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Film600
Film600: Wrong Subjects + Bad Theories

I'll will work on semiotics pages, when I teach Film & Movies again (Spring 2003 -- see the bottom of this table for details).

I use semio-pages in Film&Drama, THR470 Film Directing and even in 200X Aesthetics Core Class. Only the BASICS, to get a sense what film language is about. Next time I am to touch this subject is in the Spring 2001 -- Virtual Theatre Special Topics. The updates are usually done a few months before the course is offered.

I recommend Film Theory and Criticism (5 ed) -- Introductory Readings by Leo Brudy & Marchall Cohen. Oxford U Press, 1999 The Academy (read their papers):

Aristotle
Aristotle: Objective Idealism
Aristotle and Eisenstein?
Plato
Platonism
Plato and Bergman?
Hegel
Last Objective Idealist
... script.vtheatre.net/themes
Kierkeggard
Existentialism
Kierkeggard and Tarkovsky
Marx
Marxism
... neo-marxism : themes/marxism
Rand
Objectivism
... amaricana
Nietzsche
Nietzsche
...

Read Film600 (Bad Theory) pages or my nonfiction like POV (Language of Angels)!

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Summary

2009 updates?
(c)2004:

+ Semio page...

goto : tarkovsky.wetpaint.com wiki
film-philosophy.com

Notes

2005 How to Read a Film by Monaco textbook, chapter 3 & 5 (theory of film language) * 3rd 2000 ed.
Teaching, Writing, Film -- directing + theory, Webbing, 2006

Content copyright protected by Copyscape website plagiarism search

Monaco:

* Concept of "quasi-language" 152 "Film is not a language, but is like language..." (basing on Metz's Flm Language)

IMAGE reading:
1. physiological *
2. ethnographical
3. psychological "'Film is what you can't imagine'" (M. 161) -- "physiological" impact (USA complains about the communist Eisenstein, 20s) * Denotative meaning and "diegesis" (the sum of its denotations) = becuase of RECORDING reality! But paragmatic connotation (HOW to shoot) and syntagmatic connotation (HOW to edit) ask for DIFFERENT imagination?
paragmatic = how to "say" it
syntagmatic = how to present what is said (style? )

The obvious: watching some sex act doesn't make it a "porno"... purpose, intent, framing, filming does. Bwcause every "icon" has " index" and "symbol" in it! While comsuming image on the SCREEN becomes a "word" (how different the process from "reading" reality, observing it, and THRU camera?)

"Much of its meaning comes not from what we see (or hear) but from what we don't see, or, more accurately, from an ongoing process of comparison of what we see with what we don't see." (M. 168-169)

Again, "for to speak [film] is partly to invent it." (Go back to "Kuleshov Effect")


What we see on the screen is the diegesis (the narrative world of the film) and it can be divided up into two areas:

I. Mise-en-scne [ primary action, ie the movement of characters/objects within the frame ]

II. Mise-en-shot [ secondary action, ie the movement of the camera ]

* continuity - continuous action shown in sequence [ Hollywood movies tend to go for continuity editing, a style also known as transparency (ie you don't notice it). Actions flow smoothly from one frame to another, and the audience simply follow the dialogue. ]
* montage - a series of seemingly unrelated shots that the audience must work to connect [ the style employed by many art-house films is framed editing, where the audience are continually reminded that they are viewing an artificially created text. Jump cuts, sudden stoppages of sound, juxtapositional shots etc are used to intrude upon the diegetic world ]. * The Language Of Film


What are Film Genres?

The auteur system can be contrasted to the genre system, in which films are rated on the basis of the expression of one person, usually the director, because his/her indelible style, authoring vision or 'signature' dictates the personality, look, and feel of the film. [ Kurosawa, Felinni, Tarkovsky -- Dreams, 8.5, Mirror. New "title" pages at film.vtheatre.net.


The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith; Oxford University Press, 1997 : for film.vtheatre.net

A History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook; W. W. Norton, 1996 [questia] *

Theories of Film by Andrew Tudor; Viking Press, 1974 * - 1: Introduction - 2:: Eisenstein: Great Beginnings - 3: the Problem of Context: John Grierson - 5: Critical Method: Auteur and Genre

Concepts in Film Theory by Dudley Andrew; Oxford University Press, 1984

The Art of the Film by Ernest Lindgren; Macmillan, 1963 *

Philosophy of the Film: Epistemology, Ontology, Aesthetics by Ian Jarvie; Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987 *

Cinematics by Paul Weiss; Southern Illinois University Press, 1975


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Drive-Through Film Theory

Film Semiotics 101 -- Part II
Still around, kid? How about a fast drive through film theory. The semiotics "and stuff." This is a road for the students in my upper-level and graduate classes in film and theatre. This is Film Semiotics 101, part I, for more go to Semio2: questions.

FILM SEMIOTICS

Signs, Signs, Signs....

According to semiotics (semiology), signs are everywhere and everything is a sign -- words, images, sounds, and absence of them -- in short, anything from which some meanings may be generated. The Semiotics-Machine is constantly working in our brains. We need to have this "meaning" so bad and we give our "reading" to everything we see. Now you know why the world is full of "misunderstanding"! "Do you know what I mean?" This phrase is posted on everything around you. We post it the moment we see something.

There are three main components to remember: The (1)sign is composed of a (2)signifier -- the material form of the sign -- and (3)the signified -- the concept it represents.

[ ... ]

...

Sign -- The written word STOP

Signifier -- The letters S-T-O-P

Signified concept -- The motion category "stop"

(I have to skip the entire area of coding and decoding and go straight for classification).


And there are three categories of signs:

1. Iconic -- a sign which resembles the signified (portrait, photo, diagram, map)

2. Symbolic -- a sign which does not resemble the signified but which is purely conventional (the word stop, a red traffic light, or a national flag)

3. Indexical -- a sign which is inherently connected in some way (existentially or causally) to the signified (e.g. smoke signifies fire; and all the little symbols you see on web pages -- mailboxes, envilopes, arrows).

The linquistics (studies of language) introduced semiotics as a theory; spoken or written word is highly symbolic, we see all three elements right away. In film, on the contrary, every image seems to be an iconic sign. Since there is no learning of conventional connections between the sign and signified involved, we recognize screen images in every culture. At its birth film offered us a new "international" language. You see a closeup, you RECOGNIZE it again on screen as a sign of the same character. You don't have to know or remember the names! All you need is some life experience. If you saw tree before, you can recognize it on the screen. The art of film language is not in iconic signification....

Guess what? It could be a combination of all three! It should be iconic, symbolic and indexical! Film loves it -- the complexity! Sometimes it difficult to define the category.... Look at the tool-bar on your screen -- is the command "Print" with a small picture of printer iconic or indexical? One or two signs? Besides, it's not a picture of your actual printer, but a symbol. Did you notice -- it says "print" (not printer) to signify the action, but the object?

Why do we need it, the semiosis? To understand how fast the sign is been read on the screen and how much of it. To understand that your shot doesn't have to be fully understandable in order for spectators wait for the next shot. To understand that the "richer" is the sign the more "significant" it becomes. By moving between iconic, symbolic and indexical levels the sign gets life in our brain processor.

Due to the extreme iconic nature of photography, a dog is naturally recognized as a dog, and here is the first task for a film-maker -- to overcome the natural mimesis of film. The shot of a dog has to express something else, we have to assign a different meaning to the shot -- we have to go to the level two and three.


Side-note: the semiotics do have practical applications in teaching, lets say, "acting for the camera." Does the famous Taco Bell little dog act? No. Than how do we derive the message from somebody who doesn't send it? It must be our manipulation of images provides the message. The whole concept of acting has to be transformed, because you indeed acting for THE CAMERA. Camera is the sign-maker and you are only a participant in this process. Since camera "records" the reality, it will record "you-acting" (we'll see actor, not the character). The success of Method Acting and its famous son Marlon Brando in recognizing the effect of CU, which camera brings in every shot. Actor has to be completely disolved within his character (Stanislavsky). Camera has to replace the stage for you, camera is your medium. Shots are controlled by the camera, the only continuety you can have through "inner" conflict (space conflicts are arranged by the montage). You have to turn inside, the only place where you are still in control. Screen actors produce not signs, but the components of the screen images. Size, duration, cut, light, angle -- they all are supposed to work for the dramatic initiation you offer to camera. Your move will be magnified and enriched.... if you got yourself a good director, of course.

Silence

What is it? A poster. This poster is a sign of the movie. Where is the signifier? The whole picture. What does it signify? The movie?

Wait, wait! Why not the actress? Or maybe Jody Foster's face is the sign as well? Sign of what? The movie? A good movie? Sign of success? Or a person "Jody Foster"? How about the meaning of film?

What was that -- iconic, symbolic, indexical?


Jesus! Why should a director know about it? Tarantino never went to film school!... Well, visit the Eisenstein's page. There is a difference between good and great directors, which one do you want to be?


The Games Signs Play

Readability, Recognition, Discovery....
[I will return to Semiotics on Virtual Theatre site; there are practical applications of the theory in understanding how to use film language in webcasting.]

Okay! The old question. Why do we call it "entertainment"? Because we are constantly between two opposite poles: something we know (recognize) and something we don't. The most intriguing part of the signs' play is their interaction.... [see Film & Movies]

Back to spectatorship theory (some pages are on Theatre w/Anatoly mega-site.

[To be Continued]


How strong are relation between the signifier and the signified?
The terms motivation and constraint describe the extent to which the signified determines the signifier. The more a signifier is constrained by the signified, the more "motivated" the sign is: iconic signs are highly motivated; symbolic signs are unmotivated. The less motivated the sign, the more learning of an agreed convention is required. The word "stop" doesn't say anything to you, if you don't know English. The picture of printer tells you about the signified, as long as you saw printer and know what it is. The dual arrangement on your computor screen is not for illiterates, but because an iconic (picture) sign is instantly recognizable. One of the reasons for the enormous popularity of movies (next to books) is in its iconic nature of signs. Movies are easy to read, man!


Here is a sign for you -- the traffic language... STOP!

Cards & Stop sign


What is a signifier here?

"Stop"? Don't click on it -- you will not get to virtual postcard store, which sells you know -- the signs, my friend! "Stop"? But this command (STOP) is used for a different purpose -- that's how we formating our statement.... Signs are about programming, my friends. Film is a sophisticated software, the hardware we got from another source. For free.


Paradigms and syntagms

The two ways signs are organized -- by paradigms and by syntagms. Paradigmatic and syntagmatic structures are often presented as axes, where the vertical axis is the paradigmatic and the horizontal axis is the syntagmatic. The plane of the paradigm is that of selection, the syntagm -- combination.

LS, MS, CU are paradigms, they are on Y line. Their order is a sintagmatic structure -- X line. (Usualy, before we try semiotic analysis, I ask students to try "primitive" structuralism. Count the CUs in the movie, or better -- the comercials. What is the proportion between the number of CUs and long shots? What about their distribution within the film? Now -- look for the combinations.... You almost can make a chart of a director's style! Also, useful to check your own storyboard or script the same way; it gives you a position of an outsider and you will notice what you missed being too close to your project).

B&W Closeup

[I wish I could have time to think it through, the semiotical application to acting. The mystery of the photogenic faces asks for it! What does make one looks "natural" on the screen?]


Classifications

So, paradigms are classifications of signs. A paradigm is a set of associated signs which are all members of some defining category, but in which each sign is significantly different. The vocabulary of a language is one paradigm, and there are grammatical paradigms such as verbs or nouns. Film paradigms include ways of changing shot (such as cut, fade, dissolve and wipe). The genre used by a particular media is also paradigms, which derive meaning from the ways in which they differ from alternative media: the signifier could remain the same, but the sign itself is altered by a change of its "frame."

Chains

A syntagm is an order of interacting signs which forms a meaningful whole (chain). Such combinations are made within a framework of rules and conventions. In English, a sentence, for instance, is a syntagm of words. Syntagms are created by the choice of paradigms from those which are conventionally regarded as appropriate or which may be required by some rule system (e.g. grammar).

[For more indepth and detailed introduction to the subject go to the website Semiotics for Beginners: the links to semiotics on the Net. Follow the links on other (real) pages on semiotics and you will get to the lists of recommended readings.]

... The absences -- "the meaning of what was chosen is determined by the meaning of what was not" (John Fiske). In film, our analysis of a particular shot is paradigmatic when we compare it (not necessarily consciously) with the use of a viable alternative kind of shot. It is syntagmatic when we compare the shot with those that precede or follow it. (more) Montage is a basic element of syntagmatic dimension.

Syntagmatic Analysis

A syntagmatic analysis of a media text involves studying it as a narrative sequence. Narrative theory (or narratology) is a whole new area....

A syntagmatic analysis would involve an analysis of how each shot, scene or sequence related to the others. Christian Metz (Film Language) gives elaborate syntagmatic categories for narrative film.

* The autonomous shot (e.g. establishing shot, insert)
* The parallel syntagm (montage of motifs)
* The bracketing syntagm (montage of brief shots)
* The descriptive syntagm (sequence describing one moment)
* The alternating syntagm (two sequences alternating)
* The scene (shots implying temporal continuity)
* The episodic sequence (organized discontinuity of shots)
* The ordinary sequence (temporal with some compression)

* Synchronic/synoptic (one place, one time: one shot)
* Diachronic/synoptic (same place sequence over time)
* Synchronic/diatopic (different places at same time)
* Diachronic/diatopic (shots related only by theme)

This is important to remember, working on your storyboard. Each shot (and cut) could be described and seen in dia/syn-chronic and dia/syn-topic positions. You have to aware what take place in the nature of our perception when we move from one shot to another. "Ext." (exterior) and "Int." (interior) indications in screenplays are not only for production reasons, but because the change from one to other has extreme effect on us, the viewers.


Denotation and Connotation

In semiotics there are different 'orders of signification' (levels of meaning). Semioticians distinguish between denotation - what a sign stands for - and connotation - its cultural associations. References to the signifier and the signified are sometimes described as the first order of signification - that of denotation, connotation -- a second-order signifying system.

In conventional semiotic terms, connotation uses the first sign (signifier and signified) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified. Connotations 'derive not from the sign itself, but from the way the society uses and values both the signifier and the signified'. Connotation involves emotional overtones, objective interpretation, socio-cultural values and ideological assumptions. A car can connote virility or freedom in Western cultures, and so on.

[What would Rubens think about our standarts of beauty?
In Africa she (Gish) would be considered sick.]

"The term 'denotation' is widely equated with the literal meaning of a sign: because the literal meaning is almost universally recognized, especially when visual discourse is being employed, 'denotation' has often been confused with a literal transcription of 'reality' in language - and thus with a 'natural sign', one produced without the intervention of a code. 'Connotation', on the other hand, is employed simply to refer to less fixed and therefore more conventionalized and changeable, associative meanings, which clearly vary from instance to instance and therefore must depend on the intervention of codes." (Stuart Hall)

The famous shot from "Potemkin" -- metaphor? Metonomy of horror? (Click on picture, if you want to visit Eisenstain's Page.

Eisenstein was radical in his theory of film acting; he wanted to replace professional actors with "types" -- the photographic power of camera supports his ideas. Camera, the creator of meaning, will do the acting! Between Mother-Nature and Father-Director an actor become a material. Something like a landscape or an object.

Metaphor and Metonymy

Metaphor expresses the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. The sign and the signified are normally unrelated: we must make an imaginative leap to understand a metaphor -- the visual language works metaphorically so well because each time it's a new metaphor.

Metonymy involves the invocation of an idea or object through the use of an associated detail (so 'the crown' invokes the notion of monarchy). Metonymy is based on contiguity: it does not require transposition (an imaginative leap). Any attempt to represent reality can be seen as involving metonymy, since it can only involve selection (and yet such selections serve to guide us in envisaging larger frameworks). Synecdoche is a form of metonymy in which a part stands for the whole or vice versa (a policeman is 'the law'; London is 'the smoke'; workers are sometimes called 'hands'). [the film cliches]. (Fiske interprets metaphor as a paradigmatic dimension (vertical, selective/associative) and metonymy as a syntagmatic dimension (horizontal, combinative -- also, see Christian Metz, Film Language).


If you're tired of this semiotic stuff, or on the wrong page all together, try other pages!

Codes & Ideology

In each text signs are organized into meaningful systems according to certain conventions which semioticians refer to as codes (or signifying codes). Such conventions represent a social dimension in semiotics: a code is a set of practices familiar to users of the medium operating within a broad cultural framework. Understanding such codes is part of what it means to be a member of a particular culture. These conventions are typically inexplicit, and we are not normally conscious of the roles which they play (and they are open to interpretation).
(Photo: Leni Riefenstahl (missing). We thought that the Soviets and Nazi Germans were masters of film-ideology, we never gave proper credits to Hollywood. Watch the commercials, kid!).

Codes are not static, but dynamic systems which change over time, and are thus historically as well as socio-culturally situated. The way in which such conventions are established is called codification.

XFiles
Sci-Fi became such a popular genre only recently.
In many ways it replaced old fairy-tales.

[Sixth and Seventh Age of Film, see Intro on Film for Kids page. Film has one hundred years of history with its own developed ideology. Without it the tv wouldn't be possible, not technologically, but psychologically.]

....'fundamental to all semiotic analysis is the fact that any system of signs (semiotic code) is carried by a material medium which has its own principles of structure'. For instance, television involves both aural and visual codes, which are organized according to different principles. Some codes are unique to a specific medium or to closely-related media (e.g. 'fade to black'); others are shared by (or similar in) several media (e.g. scene breaks); and some are drawn from cultural practices which are not tied to a medium (e.g. body language). Some are more specific to particular genres within a medium. Some are more broadly linked either to the domain of science ('logical codes', suppressing connotation and diversity of interpretation) or to that of the arts (aesthetic codes, celebrating connotation and diversity of interpretation), though such differences are differences of degree rather than of kind.

Broadcast Codes & Narrowcast Codes:
A broadcast code is shared by member of a mass audience; a narrowcast code is aimed at a more limited audience: 'Narrowcast codes have acquired the function in our mass society of stressing the difference between "us" (the users of the code) and "them" (the laymen, the lowbrows). Broadcast codes stress the similarities amongst "us" (the majority)'. Narrowcast codes have the potential to be more subtle; broadcast codes can lead to cliche.

Cinematic and televisual codes include genre, camerawork, editing, lighting, color and framing. Christian Metz added authorial style, and distinguished codes from sub-codes, where a sub-code was a particular choice from within a code (e.g. western within genre). The syntagmatic dimension was a relation of combination between different codes and sub-codes; the paradigmatic dimension was that of the film-maker's choice of particular sub-codes within a code. (Metz, Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema, New York: Oxford U Press, 1974)

Texts also draw on codes deriving from the culture in which the text is produced (Metz). Umberto Eco offered ten fundamental codes as instrumental in shaping images:

codes of perception, codes of transmission, codes of recognition, tonal codes, iconic codes, iconographic codes, codes of taste and sensibility, rhetorical codes, stylistic codes and codes of the unconscious.
Roland Barthes itemised five codes utilized in reading: hermeneutic (narrative turning-points); proairetic (basic narrative actions); cultural (prior social knowledge); semic (medium-related codes) and symbolic (themes).
...

This is too complex of an issue to discuss in a car!


"The way we watch television and the way we perceive [everyday] reality are fundamentally similar, in that both are determined by conventions or codes. Reality is itself a complex system of signs interpreted by members of the culture in exactly the same way as are films and television programmes. Perception of this reality is always mediated through the codes with which our culture organizes it, categorizes its significant elements or semes into paradigms, and relates them significantly into syntagms." (Fiske)

The codes of television relate closely to the codes for the perception of the everyday world and the boundary between television and reality is hard to define -- the further reduction of our critical ability. The familiar and casual activities are the basisc for formation of Ideology (set of codes).

More?.. See Semio2

...

Oh, you still don't understand "films"? You need a few more key concepts. How about STRUCTURALISM? The structuralist method involves the study of binary oppositions.

The Dialectics.... We will talk about it on the MONTAGE page.

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