While natural indexes appeal to our senses, primal emotions and imagination because of their direct, physical connection with their referents, human communication also appears to be based to a large extent on signs that are not physically caused by their referents but only resemble them to some extent.
Apart from the similarity between the painted portrait and the sitter, which is formed in the minds of those contemplating the picture, there exists no direct, physical connection between the two. In semiotics a sign whose form resembles its referent is called an icon , or an iconic sign.
In analyzing the stylistic, dramatic, and symbolic function of cast shadows in artistic representations the iconic dimension is important, because shadows are not only physical extensions of their objects, but they can also resemble them in varying degrees. For example, when the light falls on an object from an angle of forty-five degrees it produces on even ground an accurate dark silhouette of that object.
When falling from other angles light creates shadows that distort the shape of the object: a low-angle light, such as produced by the sun at dawn or sunset, casts shadows that are grotesquely elongated Fig. Regardless of the degree of distortion, as long as the shadow silhouette resembles an outline of the object and thereby defines its character to some degree, we are talking about the iconic quality of the shadow.
In Friedrich W. But the iconicity of indexes such as natural shadows is of course not of the same kind as the iconicity of figurative arts. Insofar as an index resembles its object in a perceptual mostly visual sense, it can be called an iconic index. The reliance on an indexical, physical extension of the represented object makes the shadow theater, an image created by the camera obscura, a photograph or a film clip so much more efficacious in reflecting the outside world, and consequently so much more powerful in their emotive effect on viewers than purely iconic media, with their imagined rather than real connection with the world.
The iconic indexicality of a shadow or a photograph means that the images created by these media not only resemble their objects with a resemblance often much higher than in most realistic painting , but that they are also physically consubstantial with the objects they represent in a way never attained by painting. German cinema from the Weimar period — , especially in the films inspired for their horror plots by Gothic fiction and indebted for their visual style to contemporary Expressionist art, offers classic examples of cinematic appropriation of older indexical-iconic media such as cast shadows.
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It is interesting for example to see that in the artistically ground-breaking The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari dir. After Dr. Friedrich W. Towards the end of the Weimar period folk supernaturalism and the occult return to the screen in Carl Th. Intentional shadows, suggestive darkness, atmospheric or symbolic chiaroscuro lighting as part of the visual semiotics of film continue to be employed in Weimar cinema from mids onward in the urban dramas conceived in a more realistic style of the New Objectivity. Typically in the German urban films of the late s light tends to be associated with modernity, wealth and success, and darkness with backwardness, poverty and failure.
As in the Hollywood film noir decades later, in Weimar cinema the symbolic cast shadow always remains an esthetic choice as part of the Expressionist repertoire of visual tricks to provoke symbolic meanings, create poetic mood and heighten emotion. Back in in Friedrich W. Detailed and erudite, the author traces the use of the shadow as communication back to the ancient Greeks, through Caravaggio and Rembrandt, to Berlin in the s. Always careful to contextualize, Sadowski interweaves a discussion of key historical events and artistic movements with intricate textual analysis.
Thoughtfully argued and beautifully illustrated, this is an important contribution to semiotics as a discipline and to the history of film as art. What makes shadows solid?
How do artists manipulate them? It combines insightful aesthetic analysis and nuanced discussion of the socio-cultural background of Weimar Germany. After reading the book it is impossible to see cinematic light and shadows in the same way again, not only in viewing the movies of the Weimar period, but those which follow to the present day. Piotr Sadowski www.
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Learn how your comment data is processed. Home Uncategorized In the kingdom of shadows: the semiotics of cinema By Piotr Sadowski When we are watching a film everything we see consists technically of shadows—insubstantial, fleeting photographic representations of life projected as light effects on a flat rectangular surface of the screen. The healing power of St. Painting by Masaccio The shadow of Dr. Caligari Dupont A self-shadow in Citizen Kane, dir. Orson Welles Melancholy and mystery of a street, painting by Giorgio de Chirico Long-angle light produces a grotesquely elongated shadow.
The shadow of a vampire in Nosferatu, dir. Murnau A man drawing a shadow silhouette of a seated woman. Etching by J.
Schellenberg The shadow of a murderer in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, dir. Robert Wiene After confiding about his new invention to those he trusts, Jay's life is threatened. Jay soon finds himself on the run from enemies he never knew he had, and becomes involved in the secret world of British spies, US intelligence agents and investigative journalists. In the secret world of shadows, technology, and espionage, played out in various cities throughout the world, Jay is advised - Don't Trust Anyone.
About the Author: De-ann Black is a bestselling author, scriptwriter and former newspaper journalist. She has over 70 books published.
Genres include: action, thrillers, romantic comedy, espionage and action adventure. And children's books non-fiction rocket science books and children's fiction. She previously worked as a full-time newspaper journalist for several years. She had her own weekly columns in the press. This included being a motoring correspondent where she got to test drive cars every week for the press for three years.