The social semiotic study of performance in a classical Hollywood film

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2018
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Taking a social semiotic perspective, this thesis aims to develop methods of film segmentation, transcription and analysis which can be applied to the research of feature films, especially classical Hollywood films, through a comprehensive study of three scenes from the 1953 Hollywood film Roman Holiday directed by William Wyler. The thesis combines top-down approaches such as Syd Field’s script structure, William Labov and Joshua Waletzky’s narrative structure and Konstantin Stanislavski’s acting preparation method, and bottom-up approaches, such as Theo van Leeuwen’s rhythm segmentation. Taken together, these approaches support a comprehensive method of segmentation and can be applied to selected scenes that differ in their use of verbal and gestural semiotic modes. Three scenes from Roman Holiday are transcribed for analytical purposes after being segmented. They are first etically transcribed, using perceivable rhythm cues, and then emically processed, drawing on van Leeuwen’s summarised genre analysis and Michael Gregory’s phasal analysis. Thereafter, the thesis analyses how acting, art direction (such as props, costumes, and settings), cinematography (such as camera angles, frame sizes) and editing develop characters, relations, situations and genres, and how art direction, cinematography and editing work to support and shape actors’ acting by following approaches by Erika Fischer-Lichte, and David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. The primary method of segmentation and analysis used throughout this thesis is based on Stanislavski’s ranked system of performance units – Action, Task, Fact, Event (a unit added by this study), and Episode. The thesis chapters show the ways that actors and the filmmaking team create the boundaries between these performance units and the ways they develop characters and stories with the aid of a range of verbal and non-verbal semiotic resources. In particular, this research focuses on how actors and the filmmaking team within each unit realise phases, generic stages and genres of the development of the story through acting, art direction, cinematography and editing.
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