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Christian Metz


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Frenchfilm theorist. Metz introduced film studies to both structuralism and psychoanalysis and in the process helped initiate the establishment of film theory. Instead of asking what films mean, Metz set out to discover how they make meaning, and in doing so revolutionized the way film was written and thought about in the academy. Born in Béziers in southern France, Metz studied classical languages and ancient history at the École Normale Supérieure and then completed a doctorate in general linguistics at the Sorbonne. Always a cinephile, Metz began to think of ways of applying Ferdinand de Saussure's theories of language (then much in fashion in Paris thanks to the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roland Barthes, among others) to cinema in order to deduce the universal syntax of narrative film. How, in other words, does a film tell a story in pictures? In the 1970s, realizing that the structuralist approach to film analysis he had adopted privileged the cinematic text over the audience, Metz began to incorporate the insights of psychoanalysis, particularly its Lacanian variant (itself already influenced by structuralism), so as to think through how viewers receive films. Metz hypothesized that films are the equivalent of dreams or hallucinations so Sigmund Freud's theory of the dreamwork can be applied directly to them. This has proved a highly influential suggestion. Metz's most important publications are Essai sur la signification au cinéma (1968), translated as Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema (1980) and Le Signifiant imaginaire. Psychanalyse et cinema (1977), translated as The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema (1982).

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