
- Magnolia (1999)
- Go (1999)
- Code Unknown (2000)
- Timecode (2000)
- Amores perros (2000)
- Snatch (2000)
- Traffic (2000)
- Lantana (2001)
- City of God (2002)
- 11:14 (2003)
- 21 Grams (2003)
- Cape of Good Hope (2004)
- Crash (2004)
- Hawaii, Oslo (2004)
- Happy Endings (2005)
- Syriana (2005)
- Nine Lives (2005)
- Look Both Ways (2006)
- Babel (2006)
- The Edge of Heaven (2007)
- Rendition (2007)
- The Air I Breathe (2008)
- Gomorrah (2008)
- Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008)
- Yeh Mera India (2008)
- Ajami (2009)
- Powder Blue (2009)
- Dalamarmarangal (2009)
- Hereafter (2010)
- 184.108.40.206 (2010)
- Vedam (film) (2010)
- Traffic (2011)
- Bombay March 12 (2011)
- Contagion (2011)
- Cloud Atlas (2012)
- Disconnect (2012)
- Night People (2015)
- The Big Short (2015)
An extension to hyperlink cinema has been proposed by Robert K. Logan and Emma Findlay-White to suggest that hyperlink television has many of the properties of hyperlink cinema in that it also plays with time and characters' personal history, plot twists, contains interwoven storylines between multiple characters, jumps between the beginning and end (flashback and flashforward), and makes use of split screens and footnotes. But in addition it has some marked differences, to wit: weekly dramatic episodes often with multiple seasons such as Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones and multiple episodes as in nightly newscasts such as CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. The multiple characters of newscasts include two categories: the newsmakers, i.e. the subjects of the news and the anchors, reporters and commentators of the news shows.
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