Film, System, Narrative

  • Stephen Heath
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


‘Every film shows us the cinema, and is also its death.’ Here is that singularity of a textual system on which Metz has laid so much stress. Operation, displacement (if merely by virtue of the inevitable shifting of codes into action), a film — any film — goes along with the cinema that it continually and simultaneously recasts. If ‘the study of a singular filmic system is never the study of cinematic specificity’ (and this is the very reason of Langage et cinéma, Metz’s attempt rigorously to define and separate the terms of the filmic and the cinematic), it is indeed that the film is on the side of the heterogeneous, that its work cannot be grasped by a simple listing of codes, that it poses for analysis new tasks, a new object: ‘the only principle of pertinence capable now of defining the semiology of film — other than its application to the filmic rather than to the cinematic fact — is the will to treat films as texts, as units of discourse, thus putting oneself under the obligation of looking for the different systems (whether or not they be codes) which inform and are implicated in them.’1


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  1. 2.
    André Bazin, Orson Welles (Paris: Cerf, 1972) pp. 115–16.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Roland Barthes, ‘En sortant du cinéma’, Communications no. 23 (1975) p. 104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    Roland Barthes, Le Plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil, 1973) p. 76; translation, The Pleasure of the Text (London: Cape, 1976) p. 47.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Jean Collet, ‘La Soif du mal’, Etudes cinématographiques no. 24–5 (1963) p. 116.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Heath 1981

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  • Stephen Heath

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