Free «Roland Gerard Barthes’ Signification of Motion Pictures. Entertaining Dirigisme of Thoughts» Essay
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Famous French philosopher, philologist Roland Gérard Barthes (1915-1980) frequently emphasized phenomena of over-explicitness of contemporary arts referring mainly to the most explicit facet of them all – the films. Throughout his works, most of which are written in terse style and particularly in a succinct essay on The Romans in Films the author identifies semiotics as a leitmotif to play a critical role in film’s perception by conventional people.
In Mythologies (1987), the author exploits his special knowledge in semiotics to explore the idea of symbolism in the film from the actors’ wardrobe to their acting to inform the audience that the director of the movie is trying to convey something much deeper than what appears to be on the surface. Barthes sees the great, even vital significance in small things (and these are “infinitely the most important” (Doyle), which has been deliberately shown in the film and worn by all the characters in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar as “simply the label of Romanness” (Barthes, Lavers). These “insistent fringes,” as he delights in calling the hairdos of movie characters, are transhistorical signs of historicity: “cross the ocean and the centuries, and merge into the Yankee mugs of Hollywood extras”, these “Romans are Romans thanks to the most legible of signs: hair on the forehead” (Barthes, Lavers). Barthes (1987) has not much respect for this kind of sign, which is neither “openly intellectual,” a kind of “algebra,” nor “deeply rooted" (not the mathematical language in his semantic). The “fringe of Romanness” is an “intermediate sign,” a “degraded spectacle," a hypocritical hybrid characteristic of bourgeois art, “at once elliptical and pretentious” (Barthes, Lavers).
Thus, film director (intentionally or not) has woven the images of Romans that are ought (in his opinion) to provide authenticity, the historical plausibility to his film. According to Barthes, any image serves to duplicate something. As Barthes defines the etymological root of the word image (imitary), “replica” in his semantic, any opinion based on image reception can be double-natured as “general opinion too has a vague conception of the image as an area of resistance to meaning” (Barthes, Heath). In such a manner, the image as a source of all myths and believes is nothing else than a replica, “re-presentation”, therefore, “from both sides the image is felt to be weak in respect of meaning” (Barthes, Heath). In the author’s view, the modern pop culture is comprised of images and deeply depends on them. That notion can, however, create the unpredictable (or even dangerous) tendency of myths’ sprouting. Barthes stated that the mechanicness of the modern process of image creation (like in photography) weakly generates the concept of objectivity of such image: it “reinforces the myth of photographic "naturalness": the scene is there, captured mechanically, not humanly (the mechanical is here a guarantee of objectivity)” (Barthes, Heath).
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In his essay The Third Meaning: Research Notes on Several Eisenstein Stills (1970), Barthes's concern has shifted from a strictly semiological focus to one which bears the hallmarks of his celebration of the reversible text in S/Z. Barthes here looks at stills from %uFB01lms such as Battleship Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible by the Russian %uFB01lmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The theory of the text elaborated in S / Z and developed in The Pleasure of the Text provides an illuminating framework for reading this essay. Barthes signaled on a number of occasions his preference for photography over cinema. Cinema for Barthes seems to equate to the readably, irreversible text. Its dependence on the narrative codes and the manner in which it generates a passive identi%uFB01cation in its viewers make cinema a medium which, for Barthes, has little relation to the radically plural text, to signi%uFB01cance and thus to a productive, potentially blissful (re)writing on the part of the audience isolating stills (individual frames) from Eisenstein’s %uFB01lms, however, allows Barthes, paradoxically, to locate what he calls the “%uFB01lmic” within Eisenstein's work. It seems that, for Barthes, the “%uFB01lmic” must resist chronology, narrative and the development of character and plot.
Films as Moral Compass
Both being best in terms of popularity and superiority of convincing technique, films comprise uncomprehended influence on our minds. The steaming growth of the film industry, even when not displayed in figures or charts (which, by the way, are mind-blowing: 2012-year’s record-setting $10, 8 billion in the United States (Smith)), indicates that motion picturing tends to prevail above all other forms of contemporary art. What has become a ‘limelight’ (term that is used particularly in this industry to define something popular) will certainly affect the mentality of populace.
In many contemporary novels and %uFB01lms, it is the authority that has abused its power and must be destroyed. Interestingly, the audience is not informed what powers will %uFB01ll the vacuum left by the destruction of the abusive authority. In modem stories, there is a subtle rejection that a real pattern for living – a sense of how one ought to live - exists; or if a pattern does exist, it is beyond the scope of people to know it.
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Hesiod’s epic poetic narratives of Hercules and Prometheus tell us about the values of the Greek culture in the Hellenic period. Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck tell us about life’s values and what it takes to be a hero in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. During this generation, it falls to authors such as Stephen King, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, and John Grisham to create the narratives that follow the mythological form and convey the values this generation considers important.
It is widely believed that films will become moral compass for future generations. A hero who is known by sight has an advantage over the one who dwells in the realm of thoughts of a reader. Thus, a spectator of the movie instantly memorizes the protagonist because of the way human cognitive functions work while a reader will have to build a strong imaginable figure.
In the continuing advance of technology throughout the twentieth century, %uFB01lm is joining literature in the quest to de%uFB01ne and express life’s rules. In reading %uFB01ctional narrative and viewing %uFB01lms, children and adults become witnesses to a wide range of behaviors and cannot help
but be affected by what they see, hear, or read. The types of behavior they perceive will range from the ideal, heroic, and good to the abominable and evil. This is not to imply as some modern critics such as Michael Medved (Hollywood vs. America) suggest that there is an indirect yet substantive cause-and-effect relationship in behavior and motion picture viewing. It is simply to acknowledge that behavior can be con%uFB01rmed or rejected by what is seen on the movie screen or read in current literature, just as the nineteenth century citizens were affected by authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Readers of novels could learn what actions were acceptable by their society and those that were not. The novel “was an arena in which the most fundamental questions of human existence — what it meant to be a person” (Eagleton).
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Mark Twain, in his novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, tells us about coming of age in nineteenth-century mid-America just as J. D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and John Knowles (A Separate Peace) do for the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1980s, we have Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (%uFB01lm by Steven Spielberg) set in southern black culture and Stephen King's novella The Body (%uFB01lm Stand by Me, by Rob Reiner) about middle-class white children. All of these stories by following the same basic form convey what the culture holds as important. Readers are able to empathize and learn from the characters and at the same moment be entertained. All of these stories, whenever or wherever they are read, in%uFB02uence both adults and adolescents. For young people, they provide an insight and substantiation for their feelings; for adults, a means of understanding another perspective.
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Films and novels continue to provide, just as the stories of ancient Greece did for their children, a pattern for living. By focusing on the natural rites of passage from one stage of life to another, with all its relevant hopes, fears, aspirations, and values, an effective story will connect to our spiritual consciousness. Simply stated, modern humans derive their way of life in much the same manner as a primitive society did.
Every culture has its heroes and its villains, and those heroes become the living model for the myths the culture will inevitably produce while its villains will tell us what that society sees as evil.
Imagine the potential influence of films on our whole civilization, since myths and legends of the ancient world has shaped all current religions even as we see them now. Thus, history can be showed in a way that can twist the reality. Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida, that “history is hysterical, it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it” (Barthes).
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The Literature Phenomenon
His influence could be felt in the work of a whole generation of writers both in and outside France. From the late 1950s onwards, French literature led the way in questioning established literary conventions, going through a process of drastic experimentation in the field of the novel known as Le Nouveau Roman (The New Novel). There followed an attempt by the Tel Quel group led by Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva to create a revolutionary form of writing. Barthes supported them enthusiastically and contributed new ideas.
The spate of difficult books that were published as a result clearly caused the disaffection of a large section of the reading public for ‘serious’ contemporary literature. Barthes’s renewed emphasis on the value of pleasure, therefore, found a strong echo and contributed to a change in the literary landscape, with the publication of a number of highly innovative fiction with wide-ranging appeal from the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, in the wake of Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, autobiographical writing made a comeback, both as a genre
and as an object worthy of study. However, this return to more traditional concerns and forms was made with an acute awareness of the power of language and the codes that shaped all discourse as acknowledged by John Fowles in the French Lieutenant’s Woman as early as I969.
On the critical and theoretical front the considerable appeal of Barthes’s structuralist project in France meant that narratology flourished in l970s and that aspects of literary discourse were analyzed systematically well into the l980s. In Britain and America, the nature of Barthes’ long term-influence was rather different. Structuralism did not strike a particularly vibrant chord and, as far as literature was concerned, it was the post-structuralism of thinkers like Jacques
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Derrida and Michel Foucault that seems to have had the greatest influence. The main effect of Barthes’ work was altogether simpler and more fundamental.
On the one hand, it encouraged new ways of looking at literature, notably from ideological and sociological perspectives. On the other, it took literature off its pedestal as a higher form of culture, and encouraged cultural studies: literature became one signifying practice among many others whose specificity was gradually defined. In this respect, cinema provides a particularly apt example of Barthes’ indirect and yet all-pervasive influence.