New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics
Structuralism, Post-structuralism and Beyond
Copyright © 2000-2007 Isabel Pedersen
Stam dedicates this book to Christian Metz, his mentor. In many
ways, this book places
Stam begins with a dichotomy between two schools of semiotics:
· Sassure – “Semiology” – greater focus on the signified
· Peirce – “Semiotic” – greater focus on the signifier
Stam believes that Peirce contributes to the study of semiotics in two central ways:
1. The Process of Semiosis -- He isolates the interaction of the sign, object and interpretant. (The interpretant is actually the mental effect generated by the relation between the sign and the object. It is a sign in itself, the text of which is the interpreter’s conception of the sign.)
2. The classification of Signs
· Icon – likeness (cinema resembles the world)
· Index – association, causality (casual link through the photo-chemical registering of the real.)
· Symbol – convention (in the deployment of speech and writing)
Stam is also highly influenced by Baktin, who is more concerned with the diachronic development of signs, unlike Sassure, who according to Baktin studies the static synchronicity of signs which is “linguistic necrophilia”
Stam defines “code” as a system of differences and correspondences which remain constant across a series of messages” (30). “Message refers to the meaningful sequences generated by the coded processes of communicative utterances” .
Like Barry, Stam argues that seeing a photograph is a learned behavior and that “similarity” is a historically informed notion.
· Nothing in film is purely distinctive in the same way as the phoneme
· cinema lacks the arbitrary sign
· It lacks minimal units
· It lacks double articulation – we are not all film literate
· Cinema is a language and not langue. It is a discourse with signifying practices.
Notes from the book:
It is less important to reduce film to basic units, but to recognize that both film and language have syntagmatic natures
Language selects and combines phonemes and morphemes to form sentences; film selects and combines images and sounds.
Diegesis – the sum total of the film’s narrative, denotation
Stam also discuss cinematic sound and the “point-of-hearing” through the theories of Michel Chion. Chion comes up with a vocabulary of the way image and music interact:
· Contrapuntal – goes against
· Empathetic – with character’s emotion
· A-empathetic – indifference to character’s emotion
· Didactic Contrapuntal – deploys music in a dinstantiated way in order to elicit irony or a precise idea in the spectator’s mind.