Rhetoric of Film


How movies move us, how they engage us and affect us, is the subject of this course. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, originally practiced in oratory, a speaker addressing an audience, but coming into play whenever someone aims to influence someone else by any suitable means. Anything done with the intent of eliciting a response qualifies as rhetoric. Even if not directly, like a lawyer pleading a case or a politician making a speech, a movie addresses us in the audience and seeks to make us feel and think in certain ways. The plot of a movie, the character portrayal, the acting and staging, the arrangements of camera and cutting—these are techniques for gaining our involvement, shaping our response, swaying our view of things. In this course, we will look into the forms of transaction with the audience and the various means of persuasion—emotional or logical, aesthetic or ethical, personal or social—employed in films from the silent era to the present day. We will examine how tropes and figures of expression have been put to use on the screen and consider both classical tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony) and specifically cinematic figures like the close-up, the reverse angle, cross-cutting, or camera movement. Identification, a more complex matter than often supposed, will be a central concern. Students should have some background in film or in related subjects such as literature, philosophy, or art history. Permission of the instructor is required.