Everyday Media

An everyday blog about media by everyday blogger Louise Alice Wilson.

Tag: Rhetorical Form

Fully InFORMed

Let’s talk about sex baby documentary.

We all know what Documentaries are right?  We might not have a pre-prepared google definition, but we could probably list off a bunch of things that we associate with documentaries. Such as: truthful, real-life, handheld, based on, in camera zoom, science, etc, etc.

The curious thing about documentary though, is that the more you learn about documentary films, the more your realise that what you understand to be it’s defining aspects, aren’t necessarily the case. For example, documentaries aren’t necessarily any more ‘truthful’ than standard films and the pure process of filming something, creates a filtered version of the ‘real world’ (if there is such a thing).

But rather than waste 3000 words BLOWING YOUR MIND, lets just bring it back to grad school (shh, I’m pretending to be American) and talk about types of form in documentary film.


Types of Form in Documentary Films

Categorical Form: These are documentaries that focus on a specific category of things (often loosely based) such as ‘butterflies’, in order to convey information about the world.

Common aspects of categorical form:

  • Begins by identifying it’s subject.
  • Simplistic patterns of development (small > large, local > national).
  • Overall thematic goal.

Due to the simplistic developmental patterns of categorical form, it is vital that filmmakers introduce variations to adjust viewer expectations. Or rather choose a category that is obscure or exciting in order to maintain viewer interest, e.g. Les Blank’s ‘Gap-Toothed Women‘.

Another brill way to engage viewers is to add abstract visual interest through the use of patterned filmic techniques by exploring the colour, shape and form of the thing being presented. Les Blank does this well through his various close-ups of gap teethed mouths, each with their own individualistic shape, colour, complexity, obscurity and feeling.

Categorical films can also explore other types of form, such as narrative form, or rhetorical form, adding in small scale narratives or including an ideological point. In Gap-Toothed Women Les Blank makes a statement about beauty, suggesting that society’s acceptance or disgust regarding aesthetics, merely reflects societal bias. Thus, you can imagine how combining multiple forms of documentary can create a much more engaging and well rounded documentary film.

Les Blank – Gap Toothed Women (1987)

Rhetorical Form: In these documentaries the filmmaker is attempting to present a cohesive argument. Attempts to persuade the audience to adopt an opinion about the subject matter and possibly convince them to act upon that opinion.

Common aspects of rhetorical form:

  • Addresses the viewer openly, trying to persuade them of their opinion.
  • The films subject is not an issue of scientific proof, but rather an opinion.
  • Since the conclusion can often not be proved beyond question, the filmmaker will often appeal to emotion, rather than present scientific evidence.
  • Often attempts to persuade the viewer to make a choice that will change their everyday life.

An example of rhetorical form in documentary is Lorentz’ The River, released in 1938. This documentary sought to convince its audience to support President Roosevelt’s policies regarding the Tennessee Valley Authority through it’s use of the rhetoric form. The TVA was a government owned corporation aiming to provide solutions to the country’s  flooding, electricity and agricultural problems  within Tennessee Valley during the Great Depression.

Pare Lorentz – The River (1938)


Catch you later,

Louise Alice Wilson



D. Bordwell & K. Thompson., (1993). Film Art: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.



I wonder if words that are only defined by their opposites feel sad about that.

Hi i’m non-Louise, I’m essentially the opposite of what Louise is.

But who are you?


Non-narrative is much the same. It’s often defined by it’s opposition to narrative, thus we should start with: What is narrative?

“Typically a narrative begins with one situation; a series of changes occur according to a pattern of cause and effect; finally, a new situation arises that brings about the end of the narrative” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2010)

Non-Narrative is often utilised in experimental films, these films often rejects mainstream conventions and standards, often choosing to explore the medium itself instead. Such films sometimes test the limits of the medium,  by manipulating audiovisual elements in obscure and interesting ways such as Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man.

Stan Brakhage – Dog Star Man (1962)


Experimental films often utilise two main types of form:

Abstract: Filmmakers often utilise visual attributes such as colour, shape, size and movement within the images, to convey a perspective on a certain topic. Such abstract form can be utilised in other types of films, but the abstract imagery often becomes subordinate to the rhetoric purposes.

An example of abstract form in film: Stan Brakhage – Mothlight (1963)


Associational: Within associational form, material is juxtaposed to suggest concepts, expressive qualities, similarities, contrasts and emotional associations between the various imagery. Associational films often group images together in layered sets, using repeated motifs and/or content that encourages constant interpretations, such as Koyaanisqatsi’s Life Out of Balance.

An example of association form in film: Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance (1982)

Catch you later,

Louise Alice Wilson



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