Theory

Films are analysable on the basis of their inherent form and structure. However, this structure is not immediately visible in itself. Instead, certain aspects of it become visible from within a certain theoretical perspective (and other aspects become visible from other theoretical perspectives). Moreover, theoretical perspectives may overlap in incommensurate ways. In general, the aim of theory is to make visible the invisible structure that orders and confers intelligibility upon films. The invisible structure is unknown and cannot, therefore, be discovered by means of inductive procedures such as taxonomies. At the same time, the structure is not unknowable, for it can be represented as a system of theoretical hypotheses, concepts, or propositions, which only have a tentative or speculative status. Theories therefore offer explanatory depth rather than mere empirical generalizations. A particular theory enables the analyst to identify specific aspects of a film's structure, and to look at and listen to the film from the perspective of its own values. There is no value-free perspective from which we can directly 'see' and 'hear' a film; we can only 'look at' and 'listen to' a film with a particular set of values. The aim of theory is to construct different conceptual perspectives on a film, each informed by a specific set of values. A biased or value-laden theory not only is inescapable, but is also the condition of knowledge, and of applying methods that guide analysis. Reflective deliberation on the values inherent in a theory and its methods of analysis is the starting point for choosing a theory and applying its methods in an appropriate way.

The values inherent in all film theories have directed theorists' attention to particular aspects of film's general nature or 'essential' properties. For example:

• Classical film theorists tried to define film as an art by focusing on its 'essence', which they located either in cinema's photographic recording capacity (e.g. André Bazin), or its unique formal techniques that offer a new way of seeing (e.g. Rudolf Arnheim).

• Film semioticians attempted to define film's specificity in terms of a specific combination of codes.

• Cognitive and psychoanalytic film theorists focus on the specific nature of the interface between film and spectator: either the way a film addresses unconscious desires and fantasies, or the knowledge and competence spectators employ to comprehend films.

Each theory formulates hypotheses about the general nature of film, leading to the formation of declarative knowledge - in the terminology of the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, 'knowing-that' (Ryle 1949: 28-32). Theory's system of interrelated, tentative hypotheses need to be justified - that is, grounded and tested. In principle, this is achieved by means of analysis guided by methods extracted from theories.

1.3.2. Methods

Every discipline establishes standards of professional competence - or, negatively, pressure to conform to professional standards. To gain competence in film studies involves, to a significant extent, the mastery of methods, since the methods of film studies constitute the 'acceptable' (the profession's preferred) ways of carrying out film analysis. The term 'method' is used here simply to refer to procedural knowledge, rather than declarative knowledge. In Ryle's terminology, it is 'knowing-how': using a set of skills or procedures to achieve a goal (Ryle 1949: 28-32; 40-41). Procedural knowledge, or method, provides tools for the analysis of films. Methods turn film analysis into an explicit, systematic, and repeatable discipline based on reliable procedures; it avoids relying on intuition, introspection, and hidden assumptions. Of course, this can be perceived as a hindrance rather than a benefit, stifling creative thinking and turning students into drones all producing the same routine analyses of films. Abraham Kaplan calls this 'trained incapacity' - 'the more we know how to do something, the harder it is to learn to do it differently' (Kaplan 1964: 29). However, we can overcome this 'incapacity' by learning several incompatible methods, rather than dogmatically adhering to one or two. Film analysts therefore have three choices:

• to base their analyses on unqualified assertions - instantaneous judgments and spontaneous opinions of a film;

• to adhere dogmatically to one theory and its method of analysis, resulting in 'trained incapacity';

• or to learn several theories, so that they can apply specific theories in appropriate contexts, rather than use the same theory in all contexts.

In Studying Contemporary American Film we adopt the third option.

Our approach to teaching several theories and methods of analysis is to make explicit the procedures in conducting any analysis. To achieve this aim we shall borrow from ancient rhetoric, particularly Aristotle's The Art of Rhetoric. For Aristotle, rhetoric is a general activity that produces knowledge. It is not tied to a particular subject matter, nor does it simply consist of the study and use of artificial, inessential ornaments of discourse that function to persuade listeners or readers of an argument that is not in their best interest. As a discipline that produces knowledge, rhetoric identifies the discursive aspect of any subject matter, the stages involved in an entire course of reasoning, from start to finish. By promoting rhetoric to the level of knowledge, Aristotle equated it with the study of grammar and logic.

In The Art of Rhetoric Aristotle divided up rhetoric, now understood as a general discipline, into the stages in which arguments are produced, arranged, and expressed in discourse - namely, invention, composition, and style. Rhetoricians who came after Aristotle added two minor stages, resulting in the following five areas of rhetoric:

• inventio (invention, or discovery)

• dispositio (disposition, composition, or arrangement)

• elocutio (elocution, or style)

• actio (verbal delivery, oration)

• memoria (committing to memory)

In Making Meaning Bordwell (1989) also uses the first three areas of ancient rhetoric to identify the conventions and routines of film analysis and interpretation. The following discussion is indebted to Bordwell's book, as well as to Corbett and Connors' Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (1999), which discusses inventio, dispositio, and elocutio in great detail.

Inventio Writers are faced at the starting point of each assignment with a blank piece of paper, or an empty computer screen with a flashing cursor waiting for input. Such writers are not alone. In ancient Greece the speakers at the popular assemblies were required to speak on a variety of subjects. Rather than wait for inspiration, they devised a procedure by which to generate - or invent - arguments. Inventio is the first stage of discourse on any subject matter. It answers the question: How are arguments invented? Corbett and Connors (1999: 17) write that invention is 'a system or method for finding arguments', which guides the speaker or writer on 'how to "discover" something to say on some given subject' (p. 19). The importance of inventio is reflected in the fact that most of Aristotle's The Art of Rhetoric (as well as his book The Topics) is devoted to argument invention.

For Aristotle, one of the primary ways to invent an argument is by means of 'the topics'. The topics name a grid for generating arguments, a system that classical rhetoricians devised to help find something to say. Topics enable the writer or speaker to conduct a logical analysis of the subject under discussion. Common topics for conducting logical analysis of any subject matter include: 'definition', 'comparison', 'relationship', 'circumstance', and 'testimony', which add up to a pattern for organizing thoughts that enables the speaker or writer to define the essence of a subject, to differentiate between subjects, or find similarities, establish relationships, and so on.

Definition involves two stages: putting the subject matter to be defined into a general class, and then indicating the specific differences that distinguish this subject from other subjects in the same class. For example, 'man' is defined as a 'rational animal', in which 'animal' designates the general class and 'rational' the specific difference between man and other subjects in the same general class of 'animal'. Similarly, any subject matter can be defined in this way. We have already mentioned how classical film theorists attempted to define film as an art by focusing on what they thought is its essence - indeed, Bazin's famous collection of essays is called What is Cinema? which is a question seeking a definition. The general class in the classical film theorists' definitions of film is 'art', and the specific difference is the essence of film that distinguishes film from the other arts (this is the disputed part of the definition - namely, 'photographic recording capacity' for Bazin, 'form' for Arnheim). Furthermore, the topic of definition can be used to criticize the arguments of others, particularly arguments that contain vague definitions, or that use the same term with different meanings. Definitions can be controversial and can constitute the main part of an essay. Classical film theorists agreed that film should be defined as an art. But such a definition is open to dispute and clarification. The meaning of'film' is delimited by being put into the general class of'art' (does this definition include documentaries, medical films, and so on?). Furthermore, the classical film theorists disputed amongst themselves about film's specific difference from other arts. This long-running dispute within classical film theory is basically a dispute over definition. Film semioticians attempted to surmount the classical film theorists' difficulties over definition by defining the specific difference of film, from the general class 'art', in terms of codes. Definition is therefore one fundamental way in which arguments are invented. However, students should go beyond the superficial activity of simply quoting a definition from a dictionary (or simply indicating the etymology of a word) without carefully integrating that definition into the overall argument of an essay. Isolated definitions serve no purpose; when used properly, however, they can strengthen and clarify an argument.

Another way to invent an argument is to compare the subject matter with another subject. Comparison involves bringing two or more subjects together and then looking for similarities and differences, and ranking these similarities and differences in terms of degree (e.g., 'more or less', 'better or worse'), all of which enable the writer to invent arguments about his or her subject matter. The debate focusing on the relation between classical and post-classical Hollywood films is conducted using the topic of comparison. One can argue that there are essential similarities between classical and post-classical Hollywood films, and only superficial differences, or that the differences outweigh the similarities (see Chapter 2). The values embedded in the auteur approach to film use the topic of comparison to focus the auteur critic's attention to the similarities across a director's films. Occasionally the auteur critic will also point out the differences in a director's films, and then use the sub-topic of degree to distinguish the better films from the worst ones. Of course, such judgements are subjective, and require additional justification.

We can also use the topic of comparison to identify the similarities and differences between various film theories, and the sub-topic of degree to determine which is better or worse for our purposes. For example, if we focus on our experience of a film, our analysis is 'subject-focused' - that is, focused on what happens 'in here' (in us, the subject). But if we focus on the film itself beyond our experience of it, then our analysis is 'object-focused' - that is, focused on what happens 'out there'. The introduction of structuralism to film studies led to an object-focused approach to film, which regarded the film as a text to be examined and analysed above and beyond any individual's experience of it. And the structuralists used the topic of comparison to emphasize the fundamental differences between their object-focused approach and earlier subject-focused approaches to film to argue that their own approach is better than earlier approaches. Post-structural and cognitive theories combine subject and object-focused studies by concentrating on inter-subjective, unconscious (or subconscious in the case of cognitive film theory) responses to films. Whether cognitive or psychoanalytic, these film analysts begin from the spectator's experience of the film, but then rapidly go beyond the boundaries of experience towards abstract thinking and speculation (indicating one way in which theory relates to analysis).1

Although there are several sub-topics to the topic of'relationship', we shall consider only one, cause and effect. One can generate an argument by starting with a cause and indicating what effects it will have, or begin with effects and trace their cause(s). Film analysts frequently adopt the latter approach, which involves explaining the effects of a film in terms of a number of probable causes. For example, why and how does Lost Highway (1997) disorient spectators? One answer is because of its unusual narrative structure, which we analyse in Chapter 6. How does Jurassic Park (1993) create the credible effect of dinosaurs interacting with a photographic background? Through the digital simulation of photographic effects, as we argue in Chapter 7.

The topic of circumstance includes the sub-topics 'the possible and the impossible' and 'past facts and future facts'. At times the writer needs to convince the reader that the subject matter under discussion is possible and that other subjects are impossible, or that some events have taken place and others will take place. The subject-focused approach to film analysis combines both these sub-topics of circumstance. We invent arguments in a subject-focused approach by writing as a hypothetical spectator. It is as if the analyst is writing a commentary on the thoughts and impressions of an ideal spectator. In effect, the analyst is writing about what he or she experienced when watching the film (past facts), and then generalizes from those impressions, and assumes that everyone who sees the film in the future will react to and understand the film in the same way. In addition, the analyst who sets up a hypothetical spectator is writing about possible reactions to the film - predicting that past and future spectators have reacted or will probably react in the same way as the hypothetical or ideal spectator. An influential incarnation of the ideal spectator appears in feminist film theory, particularly its notion that narrative films construct a masculine 'subject position' (one based on voyeurism and fetishism) that all spectators adopt when watching narrative films. In recent times, however, the hypothetical spectator has been severely criticized. First, by reception studies, which analyses a broad range of possible reactions to a film. It presents more varied accounts of the way present and future spectators react to films, and the way past spectators reacted to films (historical reception studies; see Staiger 1992). Similarly, in his review of essays written on Psycho, Leland Poague writes:

The problems with [standard readings of] Psycho are many - chief among them the contention that audience response to Psycho is so completely under Hitchcock's control that an idealized viewer is in fact the film's 'central character.' The methodological problem is obvious. Upon what grounds can one claim to know how all members of a given audience, much less all members of all possible audiences, will respond to a particular film?

Whereas the previous topics involve logical analysis of the subject matter under discussion, the topic of testimony invents arguments by referring to external sources, particularly authority (informed opinion) and examples. It has become commonplace in film studies to generate an argument by appealing to authorities - either to the personnel involved in the making of the film (director, cinematographer, producer, etc.), to other film scholars, or, more typically, to theories imported from outside film studies (feminism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, etc.). Another way to generate an argument is to refer to the film - to cite examples. (Here we are deviating from the rhetorical understanding of 'example' - which is close to 'precedent' in the judicial meaning of the term2 - and instead are using the term in the sense of'citation', which is also a form of testimony.) When conducting an analysis, we need to consider carefully the examples we use from the film, how we use them, and how many times we use examples. Of course, it is impossible and undesirable to cite every shot, but we need to consider why one shot (or scene) has been selected over another, since our choice needs to be justified. In general, although examples increase the probability of theoretical arguments, they do not prove or disprove them. They have persuasive value but do not offer logical proof.

Arguments can be invented in other ways as well, such as by formulating a question that addresses a problem. One of the main justifications for writing about a film is not 'I like this film', but that the film genuinely adds something new to the cinema, something that has not been done before. The problem to be addressed here is general - a lack of knowledge. The digital effects in Jurassic Park - particularly their conformity to codes of photo-realism - is an exemplary instance (discussed in Chapter 7). Or the film may raise general problems that need to be addressed: for example, how are women represented? How is the narrative structured? Many of these questions arise from theoretical perspectives (e.g. feminism, narrative theory), which then guide the analysis.

Finally, arguments can also be invented by pointing out the limitations of previous researchers, and by making finer distinctions than they do. This is usually carried out in a literature review, which surveys recent research on the subject matter under discussion. By reading through and summarizing this literature, the researcher is placing his or her study in a larger context. A literature review not only frames one's research but justifies it as well, by highlighting the limitations in the research of others.

'Definition', 'comparison', 'relationship', 'circumstance', and 'testimony', together with their sub-topics, constitute the common topics, which can be applied to any subject matter in order to invent an argument. Specific subjects, including film theory and film analysis, have their own special topics. In Making Meaning Bordwell (1989: 211) lists a number of the special topics that film analysts use to discuss films, including: 'a critically significant film is ambiguous, or polysemous, or dialogical'; 'the film's style is so exaggerated that it must be ironic or parodic'; 'putting characters in the same frame unites them; cutting stresses opposition' (this is a formulation of the 'same-frame heuristic', which we apply in some detail to The English Patient in Chapter 3).

Dispositio The second stage in the formulation of arguments is called disposition, which refers to the arrangement of an argument. Corbett and Connors write that disposition is 'concerned with the effective and orderly arrangement of the parts of a written or spoken discourse. Once the ideas or arguments are discovered there remains the problem of selecting, marshalling, and organizing them with a view to effecting the end of the discourse' (1999: 20). After inventing arguments, we need to decide how they are going to be arranged. Do we simply put them down on paper in any order? If not, how do we decide to organize our argument? The question is one of disposition, or arrangement. In The Art of Rhetoric Aristotle divides disposition into four stages: introduction, presentation, proof, and epilogue. He compares the introduction to a musical prelude, for both should establish the keynote of what is to follow. The presentation consists of a recounting of the facts and events (for film analysts, the presentation of the analysis). The proof consists of the writer establishing his or her case and refuting that of others (a presentation of the results of the analysis and the inadequacies of the analyses of others). Finally, the epilogue should aim not only to summarize the research but also to dispose the audience favourably towards the speaker and to amplify one's own arguments.

In terms of presentation, some film analysts simply follow the unfolding film - in other words, they retell the story as it unfolds. The disposition of the essay is therefore governed by the disposition of the film. This is popular with subject-focused criticism, because the subject (the spectator) experiences the film in a linear manner (at least at the cinema). Other critics may focus on one scene only, or pick a series of scenes they find fundamental to the film. Such critics go beyond subject-focused criticism and treat the film as an object or text. It may be relevant to present two or more readings of the same film. For example, a contemporary film can first be read as a classical narrative film (in which the values embedded in the theoretical perspective focus the analyst's attention on moments where the film confirms to classical narrative), and then reread as a post-classical film. All these decisions are informed by theoretical concepts.

Elocutio The third stage in the formulation of arguments, and usually the last one discussed in any depth, is style. For classical rhetoricians, style is not a mere ornament, but is an integral part of discourse. Corbett and Connors write that 'all rhetorical considerations of style involved some discussion of choice of words, usually under such heads as correctness, purity (for instance, the choice of native words rather than foreign words), simplicity, clearness, appropriateness, ornateness' (1999: 21). Word choice, of course, involves enlarging one's vocabulary so that specific words can be used in appropriate contexts, which is preferable to using the same general words in all contexts. To enlarge one's vocabulary is not, therefore, simply a matter of acquiring the specialized vocabulary of a particular discipline. In addition to word choice, style covers word order, selection and use of different sentence structures to form a coherent paragraph, figures of speech, and the avoidance of stock phrases and clichés.

The language one uses aims to persuade the reader that one's arguments are correct and worth listening to. At one extreme of the stylistic scale are the figures of speech, which Corbett and Connors define as 'artful deviations from the ordinary mode of speaking or writing' (1999: 379). Such figures apply equally to deviation from the ordinary patterns or arrangement of words (schemes) and deviation from the ordinary and principal signification of a word (tropes) (Corbett and Connors 1999: 379). The overuse of figures of speech should be avoided in academic writing. At the other extreme of the stylistic scale are stock phrases and clichés. Film analysts need to be aware of clichéd phrases in their own writing as well as the writing of others. An analyst may write 'of course', suggesting that the point they are making is obvious, whereas in fact they are trying to make it obvious by using the phrase 'of course'. Or they may write 'it is necessary' - as in 'it is necessary to consider the relation between the opening and closing of a classical Hollywood film'. Is it necessary? Maybe it is; maybe the analyst is right after all. The point is that such stock phrases should not be accepted at face value. Linear, causal phrases also need to be examined carefully, particularly sentences beginning with words such as 'Therefore', which signify, using the topic of relationship, a causal conclusion to an argument. But is the link between argument and conclusion really causal?

Actio and Memoria Rarely mentioned are actio and memoria, for they involve the delivery of arguments rather than their formulation. Actio designates skills used in the pronunciation of a speech, as well as other forms of delivery such as visual aids, including hand gestures and body posture. Memoria is concerned with the skills in memorizing speeches. Both are neglected because the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century shifted emphasis to written discourse rather than speech. But in an academic setting, the verbal delivery of arguments, in the form of lectures, seminar presentations, and conference papers, is still important, and many professors and students alike would benefit greatly from lessons in delivery. These skills can also enable speakers to decide how to illustrate their talk (or books and articles), and to decide whether to read out a conference paper or offer a summary of its ideas.

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