media semiotics reading visual texts part 2 film language l.
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Media Semiotics: “Reading” Visual Texts, Part 2. Film Language. Michael Fitzgerald HU-3000 Winter, 2009. Film “language”. Film does not literally have a “language” (we are using the word as a metaphor or comparison). There is no basic linguistic unit , such as a word.

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Media Semiotics: “Reading” Visual Texts, Part 2. Film Language


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    1. Media Semiotics:“Reading” Visual Texts, Part 2. Film Language Michael Fitzgerald HU-3000 Winter, 2009

    2. Film “language” • Film does not literally have a “language” (we are using the word as a metaphor or comparison). • There is no basic linguistic unit, such as a word. • There is no formal grammar. • Film does, however, make statements, so it works like a language. • The closest devices it has to a real language are: • shots (could be compared to words) • scenes (like sentences) • sequences (like paragraphs) • However, these are often difficult to differentiate from one another: • A lengthy shot can be considered a scene. • Statements can be made within a shot, using movement, focus, color, proxemics, camera position, etc.).

    3. Two types of film “statements”: Paradigmatic and syntagmatic • Paradigmatic:Everything that is seen in the shot (mise-en-scene)including how it is composed: • what to shoot • how to shoot it Usually associated with realism. • Syntagmatic (contextual)—usually associated with expressionism: • editing/“montage”

    4. Paradigmatic statements • Mise-en-scene: everything in the shot, including how it is composed • Staging, sets, props, costumes, casting, etc. • Use of frame • Closed • Open • Proxemics /proximity (distance from camera) • ECU • CU • MS (“two-shot”) • LS • ELS • Proxemics /“blocking”: use of space, placement of actors, etc. • Composition • lines (vertical; horizontal; diagonal or oblique) • lighting source/direction • camera angle/PoV • tilt (low/high; up/down): look for horizon • roll (slant) • crane (extremely high) • overhead/”bird’s-eye view “(often with see-through ceiling) • helicopter (ELS): God’s-eye view

    5. More paradigmatic statements • Choice of film: • Low or hi-rez (70 mm, 35 mm, 16 mm or Super-8; videotape). Low rez (grainy) suggests immediacy and actuality. • Lighting: • Available (“magic hour”) or artificial. • bright or dark (noir). • key, fill, back, etc. • silhouette (back light only). • Colors: • warmth, coolness, danger, passion, etc. • color intensity (saturation). • Focus: • sharp • soft (sometimes done with filters or screens) • planar (rack shot/rack focus): can alternate between two planes • deep focus (dev. by Gregg Toland; see Citizen Kane) • zoom in or out (what does zoom-in to ECU of face imply?) • Camera movement: • track shot, dolly shot, truck shot, crane (or motorized Louma) shot, sky-cam • hand-held (shaky). Documentary style: suggests immediacy, actuality, action

    6. Composition (deep focus)

    7. Synecdoche

    8. Rack focus

    9. Rack focus

    10. Close-ups • Camera angles, close-ups, and editing techniques contribute to viewers’ feelings toward a character. • Viewers do not care much either way about characters seen at a distance. • They are more likely to empathize or identify with a character who is often seen in close-ups. Meyrovitz, Joshua. “Multiple Media Literacies.” Journal of Communications 48 (1). Winter 1998: 96-108.

    11. ECU

    12. ELS

    13. ELS as “establishing shot”

    14. Low-angle shot

    15. Aura (halo effect)

    16. Aura (halo effect)

    17. Aura (halo effect)

    18. Syntagmatic statements • Two images juxtaposed suggest a third meaning:

    19. Montage (Fr.: “mounting” or “assembling” • In US called cutting or editing (taking away) • Logical purpose is to collapse time (fast-forward), skip mundane details (“cut to the chase”), eliminate dead air, etc. • Occurs in: • storytelling, jokes, etc. • novels (“meanwhile, back at the ranch…”) • dreams (jump cuts)

    20. Two basic concepts of montage: • Diachronic (chronological or linear): • One idea leads chronologically to the next: • shot/reaction shot • dissolve to next scene • match cut • One idea leads logically (in terms of how the story is being told) to the next: • Flashback/flash-forward • What about Memento? • Synchronic(non-linear): • Two or more things appear to happen simultaneously: • Parallel editing (“cross-cutting”): two scenes occurring at the same time (chase scene) • Two separate story lines that converge later (or maybe never—used often in serials) • Scenes/shots may have no logical relationship but are juxtaposed strictly for emotional effect: • Sergei Eisenstein (Soviet filmmaker) • Ox-slaughtering images in Apocalypse Now • Can be used to connote fast action or excitement • Often used in TV commercials and music videos to hold viewer interest— • simply because movement in itself is compelling

    21. Realist fiction Borrows from documentary/actuality • location shoots • hand-held camera technique • grainy film • available lighting • long takes, minimal editing • edits are usually linear, chronological • nonprofessional actors Ex.: Lumiere brothers, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895).

    22. Expressionism • dream-like, fantastical, mythical • montage/jump cuts • non-linear editing • shot on sets • staged lighting • viewers expected to “fill in” their own meanings Ex.: Georges Melies, Trip to the Moon (1902) Robt. Wiene, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

    23. Classical Hollywood style • well-known actors • heavy on glamour, myth, fantasy • careful lighting (three-source) • carefully controlled sound • careful, often elaborate camera work (Steadicam, tracks shots, cranes, helicopters, etc.) • high-resolution film • smooth, precise (“invisible”) editing • usually linear, mostly chronological • does most of the “work” for viewers

    24. Classical Hollywood style • Where does classical Hollywood drama fall in the realism-expressionism continuum? • actuality (no editing, Lumiere Bros.) • verite/direct cinema (stark documentary style, minimal editing, minimal or no story line—“slice of life”) • narrative documentary style • realist fiction • classical (Hollywood) • expressionist (Melies, Weine, etc.) • experimental (Dziga Vertov)

    25. Quotes “Everything about a movie is manipulation.” –Frederick Wiseman, documentary filmmaker “I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.” • Alfred Hitchcock