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SEMIOTICS ANALYSIS OF NIGERIAN AND AMERICAN FILMS

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.0 Background to the Study

Semiotics is a form of communication that uses signs, codes, symbols, and significations to articulate ideas and information. It is a method of communication that investigates the creation of meanings. Adedina and Taiwo (2015:6) define it as the study of signs within the framework of social life as expressed in a work of art. Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist and semiotician who laid the foundation for the study of semiotics, posits that semiology (his preferred term) is the science that has to do with the study of signs in the society (1974:661). Pierce, the renowned American philosopher and semiotician representes semiotics as

“the quasi-necessary, or formal doctrine of signs. By describing the doctrine as “quasi – necessary,” or formal, I mean that we observe the characters of such signs as we know, and from such observation, by a process which I will not object to naming abstraction, we are led to statements, eminently fallible, and therefore in one sense by no means necessary, as to what must be the characters of all signs used by a “scientific” intelligence, that is to say by an intelligence capable of learning by experience” (cited in Desai and Nair 2005: 561).

The two definitions are associated with the patterns of communication; that is, socio-cultural relationships and interactions in human society.  While Saussure emphasises the social function of the sign, Pierce emphasises its logical function. Nevertheless, both perspectives are closely related; and more, the two terms “semiology” and “semiotics”, Adesanya (2014:50) submits, the same concept. Therefore, semiotics can be defined as the study of how signs, codes and symbols function within recognised sign systems for significations. To clarify Adesanya’s (2014) position, Adedina and Taiwo (2015:7) state that there exists the formal and social aspects of semiotics. They note that while formal semiology deals with conceptualising signs from the contexts of their usage, social semiotics examine semiotic practices that are specific to cultures. Semiotics therefore, finds expression in every phenomenon that is intended for communication, either contextually or culture specific.

In film, semiotics helps in deepening intended meaning. The visual basis of film gives it a universal power of communication. Film, Bankole (2014:2) notes, is a repository of semiological symbols. The meanings are inferred from societal practices; norms, cultural values, individual experiences and environmental contexts, to showcase the way the society functions as projected in films through aesthetics. As a result, every sign or sign system operates within a given context. Many filmmakers extensively deploy semiotics in expressing the myth, history legendary stories and archetypes within the respective cultures where their films are set. Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson are renowned for adopting semiotics in the treatment of the narratives that portray respective cultures.

In a broad sense, myth and archetypes refer to any traditional belief conveyed by cultural codes within socio-religious sign systems. According to Alagoa (1978:9), myths are sacred narratives of sacred things/beings and of semi divine heroes. Similarly, Jaja (2012:9) perceives myths “as stories that play explanatory functions in understanding reality, concepts and beliefs and further serve as explanations of nature and events such as creations, origin of things, history of a race or a people, and heroic deeds and achievements”. This clearly shows that myths true expressions of societal beliefs that are communicated through a collection of signifying elements. Okpewho, Finnegan,

Afolayan and Gibson’s films embody mythic representations that reinvent archetypes. Ihidero (2015:57) says:

Modern filmmakers across divergent continents have largely exploited their indigenous myths and archetypes in explaining major phenomenon and events in history. In Africa, and especially Nigeria, filmmakers have deployed archetypes in the re/presentation of African reality and they have continued to draw from primordial myths and divergent archetypes to depict the changing societies in Africa.

As profound as Ihidero’s (2015) assertion is, many film critics in Nigeria have not given much critical attention to the use of myth in explaining the social reality of the country. Also, only a fraction of filmmakers in Nigeria have employed myth in their films in a manner that will engender development. Tunde Kelani is one of the filmmakers who creatively use Yoruba myth to explain the action and, or, inaction of his film characters. Popular among his works are Saworoide (1999); Agogo-eewo (2002); Thunderbolt: Magun (2001); Arugba (2008); Maami (2012) – an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s Maami (1987); The Narrow Path (2006) – an adaptation of Biyi Bandele’s novel of the same title; and Sidi Ilujinle (2017) – an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (1959). Furthermore, Andy Amenechi adapted Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine (2007) to film, and so did Biyi Bandele adapted Ngozi Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2012) to film, among many others. The above listed films deal with the past, present and changing conditions of the Nigerian society in all spheres, using myth-archetypes as elements of meaning making for resolutions. Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson fall under some of the modern filmmakers that have used myths in their films to interrogate their immediate environment and the modern society at large. This is evident in the films of Kunle Afolayan that are chosen for this study. Fundamental to the filmic representations of Afolayan and Gibson is the deployment of semiotic properties in creating profound meanings. To this end, this study analyses and interprets archetypes in the selected films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson within the purview of Semiotics. This study employs semiotics as an intricate term that encapsulates the various levels of narratives, the filmic signs and codes, and other signifying elements that are capable of being semiotically analysed in the selected films.

This study also investigates the intermingling of the signifying elements in the signification and the interpretations of the films, and further juxtaposes the codes and signs employed in the films by these filmmakers. The films selected for this study are Irapada (2006), Figurine (2009), and October 1 (2014) by Kunle Afolayan, and Passion of the Christ (2004), Apocalypto (2006) and The Braveheart (1996) by Mel Gibson. The criteria for the selection of these films is recurring theme of myth, which covers sacrifice, horror and heroic feats that are communicated through the various filmic and cultural codes and signs. The predominant elements of semiotics in these films are verbal language, text, images, and other non-verbal signs of communication that are semiotically internalised and analysed for signification and interpretation. The codes and signs used in these films are culture-based, as it is with other communication systems that require signification and interpretation. This situates the semiotic elements within the milieu of cultural semiotics.

For a semiotic reading of a work of art, an in-depth understanding of such a work will guide the interpretation of all the elements of production employed in the work. The semiosis of film has been broadly categorised into various ideological milieu: syntagmatic ideology, paradigmatic ideology, rhetorical tropes (Chandler 2005:52, 63, 88) and other cultural and social codes and signs. The concept of ideology is generic. Ideology, in this context, is defined as ideas or beliefs underlyimg actions of a class or group of class or group of people. The paradigmatic (synchronic) and the syntagmatic (diachronic) analyses, rhetorical tropes, and other cultural and social codes and signs (which are aspects of semiotics), often intermingle for an accurate analysis and interpretation to be arrived at. The synchronic analysis involves a search for the hidden pattern of oppositions that are buried in the films that generate meaning. The diachronic analysis is a syntagm. In this type of analysis, a text is examined as a sequence of events that form the narratives of the film. Filmmakers combine these levels of codes with other linguistic, non-linguistic and rhetorical tropes to achieve their motif in the narration. In narratological terms, the synchronic structure of film is otherwise referred to as the fabula and the diachronic structure is known as the sjuzhet. The films chosen for this study will be analysed using the above listed variables, which are incorporated in a semiotic analysis.

However, existing critiques on these films have not been read from the purview of archetypal conventions and how they define the contemporary society. The few accessible critiques on The Figurine is Afolayan’s (2015) Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on The Figurine. Most of the essays in this book adopt extraneous standards to appraise the themes inherent in the film. The implication of analysing The Figurine using a foreign model is that it may reduce the export of the Yoruba narratological systems and codes which Afolayan deploys in telling his stories but because he has carved a niche for himself on the international film scene. For example, Afolayan’s October 1 and The Figurine deploy nuanced forms of barding and, or diachronic communication systems which absolutely differs from colloquial usage. Thus, the export of Yoruba representational art in films cannot be said to have been given credible treatment the same way the English narrative style and myth-archetypes have found expressions in Gibson’s films.

Several orientations exist on the application of semiotics in film or literary studies. Due to the similarities in the codes and signs employed by the filmmakers in their representations of myth-archetypal elements, this study appraises the myth-archetypes in the selected films. The conception of semiotics from this dimension conveys the cultural modes that drive the diegesis of the films. The application of this dimension to the films will change the interpretations and constructions of meanings in the film. It will inevitably change some established understandings and meanings of such myths. To this end, the several schools of thought that have theorised on film analysis have a point of convergence; the construction of meanings which can be taken as semiotics. This is because the semiotic theory specifically constructs and analyses man’s communicative behaviour. In this case, our task mainly is the interrogation, identification and description of signs and sign-systems for the purpose of signification. This is supported by Lemke’s (2004:177) argument that

Semiotics suggests that each intelligence is mediated by an analytically distinct semiotic resource system, such as language, visual depiction, or mathematical symbolics, and that when we combine these resources their meaning-making potentials quite literally multiply one another, making possible distinct kinds of meaning that cannot be made in each one separately.

Lemke’s assertion is imperative in a semiotic analysis of film of this kind in the sense that it combines all the employed semiotic resources for signification. This study uses the parameters that guide a semiotic analysis of film such as synchronic and diachronic examination, denotation and connotation, metonymy, metaphor, and irony to interrogate how meanings are produced in the selected films. By so doing, the latent meanings that enhance the significance of the films from a socio-cultural context and sub-contexts will be uncovered. Filmmakers employ these resources in creating ethno-religious and socio-culturally situated activities where the audience also observe the presence of the social world, either because it is mentioned, or because various resources have been symbolically used in the process of making sense of the events represented. Applying these elements of narrative accelerates the psychological reorientation of the audience specifically with regard to the construction of their social reality.

Statement of Research Problem

Archetypal representations exist in abundance in all human societies. In film studies generally, a lot of researches have been carried out using the semiotic perspective to analyse these representations. In Nigeria, such existing works have focused largely on the general identification and analysis of films using the theory of semiotics. A number of other works have only focused on general archetypal representations in films. Much has not been done on the semiotic analysis of archetypal representations in films. Paying attention to archetypal representations will enable us to compare motifs in the selected films of the filmmakers. This study intends to fill this gap.

Objectives of the Study

The specific objectives of the study are to

(a)   identify the archetypal representations in the selected films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson;

(b)   analyse the varieties of codes and signs used to project the archetypal motifs in the narratives;

(c)   examine the relevance of the codes and signs in locating the films within archetypal and semiotics criticism; and

(d) juxtapose the codes and  signs used by the filmmakers in communicating their messages.

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