Film Language- A
Taken from Introduction to Film Theory & Criticism
(6th Ed. by Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen)
• Most suggest that it was Grifﬁth who
• Via ‘intercutting’ seemingly unrelated shots
or through juxtaposing the close-up shot,
followed by panoramic long-shots. This
started to create the ‘language’ of ﬁlm.
• Deﬁned his montage as a collision or
conﬂict between one shot and its
• Happy/sad, dark/light, slow/fast, large/small,
• ‘Collision’ as expression of Marxist
• Wanted to link shots together, each
building on the last in communicating
• His work created a ‘deliberate, calmer
Sound- Andre Bazin
• Eisenstein rejected dialogue as incompatible
with the principles of montage.
• Film theorist Bazin disagreed, seeing
dialogue as returning ﬁlm to the rightful
path, from which silence and montage
• ‘The ﬁlm image ought to reveal reality
whole, not cut it into tiny bits.’
Bazin- ‘Mise en scene’
• Bazin foregrounded the importance of
composition (composing each shot within
the ﬁlm) with ‘staging the action’ and has
come to be known as mise en scene.
• Indeed, Bazin reclaims the work of Von
Stroheim, F.W. Murnau and Flaherty (all
working silent ﬁlm) as challenging the
montage tradition with content imagery.
Bazin- Evolving Form
• Bazin preferred to reject the art of Russian
Formalists and German Expressionists in
favour of ‘analytic editing.’ He considered
the shot/reverse shot to be an important
• This in itself was superseded by ‘depth of
ﬁeld.’ (See Citizen Kane) This allowed for
greater realism and more active viewer
engagement, exploring the composition.
• Agreed that the ‘long-take’ was crucial but
preferred the long, slow tracking shots
which avoided depth of ﬁeld as can be seen
in Godard’s work.
• Henderson claimed this was an ideological
composition to show the world as a ﬂat, 2-
dimensional space, open to criticism and
• With the rise of structuralism and
semiotics in the late 60s and 70s, those
such as Christian Metz & Umberto Eco
made use of linguistic traditions (such as
those by Ferdinand de Saussure, Todorov,
Barthes, Levi-Strauss etc) to use a scientiﬁc
base for the deconstruction of the text.
The Science of Signs
• Metz claimed that ﬁlm shots were more
than just the equivalent of a spoken word
but were actually akin to whole sentences
and that when seen as part of an entire ﬁlm
represent much more.
• Only when organised into ‘repeatable,
recognisable codes’ do they become
discourse and capable of telling a story.’
• Metz wanted to apply the semiotics of
denotation/connotation in a scientiﬁc
manner to the study of narrative.
(Succession, priority, temporal breaks &
• For Metz, ‘ﬁlm does not simply reveal
reality; it describes it in a language whose
features we are only beginning to
Althusser & Lacan
• Marxist theory which suggested the
relationship between signiﬁer and signiﬁed
was arbitrary (culturally relative...e.g.
• Claimed instead that ﬁlm texts are to be
‘read’ and reading that requires our
understanding of cinematic conventions and
• ‘...the match of ﬁlm and world, is a matter
of representation, and representation is in
turn a matter of discourse...(I)n this sense
at least, ﬁlm is a series of languages, a
history of codes.’
Stephen Prince- ‘Icons’
• Prince argued against this, suggesting
iconography ‘resemble reality’ and that this
skill is shared cross-culturally. This kind of
visual literacy (as it became to be known
later) cannot be explained by linguistic
Daniel Dayan- Reclaims
The Shot/Reverse Shot
• Borrowed an expression from Oudart,
namely ‘the absent one.’ He applied this to
the shot/reverse shot by suggesting that
each shot can only be understood by seeing
the next shot.
• The spectator therefore loses a sense of
the present as there is always an ‘absent
one’ in each shot.
Nick Browne- ‘The
• Considers the authority of the narrator...
• ‘The way in which we as spectators, are
implicated in the action is as much a matter
of our position with respect to the
unfolding of events as it is in their
representation from a point of space.’
• Both Devan & Brown relate this debate to
the ideological position or suture created
by the point of view shot. However, Brown
considered that we are not asked to share
the ideological position of the protagonist
just because we inhabit this space within
the world of the ﬁlm.
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