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Christian Metz

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Anne-Lotte de Jong

on 20 December 2013

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Transcript of Christian Metz

Christian Metz
Christian Metz (1931-1993)
“A film is difficult to explain because it is easy to understand . . .”
Film Language (1968)

Originally French
Contains a volume of essays
References to the idea of a language or grammar of film
Three sets of terms (signifier versus signified, denotation versus connotation and syntagmatic versus paradigmatic)

Concepts and its problems
Linguistics: language-as-a-system-of-signs
Semiotics: films-as-a-system-of-signs

Saussure argues that in cinema the signifier is almost identical with the signified.

Cinema is a language, but not a langue (language system).

Signifier -> what is presented -> denotation -> it is what you see.
Signified -> deeper symbolic meaning -> connotation -> it is what you feel.

The filmmaker must choose how to shoot a particular scene (the paradigmatic or vertical axis) but he must also work out how it will fit into the film’s overall scheme (the syntagmatic or horizontal axis).

In cinema, motivation is proved by analogy, that is to say by the perceptual similarity between the signifier and the signified.
autonomous segments
parallel & bracket syntagma
descriptive syntagma
narrative syntagmas
alternate syntagma
linear narrative syntagmas
autonomous shot
Film is no longer seen as a social, economic, juridical or ideological product, but more as a lingual object.
Metz applies the insights of structural linguistics (the three sets of terms) to the language of film.

The eight categories:
either a film segment is autonomous or it is not
either it is chronological or it is not
either it is descriptive or it is narrative
either it is linear or it is not
either it is continuous or it is not
either it is organised or it is not

Influential methode
Odin > more focus on public
Future > digital cinema
Grande syntagmatique
“Consequently wherever the language of cinematography differs
from language itself, film semiofogy encounters its greatest obstacles" (p.75)
Two points of maximal difference:
the motivation of signs
the lack of discrete units

Analogy is the perceptual similarity between the cinematic signifier and signified.
"There are important differences between the semiotics of the cinema and linguistics itself" (p.74)
Christian Metz
Janna van Strien & Anne-Lotte de Jong
“The study of the cinema as an art -the study of cinematographic expressiveness- can therefore be conducted according to methods derived from linguistics" (p. 71)

Do you think that this sentence is true?
How is film like a language? How is film not like a language?
Do you think that Metz theory is a good one for analysing film?
Why is he choosing for this theory, which is by its origin already difficult?
Full transcript