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This article is a critical film analysis of Roland Barthes's Romans in Films. The paper focuses on three symptoms in particular: fringes, sweat, and vague. In the Roman in Film, Roland Barthes explores the idea of symbolism in the clothing and behavior of the characters in order to show audiences the underlying significance of events below the surface. As a result, he employs events from Julius Caesar in the film to highlight his views on the use of symbolism through the use of images such as fringes and sweating. In the Roman in Film, Barthes focused on the trends of cinema during his time, falling back on symbols that are not adequately artificial or grounded in reality. In particular, Roland demonstrates the way in which Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar highlights roman fringe haircuts in order to cast the non-roman actors in a compelling perspective. Generally, viewers are assured of that Roman is a Roman as long as he has fringe on the head. Furthermore, in the text, he reports that “some are curly, some straggly, some tufted, some oily, all have them well combed, and the bald are not admitted, although there are plenty to be found in Roman history,” (Barthes 26).
This makes the Roman in Film, a hair film especially about fringes. Accordingly, the main character in this film is not the director but rather the director. For that reason, hair informs viewers regarding the governing standards of verisimilitude, an aspect that makes Hollywood films real. Again, Hollywood films are the foundation that gives bourgeois folklores, which emerges as antithesis of aesthetic concepts of Barthes including the Chinese algebra and reality of Stanislavsky theatre (Watts 13).
According to Barthes, these Romans are really because they have fringes, which are not only old but also represent order and morality that were associated with dignified Romans during that period. Furthermore, hair on the forehead among these men, and compactness demonstrated a particular combination of conquest and virtue. The hair also categorizes these men as noble peoples. However, different hairstyle may change the standpoint and the attitude of an individual and what is happening to them. However, because of cultural diversity it is not appropriate to use dressing code to identify different ethnicities. Moreover, how Barthes uses haircut is rather excessive (Elliot, 75).
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In The Roman in Film, Calpurnia and Portia woke up and found that their hair was uncombed. Barthes considers this as a sign of disorder and not ready to what was looming and vulnerability. In any case, these depictions are not effective and excessive, they suggest an aspect that is challenging to acknowledge. Additionally, under certain cases they symbols are weak since many individuals are not in a position to understand the symbolism related to simple things like hair as do not find them importance hence overlook them (Barthes, 26).
While hair is a simple sign that presents viewers of what is happening, but what the actors are undergoing. Furthermore, Barthes concentrates on an element of sweat. He states that conspirators, laborers and soldiers are covered in sweat since they are each debating internally, which considerably torments the audiences’ virtue (Barthes, 27).
Sweat has the capacity to depict panic among individuals. The righteous men in the Roman in Film - Brutus, Cassius and Casca sweat continuously since they are guilty for killing Caesar. But Caesar does not sweat as “the object of the crime remains dry since he does not know, he does not think” (Barthes 28).
In this film, Caesar is the only one who is not guilty from the start as hence, he fails to take a major role. While Barthes attempts to demonstrate that at times films can be ambiguous, he does present a detailed analysis of what they actually symbolize. Barthes also alleges that signs are portrayed in two ways. For instance, a sign denotes a hidden aspect throughout and only emerges in a certain section of the film and the other reoccurs throughout. By this, he implies that signs are not inevitably noticeable, but they call for a comprehensive understanding and thought of the whole picture to get the entire context of the film. Some of the signs in Roman in Film are represented in Julius Caesar by Joseph Mankiewicz that are somewhat fascinating. In particular, all male actors in Roman in Film have fringes to show the Roman-ness.Based on the repetitive symbol that sweat profusely as a result of violence, Barthes use sarcastic terms to bring to light the silliness, deceitfulness and representation of ancient relics (Barthes, 8).
In any case using the symbols is essential when it comes to integrating deception about Rome, which muddies audience views regarding the civilization till they are left with aesthetic similarities. This, significantly, devalues the Roman in Film since it adds nothing to the knowledge base. This means, the Roman in the film does not bring into perspective new facts or even aspects embedded in time-tested reality (Barthes, 10).
Barthes presents an empty representation that fabricates in a discordant between explicit tawdriness and candid endeavor of precision that is based on contemporary principles merely aids to remove from the cinema.Obviously, Barthes should not restrict his assumptions to Hollywood to portray Rome, since there are a number of ethnic groups as well as civilizations that film has half-heartedly represented in the name of art. By and large, Barthes attempts to show that. Moreover, Barthes uses language in an ambiguous manner while failing to demonstrate deeper of meaning of events beyond the surface (Barthes, 28).
However, Saussure stated that there is nothing comparable to study of language to demonstrate the issue of seminology (Saussure 117).
Semiotics largely depends on concepts of language, partly due to the effect of Saussure and language is embedded compared to investigating signs. On the other hand, structuralists like Barthes and Levi-Strauss integrated language as a platform for exploring numerous social phenomena. Bathes alleges that signs should reveal a hidden facet and a period of time. However, critics show that signs are like semiotics discovered the governing policies or main constraints that influence any give social practices that it signifies. According to Saussure language is the major structures of signs (Saussure 121).
Without a doubt, language is the consistently considered as a powerful structure for communication. Language is distinctive communication structure for generating semantic universality, with ability to put across information concerning events, places, real or imaginary. Indeed, language is important since it interprets other structures. Nevertheless, language cannot other than signify and exists through meaning (Levi-Strauss, 48).
Semiotic also concentrates on a certain signifier instead of workable option was applied in a given context. Saussure indicated that semiotic is associated with the characteristic commonly known as associative correlations or paradigmatic connections, that is, relations happening without a particular optional text signifier of a similar paradigm (Saussure, 128).
Nonetheless, signs derive their depictions from the linguistic structure of which they are not.Barthes uses fringes to represent Roman-ness of the characters and dignity of Romans during his time. However, Saussure (115) alleges that in language system there are two forms of absence; signs that goes with no saying; and conspicuous based on the absence. Signs with no saying represent what is obvious, which is important when it comes to positioning a text to readers while conspicuous absence reflects traditional expectation. This means no less to cultural values. Therefore, Roman with fringes is not only about dignity but also symbolizes little apart from complying with Roman practices (Barthes, 21).
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These analyses are useful in unearthing the interest they serve, as a result, the analyses greatly relies on the overlooked aspects. For that reason, paradigmatic assessment entails the comparison and contrast of signifiers evident in a text or a film. It can also be used at any given level of semiotic-based on certain images, symbols, words of sounds. Therefore, the use of sweat, fringes was determined by several factors including genre, repertoire, style and connotation. Hence analyzing them presents a description of particular elements in Roman in Film.Although fringes have been used in the movie to represent Roman actors per se, it may be perplexing connotation to anyone that is not familiar with Roman. However, Barthes looks somewhat irritated with these fringes in the movie; this is largely motivated by the absurdity of using physical attributes to demonstrate what the intangible representation of people in a certain era. While the director was determined to create the movie a memorable experience, by showcasing the physical attributes of Roman, this according to Barthes is the height of ambiguity. To Barthes, being a Roman is beyond the observable. Nonetheless, sweating is a physical attribute that relates to emotions or feelings, however, unlike in a novel, it becomes a complex affair to try and capture mental conflict in movies (Ribiere, 57).
As such, sweat in this respect is tenacity. Barthes refrains from making signs look visible and intellectually decipherable. This technique helps Barthes preserve the aesthetic sense of the movie. Nevertheless, the audience does not necessarily contemplate deep and wide about what the movie is trying to put across whether it is the spirit of Roman or the magnificence of scenes. Again, Barthes starts off putting his ideas on paper without having to elucidate the rationale behind his arguments; however, this becomes explicit towards the end (Lu, 91).
While he sets out well by explaining the underlying meaning of fringes and hair styles, and what the movie represents, he also contradicts himself particularly when he explains how the different elements of the film involving the fringe are unreliable. The ambiguity that underlies Romans in Films is highly likely to throw the audience into an array of confusion unless it is a widely read audience. The author’s approach in writing is quite condensed and it gets even confusing when he tries to justify his arguments by making extreme comparisons. Robust, enduring, and raring for battle: Their height rekindles the Anglo-Saxon virility. This is the sign molded in the Viking’s stir. While it represents the internal warrior a lot of men wish to rear within themselves, it cannot express deep and wide, who they are. Just as the phrase Viking does not represent in entirety the whole Scandinavian civilization, but to a handful of bandits and attackers who stemmed from a broader, far more flamboyant people than the common movie goer would care to believe.Nonetheless, to start deconstructing this sign, one has to put into consideration the symbolic headdress, with animal horns. They epitomize internal cruelty, which exemplifies the energy that drives Scandinavian animals let loose in battle. On the contrary, there is lacking historical evidence to demonstrate that such helmets were ever used in battle. Overbearing evidence shows just how this was a Germanic invention embraced in performances, to reinforce, German nationalism (Lupack, 46).
Moreover, not all were hooligans and criminals. Conversely, the majority were expert seamen and traders that could get to distant places without the help of modern compass. Just like Mankiewicz’s Romans, how the Vikings are represented at the present is essentially a fusion between the realities of what transpired in those days, the cultural innovation that would come later, only to seed deceptions into the public spectacle as though they were truths. Regardless of whether they help create a fraudulent image of the way things were previously, they still speak to us on a deep, instinctive level. This is probably why mythologies survive amidst truth.
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Barthes, Roland, and Lionel Duisit. "An introduction to the structural analysis of narrative." New literary history 6.2 (2008): 237-272.
Barthes, Roland. Elements of semiology. Macmillan, 1977.
Barthes, Roland. Elements of Semiology: Transl. from the French by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. Cape, 1967.
De Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course in general linguistics, trans." Wade Baskin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959) 117 (1983).
Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary social theory: An introduction. Routledge, 2014.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. "The Raw and the Cooked. 1964." Trans. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman. London: Johnathan Cape (1970).
Lu, J. My Interpertation of The Romans In Film by Roland Barthes. 2010
LUPACK, ALAN. "Valiant and Villainous Vikings." The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages (2011): 46.
Ribiere, M. Roland Barthes: The Early Years: Writing Degree Zero. 2012.
Watts, Philip. "Roland Barthes's cold-war cinema." SubStance 34.3 (2005): 17-32.
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