Tuesday 23 July 2019

Book Review: The Eloquent Screen by Gilberto Pérez (Non-Fiction/Cinema)

Title: The Eloquent Screen
Author: Gilberto Pérez
University of Minnesota Press

Publication Date: 23 July 2019
eBook - PDF
ARC via NetGalley


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 was an interesting book; however, I am not sure it will be for everyone. Pérez has many fascinating points to make. I enjoyed following his thought processes and reasoning. Nevertheless, I felt I was sometimes doing so at a disadvantage due to being unfamiliar with so many of the movies he referenced. A handful I knew and had seen, but most I either hadn't seen or had never even heard of. The Eloquent Screen really requires readers to be familiar with a number of old movies (1910s-1940s predominantly) and also to have a strong grasp of literary theory terminology. If you've read Aristotle, Plato, and Barthes, you'll get on far better with this work than someone who hasn't. I could follow the theory, and Pérez generally gave sufficient information on the film plots so I could understand his commentary without having seen the movies in question, but it did require a great deal of concentration, which made this book feel a little 'heavy going' at times. I am giving it four stars, because it was fascinating and I appreciated many of Pérez's thoughts. However, I would caution that this is a work better suited to film academics than the casual movie fan looking to read more about the cinema.

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