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Christian Metz (1931-1993)

A film is difficult to explain because


it is easy to understand . . .

Cinma: langue ou langage?

Testing whether or not the analytical methods of


semiology are indeed applicable to all nonverbal as
well as verbal phenomena.

Film, which seems to be particularly resistant to the linguistic


model, poses an especially interesting problem.

Moreover, the history of film theory is full of


references to the idea of a "language" or "grammar"
of film.

Metz is interested in sorting out these problems while


developing a rigorous method for defining how films are
meaningful for their audiences.

Cinma: langue ou langage?

Metz's argument is established in three stages:


A. 31-59. Is the idea of "film language" an oxymoron?
B. 60-84. The linguistic approach:
Understanding film as distinct from a verbal language (langue).
Testing the limits of the comparison of film language to verbal
languages.

C. 84-91 + Some Points and "Problems of Denotation."


From the linguistic to the semiological approach--towards a
syntagmatic analysis of the image track. How images are
organized and grouped with a view toward narrative meaning.

Cinma: langue ou language?

Montage roi vs. the syntagmatic mind, or montage


vs. decoupage.
"The cinema is a language; the cinema is infinitely
different than verbal language [langue].
Cin-Langue and Verbal Languages, or silent and
sound film.

The language of silent film; language disappears when


pictures talk.

"The specific nature of film is defined by the


presence of a langue tending toward art, within an
art that tends toward language."

Film may not be a language, but it is a discourse, a


"language of art."

Cinma: langue ou langage?

"The cinema is a language; the cinema is


infinitely different than verbal language."

Film is too obviously a message for one not to


assume that it is coded.
Includes partially coded elements (elements of
continuity editing, e. g.).
Conventional to a degree in organization of
narrative space and time.
But is there a pre-established film syntax? No, it is
learned, established historically as an aesthetic
norm.

Cinma: langue ou langage?

Cin-Langue and Verbal Languages, or


silent and sound film.

The metaphor of language in theories of


silent film.
Language disappears when pictures talk.
The appearance of the sound films
demonstrates how film images are unlike
verbal language.

Cinma: langue ou langage?

"The specific nature of film is defined by the


presence of a langue tending toward art, within an
art that tends toward language."
Distinction between filmic discourse and image
discourse.

Image discourse is where film resembles photography:

an open, highly connotative system;


not easily codified because it cannot be divided into parts;
it is "naturally" intelligible;
motivated relation between signifier and signified.

Filmic discourse means a completely realized artistic


expression.

It is a language that contains a langue in the sense of talking


pictures: images + speech, but speech 'encased' in a specific
narrative form of images.

Filmic narrativity is
a "language without a langue."

Parole -- langue. Individual utterance vs. the


linguistic system through which we know whether
utterances are grammatical or not, meaningful or
not; e.g. the unconscious rules of English, French,
etc.
Langue: distinguishing the rigorous use (English,
French, German) from a loose, aesthetic use.
For Metz, language in the sense of everyday
speech has a precise definition:

"Language (langue) is a system of signs used for


intercommunication.
Three precise criteria: system - sign intercommunication.

Filmic narrativity is
a "language without a langue."

Narrative films fail all three basic criteria for


defining a langue.

Intercommunication. Film communication is


unilateral; there is no reciprocity.
Absence of a strictly codified system: a highly
organized code that establishes the parameters
for all that can be accepted as meaningful or
grammatical in a natural language.
There are no filmic "signs," at least according to
Saussure's model.

Filmic narrativity is
a "language without a langue."

There are no filmic "signs."

There is nothing in film that resembles double


articulation:
2nd articulation: the level of the signifier. The combination of
phonemes into meaningful sounds.
1st articulation: the attachment of sounds to a denoted meaning;
simply speaking, a word.

signifier
-----------signified

sound

/ shot /

/ pl /

phoneme

concept "shot"

"plan

morpheme

Filmic narrativity is
a "language without a langue."

There are no filmic "signs" because

of the irreducibility or indivisibility of the shot.

Due to the overwhelming impression of reality in the


cinema and its analogical fullness, the image (signifier)
is inseparable from, and indeed coextensive with, what
it refers to (its signified).

the photographic image is universally


meaningful--a natural sign where there is a
motivated or nonarbitrary relation between
signifier and signified..
film images escape definition as a langue
because of their connotative richness.

Filmic narrativity is
a "language without a langue."

For Metz, the closest linguistic equivalent for


the shot is what he calls an enonc, an oral
sentence or statement.

The closest linguistic equivalent for an image of a


gun is "Here is a gun!."

The image is, like a sentence, "a complete,


assertive statement."
The film scene or sequence, with its complex
and partially systematic articulation of imagestatements, is more like the novel, an
aesthetic discourse.