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Film Studies 101 - Structuralism, Semiotics, and Auteur Theory

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Scott Hayden

on 24 September 2018

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Transcript of Film Studies 101 - Structuralism, Semiotics, and Auteur Theory

Auteur theory
what is it?
The 1st Assignment will be given to you very soon...

•Auteur theory
•Queer theory
Structuralism looks at a film as a set of patterns, relationships, or structures.
Unit 26: Film Studies
You have been given three projects by Hello You Creatives, The Basingstoke Gazette, and Red Carpet Screenings to help you show their audiences how the cultural investment, meaning, and theoretical approach to film can enliven, enrich, and enhance appreciation whilst helping inform creative students’ future production activity.
You will build an academic and journalistic portfolio of work analysing film in Google Drive whilst receiving support throughout the project. On twitter you will have help with the hashtag #bcotfilm while Guest Lectures from local film-makers Geoff Harmer, Mark Brennan, and Seb Hall will guide you as you carry out the following:

You will create a journalistic Film Tutorial for Hello You Creatives educating young people as to how theories and methods can be applied to film using a creative application of stills, clips, and ‘talking heads’ to illustrate your points.

You will use extracts, whole films, and/ or genres as examples.

The Basingstoke Gazette have asked you to produce a podcast OR write an illustrated piece comparing the productions of two films from different decades.

The purpose of the work is to help stress the importance of how different production contexts and factors influence the production of films.

You have been given an opportunity by local Film Festival: Red Carpet Screenings to explore the often complex relationship between audiences and films in a Film Audience TV piece.

In pairs you will use a specific film case study to help you investigate publicity, marketing, and target audience methods used by the Producers before looking in more detail to the genre your specific film case study belongs to.
You will create a video and use stills, clips, and talking heads to illustrate your understanding of 2 film theories and 1 film method.

PBS Idea Channel is a great reference point
(define them all – analyse two)
For example, STRUCTURALISM emphasises the importance of...

Narrative theories
Genre conventions
Recurring patterns/ content

...these help the audience understand what is going on.

By using recognisable structures (eg genre films) the audience can easily understand its meaning
Genre is considered as a structure/ set of conventional patterns.

Plot structures are recurring story patterns that are a defining characteristic of a genre.

Structuralist theorists such as Barthes, Levi-Strauss, and Todorov have analysed plot patterns found in fairy tales and other traditional narratives as these appear in contemporary film.
In film we see certain Codes (combinations of signs) over and over.

Codes are cultural phenomena because they are learned by us the audience eg the hero will save the day.

It is through familiarity that codes come to seem natural rather than cultural: this process is called "naturalisation."
There are various categories of codes:
Cultural codes include the way that texts signify, for example, beliefs about gender, social class, and authority.

The Hitchcock blonde, for example, brings together various ways of representing gender, class, and sexuality, which in turn reveal cultural beliefs in those areas.

Cultural codes are particularly likely to become naturalised, as in notions during historical periods of what was considered the inherent nature or men or women, or particular national or racial groups.
Technical codes, in film, describe the ways we have learned to "read" visual information, include such things as continuity editing, point of view and reaction shots, cross-shooting and over-shoulder shooting, dissolves, and montage.

Technical codes involve both techniques of making movies and, for viewers, learned ways of seeing them. Technical codes have thematic implications as well: for example, a dissolve suggests a connection between two otherwise-unrelated images; a tilted composition suggests uncertainty or danger.
An example of how structuralist theory can be seen in film is understanding how the simple combination of shots can create an additional idea

The blank expression on a person's face, an appetising meal, and then back to the person's face.

While nothing in this sequence literally expresses hunger or desire the juxtaposition of the images convey that meaning to the audience.
Structuralist film theory emphasizes how...

Films convey meaning through the use their structures of codes and conventions (patterns, narrative, camera shots etc.)

This is similar to the way...

Languages convey meaning through the use of their structures of codes and conventions (words, sentences, grammar etc.)
Unravelling meaning can become quite complex.

Lighting, angle, shot duration, juxtaposition, cultural context, and a wide array of other elements can actively reinforce or undermine a sequence's meaning.
In STRUCTURALISM it is the STRUCTURE of the film that we use to understand its meaning...


Films create meaning by using structures as a language we can understand.
Soviet Film-maker Sergei Eisenstein believed montage to on of the most important aspects of film language/ structure.

He describes 5 types of montage (juxtaposition of shots that alters the meaning of those shots)

You could apply his structuralist theory to a film example of your own.

According to him 'montage' is a structure that enables the audience to gain meaning from film.

To further introduce you to
Unit 26: Film Studies and begin making notes about the first 3 theories

1. Select extracts, films, and/ or genres to analyse in LO1 (tweet using #bcotfilm)

2. Understand and apply Structuralism to a film example

3. Understand and apply Semiotic analysis to a film example

4. Understand and apply Auteur theory to a film example

Make lecture notes in your Google Drive
You are engaged in semiotic analysis all the time and have already done it for music videos and advertisements.

If you choose Semiotics as one of your two theories you can now do it for film.
Semiotics can be applied to anything which can be seen as signifying something - in other words, to everything which has meaning within a culture.
You can apply semiotic analysis to a film/s if you choose this theory.

You need to describe the films' signs and what they signify to the audience.
1.)Establish the sign (film or films) to be decoded eg what scene?

2.)Set aside your opinion; your task is to analySe the meaning of the semiotics (This is NOT a review)

3.)Determine what the signifiers mean (consider setting, plot, characters, symbols, etc.)

4.)Discuss how the film represents its topic and characters (positive/ negative)

5.)Sketch the overall context (historical, cultural, and political) in which the film was made

6.)Use terminology eg signifier, signified, connotation,
mise-en-scene, ideology, intertextuality etc.

Use the template provided to conduct a short Semiotic analysis of a 1 minute film scene in pairs

REMEMBER - Semiotics is the study of signs.

You need to show that you understand how the signs in your chosen film/ films creates meaning for the audience.
We will look at 3 theories this week and 4 theories next week.

You will then select just 2 of these theories to apply to your film example/s.
This is an idea that a Director's film reflects the director's personal creative vision, as if they were the primary "auteur" (the French word for "author").

It is a view of film-making in which the director is considered the primary creative force in a motion picture.
Despite the collaborative nature of film and (sometimes even because of) the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur's creative voice is distinct enough to shine through all kinds of studio interference and through the collective process.
In an Auteur's work it is their fundamental visual elements as camera placement, blocking, lighting, and scene length, rather than plot line, convey the message of the film.
Supporters of the auteur theory further contend that the most cinematically successful films will bear the unmistakable personal and distinctive stamp of the director such as...

Visual style
Recurring themes
Famous Auteurs you may wish to analyse...

Tim Burton
Akira Kurosawa
Christopher Nolan
Lars Von Trier
Stanley Kubrick
Roman Polanski
Quentin Tarantino
Darren Aranofsky
David Fincher
Pedro Almodovar
Alfred Hitchcock
David Lynch
Next week

Investigate an Auteur and state in your notes the following:

What are their signature touches...

Visual style
Recurring themes
According to STRUCTURALISM...

The meaning of a film comes not from inbuilt (inherent) meanings of its individual elements

It's meaning comes from how they work within what we know as a films "structure" or "system"
Structuralism believes that we see/ understand/ enjoy films through recognition of these structures.

Individually I want you to post text, images, and video on to the STRUCTURALISM Google Slides to show as many examples of films as you can that show the following...

Todorov 'Equilibrium'
Barthes 'Open/ Closed + Enigma/ Action codes
Levi-Strauss 'Binary Oppositions'

Name the norms/ expectations of a genre
The next few slides are further reading for you if you want to use STRUCTURALISM as one of the 2 theories for LO1.....
Burton's aesthetic of the gothic fairy-tale is his signature touch.

His visual style is recognisable.
Some examples of previous learners work....
The rise of the YouTuber has given a chance for everyone to have a voice online.

A lot of popular YouTubers are popular due to their personality, good looks, or the fact they represent a fantasy friend that the audience wants to connect with.


I want you to show intelligence, critical thinking, and analysis using creativity and clear communication skills.
Again - to be clear....

I will teach you 7 theories.

YOU will use 2 in your 'Film Tutorial'
If you are doing a Structuralist analysis you need to look for the usual patterns and codes in your film...
Wes Anderson is known for his precise camera movements, meticulous costumes, use of a fixed colour palette, English Rock soundtracks, ensemble cast, and absurdist minimal comedy juxtaposed with elements of tragedy.

His style is recognisable.
David Fincher is known for his themes of obsession and crime, low key lighting, fluid tracking shots, flashbacks, low angles, and the use of blue, silver and black.
Stanley Kubrick is often discussed as being a great Auteur with his own particular style
As children we learn about these structures to understand the world around us.

Our brains are pattern matching machines.

We crave order, sense, and structure.

Structuralists believe we gain pleasure through recognition of this structure.
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