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Seeing voices: cinema, rhetoric, and subjectivity

  • Martin, James
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2018
Goldsmiths Research Online
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What can film teach us about political rhetoric? Although many different types of speech and argument are to be found in cinematic productions, films rarely present a single or clear-cut argumentative case like a formal oration. Instead, dialogue conforms to a wider narrative process, anchoring speech in cinema's visual form of storytelling. But if, as Richard Rushton claims, films can present narrative arguments that depict the tentative formation of subjectivity, we still need to account for the way audiences are lured into identifying with those narratives. In this paper I draw upon Lacanian film theory – specifically the notion of "the gaze" – to explain how film enacts a form of rhetorical "exigence" that disrupts the visual field to stimulate spectators' desire and invite resolution. Two recent films about Churchill are used to illustrate this point. Political rhetoric, I conclude, might therefore usefully be conceived as a visually oriented practice.

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