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The Eloquent Screen

A Rhetoric of Film

2019
Author:

Gilberto Perez
Foreword by James Harvey

The Eloquent Screen

A lifetime of cinematic writing culminates in this breathtaking statement on film’s unique ability to move us

In The Eloquent Screen, influential film critic Gilberto Perez makes a capstone statement on the powerful ways in which film acts on our minds and senses. Drawing on a lifetime’s worth of viewing and re-viewing, Perez invokes a dizzying array of masters past and present—including Chaplin, Ford, Kiarostami, Eisenstein, Malick, Mizoguchi, Haneke, Hitchcock, and Godard—to explore the transaction between filmmaker and audience.

Rhetoric is persuasion, but there is a kind of rhetoric, Gilberto Perez suggests, that is ‘all the more persuasive for seeming not to persuade.’ Similarly there is, at least in this amazing book, a powerful kind of film theory that seems not to be a theory at all but only a closely studied collection of film moments. We learn a lot here about the rhetoric of film, how it works, and the many forms it takes. But the range of examples is so wide and so rich, and the discussion of them so detailed, that a second book begins to hover discreetly behind the first: an introduction to the whole art of film itself. It’s a piece of amazing good fortune to have both works together.

Michael Wood, film critic and author of Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Cinema is commonly hailed as “the universal language,” but how does it communicate so effortlessly across cultural and linguistic borders? In The Eloquent Screen, influential film critic Gilberto Perez makes a capstone statement on the powerful ways in which film acts on our minds and senses.



Drawing on a lifetime’s worth of viewing and re-viewing, Perez invokes a dizzying array of masters past and present—including Chaplin, Ford, Kiarostami, Eisenstein, Malick, Mizoguchi, Haneke, Hitchcock, and Godard—to explore the transaction between filmmaker and audience. He begins by explaining how film fits into the rhetorical tradition of persuasion and argumentation. Next, Perez explores how film embodies the central tropes of rhetoric—metaphor, metonymy, allegory, and synecdoche—and concludes with a thrilling account of cinema’s spectacular capacity to create relationships of identification with its audiences.



Although there have been several attempts to develop a poetics of film, there has been no sustained attempt to set forth a rhetoric of film—one that bridges aesthetics and audience. Grasping that challenge, The Eloquent Screen shows how cinema, as the consummate contemporary art form, establishes a thoroughly modern rhetoric in which different points of view are brought into clear focus.
The Eloquent Screen

Gilberto Perez (1943–2015) held the Noble Chair in Art and Cultural History at Sarah Lawrence College and was author of The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium. He was film critic for The Yale Review and his essays on film have been published in The Nation, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books.

James Harvey is a film critic, essayist, playwright, and author of numerous books on film, including Watching Them Be: Star Presence on the Screen from Garbo to Balthazar

The Eloquent Screen

Rhetoric is persuasion, but there is a kind of rhetoric, Gilberto Perez suggests, that is ‘all the more persuasive for seeming not to persuade.’ Similarly there is, at least in this amazing book, a powerful kind of film theory that seems not to be a theory at all but only a closely studied collection of film moments. We learn a lot here about the rhetoric of film, how it works, and the many forms it takes. But the range of examples is so wide and so rich, and the discussion of them so detailed, that a second book begins to hover discreetly behind the first: an introduction to the whole art of film itself. It’s a piece of amazing good fortune to have both works together.

Michael Wood, film critic and author of Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much

How fortunate that Gilberto Perez finished this book before his untimely death. His agility in combining criticism and theory—interrogating the rhetoric of films as disparate as Stella Dallas, Shoah, Sherlock Jr., Toni, Caché, The Deer Hunter, Nazarin, and Greed—testifies to his precision. And his graceful prose has the unfashionably literary virtue of honoring his discoveries.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic and author of Cinematic Encounters

The Eloquent Screen

Contents


Publisher’s Note


Foreword


James Harvey


Preface


Introduction: John Ford’s Rhetoric


Judge Priest’s Rhetoric


Plato and Cicero


Rhetoric and Comedy


Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit


Identification


Comedy and Hierarchy


Larger than Life


The River and the Dance


Politics and Principle


Myth and Truth


Rhetoric of Genre


House of Miscegenation


Road to the Promised Land


I. Cinematic Tropes


Metonymy


Tropes and Figures


Metaphor


The Unraveled Underwear


The Broken Necklace


Metaphor and Metonymy


Synecdoche


The Hands, the Bootee, the Sandals


Faces


The Stolen Necklace


Rosebud


Havana Stories


The Dancing Women


The Guillotine


Freedom and Predestination


The Puncture and the Veil


The Train Whistles and the Hunk of Blue


Documentary, Repetition, Representation


The Village Church


The Revolutionary Battleship


Allegory and Extended Synecdoche


The Monster and the City


Steamboat Willie


Figura Futurorum


The Marriage of East and West


The Walls of Jericho


Technique as Metaphor


The Road of Life


The Striped Box


Surprise


The Slashed Eye and the Primal Scene


The Priest and the Pineapple


Irony and Realism


The Bridge and the Ballad


Dramatic Irony


The Hurdanos and Us


Ironic Self-Effacement


Open Synecdoche and the Reality Effect


Hometown and War


God Bless America


The High of War


Reflexivity and Comedy


Modernist Parody


Folk Tale and Revolution


Each Scene for Itself


Black Sheep


Flowers


II. Melodrama and Film Technique


Between Tragedy and Comedy


From Theater to Film


Thinking and Feeling


The Close-up as Aria


Melodramatic Argumentation


Novelistic Characterization


The Reverse Angle


McTeague and Greed


Photographer


Music into Drama


Melodrama of the Spirited Woman


The Ambiguity of Stella Dallas


Moving with Characters


Not Reconciled


In the Mood for Love


Tragic Narration


The Personified Camera


Jump Cuts


Crosscutting


Split Space, Unbroken Time


Displeasure


The Devil’s Point of View


Allegorical Dimensions


The Garden of Eden


Melodrama and Comedy


Coda. Of Identification  


Index