A Study of Signs in Selected Films
The Concept of Semiotics
The term semiotics has been in use since the seventeenth century. Accounts that it was spelled semeiotics, and was first used in English by Henry Stubbes (1670:75) to precisely denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. Semiotics has its roots in the field of linguistics; it was notwithstanding conceived as a theory that would provide readers with the tools with which to analyse extra-linguistic components of discourses and narratives. It is on this premise that Saussure (1966:16) defines Semiotics as “the theory of signs”. Also, Pierce (1931-58, 2.302) affirms that “we think only in signs.” This is a point of reference to the fact that all human actions are conducted in signs. However, these actions require some level of human interactions in all endeavours to achieve the required result. Communication then, is pertinent to humans since the society thrives on it. Chandler (2013) explicates this in the following phraseology:
We learn from semiotics that we live in a world of signs and we have no way of understanding anything except through signs and the codes into which they are organized. Through the study of semiotics, we become aware that these signs and codes are normally transparent and disguise our task in ‘reading’ them…. Deconstructing and contesting the realities of signs can reveal whose realities are privileged and whose are suppressed. The study of signs is the study of the construction and maintenance of reality. To decline such a study is to leave to others the control of the world of meanings which we inhabit.
Semiotics, therefore, serves as a concept that permeates and governs all spheres of human existence. Human interactions and experiences with codes and signs are transferred to the narratives of films to create the illusion of reality. In relation to film, Guiraud’s distinct perception of Semiotics as a language whose signifiers can function independently of verbal language seems appropriate. He makes it clear that Semiotics is:
The science which studies sign-systems, languages, codes, sets of signals, etc. According to this definition, language is part of semiology. However, it is generally accepted that language has a privilege and autonomous status, and this allows semiology to be defined as the study of non-linguistic systems (Guiraud 1975:1).
Semiotics also focuses on non-verbal systems of communication. In this regard, semiotics has been used to address some central issues in cinema such as the role and mode of expression, invention, interpretation and the nature of narration, character identiﬁcation and audiences’ emotional responses. These aspects of the cinema perform an indispensable role in the understanding and assimilation of the medium, which a semiotic examination incorporates. This is the justification for the adoption and treatment of archetypal representations in this study as a set of codes and signs which shape the socio-cultural beliefs that are fundamental to human existence – especially in determining individuals’ perception about life and consequently, the manifestation of this self-ascribed and describing perception. Caroll (1999:3) corroborates this opinion succinctly in the following words:
Concepts organize our practices. The concept of a person, for example, is central to myriad practices, including politics, morality, the law, and…the concept of knowledge is indispensable throughout the widest gamut of human activities. Without such concepts, the activities in question would not exist.
From Caroll’s (1999) and Chandler’s (2013) arguments, it is observed that an understanding of signs and codes will guide individual’s interpretations, depending on the contextual usage and the interpreter’s orientation and reasoning capability.
Therefore, a semiotic analysis of the selected films within the sign-system of the medium and the dictates of the societies within which they are produced facilitates the recognition and interpretation of latent signifying patterns in them. Furthermore, an examination of the myth-archetypal codes in the selected films (in connection with their respective cultures) will help strengthen the body of existing materials in film criticism that will be beneficial to media specialists in and outside Nigeria. It will also be effective in the re-orientation of the Nigerian populace on the role of myth-archetypes in the construction of their society. The significations and interpretations of these myth-archetypal codes can stimulate film scholars and workers alike to engage more in film discourses and film productions that will benefit the nation in some capacities.
The conception of sign is credited to two leading linguists: Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss Linguist and Charles Sanders Pierce, an American philosopher. While Saussure perceives the study of signs as Semiology, Pierce refers to it as Semiotics. Basically, the two terms are interpreted to mean the same thing and are often employed interchangeably. Signs therefore, in Preucel’s expression, “are such things as ideas, words, images, sounds and objects that are multiply implicated in the communicative process” (2006: 1). This means that signs are the channels through which messages are conveyed, interpretations done and significations arrived at. Cobley (2005: 28) states that Pierce regarded these signs as “‘representamen’” and Chandler (1999: 16) affirms that Saussure conceived that “a sign must have both a signifier and a signified. There cannot be a totally meaningless signifier or a completely formless signified”. A signifier is a mental apprehension of an object and the signified is the concept, idea or meaning evoked from that mental apprehension. The signifier and the signified are in a relationship that produces significations. Signification is “the process of sign formation, the act which binds the signifier and signified, and an act whose product is the sign” (Barthes 1967: 48). Signification therefore, is the (un)conscious understanding of an object and the import given to it.
Chandler’s (2005: 1) description of humans as “Homo significans” (meaning makers) can be considered as true because human beings persistently attempt to unearth hidden meanings, understand and interpret the recognised human communicative signs in different ways. Fiske (1990: 39-41) argues that characteristically, this meaning-making process is done through the creation of signs and sign systems, specifically, in all labour undertakings. Signification is done with regard to humans’ level of intelligence as well as their socio-cultural, economic, educational and political backgrounds, which lead to an understanding of how they comprehend and interpret their world. Significantly, the study of signs addresses itself to signification and communication as the mental apprehension of all human actions.
These signs, however, are unconsciously understood in relation to familiar structural dictates. According to Thwaites and Davis (2002: 9), this knowledge of signs and the “banality of meaning”, take prominence in the study of Semiotics from the linguistics viewpoint. This is evident in Eco’s (1981: 37) brilliant submission that “a theory of communication is dialectically linked to a theory of signification, and a theory of signification should be first of all a theory of signs”. This understanding serves as a progression for the key concepts in this study – film and semiosis.
Two principal models of signs have been identified by Chandler (2005: 2): those of Saussure and Peirce. This establishes that any enquiry about the nature of signs can be linguistic, philosophical or both. A philosophical inquiry submits that the sign consists of a physical form and an associated mental concept. This concept may in turn be an apprehension of external reality. The sign relates and translates to reality only through the concepts of individuals who perceive it as such.
Christian Metz and the Saussurean Sign
Metz’s contribution to cinema is a reaction to the classical film theories (formalism and realism) while at the same time, serving as the groundwork for the Semiotic approach to cinema. His seminal work, “Le Cinema: Langue ou Langage?” (1964) is a detailed examination of the rationale behind and aptness of, the comparison of Saussure’s linguistic theory and practice of cinema. According to Metz (1974a: 46), “[g]oing from one image to two images, is to go from image to language,” which means that the interpretation of that image and the meaning that will be given to it by an interpreter will transcend that image, which is equivalent to linguistic unit in a verbal language. Metz situates this metaphor between different forms of signifying procedures that are introduced by Saussure. Metz institutes a suture between the structures of traditional grammar to which the cinematographic language should correspond. Since Semiotics is the theory of signs and linguistics is the study of the theory of language as a sign system, then, the Semiotics of the cinema should equally be the study of film as a system of signs because it possesses the characteristics of verbal languages. In Metz’s (1974a: 40, 60) discussions of the relationship between semiotics and linguistics, he affirms that in theory, linguistics is only a branch of semiotics, but in fact that semiotics was created from linguistics and further that semiotics can and must depend heavily on linguistics, but it must not be confused with linguistics. Hewak (1999: 13) clarifies that it is from Saussure that Metz inherited this delicate connection between linguistics and semiotics, which inspires his initial conclusion on his Semiotic theory of the cinema.
Using the principle of structural linguistics, Metz bestowed the virtues of natural language on the cinema. As Guzzetti (1973: 292) contends, Metz’s significance is measured by his seminal work on film and semiotics and in relation to his assumed discourse with Bazin, whose foremost work of film theory, What is Cinema?, is an interrogation of how cinema manipulates reality. After a detailed and convoluted examination of the connection between language and cinema, Metz arrives at the conclusion that the cinema is “un langage sans langue”. This means that the cinema is a language without a language system. The implication of Metz’s supposition, according to Braudy and Cohen (2009: 78), is that
…we will only be interested in certain aspects of film. We will be concerned only with the various ways in which particular films can have meaning and significance for normal spectators. We will be directly concerned with the nature of the film image, the relation between sound and image, and the effect of various kinds of editing. We will not be directly concerned with such things as camera mechanisms, the process of developing and printing films, or the technological structure of the film industry.
Given that Metz argues within the framework of the Saussurean model, his theory is significant, possibly with some degree of difficulty due to the non-verbal nature of the cinema. Thomson-Jones (2008: 63) states that “On Metz’s account, film is not just a language but a language without a system. This condition reflects Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole, or language and language system”, and the distinction between natural language and the filmic language.
Saussure clarifies that the exclusive character of language is not to be found in its historical development or in its various spoken manifestations, but rather in the linguistic structure that exists and which everybody that speaks a language has mastered. Language structure, therefore, exists as a socio-cultural repository of linguistic signs, a “fund accumulated by the members of the community through the practice of speech, a grammatical system existing potentially in every brains” (1986: 13). Saussure’s thought on the language system is upheld by Barthes (1987:14) thus: “A language is therefore, so to speak, language minus speech: it is at the same time a social institution and a system of values.” Thomson-Jones (2008: 63) also elaborates Saussure’s argument as follows:
Saussure was most interested in langue, or the language system, and he might have said that every individual film is the parole of an underlying film langue. But Metz, based on his close study of film, argues that there is no underlying system of which individual films represent particular applications. There is just the film language being created as it is used in every film.
The natural language, by definition, is a semiotic process through which thought may be conveyed, but a language system enables a response to that thought using the degrees and kinds of signs and signifiers produced by the language. Cinema uses not only words, but also other filmic fundamentals; therefore, while the audience can react to a film’s semantic intent, that audience cannot address its concerns regarding the film in the same language the film conveys its signification. For that reason, Stam, Burgoyne, and Flitterman-Lewis’s (2005: 38) argument that while the means by which film expresses itself to its audience constitutes a language, it cannot constitute a linguistic system. They affirm Metz’s argument that:
One might call “language,” any unity defined in terms of its MATTER OF EXPRESSION – … cinematic language is the set of messages whose matter of expression consists of FIVE TRACKS or channels: moving photographic image, recoded phonetic sound, recorded noises, recorded musical sound, and writing (credits, intertitles, written materials in the shot). Thus, cinema is a language in the sense that it is a “technico-sensorial unity” graspable in perceptual experience.
Cinema, in its entirety is a language. But it is a language that is not narrowed down to the conservative sense but as a set of trackable messages in a given matter of expression, which functions as an artistic language, signifying practice that is characterised by specific codifications and ordering procedures. This, then, takes the cinema beyond the superficial definition of ordinary language.
The language-film comparison holds for Metz in so far as film fundamentally communicates to its viewers. But communication can only be achieved if the viewer possesses the ability to recognise what an image depicts. In this case, Metz has restricted his theory for use within the narrative feature film because film was originally borne as a technological means and according to Harman (2009: 79), “It was precisely to the extent that the cinema confronted the problems of narration that it came to produce a body of specific signifying procedures”. Consequently, attention should be narrowed to the signifying events that are used in feature length narrative films because they are the first impressions of films.
Metz (1974: 118) affirms that priority should be given to the conventions of denotation in films over that of connotation: “…connotation is nothing other than a form of denotation.” Harman (2009: 79-80); Katherine-Jones (2008: 62-63) further explain Metz’s assertion in details that maximum attention should be on how aspects of plot are presented before the symbolic, philosophical and other hidden messages are uncovered. By implication, this means that the study of style, genre, and poetic mood will not be given much attention. According to him, denotation is basic, because the basic materials of the film (its sounds and images) unveil a series of events that constitute the plot. In other words, the basic material of the film is directly a sign of the denotation. Connotation is second because it is the significance of the events of the film which is partly indicated by the denotation. The connotation is what is signified by a sign when the sign combines aspects of the basic materials of the film and the story that those aspects denote. Then, the question of how events are presented in the narrative cinema and how language indicates events is paramount. The prominence of denotation over connotation has the same bearing on language and film analysis. Harman (2009: 79) posits that linguistics establishes that only when significant progress has been made in the understanding of denotation could attempts be made towards understanding aspects of linguistic connotation. This is equally true of the semiotics of the cinema, according to Metz (1974: 71).
Films aestheticians have often remarked that filmic effects must not be “gratuitous,” but must remain “subordinate” to the “plot”. This is another way of saying that the significance of connotation can establish itself only when the corresponding signifier brings into play both the signifier and the significant of denotation.
Metz observes an essential dissimilarity between the cinema and verbal language. Using Martinet’s pivotal idea that language is articulated at two levels, he asserts that the cinema does not conform, not even metaphorically, to the second articulation of verbal language. According to Martinet (1960: 23), “The “first articulation” are morphemes or words, units with appropriate signification or meaning, which when combined can become meaningful. The “second articulation” are phonemes, the units of sounds used to create words. They become significant units only when they are combined to form morphemes. Going by this classification and the guiding principles of film language, film is in agreement with the first articulation because the shots, images, costumes and other non-dialogical devices of film stand as units of signification. Film, therefore, does not conform to the second articulation.
In linguistic therefore, denotation is largely conventional, whereby a sentence has a direct meaning, bearing on its grammatical structure and the meanings of its words. Here, signs can be understood only by a speaker’s familiarity with the relevant conventions of such parlance. Contrarily, in film, images have an instantaneous and natural interpretations that do not depend on any filmic conventions. There are no completely distinguishing units without signification in film. As Metz (1974: 63), says “it is impossible to break up the signifier without getting isomorphic segments of the significate [signified]” since the film image is devoid of syntax, and no component of film substantially corresponds to the word in language. Metz further articulates this thought in this remark:
The image is “sentence” less by its quantity of meaning (a concept too difficult to handle, especially in film) than by its assertive status. The image is always actualized. Moreover, even the image–fairly rare, incidentally–that might, because of its content, correspond to a “word” is still a sentence: This is a particular case, and a particularly revealing one. A close-up of a revolver does not mean “revolver” (a purely virtual lexical unit), but at the very least, and without speaking of connotations, it signifies “here is a revolver!”
In the quotation above, Metz expresses that the image, as the smallest unit of film is at par with a sentence. As Jacobson (cited in Metz 1974: 66) also states, the image corresponds to the highest linguistic unit, which is the sentence. So, the image or shot is often an independent unit of word, which is actualised as a sentence. It therefore, becomes impossible to have an ungrammatical shot as against the possibility of an ungrammatical sequence of words. This is because the image is a paramount unit in the film, therefore, does not possess the potentials of a langue, which according to Metz (1974: 99) is thereby characterised by a “poverty of paradigm”:
Only to a slight degree does the filmic image assume meaning in relation to the other images that could have occurred at the same point along the chain … Everything is present in film: hence the obviousness of film and also its opacity. The clarification of present by absent units occurs much less than in verbal language. The relationships in praesentia are so rich they render the strict organization of in-absentia relationships superfluous and difficult … A rich message with a poor code, or a rich text with a poor system, the cinematographic image is primarily speech. It is all assertion. The word, which is the unit of language, is missing; the sentence, which is the unit of speech, is supreme. The cinema can speak only in neologisms. Every image is a hapax [a unique determination] (1974: 69).
The series of images in film can be actualised as separate and unrelated to other units for their meanings. The narrative feature films operate within specific rules and conventions or “codes,” such as the various types of camera angles and movements or techniques of filmic punctuation (fade, dissolve and cut) for the indication of their denotations. Metz (1974: 69) conceives these as paradigmatic categories, which are exclusively the task of film semioticians to identify and analyse. He also suggests that films are made up of a series of basic significations called “Syntagmas”.
Codification is involved only at the level of the syntagmatic orderings of images, which constitute a cinematographic language. Although each image is an independent creation, Metz (1974: 101) agrees that “the arrangements of these images into an intelligible sequence – cutting and montage – brings us to the heart of the semiological dimension of film.” The poverty of the paradigm, therefore, opposes the wealth of syntagmatic relations.
Metz’s position in his work strongly aligns with the realists’ position. This is identified in his order of priorities of the signification process, and his distinction between denotation and connotation. He states that denotation (the series of events portrayed) is what is signified directly by the filmic raw material (images and sound) while connotation is what is signified by the events signified and how they are signified. Thus, for Metz (1974: 99), while art begins at connotation, priority is given to denotation, which must precede the artistic enterprise:
“Cinematographic language” is first of all the literalness of a plot. Artistic effects, even when they are substantially inseparable from the semic act by which the film tells us its story, nevertheless constitute another level of signification, which from the methodological point of view must come “later.”
Following Metz, the specificity of a given language (verbal, filmic, photographic) resides in its substance, which, according to Jutz (2009: 213) “established the foundation for an essentialist or substantialist conception of filmic materiality. It confirms that material “is” and “exists,” but does not inform us about its meaning, much less about what the material “does” or what happens to it.”
This brought about the objection being raised about Metz’s distinction between denotation and connotation where he strongly opines that film materiality (content) should form cinematic semiotics. As Harman (2009: 80-81) submits, the plot of a film is understood by referring both to what is shown and how it is shown in context. This brings us invariably to the concept of context. As Littlejohn (1989: 152) states, “Communication always occurs in a context, and the nature of communication depends in large measure on this context.” This implies that communication is largely contextual. The setting, environment and situation are vital for an accurate understanding of “signs” in conversation and communication because they eventually determine significations. This creates, however, the need to study the aspects of film signification that Metz assigns to connotation, and this is Peter Wollen’s proposition.
Peter Wollen and the Peircean Sign
Like Metz, Wollen (1969: 124) also believes that the study of film should assume the form of semiotics but faults Metz’s priorities. He argues that Metz’s claim of superiority of denotation stems from his dogmatic allegiance to language analogy and realism in the cinema. For Wollen, since language is one sign system among many, film must be objectively analysed as another sign system, and not in relation to language. This simply re-establishes connotative meaning as the focus of film aesthetics and criticism. He further argues that Metz’s semiotics (its concentration on syntagmatic relations, denotation, and narrativity) fails to address significant aspects of cinematic meaning that are to be found in the image, due to a bipolar conception of the sign:
In fact, obscured beneath his semiological analysis is a very definite and frequently overt aesthetic parti pris. For like Barthes and like Saussure, he perceives only two modes of sign existence: natural and cultural. Moreover he is inclined to see these as mutually exclusive, so that a language must be either natural or cultural, uncoded or coded. It cannot be-both.
In his critique of Metz position, Wollen proposes that semiotics of the cinema be developed in line with Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of signs – the trichotomy of icon, index and symbol. Wollen (1969: 23) considers Peirce’s classification fundamental for a semiotic theory of film for it focuses on the signs’ relationships with the objects. In as much as a sign has a structural semblance with its subject, it designates an icon; and in as much as a sign has an established connection with its subject, it designates an index; and, inasmuch as a sign bears a connotative meaning owing to human conventions, it designates a symbol. Wollen (1969: 41) argues that the film image can combine all three aspects of the sign to recover the image as a potential source of semiotic analysis. He emphasises that
The great merit of Peirce’s analysis of signs is that he did not see the different aspects as mutually exclusive. Unlike Saussure he did not show any particular prejudice in favour of one or the other. Indeed he wanted a logic and a rhetoric which would be based on all three aspects. It is only by considering the interaction of the three different dimensions of the cinema that we can understand its aesthetic effect.
Wollen, in the above quotation clarifies the distinction between Saussure’s structural signification and Pierce’s solitary signification of signs. Nevertheless, he alludes cinematic aesthetics to the interaction of these three aspects of the sign. Peirce, (cited in Fiztgerald 1966: 53) does not consider these three types of signs mutually exclusive. On the contrary, all three aspects frequently, or, he sometimes suggests, invariably, overlap and are copresent. Peirce’s discussion of the portrait painting signifies this:
We say that the portrait of a person we have not seen is not convincing. So far as, on the ground merely of what I see in it, I am led to my idea of the person it represents, it is an Icon. But, in fact, it is not a pure Icon, because I am greatly influenced by knowing that it is an effect, through the artist, caused by the original’s appearance, and is thus in a genuine obsistent relation to that original.
In this case, the portrait painting also serves as an indexical sign, given that Peirce (1955: 106) recognises the other signs, which is also evident in his discussion of the photograph:
Photographs, especially instanteous photographs, are very instructive, because we know that they are in certain respects exactly like the objects they represent. But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to correspond point by point to nature. In that aspect, then, they belong to the second class of signs, those by physical connection.
For Pierce, therefore, the primary images of icon and index are laced with aspects of each other respectively, without a symbolic dimension in either instance. Greenlee (1973: 78) observes this oversight and argues that in reality, both the indexical and icon signs have symbolic undertone. In discussing the icon, for instance, he articulates that
“It is not enough to say that the icon is a sign which designates merely by virtue of a resemblance with its object; it must further be said that it signifies by virtue of a rule of interpretation to the effect that it designates through certain (and not all) respects of similarity to its object. The icon can then be said to be symbolical, although not necessarily a ‘symbol’, if the concept of a symbol be reserved for a sign-object relation not depending on resemblance.”
This recognition does not necessarily collapse the distinction between icon and symbol. It rather, alludes significance to the symbolic sign. With this clarification Wollen (cited in Harman 2009: 82) observes:
In the cinema, it is quite clear, indexical and iconic aspects are by far the most powerful. The symbolic is limited and “secondary.” But, it is, according to Wollen, exactly the “submerged” secondary aspects of signs that assume importance in art. Since in the cinema “it is the symbolic which is the submerged dimension, we should therefore expect that in the ‘poetry’ of the cinema, this aspect will be manifested more palpably.
While Wollen’s (1977: 17) exploration of Pierce’s trichotomy of the sign is commendable, it is equally striking that Barthes’s conception of the photographic image is not essentially different from Peirce’s notion of the indexical sign. His notion of the index sign also equates Metz’s opinion regarding the cinema:
What is the content of the photographic message? What does the photograph transmit? By definition, the scene itself, the literal reality … Certainly the image is not the reality but at least it is its perfect analogon and it is exactly this analogical perfection which, to common sense, defines the photographic image: it is a message without a code.
Barthes’s description of the photographic image as “a message without a code”, clearly underlies Metz’s view vis-à-vis the cinema, that it is a langage sans langue. Wollen’s (1982: 12) argues that Metz’s treatment of the cinema equates Barthes thought on the photographic image – their preoccupation with the indexical sign – where the meaning of form changes with respect to the context, which is due to the centrality of the arbitrary, linguistic sign. His criticism of Metz’s stance as imprecise and un-semiotical leads to the notion of the ‘logic of implication’ or ‘current of induction’ (2013: 101) by which the image becomes language.
There is the point of divergence between Metz and Pierce. Metz assesses film conventions that bear semblance to language conventions, thereby, missing the point that conventional symbols in films function differently from that of language; film codes are rhythmical rather that literal. Pierce, in contrast, engaging the theory of signs, distances himself from the linguistic comparison. He opines that much as film has its communicative essence, as works of art, they explore the implications of signs rather than relegate them to communication only. Based on this conclusions, Kindem (1980: 24) compares Pierce’s Semiosis with Saussure’s Semiology:
Peirce’s notion of unlimited semiosis is somewhat different from Saussure’s conception of linear speech, for Peirce’s semiosis corresponds to a scientific thought process, where signs stand for an object and stimulate interpretant and other signs in relation to that object, and not necessarily to sentences and grammar in the study of language. Peirce’s goal is not to establish a science of linguistics but a general science of signs, which must be used in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
However, both theorists, Pierce and Saussure agree that there are codes to be studied, and these codes serve as means by which we interpret the signs that make up a film; only the nature of these codes differ. According to Wollen (2009: 83), “works of art exploit and call attention to various codes. The greatest works ‘interrogate’ their own codes by pitting them against each other”. An experienced film-maker, according to Thomson-Jones (2008: 64), is
…someone who can manipulate all three aspects of the sign, so that his films have ‘pictorial beauty’ (due to the iconic function), ‘documentary truth’ (due to the indexical function), and ‘conceptual meaning’ (due to the symbolic function).
The difficulty with Pierce and Saussure as observed by Katherine Jones (2008: 65), is that both semioticians have not succinctly defined the term, “code”. They focus on decoding works of art and they capture codes as systems of signs with meanings. Consequently, their postulations and taxonomies become vague. Should it be perceived as an endeavour in decoding and understanding the meaning of a film or in identifying the structural features of a film in Metz’s case or an insight into the significance of iconography in film, and the codes of symbolic meaning on which it depends in Wollen’s report? With this, Haman (2009: 84) indicts film semioticians of ‘cheating’ with their sweeping use of the term, where “their usage disguises the fact that much of aesthetics and criticism is properly concerned with something other than the significance of signs”.
Henderson (1975: 131) states that several authors have pointed out that Metz’s exclusion of connotation from his semiotics eliminates the study of ideology in cinema. The denotation/connotation distinction cannot support his own conclusions, most particularly, the syntagms. For Metz (1974: 71-72), film semiotics must study the structure of filmic diegesis, i.e., the plot, the sum of the film’s denotation. He expresses this explicitly:
…through its procedure of denotation, the cinema is a specific language. The concept of diegesis as important for the film semiologist as the idea of art…The term …designates the film’s represented instance – that is to say, the sum of a film’s denotation: the narration itself, but also the fictional space and time dimensions implied in and by the narrative, and consequently the characters, the landscapes, the events, and other narrative elements, in so far as they are considered in their denoted aspect.
Harman (2009: 80) points out that many of the aspects Metz assigns to connotation need to be considered in order to identify the denotative structures of the diegesis. Wollen’s application of Pierce’s idea to the semiotics of the cinema has also been faulted as inadequate by Hewak (1991: 77-78) who is of the opinion that Wollen is not specific in his examination of the ways the signs of pierce relate to particular images and the methodology by which they do.
In his words,
“Wollen does not address the important theoretical and philosophical problems arising out of a synthesis of Peirce’s and Saussure’s ideas. Peirce’s inclusion of the object in the sign relation is strictly incompatible with the basic tenets of Saussure’s semiology. Wollen’s application of Peirce’s trichotomy fails to integrate natural and motivated signs into a film semiotics. By viewing the image as the copresence of sign aspects, Wollen is able, unlike Metz, to talk about codification on the level of the image. But those aspects that are considered ‘natural’ remain semiologically off-limits (and Wollen sees the cinema as consisting primarily of natural signs), since they are motivated and uncodified. So Wollen’s semiotics, like Metz’s, is forced to abandon the natural sign and seek out those features that best convey “the ideal semiological process”: the arbitrary sign.”
Therefore, Wollen, like Metz, is unable to unify the semiotic theory and the significant aspects of cinematic meaning. He has not achieved his goal of integrating the image into film semiotics: he has simply integrated the symbolic aspects of the image. After an observation of Metz and Wollen’s faulted attempts at creating a wholly semiotic theory for the cinema, Hewak (1999: 78) affirms that the work of Umberto Eco on signs, which has successfully integrated the image into a semiotics of the cinema should therefore be explored for a holistic analysis of the semiosis of cinema.
Umberto Eco and the Visual Sign
Eco’s (1967) essay, “Articulations of the Cinematic Code” primarily exemplifies his principles regarding the visual sign. While Metz’s perception of the visual sign led to his conclusion of the cinema as a language without a language system, Wollen’s conception of the visual sign encouraged him to adopt Peirce’s triadic concept of the sign. Eco believes neither the Saussurean nor the Peircean tradition adequately accounts for the visual sign.
Correspondingly, Eco, in his work, A Theory of Semiotics (1976: 591) considers the need for a cinematic semiotics, like Metz and Wollen, but with a departure from Metz’s diegesis and Wollen’s object’s relation to the sign. His theoretical position, which is ideological, on the visual sign, especially his critique of iconicity and realism, addresses the supposed challenges of evolving a semiotics of the cinema. His position on Metz’s view of the cinema as a language is explicitly expressed:
Metz, in contemplating a semiological investigation of film, recognizes a primal entity not otherwise analysable, not reducible to discrete units which could compound it by articulation, and this primum is the image. What is meant here is the notion of the image as something non-arbitrary, and deeply motivated—a sort of analogue of reality, which can’t be bounded by the conventions of a ‘langue’. Thus the semiology of cinema would be the semiology of a ‘speech’ without a language behind it, and the semiology of certain ‘types of speech,’ that is of the great syntagmatic unities whose combination makes filmic discourse a reality. Anyway our problem today is whether it is possible to find convention, code, articulation beyond the image.
Eco’s position is a censure of the image as perceived by structural semioticians and realists, and by extension, the proponents of the trichotomy of the sign. He criticises structural semioticians for what he characterises as “the dogma of double articulation” (1968: 201); and postulates a triple articulation of the cinematic code with an emphasis that a message without a code is non-existent, therefore, all meaning is coded:
The semiological investigation starts from the principle that if there is to be communication, it must be established and governed by the way the emitter organizes a message. He does this according to a system of rules socially conventionalized … which make up the code … if the addressees understand, it means that below their understanding exists a code. If we can’t manage to get a hold of it, that doesn’t mean that there’s no code at all, but rather that it still has to be found (Cited in Nichols 1976: 592).
In some respects, this coincides with Saussure’s exclusion of the visual sign which Eco finds limiting. Eco equally finds unattainable, and rejects Peirce’s argument that iconic and indexical signs signify by virtue of a natural relationship with their referent. Peirce, like Metz, believes such signs are naturally motivated. Eco, strongly opines that the natural sign, insofar as it is a message, signifies by virtue of conventional codification.
Furthermore, Eco (1979: 219) criticises the presentation of the sign by classical semiotics. He argues that because signs are posited, they should be regarded as a converging point of a complex structure of changing relationships, not as unchanging and governed by a static code. For him, the sign-function, which emphasises the relational and processual aspect of signification, is more adequate. Thus, he defines the sign-function as “the correlation, posited by a rule of equivalence, between an expression (that is a material occurrence) and its content” and consequently adopts the Saussure’s dyadic concept but replaces his signifier and signified with expression and content for simplification. Eco (1979: 49) further provides an explanation that the sign-function is realised when two functives (expression and content) are connected by a rule. The intermingling of these functives may engender a different sign-function:
Thus signs are the provisional result of coding rules which establish transitory correlations of elements, each of these elements being entitled to enter––under given coded circumstances—into another correlation and thus form a new sign…. One can then maintain that it is not true that a code organizes signs; it is more correct to say that codes provide the rules which generate signs as concrete occurrences in communicative intercourse. Therefore the classical notion of ‘sign’ dissolves itself into a highly complex network of changing relationships.
This view is in tandem with Eisenstein’s position on dialectics where an action (thesis) provokes a reaction (antithesis) and this logic on its own, produces a synthesis, which in turn becomes a thesis possessing further contradictions. This equation is given by Miller (2004: 109) as: “a versus b produces c.” Eco (1979: 66) agrees with Peirce that sign production takes different modes. For instance though, the word and the image may represent the same thing, they achieve this in different manners. With this understanding, critics of semiotics like Lacan, have disregarded the use of the term “sign” to accommodate this contrasting singularities. According to Harman (1977:216), “the theory of signs, contains no laws or general principles. Semiotics is really a collection of three or four disparate subjects.” He argues that the two divergent concepts should be realised through a unifying theoretical framework and serve as a model for any semiotic exploration. In fact, he further argues that the natural sign should be subordinate to the arbitrary linguistic sign. Eco (1979: 177) asserts that this argument is similar to Metz’s notion on the concept of sign:
Semiotics would be obliged to distinguish between signs which are signs (because their parameters correspond to those of verbal signs, or can be metaphorically viewed as analogous to them) and signs which are not signs at all. Which may sound paradoxical, even though it is upon such a paradox that many distinguished semiotic theories have been established.
His argument, therefore, is a departure from the strict linguistic thoughts of Saussure and Pierce’s idea that a sign is analogous to its referent.
Eco (1979: 61), in consequence, distinguishes between conditions of signification and conditions of truth, or between intensional or extensional semantics and how the world may be connected to the content of the sign:
Within the framework of a theory of codes it is unnecessary to resort to the notion of extension, nor to that of possible worlds; the codes, in so far as they are accepted by a society, set up a ‘cultural’ world which is neither actual nor possible in the ontological sense; its existence is linked to a cultural order, which is the way in which a society thinks, speaks and, while speaking, explains the ‘purport’ of its thought through other thoughts.
With this thought, Eco (1976: 7) describes his semiotic theory as “a theory of the lie”, owing to his view of the sign as a manipulative entity to project falsehood, which sharply contrasts with “The photograph does not lie!” slogan of the dyadic and the trichotomy proponents. He holds that the photograph is not an objective representation of reality, nor a piece of nature itself; it is not a “pure denotation”, nor a message without a code. Within the milieu of film semiotics, according to Hewak (1991: 92), Eco’s project can be seen as the attempt to consider natural and visual signs as ‘true’ signs, embodying features in common with linguistic signs that make them amenable to a unified approach. He, like Wollen, believes the cinematic image must be treated semiotically, not subordinated, as it is with Metz, to the narrative sequence.
Having discussed the three theoretical ideologies of semioticians in line with film, it is observed here that each of these theoretical perspectives has its own implications, ideals and aesthetics, which reflects the proponent’s vision. Essentially, this is how philosophy affects signification and visual arts in general. The divergence created by the three apposing semiotic ideals has led to the conceptualisation of the cinema as an ensemble of codes. While some are specific to the cinema, others belong to cultures at large. Each of these codes comprises minimal units not necessarily discrete or arbitrary, and not necessarily identifiable. Basically, they are the signs of the cinema, which the spectator him/herself is forced to fathom. Through this, as Eisenstein argues, the spectator “achieves that great power of inner creative excitement*, which distinguishes an emotionally exciting work from one that stops without going further than giving information or recording events” (1957: 35). Therefore, this study although, adopts the Structuralists’ analysis, Eco’s theory of the visual sign will equally serve as cinematic signifiers with significations wherever the need arises.
Film in Nigeria: A Historical Overview
Film in Nigeria has evolved from three crucial socio-economic stages in Nigeria: the colonial/independence period; the post-independence period; and the post-Indigenization Decree period, Ekwuazi (1991:2). In the colonial period, Bamidele (2008:127) argues that Nigerians only had contact with foreign films, which were mostly documentaries and newsreels. These films were first imported to be shown in Nigeria, and later produced in Nigeria through the Colonial Film Unit (CFU). These films were reflections of imperialists’ manipulations across the globe, and according to Adedokun (2008:229), the films were an assertion of the superiority of European culture over that of Africans. The Europeans were extoled through the contents of these films that Ekwuazi (1987:26) describes the acts as “glorification of the colonizer”. Individual theatre practitioners, such as Hubert Ogunde disapproved of the nefarious activities of the CFU and their films. He offered to give scholarship awards “to deserving indigenous youths to enable them acquire the necessary skills in film production and theatre organization in America, in order to project the Nigerian history from their perspective” (Clark, 1979: 17-18).
This became the objective of the Federal Film Unit (FFU) after independence. Independence paved the way for Nigerians to document their indigenous art forms which later served as material resources for film adaptations. This era marks the beginning of indigenous film production in Nigeria. The pioneering films are said to be Soyinka’s The Strong Breed and Duro Ladipo’s Oba Moro (Obioha 2001; cited in Olayiwola, 2011:184). Ihidero (2015:49) states that film production in Nigeria dates back to the 1960s but Ekwazi (2008:136) affirms that the filmic adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest (1970) of the same title is a reference point, which marks the take-off of independent film production in Nigeria. Ekwazi’s stance is supported by Duro Oni who expounds explicitly thus:
From the seventies to the early eighties almost a hundred films were produced in celluloid. These include Francis Oladele’s Kongi’s Harvest (1970) and Bullfrog in the Sun (1971); Ola Balogun’s Alpha (1971) and Amadi (1975); Ladi Ladebo’s Count Down at Kusini (1976), Ajani Ogun (1976), directed by Ola Balogun, Adamu Halilu’s Shaihu Umar (1977), Kanta of Kebbi (1978) and Ija Ominira (1979), directed by Ola Balogun. Others include Hubert Ogunde’s Aye (1979) and Aropin Ntenia (1982); Wale Adenuga’s Papa Ajasco (1984); Brendan Shehu’s Kulba Na Barna (1994) (2004:339).
This account resonates with Jedlowski (2011:229) who submits that the evolution of film production in Nigeria can be traced to the 1980s when television productions thrived. Jimi Odumosu’s Evil Encounter, a 1980 horror film released directly on television, was the first production that reveals home video as a lucrative venture (Adegbola 2015:1). The film was extensively advertised before being aired on the television. As a result, the streets were flooded with video copies of the recorded broadcast the following morning. According to Emeagwali (2004:28), the film became an instant hit at Alaba market, a commercial district which later became the hub of video distribution in this period and also eventually became the hub of piracy in Nigeria. Since Evil Encounter, it became common, especially in Southern Nigerian cities to see video copies of recorded television programmes traded on the streets (Nigerian Film International Consortium—NIFICON 2014:12).
This method was adopted and built on by producers and distributors at Alaba Market to reinvent the film industry, since the Nigerian cinema culture was facing a major decline. Obiaya (2015:9) avers that the first film produced on video in Nigeria was 1988’s Soso Meji, produced by Ade Ajiboye. The film was also screened at the few available theatres at the time. However, the boom experienced in this era is generally believed to have been kick started by Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage (1992).
According to Ojieson (2015:579), Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes and the best way he thought he could sell them was to shoot his first film on a Video camera using the empty video cassettes. Thus, Living in Bondage is often touted as the “first commercial video film” in Nigeria. In 2002, the christening of the Nigerian film industry changed when an article in the New York Times referred to it as ‘Nollywoood’ (Haynes 2014:32). Since then Nigeria has recorded a massive leap in film production. Chowdhury et als (2008:13) note that as of 2004, four to five films were produced every day in Nigeria thereby forcing its way into the television screens across the African continent and by extension, the diaspora. The film actors also became household names across the continent, and the movies significantly influenced cultures in many African nations; from way of dressing to speech and usage of Nigerian slangs (Olubomehin 2012:54). This reception, according to Onikeku (2015:237) is attributed to the fact that these films told “relatable” stories, which attracted the attention of the African audience because they can easily identify themselves in the events portrayed.
However, this didn’t translate to an overtly commercial film industry when compared to other major film hubs across the world; the worth of the industry was approximated at just about US$250 million, since most of the films produced were cheaply made (Nnabuko and Anatsui 2012:215). Regardless, Ojieson (2015:581) notes that the film industry became a major employer in Nigeria. As at 2007, Liston (2014:31) observes that with a total number of 6,841 registered video parlours and an estimated of about 500,000 unregistered ones, the estimated revenue generated by sales and rentals of movies in Lagos State alone was estimated to be ₦804 million (US$5 million) per week, which adds up to an estimated ₦33.5 billion (US$209 million) revenue for Lagos State per annum. Approximately 700,000 discs were sold in Alaba market per day, with the total sales revenue generated by the film industry in Nigeria estimated at ₦522 billion (US$3 billion) per annum, with broadcast content valued at ₦250 billion (Emeagwali 2004:30; Okonkwo 2013:npag, Obiaya 2015:13).
At the peak of the video era at around 2008, the industry had become the second largest producer of films releasing approximately 200 video films monthly (Clayton 2010:19). However at this point, Thourburn (2015:13) notes that the Nigerian film industry had practically degenerated into a “visionless” industry, with the invasion of several people who do not know a thing about filmmaking, and piracy was at its peak. Dealing with the menace of piracy, amongst other problems became an overwhelming challenge. Most investors of the “Alaba cartel”, who control almost 90 percent stakes in the video industry, began to channel their money into other business ventures (Ekeanyanwu 2015:29).
Nonetheless, early 2000s, a new set of filmmakers and producers emerged. These set of Nigerian film producers are creative individuals who departed from the ideology of the old filmmakers in all aspects of filmmaking. They rose above the practice of recording their films directly on DVD and opted for screening their movies for cinema. This is done to further distinct themselves from the practices of the old filmmakers, generate revenue through cinema screenings, and curb the menace of piracy. This reinvigorated the business aspects of film production in Nigeria while reinventing what many people have come to accept as Nollywood. Film producers like Amaka Igwe, Tunde Kilani, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, Kunle Afolayan, Chineze Anyaene, Jeta Amata, Ayo Makun, Emem Isong Stephanie-Linus Okereke, Genevieve Nnanji, Mo Abudu through their divergent film productions have put Nigeria’s filmic art on the international stage. This group of producers as well as many others constitute a class of producers today known as Neo (new) Nollywood.
New Nigerian Cinema or the “neo-Nollywood” is an emerging phase in Nigerian cinema. It is used to describe a major shift in the method of film production, from the video format, back to the cinema method, which constituted the films produced in the Golden era. Few years into the 21st century, Nigeria began to experience the growth of cinemas, which was initially structured for the middle and upper class. This is championed by the Silverbird Group who launch a series of modern Cinema houses in the major cities across Nigeria; mostly situated in affluent areas and districts (Adelakun 2009:7, NIFICON 2013). The group launched its chains of cinema in 2004, starting with the Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island, Lagos. The Silverbird Galleria is a large shopping mall, with an upscale cinema facility and various outlets where mercantile activities take place. This arrangement promotes the Galleria as a hub of social activities and attracts more people whose needs are met in such a place. This trend has given another probable explanation as to the demise of the Nigerian cinema culture in the 1980s, which might have been as a result of the unfashionable appearance of most cinemas of the Golden era.
Silverbird cinemas upon establishment started screening Nigerian films with high production quality, as a result, discouraging poor film production. The first New wave film to be shown at a cinema was the Yoruba-language film Irapada (2006) by Kunle Afolayan, which was screened at the Silverbird Galleria in Lagos. The Silverbird experiment became very successful, and as a result, the group launched few more cinema branches in Lagos and other cities in the country. Not long after the establishment of Silverbird cinemas, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas and Ozone Cinemas were also launched creating a competition in the cinema business (Adelakun 2009:212). Much later, in the 2010s, Film House cinemas also came into the picture, leading to the availability of more cinemas in the country, especially outside the affluent neighbourhoods (Leu, 2011:33).
To further promote Nollywood in terms of quality content, the Nigerian government in conjunction with Ecobank in 2006 launched “Project Nollywood”. According to Leu, the project provided ₦100 million (US$781,000) to Nigerian filmmakers to produce high quality films and to fund a multimillion Naira distribution network across the country during this period. In 2010, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan launched a ₦30 billion (US$200 million) “Creative and Entertainment Industry” Intervention Fund, financed by Bank of Industry (BOI), in conjunction with Nigerian Export and Import (NEXIM) Bank. This grant, although dubbed as a spin-off of “Project Nollywood” (2011:34), was for the entire Nigerian Creative Arts and Entertainment sector. The vision of the grant for the film industry however was to help more Nigerian filmmakers in training, funding, and also help in creating necessary infrastructure for the industry. In 2013, a smaller new grant of ₦3 billion (US$20 million) was awarded once again solely for Nollywood, and specifically for the production of high quality films, and to sponsor filmmakers for formal training in film schools. According to Ekenyerengozi (2015:30), the Bank of Industry in 2015 launched another “NollyFund” program for the purpose of giving financial support in form of loans to film producers.
Kunle Afolayan’s thriller film, The Figurine (2009) is generally considered the game changer, which heightened the media attention towards “New Nigerian Cinema” revolution. The film was a critical and commercial success in Nigeria, and it was also screened at international film festivals. The 2010 film Ijé by Chineze Anyaene, overtook The Figurine to become the highest grossing Nigerian film; a record it held for four years, until it was overtaken in 2014 by Biyi Bandele’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2013). Unlike the home video era, Liston (2014:33) notes that films in the new wave are generally of much improved quality, with considerably bigger budgets; averaging between ₦40 million (US$250,000) and ₦120 million ($750,000). These films’ production periods take months and even span into years, a far cry from the films in video format which are usually shot in a matter of days or weeks. Other notable improvements in the New Nollywood include: more subtle performances from actors; different from the overt melodrama which constituted the video era, more practical, more logical and generally better stories Levine (2011:36). Themes explored in these films are often characterized by consciously cosmopolitan themes, as most of the filmmakers are relatively young.
Synchronic and Diachronic Structures
The study adopts Hodge and Tripp’s (1986:20) standpoint of diachronic and synchronic analysis: the focus of a synchronic analysis of the films is on the relationships that exist among elements within each film, and a diachronic examination focuses on the evolvement of the sequences that form the narratives of each film. These efforts are extended to the examination of narrative operations in the texts; that is, these concepts are used to examine the patterns that exist within the texts that make them a product of common human experiences in the larger cultures. The films chosen for this study will be subjected to these methods of analyses in order to internalise the hidden codes and signs for structural and cultural interpretations and significations.
A syntagmatic analysis is categorised under the diachronic examination of a text. It studies the chronological arrangements of the events that form the narratives in the text. This is referred to as a “chain” by Saussure. Meanings and significations are formed by the interaction of the events that form the narratives of the text. The syntagmatic analysis of a text involves identifying its constituent parts – its syntagms, and studying how the relationship between these parts form its structure. For an effective syntagmatic analyses of the films, this study examines each element of the signifying system independently, and examine these elements as they relate to each other within the films. For syntagmatic structure of a text, “the whole depends on the parts, and the parts depend on the whole” (Saussure 1983: 126).
Chandler’s paradigms for an examination of the structures in films such as: the identification and description of syntagmatic structures in film which takes forms of narrative, argument or montage are meticulously observed; how each signifier relates to the others is examined; how the sequential or spatial arrangement of the elements influence meaning and whether there are formulaic features that have shaped the film are determined; since the works of two filmmakers are compared, shared syntagms are identified; and how identifying the paradigms and syntagms has helped in understanding the texts.
Paradigmatic analysis focuses on the concealed meaning of and in the text, the ideology behind the text. This is achieved through the identification of the various functional contrasts that underlie the familiar content of texts through which meanings are engendered. Chandler (2007: 87) in his explanation of paradigmatic analysis states that “this aspect of structural analysis involves a consideration of the positive or negative connotations of each signifier (revealed through the use of one signifier rather than another), and the existence of ‘underlying’ thematic paradigms (e.g. binary oppositions such as public/private).” Paradigmatic analysis seeks the oppositions and contrasts between the signifiers, because it is in these differences, and substitutions of signs that belong to the same category from which those used in the “texts” are chosen that meanings are generated.
These contrasting relationships which are unconsciously employed in signifying practices help to generate order out of the constant flux and complexity of human experience. Saussure emphasises the differences between signs rather than their similarities when he declares that “in language system there are only differences with no positive terms,” and that “Concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with other terms of the system. Their most precise characteristic is in being what they are not” (1959: 117). By implication, meanings are generated through a differential relationships of the signifiers, and by that which they are not known to be. This further implies that language is a system that is created with contradictions – the union of negative signifiers to create positives. Without these opposites and differences, language cannot exist and so is communication. Building on Saussuare’s position, Jakobson proposes that linguistic units are bound together by a system of binary oppositions, which are essential to the generation of meaning. For a paradigmatic analysis of the films selected for this study, the various sets of associated signifiers such as shots options and genre are examined in relation with their underlying signified.
A semiotic interpretation does not exclude any form of signification. Every sign and code, in varying forms are explored. The figurative language is specifically employed in communication modes to deeply and unavoidably involve the audience and influence their way of thinking and interpretations. In this study, rhetorical devices such as metaphor, metonymy, and irony are identified in relation to their influences in shaping the audiences’ significations on the subjects of the films. Verbally, a metaphor is used to invoke a direct similarity between a signifier and a signified, implying that a phenomenon is something that is not. This comparative position is achieved through the use of “as” and “like”. Visual metaphor is achieved when a pair of consecutive shots are placed in juxtaposition. The connection of these shots creates a metaphoric implication for its interpreters.
Metonymy is based on functional association of a code with its signified. A metonymy is an existing code with which viewers create appropriate links to its actual significance contextually. More explicitly, “…metonymy is the evocation of the whole by a connection. It consists in using for the name of a thing or a relationship an attribute, a suggested sense, or something closely related, such as effect for cause… the imputed relationship being that of contiguity” (Wilden 1987: 198). A metonymy therefore, is based on various indexical relationships between signifieds while a metaphor is often based on symbolic relationships of the signifiers.
It has been argued that synecdoche is be a special form of metonymy, and its functions entirely subsumed within metonymy. Since metonymy requires that the audience make use of existing familiar signifiers to appropriately connect with the contextual significations, synecdoche then, can function as a metonymy – through the substitution or representation of apart for or with a whole. This brings the two tropes under an umbrella concept, where both can be used synonymously. Eco’s succinctly clarifies that metonymy involves “a substitution within the framework of the conceptual content” while synecdoche involves “a substitution with other aspects of reality with which a given thing is customarily connected” (1976: 280–1). An object therefore, may function as a metonymy and a synecdoche within a related context, given that metonymy and synecdoche have consciously or unconsciously become part of human reality.
Similarly, objects can possess both metaphoric and metonymic attributes. This complexity in coding is often deliberately created by the filmmaker for multiple imports of hidden messages in the films. Some of these codes, especially the metonymic codes could be easily decipherable because of the familiar nature whereas the metaphoric codes imbued require cognitive minds to be appropriately interpreted. The employment of these “figures of thoughts” in the films is thoroughly examined because they guide the interpretations of the cultural codes that form the structural significations which is the crux of this study. The films of Afolayan selected for this study are situated in the cultural enclave of the Yoruba, a culture wherein communication is greatly coded. The films of Gibson are predicated on the historical and cultural accounts of the Israelites and the Maya are embedded with only socio-cultural codes and annotations. Essentially, the interpretations and significations of these films and specifically the rhetorical tropes are aided not only by the filmic conventions employed but also by other signifying elements of the conventional theatre.
Semiotics of Film Medium
The film as mode of communication possesses certain peculiarities through which its functions are manifested. For a semiotic analysis of the filmic medium, these peculiarities are aspects of the medium that function as signifiers: the shots; editing techniques; lighting; and sounds. The employment of these aspects are often determined by the “genres” of the narratives. These codes (shots and editing techniques) which form the grammar of film therefore, have been decoded and interpreted by Berger (2004: 33-34) as follows:
|Signifier (shot)||Definition||Signified (meaning|
|Medium shot||Most of body||Personal relationship|
|Long shot||Setting and characters||Context, scope, public distance|
|Full shot||Full body of person||Social relationship|
|Pan down||Camera looks down||Power, authority|
|Pan up||Camera looks up||Smallness, weakness|
|Dolly in||Camera moves in||Observation, focus|
|Fade in||Image appears on blank screen||Beginning|
|Fade out||Image screen goes blank||Ending|
|Cut||Switch from one image to another||Simultaneity, excitement|
|Wipe||Image wiped off screen||Imposed conclusion|
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