‘The semiotics of the cinema is the theory of films as a system of signs. The idea isthat we are to think of film as a kind of language and are to try to develop alinguistics of this language of film’Discuss the notion of ‘ Film as a kind of language’ using the theory of semioticsand examples to sustain your discussionsNow, more than ever, television and film play a major role in our lives. Throughconstant exposure we learn to read ttelevision and film, lending support to the notionthat televisual and filmic codes constitute a kind of language. It is important howeverthat a clear distinction is made between film as a language and all other literarylanguages. To justify use of the word ‘language’ one can suggest that both film andliterary languages make use of several codes and signs in order to constitute astructure or grammar.Literary languages are the model for the sign systems as defined by the theory ofsemiotics. ‘Language is tthe most characteristic semiotic system inasmuch as therelation between signifier(the material phenomenon we are able to perceive) and thesignified(the concept evoked by the signifier) is most arbitrary’.(Saussure, 1974)Therefore, in developing a semiotic account of cinema, it is necessary to access tthefilm as a sign system in terms analogous to those used in the study of linguisticstructures. (Jackson, 2001)Firstly, one can examine the subject of double articulation (which is present in verballanguage) Double articulation enables a semiotic code to form an infinite number ofmeaningful combinations using a small number of low-level units. At the first level ofarticulation the system consists of the smallest meaningful units available e.g. wordsin a language while at the second level of articulation a semiotic code is divisible intominimal units which lack meaning in themselves but serve to differentiate theminimal meaningful units of the first level e.g. the suffix -ly. (Eco, 1977) Somesemioticians such as Christian Metz argued that filmic codes lack double articulationbecause there’s no unit iin film that equals the word in language. The image, or theshot, which he believes is the smallest unit in cinema, is already at the same level as asentence or paragraph and therefore film is an example of a sign system that does nothave a second level of articulation. Even if the shot is broken down into singleframes, each frame is an image which is a complex sign that cannot be broken downinto smaller units. There is no set number oof specific building blocks of signs incinema: every piece of film shot is an entirely new image and combination of images.(Jackson, 2001) An alternative view has been put forward by Pier Paolo Passolini,who sees the minimal unit of the second level of articulation as a signifying object ina shot and that an infinite number of these signifying objects can be found in any oneshot thus creating a kind of grammar. (Stam 2000)One can also examine denotation and connotation with reference to the language offilm. Denotation is the most literal meaning of the sign whereas connotation is extrameaning derived through cultural association with the denoted sign. Both denotationand connotation are great parts of the cinematic language. Most aspects of the plot ofa film- who the characters are, what they are doing- are indicated by other signswhich is part of the denotation. However, further meaning can be extracted throughspecific contexts in which the sign is used or circulated and this is part of theconnotation. In film the signs can function both to denote and connote meanings atthe same time e.g. what a character is wearing. In the case of language, and the semiotics of language, the signifier and the signifiedare very important aand also completely different. For example the signifier may be aword such as ‘penguin’ while the signified is the picture or concept of the bird that istriggered in the mind upon hearing the word. In the cinematic sign the signifier is notso easily distinguishable from the signified. This can serve to create problems whentransferring the literary semiotic theories to the visual cinema. As Saussure agues ‘the visual image of a car is much closer to the actual object than ...
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