A big question is
whether linguistics can be presumed to the discourse which offers a way of
subsuming films under the general theory of signification. Linguistics does
subsume film under a general theory of signification. There are many
consequences of taking film as a medium under this general theory of
signification. Film semiotics does not
take ‘film’ to be pre-given and non-problematic entity. It actually goes on to
delve deep into the very nature of the existence of the film. It also takes
into account the influence and consequences of film on the society and cultural
domain. The common ideological comprehension of films that they are a form of
entertainment is vehemently challenged by the semioticians. They opine that
film is a system of signification which articulates experience.
It is an extremely
relevant framework for examining film as a language as with the increasing
complexity of the society, the more is the reliance on the system of
signification to the cultural markers, simplification and the organization of
fundamental premise of semiotics is that the entire human experience is an
interpretive structure which gets mediated and sustained by the signs. This
discourse of study provides an explanatory theory about human culture or more
specifically about human experience, knowledge and belief. In this theory,
human beings are thought to have this indirect or mediated relation to the
environment in which they survive. Natural language always plays a very
important role in this process of mediation and it is through the use of
natural language that people are enabled to control and comprehend the
environment in which they live in.
However, it needs
to be understood that natural language does not encompass everything and human
culture consists of many other semiotic systems. Film is one such major
semiotic system and this form of language also helps in the process of
mediation between the environment and the individuals who dwell in it.
The discussion is
limited to anthroposemiotics (the study of human signs) and this thesis does
not look into the factors of zoosemiotics (the study of animal communication).
However, it needs to be remembered still that both of these fall under the
category of biosemiotics (the study of communication generated by all living
The study of
natural language is known as linguistics and it is one of the most dominant
branches of anthroposemiotics, although it has very insignificant role to play
in the discourse of biosemiotics and actually has no role to play in
The study of film
from a semiotic perspective never involves the comparison of it to natural
language. This is true in spite of the fact that this is one of the secondary
consequences of analyzing the film on the basis of semiotics. The study of film
in this process involves the analysis of specificity of the film. In the study
of film semiotics, this specificity is defined as the invariant traits which
are manifested in all films. These traits confer upon the work of art its
distinctiveness and thus determine the way in which the experience is
articulated and mediated.
defined by the film semioticians in terms of the underlying system of invariant
traits which are actually not manifested and are non-perceptible. Specificity
is hence not the invariant surface which is immediately perceptible to the
audience. This perspective of the semiotics goes on to oppose the theoretical
frameworks of the classicists who worked on films and the filmic specificity.
These classical theorists actually defined specificity of films in the terms of
the traits which are immediately perceptible and a focus which finally led to
the emergence of two contradictory theories of specificity in films.
It was argued by
Rudolf Arnheim (1932) that filmic specificity can be found in the ‘distorting’
properties which are unique (like montage)
which show the film’s specific representation of the perceptual reality or the
presentation of the perspective of reality which is unique to the film.
In stark contrast
to this, Andre´ Bazin (1968) went on to argue that film’s specificity lies in
the ability to keep in record the ‘reality’ without human intervention. He said
that specificity of the film lies in the existential link to reality. He
further advocated that the directors of films do not subsume the ability of the
film to record under the influence of techniques which are distortive like the montage. Instead, he said in favor of
the style of filmmaking which could exploit the recording capability of film
(like long take, deep focus, camera movement, etc.) as this keeps the
existential link to reality.
(1974), on the other hand, tried to surmount the two mutually contradictory
theories which have just been mentioned by his definition of specificity in
terms of the underlying system of the invariant traits of the movie. An
overview of semiotics is needed to make one comprehend what he actually meant
by saying ‘underlying system of invariant traits’ and how this enabled Metz to
get over the contradictions which were present in classical film theory.
Semiotics is based
on the hypothesis that every type of phenomenon has a corresponding underlying
system which goes on to constitute both the intelligibility and the specificity
of the phenomenon. The question arises regarding the role of theory in
semiotics in this regard. The simple answer is that the role of theory here is
to make one understand the non-perceptible and underlying system by the
construction of a model of it.