More Helpful Film Vocabulary

Three Definitions of Diegesis:

1. DIEGETIC, DIEGESIS (to narrate; dia` through; to lead): Having to do with the actual world of the film and the story being told; as opposed to formal elements which are part of the film, but not of the world depicted in the film. Thus music played on an instrument by a character in the course of the film is diegetic, while background music which affects our mood as we watch is not diegetic.

2. Diegesis:
The best way to remember diegesis is to borrow a term from Star Trek. The diegesis of a narrative is its entire created world, or its time-space continuum. The dream of the Arab sequence in Book V of Wordsworth's Prelude is fascinating, in part, since it includes different diegetic universes: the time-space continuum of Wordsworth, who is telling his tale, that of his friend who is said to have had the dream in the 1805 Prelude, that of Cervantes' Don Quixote, which his friend is reading, that of the dream universe the friend creates when he falls asleep, and, finally, that of the Ode foretelling apocalypse, which his friend is offered in his dream.

3. Diegesis:
The narrative elements of a film that are shown or immediately inferred from the content of a film. Though implication is not the primary focus, diegesis is a methodological analysis for discerning the exact nature of the film including all of the action and dialogue.

{"Diegetic" -- refers to things which exist within the "world" of the film's narrative. Non-diegetic or extra-diegetic elements of a film do not "exist" or "take place" in the same plane of reality that the character's inhabit. For example, presumably the characters within an action film do not "hear" the rousing theme music that accompanies their exploits. that music is extra-diegetic, but still part of the film.


MISE-EN-SCENE: Those elements of the film which are present in the scenes that the camera
shoots. This includes both the staging of the action and the way that it is photographed: e.g.
settings, props, lighting, costumes, and framing, as well as the behavior and movement of the
characters. (Contrast Montage)

In the production and editing of film this term has come to refer to a seemingly unrelated series of frames combined so that one scene quickly dissolves into the next, shifting categories, effects and settings in such a manner as to convey a quick passage of time or an abstract unity through thematic devices such as meter, rhythm, tonality, and intellectuality (viz Eisenstein). Continuity, if it exists, is not captured in a frame by frame juxtaposition but rather through an abstraction. (Also see "mise-en-scene".)


Related Terms:

Jacques Lacan's theory of decentering:
1) Tries to argue that the self is based in language but keeps Freud alive at
the same time.
2) Children who cannot understand language can't tell the difference
between themselves and others; your sense of self comes about through
3) Consciousness comes from outside, not inside, your head.
4) Lacan also contributes to the nature/nurture arguement; are our
individual eccentricities learned or inherited?
Lacan's theory decenters the self; he says the self is constructed in
language. Lacan decenters the source of knowledge and assumptions of
Western thought by destabilizing the self.
Deconstruction (Derrida's term) is the ideological opposite of structuralism --
language is seen as 'chains of signifiers' with only unsatisfactory glimpses of meaning.

Deconstruction contends that meaning, and hence the foundations of any knowledge, is always unstable.

Deconstruction refers to ways of trying to 'undo, or deconstruct, many of
the big structures of structuralism, and break them down to an individual
level. Different intellectuals have applied the theory in different ways, e.g.,:
- Derrida deconstructs language.
- Foucault deconstructs history and culture, heading towards 'revisionism in




When film theorists refer to the "dominant cinema," they have in mind the kinds of construction which prevail in most narrative films. Such feature-length movies are made and distributed along lines common to Hollywood productions which are replicated throughout the world by other major film industries. (Take the Ufa studio productions in Germany of the thirties and forties.) The classical period of the dominant cinema was between 1930 and 1950, the period that marked the heyday of the Hollywood studio system.

Crucial here is the concept of a classical model, a normative system of representation, a codified way of making films, fixed conventions of film practice which one repeatedly finds in most narrative films.

Central to the operations of the dominant cinema are:

1. Genres: formulas/patterns of recognition like gangster films, westerns, musicals, adventure films, etc.
2. Stars: figures with a high recognition value, personalities with whom we identify, people who enhance the cult value of cinema as an institution.

3. Producers/Studios: mass production along rationalized lines: filmmaking, after all, is a business.

4. Directors: creative forces who provide a potential source of contradiction and resistance within the workings of the dominant cinema. Their relationship is not directly tied--at least not necessarily--to the commercialism of the whole. However they are directly implicated in the system, for they work within its constraints, financially and ideologically.

5. Mass audiences: film producers and studios seek to exponentialize their material investment by appealing to as wide a spectatorship as possible; some films seek more specialized markets by addressing specifically targeted audiences.

See Peter Wollen, "Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d'Est." Afterimage 4 (Autumn 1972): 6-17.
"More and more radically Godard has developed a counter-cinema whose values are counterposed to those of orthodox cinema. I want simply to write some notes about the main features of this counter-cinema. My approach is to take seven of the values of the old cinema, Hollywood-Mosfilm, as Godard would put it, and contrast these with their (revolutionary, materialist) counterparts and contraries. In a sense, the seven deadly sins of the cinema against the seven cardinal virtues. They can be set out schematically in a table as follows:

Narrative transitivity v. Narrative intransitivity
Identification v. Estrangement
Transparency v. Foregrounding
Single diegesis v. Multiple diegesis
Closure v. Aperture
Pleasure v. Un-pleasure
Fiction v. Reality


1. Narrative straightforwardness (transitivity): one thing follows another, the construction is clear, one event builds upon the one before it. A causal chain: exposition, complication, resolution.

As opposed to: narrative intransitivity (gaps, elipses, digressions, episodic constructions, disjuncture, excess). Instead of a clear sequence, Godard provides intermittent flashes Later, he does away with story altogether and lets rhetoric (rather than narrative) be the constructive principle of the film. Reiteration, amplification, digression serve as crucial elements.

The hope is to disrupt the emotional spell of the narrative, to refocus the spectator's attention and allow for thought and reflection.

2. Identification: an emotional involvement with characters/stars in which the viewer finds psychological and emotional points of alignment in the onscreen action.

As opposed to: estrangement/distanciation/alienation (direct address to the spectator, multiple and contradictory characters, commentary). In Godard we find non-matching of voice to character, introduction of 'real' people to the fiction, characters who address the audience directly. In later films, the same voice is used for different characters.

Identification becomes impossible without unified characters to elicit and guide it. One cannot maintain motivational coherence when characters are incoherent, fissured, fragmented, multiple, and self-critical. The question shifts from "What happened?" to "What is this film for?"

3. Transparency: a seamless flow of images conceals the fact that the film is a construction, a fictional product, someone else's fantasy. The spectator becomes swept away and dragged into the narrative flow--and the dominant cinema employs a number of techniques to make certain that films do not call attention to their own workings in ways that might destroy the sense of illusion and the viewer's visual and narrative pleasure.

As opposed to: foregrounding of meaning production (making the work that goes into the production of a film apparent). In Godard's films, one sees the production of meaning, e.g., a camera is shown onscreen.
The film is marked and scratched. Film becomes a process of writing in' images (rather than a representation of the world); the image is given a semantic function within a genuine iconic code.

4. A homogeneous world (=single diegesis): everything that the audience sees belongs to the same world; even movements in time and space (such as flashbacks or changes of setting) are carefully signalled and located. The beholder gains access to a coherent and self-sustained world, one in which time and space have a consistent order and logic to them. The audience is made to feel, in other words, comfortable, at home in familiar surroundings.

As opposed to: multiple diegesis (heterogeneous worlds; the worlds we see on the screen are not coherent and integrated; different characters seem to be acting in different films). Godard often employs film-within- film devices in his early work. In Weekend we see characters from different epochs and from fiction come together; instead of a single narrative world, we have an interweaving and plurality of worlds. Not only do different characters speak differently, different parts of the film do as well.

5. Closure: dominant cinema means self-contained works of art, harmonized within certain generic boundaries. The film world exists on the screen and ends with the closing of the curtain.

As opposed to: aperture (intertextuality, allusion, quotation, pastiche, parody, self-consciousness, self-reflexity). Godard is an avid recycler.

He quotes with zeal, not just as a sign of eclecticism, but indeed as a guiding structural principle of his films. Polyphony is key here: Godard's own voice is drowned out by that of the many other voices that he quotes. The film can no longer be seen as the discourse of a single auteur; rather, it becomes a multiplicity of speaking voices. The text/film becomes an arena, a marketplace of competing discourses. The juxtaposition and recontextualization of discourses leads to a confrontation (not a unifying) of meanings.

6. Pleasure: the dominant cinema entertains and provides escape. It does not irritate; it is not meant to call the world into question. It seeks to satisfy paying customers, to give people "their money's worth." In that sense it is the function of a larger consumer culture, one drug among many which lulls, occupies, and pacifies the masses.

As opposed to: displeasure, boredom, dead or empty time, provocation, irritation. But a radical film praxis recognizes that one needs the pleasure principle as well as the reality principle to create desire. A revolutionary cinema has to operate at different levels: fantasy, ideology, science. Godard seems to be suspicious of the need for fantasy at all, except perhaps in the sado-masochistic form of provocation.

7. Fiction: actors wear make-up and act out a scripted story. They play roles and embody fictional characters; they are not themselves.

As opposed to: reality and the breakdown of representation, the attempt to show the true face of the world. Godard attacks fiction with a political motivation: fiction = mystification = bourgeois ideology. He is also troubled by the misleading and dissembling nature of appearances, the impossibility of reading an essence from a phenomenon's surface. He is obsessed with the problem of true speech and false speech, of theatrical speech. He distrusts actors who speak someone else's words. He shares the poststructural suspicious of language: we do not speak, language speaks through us. The logic would seem to be: fiction = acting = lying = deception = representation = illusion = mystification = ideology. For Wollen this is specious reasoning, for many reasons. Above all, the terms are not equivalent.