CB's Glossary for Students
It is equally deadly for the mind to have a system and not to have one. One will therefore have to decide to combine the two.
Friedrich Schlegel, Athenaeum (1798)
This glossary is designed to provide students in CB's classes with useful explanations of concepts and terms that they will encounter in their readings in literary criticism, critical theory, cultural studies, philosophy, intellectual history, and cinema studies. It is very much a work in progress, does not claim to be original, but rather draws heavily on many different sources (see: Bibliography), and is thoroughly pragmatic in orientation, i.e., designed primarily to be of use for students enrolled in CB's classes).
I invite you to follow the hyperlinked cross-references and the links to Extended entries that appear in the text. Following a string of cross-references that interest you is a great way to build up your critical vocabulary. I also encourage you to check out the hyperlinked examples. These are meant to give a vivid sense of the meanings and possible applications of a term and are mostly drawn from my experience in the classroom.
For comments and suggestions please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
That which upsets, disturbs, or undermines some established order or stable position because it is inbetween what we ordinarily take to be absolute opposites (for example, life and death, or the human and the mechanical). The concept of the abject is often utilized in discussions of certain literary or cinematic genre, such as the gothic, science fiction, and horror. (See also: uncanny) [Extended]
A film that presents recognizable images in such a way that the aim is more poetic than narrative.
A term derived from the existentialism of Albert Camus, and often applied to the modern sense of human purposelessness in a universe without meaning or value. [see: theatre of the absurd]
academy aperture/academy frame
The standard frame mask established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932. A ratio of width to height of 4:3, or 1.33:1. [Monaco] [Extended]
The emphasis placed upon a syllable in pronunciation. The term is often used as a synonym for stress, although some theorists prefer to use 'stress' only for metrical accent. [Baldick] [Extended]
A major division in the action of a play, comprising one or more scenes. A break between acts often coincides with a point at which the plot jumps ahead in time.
The term 'aesthetic' can be used to name the formal or compositional aspect of a work of art as against its content, to refer to a coherent philosophy of art, or to the artistic dimension of culture as a whole. 'Aesthetics', meanwhile, embraces the study of any or all of these things. Traditionally, however, as part of philosophy, it has concerned itself with the nature, perception, and judgement of beauty. [from: Brooker] [Extended]
In general, though the concept is articulated and explained differently in different traditions, alienation conveys the sense of a life determined by external 'alien' forces, and a consequent lack of control or authenticity and oneness with oneself. [Extended]
A story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning. [Extended] [Extended2]
Also known as 'head rhyme' or 'initial rhyme,' the repetition of the same soundsusually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllablesin any sequence of neighbouring words: 'Landscape-lover, lord of language' (Tennyson). [Baldick] [Extended]
The illustration of an idea by means of a more familiar idea that is similar or parallel to it in some significant features.
angle of view
The angle subtended by the lens. Wide-ange lenses have broad angles of view, telephoto lenses have very narow angles of view. [figure] Not to be confused with camera angle.
(sociol.) A state or condition of individuals or society characterized by a breakdown or absence of social norms and values. [Extended]
A group or aggregate of instruments, mashinery, tools, materials, etc., intended for a specific use; any system of activities, functions, etc., directed towards a specific goal: the "apparatus of government." [from: RHCD] [see: cinematic apparatus]
a priori/a posteriori
(from Greek, atheos, without God, from a, not, + theos, God) 1. the belief that gods do not, or God does not, exist. 2. the disbelief in any kind of supernatural existence that is supposed to affect the universe. 3. the lack of belief in a particular God. (The Greeks called the Christians atheists for not believing in their gods, and the Christians called the Greeks atheists for not believing in their God.) [from: Angeles, 1992] quote
The object in general terms of all forms of communication but used most often to refer to a group or massand as such distinguished from a readership' or 'spectators'the 'audiences', respectively, for forms of written communication and 'spectacles' such as sporting events. The term has its most direct association with theatre and concert-going and is used consistently to refer to film and television viewers. [from: Brooker, 1999] [Extended]
auteur/auteur criticism/auteur theory
Concept associated with the study conducted by Adorno et al. (1950), and emerging from the work of Erich Fromm and Wilhelm Reich. Certain personality structures are posited as predisposing the self to the acceptance of anti-democratic political beliefs, and are characterised by hierarchical and authoritarian parent-child relationships, the formation of stereotypes, rigidity and repressive denial. [from: Edgar/Sedgwick, 2002]
Concept in sociology and political philosophy indicating the legitimate use of power. An agent thus submits willingly to, or is obedient to, the commands of another agent if that agent is perceived to be in authority. Obedience to authority is not induced through coercion and the threat of violence. [from: Edgar/Sedgwick, 2002] [Extended]
(from Greek, autos, self, + nemein, hold sway, assign) 1. the power of self-regulation. 2. the act of self-governing, self-determining, selfdirecting. 3. independence from the will of others. 4. the right to follow one's own volitions. An autonomous self is one that functions in an integrated way (as opposed to responding randomly and inconsistently to stimuli as they arrive), choosing and directing activities relevant to its own needs. Moral autonomy is the freedom to reach one's own moral values concerning right and wrong. [from: Angeles, 1992]
axis of action/180 degree line/180 degree system
In the continuity editing system, the imaginary line that passes from side to side through the main actors thus defining the spacial relations of the scene. The camera is expected not to cross the axis of action, but to stay on one side of the action to ensure consistent left-right spacial relations between objects from shot to shot.[Exercise 1] [Exercise 2] [Exercise 3]
The main source of light is behind the subject, silhouetting it, and directed towards the camera.[see also: key light; filler light] [from: Monaco]
1. self-deception, especially the act of not admitting that one has freedom of choice (authentic choices) or not allowing oneself to see possible choices, and thereby avoiding responsibilities and the anxieties of making decisions. 2. lack of self-acceptance, especially the act of not admittingor deceiving oneself aboutwhat is true about oneself 3. lack of self-assurance or self-esteem that prevents one from acting upon existence andprovides the conditions for acting as a thing in existence. [from: Angeles]
a folk song or orally transmitted poem telling in a direct and dramatic manner some popular story usually derived from a tragic incident in local history or legend. The story is told simply, impersonally, and often with vivid dialogue. Ballads are normally composed in quatrains with alternating four-stress and three-stress lines, the second and fourth lines rhyming (see ballad metre): but some ballads are in couplet form, and some others have six-line stanzas. Appearing in many parts of Europe in the late Middle Ages, ballads flourished particularly strongly in Scotland from the 15th century onward. Since the 18th century, educated poets outside the folk-song traditionnotably Coleridge and Goethehave written imitations of the popular ballad's form and style: Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1798) is a celebrated example. [see: literary ballad] [from: Baldick]
ontology; loss of being;
(see: Bellour, "The Obvious and the Code")
Cahiers du cinema
"John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln"; // "Cinema/Ideology/Criticism"//
camera angle/angle of framing
The angle at which the camera is pointed at the subject: straight on (on the same level); low (looking up); high (looking down). Not to be confused with angle of view.
described by Giambattista della Porta in 1589 in a treatise on optics; see: Renaissance space;
[Metz: The Imaginary Signifier]// cinematography:
classical Hollywood cinema
common sense [Extended; Gramsci]
condition of possibility
connotation see: denotation
(German, lit.: being-there) The philosopher Heidegger's technical term for human 'being-in-the-world,' or existence, characterized above all by temporality and understanding.
A form of second-order observation that challenges the assumption of stable meanings not subject to the time-bound and changing drawing of distinctions. [see: differance; difference]
A use of the camera lens and lighting that keeps both the close and distant planes being photographed in sharp focus.
The distinctive effect achieved by literary works in disrupting our habitual perception of the world, enabling us to 'see' things afresh, according to the theories of some English Romantic poets and of Russian formalism. [from: Baldick, 1990]
A widespread mode of religious thinking that manifested the faith in human reason that characterized the European Enlightenment during the latter seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. [Extended]
Denotation signifies the primary or first meaning of a sign, i.e., that which the sign refers to in its precise or strict meaning. Connotation signifies the associations (often emotionally charged) surrounding a sign, i.e., meanings that extend beyond its strict literal definition. [from: Colapietro, 1993; Monaco, 1981] [Example]
The clearing up or 'untying' of the complications of the plot in a fictional narrative. [from: Baldick, 1990]
One of the big words in contemporary criticism that tends to have a psychoanalytic meaning. Desire is commonly distinguished from need, with the latter carrying biological connotations, while the former is understood to be shaped by culture. [Extended]
see: genre//the hardboiled detective: (see: "The hardboiled formula")
"Deutschland über alles"
diachronic / synchronic
(Greek, chronos, time; dia-, through, across; syn-, with, together). A diachronic study or analysis concerns itself with the evolution and change over time of that which is studied; it is roughly equivalent to historical. A synchronic study or analysis, in contrast, limits its concern to a particular moment of time. [Extended]
Adjective meaning distinctive or distinguishable. In order for anything to function as a sign, it needs to be distinctive or distinguishable from the other items used also as signs. Because he focused considerable attention on how signs are generated by their differencesby the way or ways they can be distinguished from other signs in the same system (for example, the same language)Ferdinand de Saussure's conception of sign is sometimes called diacritical. See also articulation, binary opposition.
In the most general sense, a process involving opposites (for example, one might say that human beings stand in a dialectical relationship to their natural and cultural environment: they shape their world and this world shapes them). In a narrower sense derived from Hegel and Marx, dialectic denotes a process resulting in a synthesis or reconciliation of opposing forces or factors. [Extended]
An influential concept developed by the Soviet linguist and critic, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) and the 'Bakhtin School.' [Extended]
In a narrative film, the world of the film's story, which includes events that are presumed to have occurred and actions and spaces not shown onscreen, i.e., not only the narration itself, but also the fictional space and time dimensions implied by the narrative.
A term coined by the French philosopher Derrida, bringing together (in its French original) the senses of difference and deferment. In addition, this word also indicates the dependence of speech on writing, for the difference to a French speaker between difference and differance is no difference at all, or rather: the difference is discernible to the eye but not to the ear. [Extended]
A 'big' term in contemporary criticism and cultural theory. One of the reasons for the wide circulation of this term in recent academic discourse is the influence of Saussure's view that language works as a system of differences. What something is taken to be is dependent upon what it is taken not to be, i.e., meaning is generated at least in part by a difference from what is not meant. Meaning in communication and culture is generated by marked distinctions, divisions, and exclusions. [Extended]
A key term in systems theory referring to the emergence of a system out of an environment by that system distinguishing itself from its environment by means of some kind of border or threshhold. //functional differentiation//social differentiation//stratificatory differentiation//
linguistic discourse; cinematic discourse; discursive position;
Arrangement, or placing; mental outlook or mood; a state of mind regarding something, inclination; etc. In classical rhetoric one distinguishes between work-internal dispositio, the selection and arrangement of the parts of the work-whole, and work-external dispositio, which is 'externally' oriented towards achieving the aim of the work or its persuasive intention.
dissolve (also called lap dissolve)
A transition between shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears; for a moment the two images blend in superimposition. Example1;
division of labor
A camera support with wheels, used in making tracking shots.//dolly forward: camera tracks forward on a dolly.
The theory and practice of drama.
1. in filmmaking, the task of selecting and joining camera takes. 2. In the finished film, the set of techniques that governs the relations among shots. //invisible editing:
ego-ideal; ego libido see: narcissism;
In narrative film, the shortening of plot duration achieved by omitting intervals of story duration. elliptical editing: shot transitions that omit parts of an event, causing an ellipsis in plot and story duration.
A philosophical and cultural movement begun in seventeenth-century English philosophy but developed throughout Europe in the eighteenth century and an immediate influence upon the American and French Revolutions. Its principal belief was in the power and authority of reason in intellectual and practical life, and a number of allied convictions stemmed from this: human perfectibility, scientific and social progress, and tolerance and equality before the law. Its influence can be associated with European modernization understood as the emergence of a functionally differentiated society, the rise of the bourgeoisie, and with improvements in print technology. The latter helped circulate key ideas but also inspired the characteristic Enlightenment aim of the French Encyclopaedists to compile a summation of human learning and its practical application in one publication (an eventual 17 volumes, with 11 of supplementary technical illustration assembled by Diderot and Jean D'Alembert in 1772). [Extended]
enunciation (from French: nonciation)
The time-bound act of making a speech act. Distinguished from 'the enunciated' (enonce)the statement itself and the patterns of organizing signifying elements in an instance of signification'enunciation' refers to the relation of those patterns to the concrete signifying situation and the position of 'speaker' and 'listener' they presuppose.
A concluding section of a fictional work. Some novels have epilogues in which the characters' subsequent fates are briefly outlined. [from: Baldick, 1990]
Generally a long shot that shows the audience the general location of the scene that folows, often providing essential information, and orienting the viewer.
Refers to the ways in which the language, beliefs or customs of a particular ethnic group are reinforced, defended or promoted, whether in intellectual work, a political or military campaign, or a cultural or educational programme; the application of the norms of own's own culture to that of others, and, as such, a common attitude of all cultures towards alien ones. [Extended]
A term describing the way in which a particular cultural order, 'centred' upon European intellectual traditions and socio-political systems, has been generalized so as to apply to the world at large. In essence, a European ethnocentrism that was passed down from the old-European Christian tradition, and amplified by colonialism and imperialism. [Extended]
eyeline match cut
A cut in which the first shot shows a person looking off in one direction and the second shows a nearly space containing what he or she sees.
The setting forth of a systematic explanation of or argument about any subject; or the opening part of a play or story, in which we are introduced to the characters and their situation, often by reference to preceding events. (adj.: expository; verb: to expound)
fade in: a dark screen that gradually brightens as a shot appears. fade out: a shot gradually darkens as the screen goes black. Occasionally fade-outs brighten to pure whilte or to a color.
A term used metaphorically to describe the (Browne)
fascination, to fascinate
To attract and hold spellbound by a unique power, personal charm, unusual nature, etc.; to capture the interest or hold the attention. (from Latin, fascinatus, past principle of fascinare to bewitch, enchant, from fascinus spell, witchcraft)
[lit.; fatal woman] An irresistibly attractive woman who leads men into danger. Film noir gives a very central role to the femme fatale and often privileges her as active, intelligent, powerful, dominant and in charge of her own sexualityat least until the end of the film when she typically pays for it (through death or submission to the patriarchal system).
fetishism, to fetishize
One needs to distinguish between two basic senses in which this term is generally used in the critical literature. (1) The one sense is derived from Marx's critique of religion and refers to the way in which human creations (fetishes, spirits, gods) are treated as if they were independent beings endowed with their own power. What are really products of human social activity can thus come to control and oppress their human creators (see also: reification). Marx famously extends this analysis of religion (which is developed from Feuerbach's projection theory) to capitalism and to bourgeois economic theory, which, in a similar fashion, are described as fetishizing commodities and the economy (see: Marx quote). (2) The other sense of fetishism comes from Freud and psychoanalysis and refers to the way in which certain images, body-parts, or favorite objects (such as shoes, cars, guns) can be invested with a heightened sense of fascination and (often erotic) power. Advertisement, photography, and movies are prime arenas for the alluring play of fetishism and the Freudian sense of this term is widely used in the critical analysis of these media (some examples).
Illumination from a source less bright than the key light, used to soften deep shadows in a scene. See: three-point lighting.
//film analysis: //film form: (Bordwell/Thomson1997: 65ff.)//narrative film:
The term means "black film," applied by French critics to a type of American film, usually in the detective or thriller genres, and indicating a dark view of life and a concentration upon human depravity, failure, and despair. The term also implies a cinematic stylea way of lighting, of positioning and moving the camera, the use of an introspective voice-over narration, often heavily reliant on flashbacksand a choice of setting, generally a seedy, urban landscape, a world gone wrong. [Extended]
A scene or sequence that is inserted into a scene in 'present' time and that deals with the past.
The sharpness of the image. A range of distances from the camera will be acceptably sharp. //deep focus: A use of the camera lens and lighting that keeps both the close and the distant planes being photographed in sharp focus. //Focus plane: the plane in the scene being photographed upon which the lens is focused, measured as a distance from the film plane. //Focus pull: to refocus during a take, to change the focus plane.
A shot with framing that shifts to keep a moving figure onscreen.
Anat. a small pit or depression at the back of the retina, forming the point of sharpest vision.
//In cinematography, frame describes the material unit of film ("the single transparent photograph in a series of such photographs printed on a length of cinematographic film," "twenty-four frames a second") and, equally, the film image in its setting, the delimitation of the image on screen. (Heath) //framing: the use of the edges of the film to select and compose what will be visible onscreen.
free indirect style
Freud, Sigmund (
A notion that arises in the description made by the observer of the components of a machine or system in reference to an encompassing entity, which may be the whole machine or part of it and whose states constitute the goal that the changes in the components are to bring about. [WEB Dictionary of Cybernetics and Systems]
According to the systems theory developed by the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, modernization involves the ever more important and pronounced emergence of functionally distinct sub-systems within society as a whole (such as the economy, science, politics, law, education, religion, art, etc.). These functionally specialized social sub-systems are more or less autonomous and self-regulating. For instance: religion does not (or should not) interfere in science; politics does not (or should not) interfere in art; the economy should regulate itself via the free market; etc.
"What is realized in my story is not the past definite of what once was since it is no more, nor the perfect of what has been in what I am, but the future perfect of what I will have been for what I am in the process of becoming" (Lacan).
The cultural differentiation of male from female. [Extended]
The term for a type of artistic or cultural composition characterized by a set of recognizable conventions of character, iconography and narrative. For the most part the term is used in accounts of 'popular genres,' such as science fiction, detective fiction, the musical, the western, sopa opera, sitcom, etc.
A style of film common in Germany in the twenties, characterized by dramatic lighting, distorted sets, and symbolic action and character. The movement also involved painting and theater.
The recognition of wholeness and overall form rather than of individual component elements. The whole is different from the sum of its parts, because meaning derives from the interrelationships of those parts, and of each part of the whole. [from O'Sullivan]
great chain of being
A dominant old-European conception or schema of thought: everything in existence is arranged in a hierarchy, which originates in God and ranges through angel, man, beast, plant, to inorganic matter. The idea commonly involved the principle of plenitude: there are no gaps in the chain, since God in creating the best of worlds would wish to fill it as full as possible with created entities, each given the attributes appropriate to its place. With every step in the chain (or every rung on its ladder) occupied, then the basic question for man is where he is located. Trouble arises when man's pride leads him to wish to be what he is not.
MPPA (Motion Picture Producers Association)
Heath, "Narrative Space";
This term (derived from the name of Hermes, the Greek god who served as herald and messenger for the other gods) is often used in a wide sense to mean the art or theory of interpretation, though its original meaning was the interpretation of sacred scripture. "According to its original definition, hermeneutics is the art of clarifying and mediating by our own effort of interpretation what is said [or written] by persons we encounter in tradition [that is, at some remove, historical or cultural, from ourselves]" (Gadamer).
hermeneutics of suspicion
Designates an approach to the interpretation of a text or discourse in which the principal concern is to uncover what is not said rather than to recover the meaning of what has been said. This approach strives to bring to the surface what characteristically remains hidden in, but vitaloften even centralto the text or discourse. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud are often considered masters of the hermeneutic of suspicion, for Marx is bent on unmasking ideological distortions and Freud on exposing unconscious motives. Friedrich Nietzsche is also widely recognized as a thinker uncannily adept at revealing what it going on "behind the scenes."
Providing assistance in discovering (or in presenting) a truth or solving a problem, for example, a model or a useful hypothesis. From: Gk. heuriskein: to find out , discover. [Harper]
see: high culture
1. the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. 2. a continuous, systemaic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronologcal account; chronicle: a history of France: a medical history of the patient. 3. the aggregate of past events. 4. the record of past events and times, esp. in connection with the human race. (from Greek, historia learning or knowing by inquiry, history; deriv. of history one who knows or sees)
the human sciences
A term associated with the effects of mass culture reproduction, suggesting that an object, event, experience so reproduced replaces or is preferred to its original: that the copy is 'more real than real'. [Expanded]
Generally, any text that contains links to other documentswords or phrases in the document that can be chosen by a reader and which cause another document to be retrieved and displayed. [from: Glossary of Internet Terms] [Expanded]
To treat or regard a concept of idea as a distinct substance or reality. See: reification.
A proposition or set of propositions set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specific group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts. (From Greek, basis, supposition) [Nietzsche quote]
//codes of iconography:
The imaginative merger of an individuals' sense of identity with that of another. Narratives often invite an audience to identify with principal characters, i.e., not just to empathize with them, but to vicariously take part in their actions and experiences. [Extended: the Freudian sense of identification]
The state of fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions; the condition of being oneself, and not another.
One of the 'big' terms in contemporary theory and criticism derived principally from Marxism. Following Althusser one can describe ideology is a requisite component of any society. It consists in the network of meaning that provide the means with which individuals may think of their existence. Since such networks operate by delimiting as well as providing possible significations of existence, ideology is also restrictive of thought and experience. Such restrictions are crucial components of social organization and order: To maintain themselves over time, societies require that their multitude of agents have a minimal commonality of "consciousness," which means that those possibilities and limitations on thought and experience must to a significant degree be produced as an integral part of any lasting societal organization.[Extended] //dominant ideology: //ideological state apparatuses//
Commonly understood as the mental or visual representation of an object or event as depicted in the mind, a painting, photograph, or film. In film-making and film studies 'image' is also synonymous with a single shot in an edited sequence. The term has a further long-standing usage in literary discourse, especially in connection with poetic language, where it refers to the indirect comparison of one object or experience with another (through metaphor, metonymy, analogy), or is used, along with the term 'imagery', to refer to any figure of speech or, collectively, to figurative language. [Extended]
A psychoanalytic term (Lacan) that is distinguished from "the symbolic," in order to denote the susceptibility of human beings to the power of images, identifications, and aesthetic constructs, as distinguished from their susceptibility to language and more abstract symbolic systems. The imaginary is thought of as being more primordail and in terms of socialization of having its effects prior to the socializing force of symbolic systems. The so-called "mirror-stage" is an important tool in the employment of this concept.
Those enduring regulatory and organizing structures of any society, which shape and control individuals and individuality. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994] [Extended]
'Intellectual' is a term of recent, twentieth-century origin and has been applied retrospectively to earlier centuries as well as in contemporary contexts. In its earlier usage it describes those of different occupations in the professions, sciences and arts who claim or are credited with the right to speak over and above particular interests on matters of general philosophical, ethical and aesthetic import. What gives intellectuals this role is their own expertise and the authority of reason and truth guiding their discourse. As such, intellectuals are the inheritors of a faith in Enlightenment reason and a product of modernity while they are at the same time critical of the social and political effects of this inheritance. [Extended]
The process whereby a particular cultural construction of order and meaning shapes the identity of an individual in the course of socialization.
A term employed by the French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser (1918 90) to name the process by which a human subject is 'hailed', or addressed, and thus positioned in relation to ideology. [Extended] [Extended: Althusser's importance to film theory]
Reading, explicating, making sense: these are three names typically given to the activity of "interpretation." [Extended]
typological and allegorical interpretation
A term implying that individual texts are inescapably related to other texts and that their meanings are correspondingly provisional and plural according to how these relations are discerned and highlighted. [Extended]
(see also: latency)
(Pudovkin, V.I. 1960. Film Technique. New York: Grove, 67-71 /PN1995 .P832/
A subtly humorous perception of inconsistency, in which an apparently straightforward statement or event is undermined by its context so as to give it a very different significance.
In the three-point lighting system, the brightest illumination coming into the scene.
Prominent French psychoanalyst and theorist. His contribution is often described as a far-reaching reinterpretation of psychoanalysis from a structuralist perspective that has exerted a significant influence on semiotics, literary theory, and cinema studies. So, for instance, much of the conceptual apparatus for some of the most influential work on subject positioning in cinema has been provided by his formulations [see: Lacan and cinema studies].
League of Nations
A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time before the transition to the next shot.
A vague, but important term in film analysis. Mulvey: "There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the profilmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion. The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, thc conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience. Without these two absences (the material existence of the recording process, the critical reading of the spectator), fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness, and truth."
From German Grenzsituationen, lit. border-situations, referring to human experiences that challenge the everyday, or common sense way of making sense of the world. "The marginal situation par excellence, however, is death. Witnessing the death of others (notably, of course, of significant others) and anticipating his own death, the individual is strongly propelled to question the ad hoc cognitive and normative operating procedures of his "normal" life in society." [from: Berger, "Religion and World-Construction"]
match on action: a continuity editing cut which splices two different views of the same action together at the same moment in the movement, making it seem to continue uninterrupted.
That which gives origin or form to something, or which serves to enclose it. (from Latin, mater, mother)
Perhaps the most important concept in the human sciences and hence one of the most difficult to grasp. Meaning should not be thought of as somehow contained or 'present' within an event, text, message, work, or behavior. Rather, meaning 'is,' or exists, only as the always momentary, or temporal creation of understanding and as such it constitutes the overall medium within which all time-bound events of consciousness and communication occur and take form.
A popular form of sensational drama that flourished in the 19th-century theatre, surviving in different forms in modern cinema and television.
That which is transmitted in the process of communication; the means by which the sender affects the receiver. [from: O'Sullivan 1994]
According to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, a phase in the constitution of the human individual located between the ages of six and eighteen months. Though still in a state of powerlessness and motor incoordination, the infant anticipates on an imaginary plane the apprehension and mastery of its bodily unity. This imaginary unification comes about by means of identification with the image of the counterpart as total Gestalt; it is exemplified concretely by the experience in which the child perceives its own reflection in a mirror. The mirror phase is said to constitute the matrix and first outline of what is to become the ego. [from Laplanche/Pontalis] [Extended]
Literally, the "putting-in-the-scene." All of the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the settings and props, lighting, costumes and make-up, and figure behavior. The term usually denotes that part of the cinematic process that takes place on the set, as opposed to montage, which takes place afterwards during editing.
The main use of the term in literary and cultural theory is to denote the artistic production located somewhere between the 1880s and the 1930s. The term denotes artistic experiment and novelty, a radical overhaul of existing forms of representation and available traditions and, as such, is seen to set itself against the emerging mass or popular culture of the same period. In addition, many see these varied experiments in form as the response to a specific moment in the history of modernity; an attempt to register the accelerated pace and disorienting rhythms of specifically urban life and its attendant structures of feeling in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To this end, modernism introduced new contemporary subject matter into 'high' art (provoking long-term censorship in the case of Joyce's sometimes scatological Ulysses), but above all sought to innovate in matters of artistic form. Among the new techniques employed were estrangement, montage, collage, demotic or everyday language, 'stream-of-consciousness' or interior monologue, parody and pastiche, and, pervading all these, a heightened self-consciousness towards the technical means of art itself. [Extended] //high modernism:
Often conflated with modernism, though these terms should be distinguished. Modernity describes the long period of evolving 'modern' social, economic, and political forms and is most often sited in the two centuries from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and French Revolution of 1789 to the twentieth-century post-war period. Modernity centrally names the processes of increasing rationalization in social and political life, along with the associated technological development and accumulation of people in cities which combined to produce the emerging new society of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In other words, it describes the processes of industrialization and bureaucratization associated with capitalist development. However, an exclusively economic account omits the 'philosophy' of modernity: namely a belief in scientific and social progress, human rights, justice and democracy which inspired the American and French Revolutions as well as much later social, economic and political theory, including Marxism. [Extended; systems theory]
A term used especially in connection with modernism to refer to the newer techniques of artistic composition and editing which combined disparate images, image and text, or different media in the making of a new work. In general terms it is often used synonymously with 'collage' and bricolage. Its main association was accordingly with the use of the new technologies of photography and cinema and the development in the European avant-garde of the 1910s1930s of the techniques of photomontage and film composition.[Extended] montage sequence: A segment of a film that summarizes a topic or compresses a passage of time into brief symbolic or typical images. Frequently dissolves, fades, superimpositions, and wipes are used to link the images in a montage sequence; //accelerated montage: A film sequence edited into progressively shorter shots to create a mood of tension and excitement.//parallel montage (paralel action): A device of filmic narration in which two scenes are observed in parallel by cross-cutting.//
A conspicuous element, such as a type of incident, device, reference, or formula that is repeated in a significant way in a work.
A widely and variously used term referring to a culture's way of understanding, expressing and communicating to itself concepts that are important to its self-identity as a culture. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994] [Extended]
By reference to the myth of Narcissus, love directed towards the image of oneself. [from: Laplanche/Pontalis] [Extended]
The act or process of relating a sequence of events, distinguished from other kinds of communication (dialogue, description, commentary, etc.), and distinguished from the events recounted, i.e., from the story. [from: Baldick, 1994]
A recounted tale or story; the devices, strategies and conventions governing the organization of a story (fictional or factual) into sequence. [Extended] narrative significance; // narrator; // narrative authority; // narrating agency; // act of narration:
The dominant film form. Metz: "The cinema, which could have served a variety of uses, in fact is most often used to tell storiesto the extent that even supposedly nonnarrative films (short documentary films, educational films, etc.) are governed essentially by the same semiological mechanisms that govern 'feature films.'" See: classical Hollywood cinema.
The process whereby a cultural construction takes on the guise of being natural. (see: reification; denaturalize)
A term used in theories of reading and the production of meaning in communication. When a text is read, the reader interacts or negotiates with it, which involves bringing their own cultural experience and their own meaning systems to bear upon the text. The meaning of the text that this reading yields is the result of the 'negotiation' between the text and the socially constructed readerit is therefore potentially unique. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]
The set of rules, standards, and expectations that both generate and regulate social interaction and communication. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994] [Extended]
l) One who watches without participating. (2) The source of factual evidence; a person who communicates his sense impression of the external environment. (3) Everything said is said to an observer. (Witz, in Von Foerster, 1974) (4) Observer dependencethe concept that knowledge of reality is dependent upon the perceptions of the observer. (5) Observer inseparability - the concept that observation or measurement affects the state of the object being observed, that is, objective measurement or observation from outside a system is not possible, and the act of observing makes the observer part of the system under study. Therefore, the observer or measuring device should be included in the definition of the system. (Weinberg) (6) A system which, through recursive interactions with its own linguistic states, may always linguistically interact with its own states as if with representations of its interactions. (Maturana and Varela, 1979) [WEB Dictionary of Cybernetics and Systems] [second-order observation; invisible observer]
oedipal trajectory/oedipus complex
patriarchy, castration; oedipal formation;
The French word for a work, often used to refer instead to the total body of works produced by a given writer or director.
In its broadest sense the term old-European denotes the succession of European societies and traditions that span from the ancient Greeks, through the Roman empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, to the 17th and 18th centuries. In its narrower sense the term refers to Europe of the late-medieval/early-modern period. Old-Europe's principle of social differentiation was stratificatory, i.e., the social order was based on a division into hierarchically organized strata. The modern European social order (roughly post-1700) gradually moves away from this as the dominant principle of social organization and differentiation towards a society based on a radically different form of stability and order, namely, on the principle of functional differentiation.
Movement of the camera from left to right or from right to left around the imaginary vertical axis that runs through the camera. An the screen, it produces a mobile framing which scans the space horizontally.
parallel action (also called: parallel montage)
A device of narrative in which two scenes are observed in parallel by cross-cutting.
[pas-teesh] In literature, a work composed from elements borrowed either from various other writers or from a particular earlier author. [from: Baldick, 1990] [Extended]
In literature, a highly conventional mode of writing that celebrates the innocent life of shepherds and shepherdesses in poems, plays, and prose romances. [from: Baldick, 1990] [Extended]
patriarchy, patriarchal society
Metz, "The cinema's signifier is perceptual."
persistence of vision (also called: retinal persistence)
The physiological phenomenon that makes cinema and television possible. An image is retained in the retina of the eye for a short period after it is seen so that, if another image takes its place soon enough, the illusion of motion can be created. See: phi-effect.
In psychoanalysis, all humans are by nature "pervers," insofar as perversion involves deviation from the so-called 'normal' sexual act, defined as coitus with a person of the opposite sex directed towards the achievement of orgasm by means of genital penetration. [from: Laplance/Pontalis] [Expanded]
In psychoanalytic terms the
phenomenon (plural: phenomena)
In technical philosophical terms the appearance of things, the way things appear to us in contrast to noumena, or things as they are in themselves, apart from how they appear to us or any other kind of observer. For Kant, noumena are in principle unknowable; thus our knowledge is limited to appearances, or phenomena.
phi-effect (also called: phi phenomenon)
The psychological perception of motion which is caused by the displacement of two objects seen in quick succession in neighboring positions. Compare with persistence of vision, which is physiologically rather than psychologically defined.
In a narrative film, all the events that are directly presented to us, everything visibly and audibly present in the film before us. In narratology plot (also sometimes called discourse) is often distinguished from story as the viewer's imaginary construction of all the events in the narrative. [Extended; narrative film]
point of view
// point-of-view shot (POV shot) A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where the character's eyes would be, showing what the character would see. Often point of view shots are cut in before or after a shot of the character looking. Examples.// literal/figurative point of view: Nick Browne
Joseph W. Slade , "Pornography in the Late Nineties"
see: secondary process
A tracking shot or zoom that moves from the subject to reveal the context of the scene.
Shifting the area of focus from one plane to another during a shot and sometimes several times within a shot.
range of knowledge
A shot that cuts sway from the main scene or speaker in order to show a character's reaction to it.
reading, to read
In literature, a mode of writing that gives the impression of recording or 'reflecting' faithfully an actual way of life. Modern criticism frequently insists that realism is not a direct or simple reproduction of reality, but a system of conventions producing a lifelike illusion of some real world outside the text, by processes of selection, exclusion, description, and manners of addressing the reader. As a dominant literary trend realism is associated chiefly with the 19th-century European novel of middle- or lower-class life. [from: Baldick, 1990]
// impression of reality:
impression of reality;
//reception theory: (also called reader-response theory)
reduction of complexity
The tendency to explain complex phenomena as though they were nothing but disguised instances of simpler phenomena; the tendency to reduce what is higher to what is lower.
A return to a view of an entire space after a series of closer shots follwoing the establishing shot.
The effect of a sign in the mind of the user, deriving from the user's previous experience of the sign and its object. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]
That to which a sign refers. //universal referent:
reification, to reify
From German Verdinglichung, lit.: "thingification"; to "thingify." The apprehension of human phenomena as if they were things. To reify something is to treat a product of human activity as if it were something else than a social creation, as if it were a fact of nature, the result of cosmic laws, or the manifestation of a divine will. Examples
relations of production
Renaissance space (also: Quattrocento perspective)
The social process of making sense within all available signifying systems: speech, writing, print, painting, film, video, etc.. The terms refers both to the process and to the product of making signs stand for their meanings. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994)]
A foundational concept of psychoanalytic theory. [see: Laplanche/Pontalis quote]
A shot from the opposite side of a subject. In a dialogue scene, a shot of the second participant.
The art of persuasion, in speaking, writing, or the production of images. [Extended] //rhetorical criticism: an approach to literary criticism that emphasizes the author's use of language in communicating with the reader. / / rhetorical effort:
the identity of sound between syllables or paired groups of syllables, usually at the ends of verse lines; also a poem employing this device. [Extended]
The flick movement of the eye from one position to another that occurs when reading images, due to the fact that the receptor organs that permit visual acuity are concentrated (and properly arranged) only in the fovea centralis. [see: example of a saccade pattern]
A mode of writing that exposes the failings of individuals, institutions, or societies to ridicule and scorn.
Saussure, Ferdinand de
In film analysis, a complete unit of narration of a narrative film: a series of shots (or a single shot) that take place in one time and space, or a segment that uses crosscutting to show two or more simultaneous actions.
schema, (plural: schemata), schematism
General: A generalized diagram or scheme. The term has come to play an important role in cognitive and information theory and in the study of communication. [Extended]
The love, or pleasure of looking; making other people the objecy of an erotically charged, curious and controlling gaze. A psychoanalytic term derived from Freud's Three Essays on Sexuality that is often used in film theory to describe how films typically appeal to viewers on a primordial and highly narcissistic level of pleasurable looking. [see: voyeur]
The right-left relationship in a film scene, set up in an establishing shot and determined by the characters and objects in the frame, by the directions of movement, and by the characters' eyelines. Continuity editing will attempt to keep screen direction consistent between shots. See: axis of action; eyeline match cut.
see: primary process; dream work;
second-order observation (also called second-order cybernetics)
Denotes the practice of observing an observer, specifically by describing the distinctions, schemata, and frames the observing system uses to generate its observations.
A vague term in film analysis denoting a short section of the film, often shorter, and usually no longer than a scene. "A moment in the filmic chain which is delimited both by an elusive but powerful sense of dramatic or fictional unity and by the more rigorous notion of identity of setting and characters of the narrative" (Bellour). //segmentation: The process of dividing a film into segments for analysis.
The philosophical or linguistic study of meanings in language. The semantic aspect of any expression is its meaning as opposed to its form. [from: Baldick, 1990]
The study or science of signs.
semiotic modality of representations (Zillmann)
Term commonly used for a moderately large segment of a film, involving one complete stretch of action. In a narrative film, often equivalent to a scene.//Sequence shot: a long, usually complex shot, often including complicated camera movements and action. Also called plan-squence.//
A camera and lighting position that, in effect, determines the spacial field of (and what is excluded from!) the shots taken from this position. When large, unwieldy cameras and lights are used, the number of different set-ups required can become an important economic factor. (For a close reading of a scene structured by two setups see: Browne, "The Spectator in the Text.")
A single piece of film, however long or short, without cuts, exposed continuously.//aerial shot: A shot taken from a crane, plane, or helicopter.//close shot (or close-up): a framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large; most commonly a person's head seen from the neck up, or an object of comparable size that fills most of the screen.//extreme long shot: a panoramic view of an exterior location photographed from a considerable distance.//long shot: includes at least the full figures of the subjects, usually more. //master shot: a long take of an entire scene, generally a relatively long shot that facilitates the assembly of component closer shots and details. The editor can always fall back on the master shot, consequently, it is also called a cover shot.//medium shot: a framing in which the scale of the object shown is fairly large; a human figure seen from the chest up. //tracking shot: a mobile framing that travels through space forward, backward, or laterally.
shot/countershot (also called: shot/reverse shot)
Two or more shots edited together that alternate characters, typically in a conversation situation. In continuity editing, characters in one framing usually look left, in the other framing, right. Over-the-shoulder framings are common in shot/reverse-shot editing. Example: Vertigo3; Example: Suspicion;
Traditionally: something that stands for something else. A sign has three essential characteristics: it must have a physical form, it must refer to something other than itself, and it must be used and recognized as a sign. [Extended]
The process by which signs and thus meanings are generated and produced. [from: Colapietro, 1993] [Extended] cinematic signification; cinematic signification;
("Simulacrum and Art History")
the social fact
//dominant society: //primitive society: //social relations:
sociology of knowledge
The individual member of a film audience who is addressed by the film. The term is commonly used in semiotic/psychoanalytic/feminist film theory. [Extended] [Extended: position of the spectator]
stab in the back
In narrative film, all the events that we see and hear, plus all those that we infer or assume to have occurred, arranged in their presumed causal relations, chronological order, duration, and spacial locations. In narratology, story is often distinguished from plot (or discourse), as the actual presentation of certain events in the narrative.
A tool used in planning film production, consisting of comic-strip-like drawings of individual shots or phases of shots with descriptions written below each drawing.
Luhmann speaks of stratification "when society is represented as an order of ranks and order has become unimaginable without differences in rank" (1998: 679).
stream of consciousness
The continuous flow of sense-perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories in the human mind; or a literary method of representing such a blending of mental processes in fictional characters, usually in an unpunctuated or disjointed form of interior monologue. [from: Baldick, 1990] [Extended]
One of the most important theoretical 'movements' in the 20th century, based to a large extent on the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure. There are myriad attempts to provide summaries of Saussure's basic ideas and of the principles of structuralist semiology/semiotics, a few of the better ones are provided here, grouped in terms of their particular point of view: cinema studies;
In literature, any specific way of using language, which is characteristic of an author, school, period, or genre.
The term subject denotes a fundamental human mental activity of interacting with things in the world by opposing them to one's own consciousness, as in the philosophical (epistemological) distinction between subject and object. [from: Rosen, 1986] [Extended]
The study of "the position of the subject," or "subject positioning," in cinema asks: how do dominant cinematic strategies strive to position the audience, or the spectators as subjects, and what are the possibilities for contesting this positioning? This line of inquiry proved to be one of the strongest and most fertile in recent film theory. (from Rosen 1986; see also: enunciation)
Transl. of Hegel's term Aufhebung, which
(Philos.) That which exists by itself and in which accidents or attributes inhere; the essential part of a thing; essence. [Extended]
see: the base
This term means, literally, to stitch up (from the medieval term for stitching up a cut or wound). In film theory suture has come to mean, in its simplest sense, the means by which the spectator is "stitched" into the filmic text. [Extended]
A sign, object, or act that stands for something other than itself, by virtue of agreement among the members of the culture that uses it. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]
An approach to social relations that emphasizes the importance of negotiated meanings associated with symbols exchanged in interaction between the self and others. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]
symbolic order / the symbolic
An expression used in semiotics to designate the social order as a symbolic arena into which human beings are initiated and in which they are destined to act. Through socialization the symbolic order becomes an internalized dimension of an individuals' subjectivity. The most important institutions making up this social order are language, morality, law, and religion. [from: Colapietro, 1993]
Sound whose source is visible in the frame of the image or whose source is understandable from the context of the image.
The way in which words and clauses are ordered and connected so as to form sentences; or the set of grammatical rules governing such word-order. [from: Baldick, 1990]
In filmmaking, the shot produced by one uninterrupted run of the camera. A filmmaker shoots one or more takes of each shot or setup. One shot in the final film may be chosen from among several takes of the same action.
A central concept in Heidegger's analysis of Dasein, or human 'being-in-the-world,' developed in his magnum opus, Being and Time (1927). "We must show that time is that from which Dasein tacitly understands and interprets something like being at all. Time must be brought to light and genuinely grasped as the horizon of every understanding and interpretation of being. For this to become clear we need an original explication of time as the horizon of the understanding of being, in terms of temporality as the being of Dasein which understands being" (BT, 17).
One of the 'big' terms in contemporary theory and criticism that is often used in a very broad sense to cover not only written documents, but any kind of meaning-bearing and discernible forms within any kind of medium. One speaks of paintings, photographs, films, or advertisements as texts that can be read and one might encounter readings of a face, or a city, as texts.
theatre of cruelty
theatre of the absurd
The justification of God [theo + Greek, dike = justice]. Within a Christian cultural context, the philosophical attempt to vindicate the goodness and omnipotence of God in respect to the existence of evil. [Extended]
A common arrangement using three directions of light on a scene: from behind the subjects (backlighting), from one bright source (key light), and from a less bright source balancing the key light (fill light).
The camera tilts up or down, rotating around the axis that runs from left to right through the camera head.
In a film the lighting coming from above a person or object, usually in order to outline the upper areas of the figure or to separate it more clearly from the background.
tracking shot (also called "travelling shot")
Any shot in which the camera moves from one point to another either sideways, in, or out. The camera can be mounted on a set of wheels that move on tracks, or on a rubber-tired dolly, or it can be hand-held.
transcendental subject; transcendental gaze;
The act of transgressing, breaking, or violating a moral code; going beyond the limits imposed by a law or social norm; in Christian parlance 'to sin'. These negative, moralizing ascriptions have been appropriated and reversed within contemporary criticism and politics in the promotion of transgressive texts, ways of reading, or cultural activities that intend to expose and disrupt dominant ideologies and repressive norms.
//"The narration is to be held on the narrated, the enunciation on the enounced; filmic procedures are to be held as narrative instances (very much as "cues"), exhaustively, without gap or contradiction. What is sometimes vaguely referred to as "transparency" has its meaning in this narrativization: the proposal of a discourse that disavows its operations and positions in the name of a signified that it proposes as its preexistent justification. "Transparency," moreover, is entirely misleading insofar as it implies that narrativization has necessarily to do with some simple "invisibility" (anyway impossibleno one has yet seen a signified without a signifier). The narration may well be given as visible in its filmic procedures; what is crucial is that it be given as visible for the narrated and that the spectator be caught up in the play of that process, that the address of the film be clear." from Heath, "Narrative Space."//
Treaty of Versailles
Mysterious, frightening, as by superstitious dread. An important concept for the analysis of narrative genres such as horror, science fiction, and gothic. [Extended; Freud's understanding of]
In its broadest sense the term indicates that not all psychic phenomena are reducible to consciousness, but that our psychic life is filled with effective, but unconscious content, which constitutes a distinct system with its own order, mechanisms, and energies. [Extended]
In a film the illumination from a point below the figures in the scene.
(see also: enunciation)
//aesthetic value: //value systems: //exchange value: //use value:
A person or role who has a privileged view from a hidden or secret location. [Extended]
war guilt clause
German, lit. a way of looking at the world; usually understood as a comprehensive conception of 'reality,' 'being,' or 'existence.'
An extremely fast movement of the camera from side to side, which causes the image to blur.
A transition between shots in which a line passes acrss the scren, eliminating the first shot as it goes and replacing it with the next one.
(Collins 1998) [world history timeline to 1591]
World War I
A shot using a lens whose focal length is adjusted during the shot. The focal lengths of which the lens is capable range from wide angle to telephoto.