Abstrakt

Michaił Bakhtin, rosyjski filozof, myśliciel i semiotyk przenosi uwagę z „langue”  na „parole”, czyli zwraca szczególną uwagę na nie na teoretyczny, systematyczny aspekt języka a na jego praktyczne użycie w prociesie mowy. Zainteresowany dialogicznością języka, osadza go w historycznym, społecznym i kulturalnym kontekście. Artykuł analizuje sposób w jaki można aplikować teorię dialogizmu Michaiła Bachtina w analizie filmowej oraz w jaki sposób przejawia się w filmach dialogizm.

Abstract

Film is a specific kind of medium, which is entirely based on communication. None of the elements is put in front of the camera aimlessly. Every constituent is to convey a particular message. Even the internal problems of characters or their thoughts are often voiced to become known to the viewer. Without the communication the film would cease to exist. A literary scholar particularly interested in various aspects of communication was Mikhail Bakhtin, who in his work concentrated mainly on parole, i.e. living speech in a living context. He discussed the dialogic nature of discourse and introduced a division into monologism and dialogism. He downgraded the former in favour of the latter as a principle governing human and literary communication. Bakhtin’s theory may thus be applied to film, whose main aim is to establish a communication with its recipients.

Similarly to literature, film is a medium based to a large extent on dialogue. The definition of dialogue is not equivocal here, since it may be understood in a number of ways. Firstly, it may apply to the utterances of the characters in a movie, which may be further divided into dialogues (conversations) and monologues, which can be heard and responded by other personages of the particular movie artwork. All these establish a communicative situation between the characters on the screen.

Another manifestation of a dialogue is a contact maintained between the characters and the recipient, this time a viewer. Again, it may be divided into dialogues on the screen, from which the audience infers the information that the maker of the movie wants to convey; into soliloquies or internal monologues which are usually directed to the viewers and not for other characters in the movie; and into the, so called, voiceover or a narration that comes from outside the movie. Such a voiceover is often added to clarify certain intricacies of the plot that are not fairly comprehensible from the dialogues and images themselves.

Yet another communicative situation is established on non-verbal terms, i.e. with the use of visual and auditory elements such as images, music, sound effects, a particular stage set and costumes. All these are in film theory defined as components of “mise-en-scene”, i.e., “Literally, ‘putting in the scene’: a term that describes the action, lighting, decor, and other elements within the shot itself, as opposed to the effects created by cutting” (Cook 986). What one sees or hears on the screen is often enough to maintain certain communication with the viewer. Images, sounds or even silence are sometimes able to speak volumes.

Film is a specific kind of medium, which is entirely based on communication. None of the elements is put in front of the camera aimlessly. Every constituent is to convey a particular message. Even the internal problems of characters or their thoughts are often voiced to become known to the viewer. Without the communication the film would cease to exist. A literary scholar particularly interested in various aspects of communication was Mikhail Bakhtin, who in his work concentrated mainly on parole, i.e. living speech in a living context. He discussed the dialogic nature of discourse and introduced a division into monologism and dialogism. He downgraded the former in favour of the latter as a principle governing human and literary communication. Bakhtin’s theory may thus be applied to film, whose main aim is to establish a communication with its recipients. The main assumptions of this theory were that language is polyphonic in nature and endowed with heteroglot meanings. He also assumed that the meaning is never fixed and exhausted in a single interpretation and that it could be revived due to intertextuality and a literary tradition. Quotations and references are important constituents of meaning as well. He put literature into a social context and claimed that a text is an intervention in a cultural system (The Dialogic Imagination). Film is congruent with these stipulations as well. It often does not have only one fixed meaning but is open to interpretation for the viewers. Each recipient draws different conclusions and notices different elements which he or she finds of utmost significance. Contrary to literature, which is composed of words only, movies are a combination of various stimuli, such as image, sound, music, and words. That makes their comprehension much more difficult. Such complexity offers almost unlimited possibilities in the field of interpretation. Films, similarly to literature, are filled with intertextual allusions and references. Moreover, each movie is constructed according to particular genre conventions and often rooted in a specific cultural, social and historical context. Making a film deprived of context seems to be improbable. Apart of its verbal stratum, which theoretically can be quite neutral, it has to be shot in a determined place, and there is no place in the world lacking any kind of history. Each building, tree, town square has its own past and can be put into some kind of context. Certainly, the director may choose to shoot inside a film studio with artificially modeled stage set, but again it will always to some extent resemble genuine places in the real world. Also a director himself has been brought up in some literary and cultural tradition which inevitably imprints certain impressions on his or her imagination and perception of the world. Very often movies are actually based on books. Adapting a novel demands not only maintaining certain fidelity towards the original text and transferring the assemblage of meanings, contexts, etc., but also the application of great amounts of imagination and creativity to present the literary artwork in a convincing way. It is the director’s role to convey the message inherent in the story, and the viewers role is to understand this message. The communication is established.

Bakhtin’s conception of language was rather positivist, i.e. focusing on the correspondence of language to the physical world. He studied the relation between the speaker and a listener and assumed that everything anybody says is always in relation or response to things that have been already said, and in anticipation of everything that will be said after. He focused on fluidity of language and described dialogism i opposition to monologism. The former concerns not only everyday conversations in reality but also touches upon any form of speech and writing as a notion of language being always in dialogue. He further claimed that human life is unable to exist without language, since to live means to participate in dialogue. The self in his theory requires others for existence and is in dialectical relation with other people. Monologism, however, denies the existence outside itself of another consciousness which has equal rights and responsibilities. Another person remains wholly and nearly the object of consciousness. Monologue is finalized and deaf to the responses of other people, hence no response is expected or acknowledged. Moreover, monologic speech suppresses the voice of the other (The Dialogic Imagination). The movies most often operate on dialogic relations. As I have already mentioned communication is essential for the movie to exist. It is the viewer who decodes the message enclosed in the artwork, since not everything is directly said on the screen. Active human consciousness is demanded to gain access to the whole complexity of a movie artwork. Various aspects of the communication in film have already been discussed in the introduction; what still needs to be mentioned is the issue of response and anticipation demanded in dialogic relations. On the surface, it appears that a film artwork does not require any kind of response from the audience, for its role is to merely presents a particular story. However, especially when one thinks about the movies which are heavily loaded with social or political commitment, it definitely aims at exerting certain influence on the recipients. Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń may be a great example. At first glance it appears to be a reconstruction of historical events, which took place in 1940. Nevertheless, it shifts our attention from dry facts to a human tragedy behind them. Anonymous victims become individualities and gain identity, families and their own history. Surely, some stories are probably created for the purpose of the movie but their role is fulfilled- the viewers are touched by the enormity and cruelty of the tragedy and the crime is not forgotten. Definitely, it was not the director’s aim to instill in the audience the hatred towards Russians, but simply to make us remember of what happened seventy years ago. Our response should be to follow this message.

Bakhtin’s theory introduces, apart from monologism and dialogism, the concepts of  polyphonic novel and heteroglossia. Polyphonic novel is defined by the quality of relationship between the character and the narrator and it is more than a simple copresence of harmonizing voices. These voices are autonomous and coexist in an artistic event. What is important is that the voice of the author is not dominant and that the character is not the mouthpiece of the author. Polyphonic novel subverts the concept of character as subordinate and of an omniscient narrator. Character’s speech is thus dialogical, i.e. standing in dialogical relationship to the other characters’ utterances. A character engaged in internal dialogues with other people addresses another and listens to the response (The Dialogic Imagination). The adjective “polyphonic” may be applied to a film as well. According to John Bruns it may be described as follows, “The polyphonic film, however, does more than depict simultaneous events and assemble multiple plots. It achieves true cinematographic polyphony by depicting simultaneity without unity, multiplicity without completeness” (189). This definition emphasizes the complexity of the term and shows that it applies to more concepts than mere polyphony of voices. The author of the article, however, claims that the concept was definitely taken over from Bakhtin’s theory of polyphonic novel. As far as the significance of the author and his relation to the characters is concerned, it is very often dependent on the personality of the director who is claimed to be the main author of a movie. According to the so called “auteur theory”, which may be defined as a, “theory of filmmaking in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture. […] The director, who oversees all audio and visual elements of the motion picture, is more to be considered the “author” of the movie than is the writer of the screenplay” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online), the director is a dominant force in the movie creation process. The theory is based on the assumptions of Andre Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, later followed by Andrew Sarris, an American film critic. David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson distinguish three main factors defining a director as an author, i.e. a director as a production worker, as a personality and as a group of films. The first of the three makes a director “an orchestrator” and focuses on his or her role to fulfill in order to be called an “auteur”. The director needs to be in charge of the whole process of production of a film, including directing, composing, shooting and producing. His or her role is “synthetic” and comprises of, “grasping the totality of the shooting and assembly phases” (38). Director’s personality is of preeminent significance as well. Andrew Sarris developed a concept of “politique des auteurs”, according to which, “The strong director imposes his own personality on a film”. A new method, referred to as “auteurism” has become used to evaluate “auteurs against nonauteurs” (Bordwell, Thompson 38). The factors taken into consideration are, however, not clear-cut and strictly defined. In general, the director ought to have strong personality and develop his or her own style or “flavour” of filmmaking (Bordwell, Thompson 38). It may be reflected in the choice of genres, themes, techniques, actors and forms. Indeed, the movies often speak for their makers. The styles of particular directors of well-established reputation are easy to recognize and distinguish. Nevertheless, it is not only the personality of a director or his command over production that may define the author, but also the relations between the films themselves. The author ceases to be a flesh and blood person and becomes a concept, “a system of relations among several films bearing the same signature” (Bordwell, Thompson 39). This kind of consideration enables to analyze the movies by the work not only of a director but also a screenwriter or a producer. However, it is the director whose work is most synthetic and noticeable by the viewers. The director who definitely deserves to be the sole author of his works is, for instance, Ridley Scott. His strong personality and enormous visual imagination enable him to create genuine masterpieces of movie art. In a slight opposition to the assumptions of polyphony, his style and personality are heavily imprinted on his movies and both the characters and setting seem to reflect his visions and beliefs. Most of his movies have a number of messages to convey but their meaning is not always clear cut, of which an excellent example may be the famous Blade Runner. The film became legendary among those fans who still attempt to find one fixed interpretation of it and answer the question: “Is Rick Deckard a replicant?”. It proves that the polyphony is alive and well in Scott’s movies.

The final concept that needs to be discussed for the purpose of this analysis is heteroglossia. The term may be defined as the inscription of multiple meanings engaging in a dialogue within the text. It avoids emphasis on narrowly defined consensus and celebrates diversity of voices produced by different individuals. Moreover, it results from the struggle of two opposing forces, namely centripetal, i.e. to consolidate different things, homogenize different values and people, and centrifugal, i.e. to destabilize and disperse all the impulses and to find authoritative hierarchical values. Gabriel M. Paletz defines it in a following way in relation to film theory:

Several voices united in a novel represent a world of rich interrelationships between kinds of speech and types of people. Bakhtin’s term for this verbal and social richness is translated as heteroglossia (literally, ‘different tongues’). It applies to film and television as they may also hold a multitude of voices and visual styles. (Critical Dictionary of Film and Television Theory)

According to the assumptions of heteroglossia, language is endowed with heteroglot meanings which react with one another. These finding definitely have their application in the process of movie creation. The multiplicity of voices, meanings and tools used to create them constitutes an essence of a film. The more complex is their application, the more cult position the movie achieves.

To conclude the foregoing analysis, it is worth mentioning that literary and film theories have many common points. Both attempt to provide appropriate tools for proper and extensive analysis of the artworks, be it a literary text or a movie. Moreover, they try to determine the source of meaning and its relation to the overall context, in which the work is created and operates. Although the medium is slightly different, the aim of each work is the same, namely to communicate and convey a certain message, which the implied recipients are supposed to comprehend. Bakhtin’s theory finds a very broad application in film studies. It catches what is both the essence of literature, film and any kind of human discourse and defines it in a clear and convincing way. Therefore, it has been a great help in understanding the principles governing the analysis of movies, and in creating my Master’s Dissertation on films.

Works cited:

auteur theory.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 1 May

2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/44609/auteur-theory>.

Bakhtin, Michail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl

Emerson & Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

Bordwell, David and Kristen Thompson. Film Art. An Introduction. 5th Ed. New York:

McGraw- Hill, 1997.

Bruns, John. The polyphonic film. New Review of Film and Television Studies.

Charleston: College of Charleston, 2008.

Cook, David A. A History of the Narrative Film. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1996.

“heteroglossia.” Critical Dictionary of Film and Television Theory. 2010. Bookrags.com. 1

May. 2010 < http://www.bookrags.com/tandf/heteroglossia-tf>.

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