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January 04, 2007
Glossary of Terms for European Cinema
Please note that this glossary will be on more than one page as the server limit appears to be about 5,000 words for each ‘post’.
*A glossary of this nature will always be a “work in progress”. The adavntage of it being based on the internet is that it can be continually updated as new terms, techniques and methods emerge. Terms sometimes gather alternative meanings as well. So this glossary will, in the spirit of Web 2, be a dynamic one. It is intended to serve a wide target audience of anyone interested in cinema in general but especially European cinema.
Visitors are of course welcome to contribute by asking for terms and or words to be included. I will do my best to accomodate them however there are many other tasks to develop, which is also why it will be a work in progress as I’m developing glossaries relating to other areas of the media simultaneously.
If I find any useful online freely available references which can develop terms in greater depth they will be hyperlinked.
Please note that bold and italic words are cross-referenced
Aberrant decoding. This is term used to describe a reading by part of an audience which is entirely different from that intended by the producers of the media text. More often known as reading against the grain this usually happens when the readers of the text have quite different values and beliefs to the producers of the text. See also cultural effects theory and codes and conventions.
Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School of Social Research were amongst the earliest social scientists to closely critique and analyse and critique the growth of the culture industries which are now in effect ‘lifestyle’ industries. Adorno argues amongst other things that the apparent ‘diversity’ of market segmentation and the cultivation of ‘lifestyle ‘ is entirely bogus. Lifestyle can be describe in his terms as a death mask of individuality covering the bland features of the ‘consumer clone’. See also Passive Audience and Mass Culture.
Advertising. (TAM). The advertising content of media forms such as Newspapers, magazines and TV and commercial radio often takes up as much space as the editorial content. It is often advertising rather than the actual number of sales which creates the large profits of a media product. (Count for example the number of pages which are adverts in GQ). Increasingly there is a growth of advertorial content. Media institutions which have a totally public service broadcasting function (BBC) are not allowed to advertise commercial products. They usually advertise their own programmes and products. Advertising is a discourse where frequently all normal physical and social arrangements are held in abeyance. We regard the claims made in adverts as a joke, but we buy the products often in spite of , or because of the jokes.
Aestheticisation of Everyday Life. This is the claim that the division between art and everyday life is being eroded in two ways. Firstly artists are taking objects of everyday life and making them into art objects. Secondly people are making their everyday lives into aesthetic projects in terms of style, appearance and household furnishings. This may reach a point where people see themselves and their surroundings as art objects. Consumers have now broken down the hierarchy between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. See Culture Industries
Against the grain. See Reading against the grain.
Ambient sound. This refers to the ‘natural’ background sound present in a scene in film, TV or radio
Anti-classical. See Art film
Art film. Art film is often described as a European phenomenon and is considered as a genre by critics such as Neale. Often Art cinema is associated with auteurs. European art cinema often uses different modes of storytelling such as long takes combined with great depth of field (Visconti in Ossessione for example). The narratives are less likely to be concerned with the’ classical’ Hollywood structure of a central character moving in a linear fashion through trials and tribulations to a comfortable resolution. Endings may reject neat narrative closure, and there may be multiple points of view. There is likely to be little emphasis on identification with the characters compared to the Hollywood style institutional mode of representation. Typically those films designated as ‘art films’ require more work from the spectator.
Audience. Audience has always seen as important by film distributors and exhibitors. Many commentators understand media audiences to be a construction of the media companies rather than a a social reality based upon conceptions of individual viewers or citizens. As such it is a marketing term which needs to be treated with suspicion. There has been a lot of work by film theorists about how the individual spectator is positioned by the film text. Often this has been without reference to actual audiences. Those interested in a more sociological approach to responses by audiences have done some research on this. The research of Jackie Stacey is very useful in this regard. The qualitative research methods employed show that there are pluralistic readings of a text and that many women read filmic texts against the grain of the preferred reading offered by the construction of the film or the reinforcement of this by the critical establishment. This shows that the social reality and lived experiences of an audience can have a very different effect. (See the monograph by Marita Sturken on Thelma and Louise for comment on the enthusiastic reception by women audiences in the cinema).
Audience work. Far from being ‘couch potatoes’ or passive audiences who merely absorb what is on screen in an unthinking way. Audiences are required to do a certain amount of work to derive pleasure from a film. This work will include: processing information; directing attention to; interpreting in relation to some agenda; evaluating. (This is a point strongly made by Adorno and Horkeimer clearly showing that they have nothing to do with the ‘Hypodermic Syringe’ model of Ideology.
Auteur. Originally this expression was used in the 1920’s . The term was centred around a debate concerning the artistic quality of films. Films where there was very strong directorial input were compared with films where scripts were commissioned from separate scriptwriters and directors were under the thumb of studio producers. This fed into a major debate about cinema and its relations to ‘high art’ / ‘low art’ (popular culture). By the 1950s a group of French critics (again) reinvented the use of the term auteur. They were very keen on American / Hollywood cinema and argued that just because a director had little control over the production process apart from the staging of shots it could still be seen that individual directors had very distinctive styles which could be seen in the mise-en -scene. As a result of this debate the idea of auteur can mean either a directors style through mise-en-scene (Hitchcock, John Ford), or else as a ‘total author’ of both the script and the film itself. ( Orson Welles , David Lynch in the US or Bergman and Godard in Europe).
Blum-Byrnes Agreement. Agreements in 1946 and 1948 were established between the French and US governments which guaranteed a quota of exhibition time to French films as part of a wider trade agreement.
Buddy movie. A basic aspect of the ‘buddy movie’ is that men understand each other better than they understand their women. ( Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ) The primary relationship in Thelma and Louise film is between the women who understand each other’s ways of being in the world. better than their men do thus reversing the conventions of the Buddy movie.
Camera Movement. (TAF). Camera movements include very important techniques in gained specific visual effects and are fundamental to how a film is made and the visual style which it uses. The main techniques are currently:
- Pan. This is when a camera moves either to the left or the right. Usually there is a moving object on screen but this is not necessary. Empty space can create meaning. If there isa moving object the camera tends to lead rather than follow the object. Whether the pan is a slow or fast one also contributes to the mood and dynamics of that part of the film.
- Handheld camera / cinema verite. Originally this was quite usual in documentary style filming or news reporting. A wobbling image as the cameraperson follows a subject gave a feeling of being present and ‘reality’ to the viewer. This can often be used to make a moent more tense. A good example of this being used as a technique is in thebatle scenes near the beginning of Saving Private Ryan when the americans are invading the beach. The wobbly images give an excellent feeling of being present on the beach.
- Steadicam. The steadicam is special camera which is handheld by the cameraperson. The camera uses gyroscopes to ensure that it remains level and thus remves the feel of a handheld camera (see above).
- Zoom. Stricly speaking a zoom shot isn’t a camera movement but an adjustment of the lens which gives the feel of movement. A zoom lens is a special kind of lens which was originally developed in the 1950s. It was a technological develpment which helped to attract audiences. It is possible either to zoom-in or zoom forward on a person or object. The shot can also create the illusion of displacement of time and space. A zoom-out or zoom backwards places a person or object in a wider context. Zooming in can be strongly linked with voyeurism. Hitchcock’s Rear Window provides an excellent example of voyeurism and zooming.
Cinema verite. See Camera movements.
Character. In the standard Hollywood realist text : ‘Action typically pivots on central characters who are rendered in psychological depth and tend to become objects of identification for readers. These characters are fictional persons whose fate is tied up with the progress of the narrative, indeed on whom may be centred the very disruption that sets the narrative in motion’ (Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures : 31). See also Institutional mode of representation and eye-line match.
Citizenship. This concept builds on earlier ideas of citizenship which focused upon economic, political and social concerns. Economic citizenship gave people the right to trade, political citizenship gave people the rights to vote and have representative electable governments with powers limited by law. Social citizenship gave people the right to health care, education and pensions. See also cultural citizenship.
Close Reading. Making a close reading can get down to the level of individual shot construction, in which subtleties of coding can be carefully analysed. See also preferred reading and reading against the grain.
Close up. Usually a shot of the head from the neck up. Could also be a wringing of hands. See performance and shot.
Closure. See narrative closure.
Codes and Conventions (General). Cinema uses a number of methods to organise meaning production. Some are general to narrative forms and others are specific to cinema. Cinematic conventions work to make the product appear to be seamlessly produced which means that it appears as though meaning had already existed prior to the construction of the film. In fact the cinematic codes and conventions of production produce an axis of meaning which will interact with both the reactions of audiences and the exhibitionary context.
- Photographic conventions. Framing, long-shots, medium shots, and close-ups all generate particular forms of meaning: To the extent that close-ups are most commonly of central characters in film narratives, they may function to constitute that psychological realism of character which is a mark of the classic narrative. ( My ephasis: Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures: 37).
- Mise en Scene*. See also lighting.
- * Mobile framing*. This effect can be produced by different camera movements and can produce a narrative meaning in several ways. A zoom-in can emphasise detail which can be read as bearing a particular significance within the narrative. Camera movements can also move the plot along through panning and tracking.
- Editing. Mainstream cinema has institutionalised a set of rules for editing. The normal Hollywood system of editing is called ‘continuity editing’ which ensures through making careful cuts that the production is as seamless as possible thus making the system of production invisible and creating a coherent fictional world into which the spectator is drawn. Various ellipses of space and time achieved by fades or cuts will move the plot along. Not all film-making follows this convention see Jump cut.
- * Narrative conventions*. All narrative genres have conventions by which the narrative is governed. A road movie for example implies discovery, the obtaining of some self-knowledge. Usually the main protagonist / s are male. Usually the movie follows an ordered sequence of events which inexorably lead to a bad end (Easy Rider: Dennis Hopper : 1969) or a reasonable outcome ( Paris Texas: Wim Wenders: 1984). Thelma and Louise ( Ridley Scott : 1991) controversially undermined the male aspects of the road movie genre. It achieved this by having the main protagonists being women escaping from differing, but oppressive, backgrounds. It also showed that a variety of all those things conventionally conceived of as ‘liberating’ from male perspective were male constructions and coded as such. This film reverses the dominant genre conventions of coding outside space as nature / feminine. By comparison men in the film are sometimes coded in domestic / feminine space. The ending of Thelma and Louise was controversial, but by neither showing death, prison nor some-kind of compromise return to their respective roles in life, nor by escaping to another country the film showed the current impossibility of escaping from gender relations which privilege men in this society.
- Evolving conventions. Genre isn’t static. A genre and the conventions which govern it evolve over time and are transformed through a complex interaction of economic, technological, political, social and cultural factors . Part of the work of genre analysis is to establish these factors. Think of what conventions have changed in the genres you have chosen to study. (See also Genre cycle).
Connotations. Connotations are associations with words or concepts have for a reader of a text. High production values such as glossy paper can connote sophistication and glamour. This is why expensive shops and products have very sophisticated types of packaging. Hollywood cinema has made its reputations on high production values such as seamless editing and very expensive sets etc. The way in which Hollywood products are promoted are also dependent upon high production values to make audiences think they are getting more than they probably are. This is why anything up to half the cost of the actual film can be devoted to marketing, promotion and advertising. This helps Hollywood dominate the film market and makes it hard for independent companies to compete.
Conventions. See also Codes and Conventions. Conventions are established procedures within a particular form of media ( painting, film , novel etc) which are identifiable by both the producer of the artefact and their audiences. Conventions are thus conventions can be understood as agreements between the producer and audience. These will sometimes remain fairly static and at other times there will be moments of strong challenge to these conventions. The French nouvelle vague can be understood as challenging a range of cinematic conventions.
Convergence. This is the current process whereby new media and communications technologies are changing not only our media equipment but changing the ways old media institutions have worked. It is also globalising and changing our systems of gaining knowledge. The process is still in transition with new developments rapidly emerging. In a few years these processes will have matured and will be less dynamic.
Costume. While it is a variety of prop it is specifically linked with specific characters as well as contributing to the general setting. Changes in costume can be used as indicators of changes of attitude, status, time and place.
CNC. Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie. The French state organisation that oversees film policy issues including subsidy ones.
Critical Realism. In East German cinema critical realism was a popular aesthetic amongst the filmmakers. ‘Inspired by the films of Italian directors, the approach may be described as an East German variant of neorealism. It observes rather than leads, offers a realistic depiction of controversial issues and opens them up for debate’ (Claus, Horst. 2002 p 140).
Cultural Citizenship. Cultural citizenship is about access to systems of representation within the arts and media to ensure that all have the knowledge and capabilities to represent themselves. Also see citizenship.
Culture Industry. The term is used to designate organisations that produce ‘popular’ culture such as TV, Radio, books magazines, newspapers and popular music. It is now extended to beauty salons and hairdressing salons as well as museums and galleries and sports organisations and events. They are of growing importance in Western society. Contemporary everyday life is filled with images as part of the output of the cultural industries. The first people to properly identify the Culture Industry were the Frankfurt School social scientists Adorno and Horkheimer. They were very critical of these industries seeing them as being ideologically controlling particularly of the poorest people offering false hopes and imaginaries. Adorno was extremely critical of social scientists who were colluding in this growing ideological industry. He had originally had a post in New York when he was forced to emigrate from Germany by the Nazis. The post was concerned with developing social scientific methods for identifying and creating audiences for media industries. See also Media and Culture Industries.
Cultural effects theory. This suggests that how the audience or audiences of a text are positioned will have a significant impact upon how they interpret that text.
Cut. TAF). This is used in film and TV to change a shot from one place or viewpoint to another. See film editing and shot, It is achieved by splicing two pieces of film together. There are a range of different cuts which can achieve quite different visual effects. Cuts give a film its rhythm. Getting the tempo right is essential. The editor often works with the director to make a rough cut or director’s cut. Further adjustments are then made often after audience research has been carried out on the endings of Hollywood films before the final cut is made.
- Continuity Cut. These cuts take the viewer seamlessly and logically from one sequence to another moving along the narrative.
- Cross cuts. These cuts are used to alternate between two sequences or scenesthat are occurring in different spaces but at the same time. Normally these are used to create a feeling of suspense. As such they are frequently used in genres such as action adventure, the western, thrillers and gangster films.
- Cutaways. These shots take the viewer away from the main scene of the action. They are often used as a transition before cutting into the next sequence or scene. For example: in a court scene the day’s proceeedings are coming to an end, there is a cutaway shot to the outside of the courthouse, then a cut to the next day nside a lawyer’s office.
- Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. French directors in the 1960s such as Louis Malle, Fraoncois Truffaut and most famously Jean-Luc Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film a bout de souffle / Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence. (Editor emphasis, Neupert, 2002 p 216).
- Match cuts. These are the exact opposite of the jump cut. These cuts make sure there is a spatial-visual logic between the differently positioned shots within a scene. Where the camera moves to and the angle of the camera make visual sense to the spectator. See also eye-line matching.
DEFA. Deutsche Film AG. The state controlled film production, distribution and exhibition company in East Germany (GDR) from 1946 – 1993. See also UFA
Denotation. This is a straightforward relationship between a sign and its referent. The word cat and the photograph of a cat both denote a particular type of animal.
Deterritorialised. This expression is often related to genres which are feminised. They tend not to concentrate on territory in the same way that war films, westerns and other more masculinised genres have.
Dialectical. This is fundamental to Eisenstein’s theory of montage Originating in Hegel’s philosophy the idea centres around the point that an original thesis exists. This is in collision with an antithesis. The outcome of this collision of opposite ideas results in the creation of something entirely new. This is known as the synthesis.
Diegesis / Diagetic. This refers to the content of the narrative which is happening on the screen. This includes the sound , actions of the characters etc. All of these occur naturally within the fictional world of the film. Frequently films use non- diegetic devices for dramatic effects or to inform the audience about something which the characters themselves don’t know:
- Intra-diegetic sound. This is a sound from a person the audience doesn’t see but whose presence we know exists in the story. There is a disembodied voice. Mildred Pierce 1945 has many examples of this through flashback. Often the character’s voice goes intra-diegetic announcing a flashback acconpanied by a visual dissolve ‘it was yesterday when…’. Flash backs are also intra-diegetic in the sense that they interrupt the narrative flow of the present.
- Non-diegetic sound by comparison is where there is voice-over or else a soundtrack which heightens the emotional effects on the audience but isn’t present in the on-screen world at all.
Digital Distribution. The opportunities for the makers of short films to be distributed via internet streaming are improving all the time. The most recent deal to allow streaming of independent shorts was made between the Sundance film Festival Organisers and iTunes the Content Management software system owned by Apple as this BBC report of 12 / 01 / 07 notes.
Digital divide. A very important social and cultural concept of the ‘information age’. This term refers to those who have access to a wide range of digital communications systems in terms of cost and knowledge and those who are excluded from this. It is becoming a serious problem of citizenship.
Digital Versatile Disc / DVD. A disc which although the same size as a CD can hold many times the amount of data due to a combination of more sophisticated data compression systems, the ability to store and retrieve data from different levels of the disc. This means that moving images can be stored in a way which is more permanent than tape and maintains its quality over time, whereas tape particles lose their magnetism and lose details. Research is going on to more than double the storage capacity of the current DVD’s by using different laser technologies. The ‘versatility’ referred to in the name means that the equipment incorporates technical standards which means that digital information relating to images – static or moving sounds or text can be stored and retrieved. New standards of quality have been developed and consumers are faced with both Blu-Ray from a consortium led by Sony and HD-DVD (High definition DVD), led by Toshiba. Already third party players are bringing out players which can playback both. (Beginning of 2007)
Discourse. Textual analysis often uses the term discourse to deconstruct or look at the way a text works. This means that the analyst identifies the various discourses present in a text and makes that clear for the reader. A discourse provides a framework of language to construct a particular kind of knowledge on a topic. Discourses organise our thoughts and try to make a closure that is to close off other ways of thinking about a topic. For example, cinematography which continuously sexualises women through voyeuristic techniques is a visual discourse. This can be seen as part of a wider discursive field in which the institution of cinema discriminates against women. A discourse is not a description of reality but a way of ‘fixing’ the topic or constructing a form of social reality in a biased way. Different discourses can therefore change our views of the nature of social reality.
Dissolve: see Editing
Dollying / Tracking Shot (TAF) see camera movements.
DVD. See Digital Versatile Disc.
DVD Recordable. A new breed of domestic machines has now appeared which can record TV or films in DVD format. Whilst currently still very expensive it is probable that they will replace the Video Cassette Recorder in most households in 5 years time. (In fact first written 3 years ago the price has dropped dramatically and video-recorders are fast-disappearing) They can record digital radio signals as well. There is not currently a standardised format which makes things difficult for consumers.