Sunday, June 3, 2007


the grainy real. the decaying imperfection of film. i hear Morrissey singing "and in the midst of life, we are in death, etcetera" (sweet & tender hooligan), Cocteau insisting that “a cinema studio is a factory for making ghosts. The cinema is a ghost language that has to be learned” (131). Bill Morrison's Decasia.

i'm thinking that film is important, and not simply because we can now "make films," because sure we can make films, but digital filmmaking is not filmmaking in a classical (which is not to say better except as a matter of taste) sense. i'm enjoying "Vanishing Point: The Last Days of Film," by Wheeler Winston Dixon because of the distinctions he articulates and because of how they seem to retrieve André Bazin . i'm finally reading Bazin's "What is Cinema?" (vol. 1) and identifying with his status as a cinephile who suffered constant illness and who saw photographic and a deeply personal realism as a cinematic ideal. Bazin is probably most well known for his work at Cahiers du Cinéma. Bazin was eventually critiqued by many of the filmmakers and theorists he had once promoted in the journal; he had not kept up with liberatory thinking regarding the political scope and purpose of filmic art (which doesn't seem right; i'm trying to understand this . . . ). in many ways, it seems to me (from my limited reading at this point) that Bazin resisted making of film a (particular kind of) rhetorical tool, despite his recognition that film could not, cannot transcend its rhetoricity. it seems so obvious. so why, then, do we (some of us in rhetoric and composition studies) now resist filmmaking as rhetoric, as a rhetorical and pedagogical tool for advancing work in the teaching of writing and rhetoric? or maybe the question is: why is it still so much about words? or maybe i want to ask why is it so much about words as the exclusive registers of meaning to which we must turn our attention in a classroom devoted to rhetoric and writing? to me, my questions sound clunky and obvious, even stuffy and not terrrifically postmodern. but it feels rhetorically sound (in a sad way), and i'm working with these concepts for the upcoming PSU conference.

i'm struggling to find a way of articulating these concepts in a short digital film; i wish i could film it on 35 mm film but don't have the tools. working with digital film does and will, however, enable me to say what i'm trying to say about filmmaking as rhetoric as art as writing as worthy of our efforts as teachers of rhetoric as a generative art. whereas we continue to talk about, explore, discuss, analyze, and generally use film in our writing and rhetoric courses, new digital technologies enable us also to make films, possibly the move we need to make in order best to think about film texts and their meaning, means of production, and cultural/political/rhetorical value. but see, the problem of what film is, what digital film is (if it does indeed register differently from filmic media) . . . maybe this is the problem. the problem of definition. can we move beyond it, beyond words in order to engage rhetorically?

as i write this, i see my moves shifting (a sensibility Bazin might appreciate; does our constant illness unite us? . . . i'm so corny). i see myself moving beyond the argument i've been making (at RSA 2006, WSRLC 2006, CCCC's 2007), which is that "we have the technology . . . ", but now I see that we have a technology, technologies that enable us to make digital filmtexts. we do not, however, have film technology, in a sense. film as a medium is escaping us, and maybe there is something here to help make distinctions in our work with film (digital or otherwise). maybe the distinctions are, for rhetoric, unecessary. regardless (or maybe because doing so is not crucial), i am moved to define my terms (in words because that's where such sententious discourse happens . . . so making the move will surface its superfluous nature). and i will do that. if i can. at PSU (because it's a conference, official, so i'll have to try, but it will be very hard to do). what i want to do is work rhetorically in film. but what i think i'm realizing is that if digital film is not exactly film, then words will be necessary. maybe we can't move beyond words. and that seems worth recognizing. and it seems sad.

Jean Cocteau, The Art of the Cinema, translated by Robin Buss (London: Marion Boyars, 2001), p. 131.

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