10 juin 2008

Mitry and filmic language

French Film theoretician Jean Mitry demonstrated that cinema was a language (a linguistic object) as well as an artwork in his book "Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma" (Ed. Universitaires, Paris) : vol.1 - "les structures" (1963) and vol.2 - "les formes" (1965).
"Cinema is the only art that is both an art of Space and Time."
The filmic image not only "shows" : it "signifies", either because it adopts new values through its arrangement with other images (symbol), or because it initiates a process of generalisation and abstraction through its presence on screen (analogon).

There is an intrinsic duplicity in each image :
  • A : To show. "Représenté" (represented).
    The perceived image is like a real space, a portion of the world, seen through a window. Un "trompe l'œil" (optical illusion)
  • B : To signify. "Représentation".
    The projected image on a two-dimensional surface, organised within a frame, is another space, enclosed in a frame that separates it from the represented world. Which is the nature of the filmic image.
The filmic image "signifies" rather than "shows", and is a "representation" rather than a "represented" thus generates a new reality (cinema language) detached from its reality of origin (the real world filmed by the camera). Through its relation with the next frames, through its capacity to offer concepts, through the "restructuration" of space and time inside the frame of the picture, the filmic image cancels out the reality it is the image of, it un-realises reality. The world on screen could be more or less similar to what is around us, but it is a world of itself, with its own dimension and its own developments. Consequently, the filmic image is a kind of language especially because, as for every language, it installs an autonomous parallel universe that cannot be confused with the world we live in.

Mitry differentiates 4 types of filmic images on screen :
  • Descriptive image
    The camera only records a portion of an ordinary reality.
  • Personal image
    The camera makes choices, emphasises certain objects in relation to others, builds symbolic relations between various objects, in other words expresses the "vision of the world" of the auteur.
  • Semi-subjective image
    The camera embraces the point of view of one of the screen character who is given a privileged position within the frame.
  • Subjective image
    The camera effectively becomes the viewpoint of one character (offscreen), seeing exactly what this character is supposed to see, identified and substituted to this character.
Mitry differentiates 4 types of montage :
  • Narrative montage (continuity of actions)
  • Lyrical montage (sentiments transcend drama with continuity)
  • Montage of ideas (total elaboration of a film a posteriori)
  • Intellectual montage (defines ideas dialectically)

my notes from Francesco Cassetti's book "Teorie del cinema (1945-1990)" (1993)

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