Christian Metz (1931–93) is an important and influential figure in the fields of film theory and film language. Metz is known best for pioneering a scientific approach to film theory, applying both semiotic and psychoanalytic models to the study of film. Born in Beziers, France, Metz received the world's first doctorate in semiology, and taught at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales in Paris. Metz's early work was heavily influenced by Ferdinand de Saussure's research into the process by which a language system-a structure of rules and conventions – allows language to produce meaning. This scientific objectivity and precision appealed to Metz, and his early collections of essays, Film Language (1974a) and Language and Cinema ( 1974b ) were attempts to discover and formalize a cinematic language system. Metz's early attempts to apply Saussure's formula directly to film were frustrated by two problems, which he identifies in Film Language. First, film is a language that lacks phonemes, Saussure's term for the minimum units of language, and, due to its iconic nature, even the smallest unit of film, the shot, contains within it an entire “block of reality” (1974a : 15). Related to this was the second complication Metz encountered in his application of Saussure to cinema: the seeming lack of arbitrariness (in Saussure's sense) in the signification
Christian Metz (French: [mɛts]; December 12, 1931 – September 7, 1993) was a Frenchfilm theorist, best known for pioneering the application of Ferdinand de Saussure's theories of semiology to film.
Metz was born in Béziers. During the 1970s, his work had a major impact on film theory in France, Britain, Latin America and the United States.
In Film Language: A Semiotics of Cinema, Metz focuses on narrative structure — proposing the "Grand Syntagmatique", a system for categorizing scenes (known as "syntagms") in films.
Metz applied both Sigmund Freud's psychology and Jacques Lacan's mirror theory to the cinema, proposing that the reason film is popular as an art form lies in its ability to be both an imperfect reflection of reality and a method to delve into the unconscious dream state.
In his final work, Impersonal Enunciation, Metz "uses the concept of enunciation to articulate how films 'speak' and explore where this communication occurs, offering critical direction for theorists who struggle with the phenomena of new media." Published in French in 1991, Impersonal Enunciation received little attention in the English-speaking world until it was translated in 2016, an indicator of a resurgence of interest in Metz as a scholar whose far-sighted work on multi-screen environments was well before its time.
Metz died in Paris, aged 61, having taken his own life.
- Jean Mitry, La Sémiologie en question : Language et cinéma, Paris, Cerf, 1987.