The analysis of films is based on a variety of factors, concepts, and characteristics that have to be taken into consideration. In addition to the necessity of forming a personal opinion and attitude, one should focus on the existing theories and approaches to better understand the cinematic language and its relation to linguistic expression. During this course, the role of a contemporary form of film theory has been studied. It was proved that some linguistic and literary analysis methods were successfully imported to moviemaking and the evaluation of such concepts as representation and expression. At this moment, one question emerges, if cinematic representation may be compared to linguistic expression. To answer it, it is expected to give definitions of both terms and explain how film theory influenced the development of the cinematic language. The ideas of Alexandre Astruc and Christian Metz about cinema as a language or a system of language will be used in this paper. Despite the fact that the comparison of cinematic representation and linguistic expression is possible as a significant part of cinematic language, their distinctive features, characteristics, and outcomes on spectators cannot be ignored.
Talking about cinematic language, many people could come to the same conclusion that its main idea is how movies tell their stories and choose appropriate language, vocabulary, and system of signs. It may be a story of how one person wants to make a change and discover new aspects of life to promote positive changes like in the movie Sullivan’s Travels. Another example is in the movie Les Quatre Cents Coups, but its story of a young man is described by means of other techniques, which provoke new emotions and feedback. Cinematic language is complex, and its understanding depends on current trends, preferred styles, and available resources. For example, in the early period, films lacked a number of techniques that could enrich the cinematic language. Modern movies are created with the help of computers, new montage effects, and sound technologies that influence the perception of their messages by spectators. However, past technical difficulties should not be considered as a shortage, but as an old way to represent a story. Therefore, much attention was paid to dialogues (in sound movies), the last appearance (in silent movies), or movie direction.
There are many types of cinematic language of which people are aware nowadays. They include montage, shooting, and mise-en-scenes, lighting techniques, and camera angles. According to Metz, the appearance of cinema depends on the chosen angle, which makes it a kind of language and a specific language system (155). The difference between these two terms lies in the possibility of people analyzing the film: someone focuses on its syntax in particular, and someone investigates a movie in general. Therefore, it is correct to define cinematic language as a number of systems and methods with the help of which moviemakers communicate with people who watch their work. A language becomes a form that allows artists to share their thoughts or directors to translate their ideas (Astruc 18). In other words, creative freedoms and personal visions are promoted through the prism of cinematic language, with its explicit and implicit meanings.
Many film theorists work hard to give a clear definition of what cinematic representation is and how it is developed through the centuries. Talking about this type of representation, there is a tendency to combine sound and photographic (or pictorial) representations. In addition, filmmakers want to choose a form that can properly express their subjectivity in relation to a particular subject, person, or event. Therefore, cinematic representation turns out to be a result of personal choices, current trends, and mutually promoted knowledge. It is a transformation of something real into the screen by means of appropriate camera work and other cinematic techniques. The benefits of such transformations include the possibility to cover different periods of time or even epochs to underline human development and progress. One of the vivid examples of how one movie scene could represent the world is observed in Luc Besson’s movie Lucy when the main character travels and observes global changes within a minute or so. Such representation may not be defined as a true one, but it is the way of how the director sees progress and shows his subjective results in a movie.
The concept of cinematic representation also depends on how the cinema in general and movies, in particular, are viewed. Investigating the evolution of a film language, Bazin underlines that the cinema means objectivity in time (“The Ontology of the Photographic Image” 92). A movie, in its turn, is a means not only to preserve an object but also to demonstrate changes in time and space (Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” 92). It is an art, the uniqueness of which is explained by a perfect combination of image and reality with the frames of one scene (Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” 94). During the last several decades, Citizen Kane remains one of the best examples of cinematic representation where the story is told in general and underlines a specific identity in terms of lighting, acting, sound, and other stylistic innovations.
To understand if it is possible to compare cinematic representation and linguistic expression, it is also necessary to explain the latter. During the 1960s, film theory was significantly reshaped, and new methods of analysis came from the fields of linguistics, which influences the way of how structure, expression, and communication are used in movies. These transformations make it possible for theorists and researchers to raise new philosophical interpretations and perceptions of moviemaking.
Regarding the readings of this course, there is no specific definition of linguistic expression. Therefore, its understanding is derived from past studies and linguistic theories. As a rule, this type of expression means any physical form that can be used to represent a particular unit. This process may be applied to various terms and actions in a spoken, written, or signed way. However, its distinctive feature is that it aims at producing an expression or an intention to share personal thoughts, feelings, or attitudes toward something. Metz says that from the point of view of expression, an individual should distinguish meanings between natural things and determined things (153). A natural expression is characterized by commonly defined continuous or total signifiers (Metz 153). Despite the presence of specific standards and knowledge, linguistic expression is a free choice of a person in communication or writing.
The importance of linguistic expression can be traced to the works of ancient philosophers like Aristotle. This term helps to understand the peculiarities of language, either oral or written, its meaning, and the ways in how people use it. Depending on personal interests, needs, or expectations, this technique facilitates the expression of human behaviors, offered colors, actions, reactions, and other issues that need comments. There are many examples of how to express something, either by relying on facts or evidence, focusing on individual knowledge, or making conclusions after communication or research. Being a part of the linguistic study, its forms may vary, depending on the chosen morphology, phonetics, and semantics. However, in the majority of cases, linguistic expression relies on a particular situation, person, fact, action, or event.
Representation vs. Expression in Movies
Taking into consideration the examples of cinematic representation and linguistic expression, the comparison of these concepts should begin with their scopes. In cinema, the representation may cover many events, people, or even epochs. Much depends on how a director sees a general picture, what resources may be used, and what messages should be sent to spectators. In linguistics, the expression has to be specific and limited to a particular object. This distinction occurs because of the goals people set for their actions. Representation focuses on the description, discussion, and introduction of a theme for analysis, and expression is the way of how people share their thoughts (analysis is implied).
At the same time, film studies mention the importance of both cinematic representation and linguistic expression, and there have to be similarities in these concepts. In today’s world, attitudes to cinema vary, depending on the positions chosen by theorists and researchers. For example, Astruc admits that cinema can be interpreted as a means of expression (17). Bazin chooses a similar position, supporting the idea that cinema is “the furthermost evolution to date of plastic realism” (“The Ontology of the Photographic” 91). As well as linguistic expression, cinematic representation has its syntax but on a “syntactical, and not a morphological basis” (Metz 168). However, one should remember that an image that turns out to be a distinctive feature of a movie is never a unit of language but speech (Metz 168). In this perspective, the comparison of the offered concepts reveals a number of distinctions, which questions their connection.
In general, the discussion of cinematic representation and linguistic expression is another way to investigate different aspects of film theory development and cinema progress. In moviemaking, each decade adds something new to the possibilities of directors, responsibilities of actors, and expectations of viewers. The creation of cinematic language is a long-lasting process that consists of multiple methods, systems, and decisions made in order to promote communication with a spectator. Representation and expression are the techniques that smooth the transition between the initial goal of a director or screenwriter, the chosen camera movements, and an image that a person views on the screen. The comparison between cinematic representation and linguistic expression is possible not in order to identify similarities but to learn the differences and comprehend the strengths of each in terms of moviemaking. Bazin, Astruc, and Metz investigate cinematic language and give their definitions to improve people’s understanding of how films are made and how they should be analyzed. Their discussions show that the scope of the chosen concepts and the goals pursued by directors vary, making representation more effective for describing events and expression for sharing opinions.
Astruc, Alexandre. “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera-Stylo.” The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks, edited by Peter Graham, Doubleday, 1968, pp. 17-23.
Bazin, André. “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema.” Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 95-103.
Bazin, André. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 90-94.
Metz, Christian. “Cinema: Language or Language System?” Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 133-170.