Seminar in Communication: Orson Welles


COMM 400

Seminar in Communication: Orson Welles

Spring, 2017

TTH 3:30-4:50

Instructor: Dr. Daniel T. Durbin

Office: ASCJ G21A

email: ; Twitter: @scdurbin

Office Hours: TTH 1:00-2:00, 5:00-5:30; and by appointment

Introduction: Orson Welles was a major figure in motion pictures, radio, newspaper editorials, stage, television, stage magic, international politics, and pretty much anything else to which he put his hand. At the same time, he often saw himself (and others did, as well) as a failure. He often (legendarily) failed to finish work he started. But, even from these failures, he was able weave a myth of the artist too great for Hollywood. This class examines Welles’s work as both popular (film, radio, performance) rhetoric and as rhetorical myth-making. Part of the impetus for this class is a research project I’m carrying out about the last month Welles spent in the United States (in 1947) before expatriating to Europe. Another reason for this class is my longstanding desire to teach a class in the rhetoric of film. We will spend the semester building rhetorical critical research on various works by Welles. If you like the movies, this is the class for you!

Course Objectives: This course examines the rhetorical output of a significant figure in media and political rhetoric, Orson Welles. Students will study virtually all of Welles’s films, some of his more famous radio shows, and his own assessments of his work. We will also study various ways in which rhetorical critics critically assess discourse and students will have the opportunity to develop a rhetorical critical analysis of one of Welles’s works as the semester progresses. Specific student outcomes: 1.) Students will learn the language of film and how to breakdown a movie, 2.) students will learn and apply theories of rhetoric to fascinating rhetorical documents, 3.) students will learn how to create graduate level research. These outcomes should be of special value to any students interested in working the media and to any students interested in grad school.

Required Text: Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Fourth Edition. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, Inc. 2008.

Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles. Champaign: University of Illinois Press 2015.

Welles, Orson; with Bogdanovich, Peter. This is Orson Welles. Boston: Da Capo Press 1998.

Class Assignments and Grade Breakdown: This class includes several writing assignments and two class reports. The point breakdown follows:


Article Review------10

Genre Paper------20

Final Paper------30

Final Exam------25


Writing Assignments: You will spend much of your time this semester developing a single research project on a subject of your choosing. Your genre paper and final paper will be parts of the same research project. These assignments represent steps as you write and revise a complete study. All written work in this course is expected to be typed following MLA or APA writing guidelines. I will not accept hand written work. Papers will be graded on quality of writing, effective application of theory, quality of insights, and completion of assigned work. Papers with an excessive number of errors in basic spelling and/or grammar (15) will be returned to the author for a rewrite. Students who must rewrite papers will have a zero for the assignment until the rewrite is handed in. Rewritten work will lose one letter grade for having been rewritten. Rewrites are due at the start of the next class period.

Article Reviews: During the semester, you will find and report on one article from an important scholarly journal in the field of communication and rhetoric (The Quarterly Journal of Speech would be a good place to start). Your article review will be of one article examining a motion picture. You will hand out a one-page outline of the article that identifies the critical criteria the author uses to examine the film and explains the author’s conclusions. You will have ten minutes to present the article in class. This article should be useful as a piece of research for your papers during the semester. The article review is worth ten percent of your final grade. As with any class report, reading your report from a written text will make your professor extremely cranky and will result in a very poor grade for that assignment. Extemporaneous reports will result in a very cheerful professor, lots of positive comments in class, and much, much better grades. So, explain the articles to us. Don’t read a text. You will be asked to choose an article early in the semester. As each student only gets to do one article, you should find 3-4 you find interesting in case someone else has also chosen one or more of your articles.

Final Exam: The final exam covers all material in class. I will review specific information to be covered before the final.

Participation: This class assumes a high level of student participation (check out that participation percentage). Attendance cannot be counted as participation. Active vocal participation, responses to film clips, discussion of theory and practice, and (most important) discussion of your ongoing research as you build your final paper all feed into your participation grade. Further, positive participation in class discussions will have a very positive impact on all your grades. Failure to participate and/or numerous absences will have a very negative impact on your grades.

Absences: Students are allowed two absences after which each absence (whether excused or not) will cost 5% of the final grade.

Late work: Late work will result in the loss of one letter grade for each class period the work is late. Of course, your final exam cannot be made up.

Disability Services: Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776. Students requesting accommodations for taking tests in DSP must have their information to me and DSP in sufficient time to set up accommodations at DSP.

Academic Integrity: The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’s Academic Integrity code as detailed in the Scampus guide. It is the policy of the School of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violations or pattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsion from the Communication major or minor. If you have any doubts about what is and is not an academic integrity violation, please check with me. The University presumes that you are familiar with its standards and policies; should

you be found to have committed a violation, ignorance of these standards and policies will not be accepted as an excuse.

Readings: Foss writes a brief essay introducing each methodology and reprints articles that illustrate the application of these theories. You should read the chapters and the accompanying essays to complete each reading. Naremore is the classic work on Welles’s films. You should read it in its entirety whether or not you are in a Welles class. This is Orson Welles was one of a seemingly endless set of attempts by film directors who worshipped Welles to develop a biography from hours of personal interviews. While not as hilariously entertaining as the less censored Henry Jaglom interviews of 15 years later, these interviews represent the most complete appraisal by Welles of his own work. They make a great read. But, are also important for getting his perspective on the many controversies of his career.

Schedule: This is the first time this class will be taught. We can expect to have some hiccups in the schedule. We will try to follow the schedule as closely as possible. But, expect that there may be times when we fall behind only to catch up later.

Now, let’s have some fun!

Tentative Schedule and Due Dates

Course Introduction

January 10

Critical Approaches/Intro to Film

January 12-19, read Foss Chs. 1-3; Naremore Introduction

Genre Approach/Welles before film/The classic Hollywood narrative style

January 24-26, read Foss Ch. 7; Narramore Chs. 1-2, Welles Ch. 1

Research Subject Due January 24

Audience Centered Approaches/Citizen Kane

January 31-February 2, read Narramore Ch. 3; Welles Ch. 2

Articles for Article Review Due January 31

Argument Centered Approaches/Ambersons

February 7-9, read Naremore Ch. 4; Welles Ch. 3

Burkean Approaches/Welles in Hollywood

February 14-23, read Foss Ch. 4; Naremore Ch. 5; Welles Chs. 4-5

Genre Paper Due February 23

Burkean Approaches/Macbeth Spring Break, no class

February 28-March 9, read Foss Ch. 11; Welles Ch. 6 March 14-16

Literary Approaches/Welles in Europe

March 21-30, read Foss Chs. 5,8; Naremore Ch. 5; Welles Ch. 7

Article Reviews Due March 21

Narrative Approaches/Touch of Evil

April 4-6, read Foss Ch. 9; Naremore Ch. 6

Ideological Approaches/Welles Back in Europe (The Trial)

April 11-13, read Foss Ch. 7, Naremore Ch. 8; Welles Ch. 8

The Generative Approach/Chimes at Midnight

April 18-20, read Foss Ch.12, Naremore Ch. 9

F for Fake and Welles at the End

April 25-27, read Welles Ch. 8

Final Paper Due April 27 Final Exam May 9, 2-4

The down and dirty on rhetorical criticisms

Typically, you can divide first drafts of rhetorical criticisms into four parts.

1.   Introduction-this section introduces the text you will be analyzing and explains its rhetorical interest to your reader. The “rhetorical interest” of a work is the quality of the work that should be of interest to rhetorical critics and theorists. We will discuss this concept further in class.

2.   Methodology-this section explains the theory the author will draw on and the methodology s/he will use to analyze the text. This section should explain why this particular method should help illuminate the text. Depending on your text, some approaches will be more illuminating than others. The Toulmin Model would probably offer far less illumination of the “American Pie” movie series than, say, a narrative approach.

3.   Analysis-this is where the rubber meets the road. In this section, the author applies the method to the text to explain and illuminate the rhetorical qualities of the text.

4.   Conclusions-the author concludes by summarizing the study’s findings, reinforcing the critical assessment made of the text, and offering steps that might be taken in furthering this study.

What is a critic?

A critic is a person who applies critical criteria to specific objects in order to demonstrate qualitative evaluations of those objects.

A critical elaboration:

Film reviewers (the folks who work at your local newspaper, offer online reviews of movies, etc.) watch films, review the elements of the film for you (so you know what type of movie it is) and tell you what they liked and did not like about the film. Critics draw on specific critical criteria from a particular field (rhetorical studies, for instance) and assess the significance of the film from those criteria. A film reviewer may help you decide if you want to see a movie (“Hey, I love sci-fi films with CGI Peter Cushing characters in them”). A good critic will give you a full understanding of the film’s importance to culture, history, as a work of art, and so on.

What’s the difference between a critic and a “reviewer?”

Someone who reviews, say, films for your local paper views a film, summarizes the plot for readers, and tells what s/he liked about the film. A critic applies specific critical criteria to make grounded judgments concerning the quality of the film.

What is a rhetorical critic?

A rhetorical critic applies criteria that test the rhetorical qualities of a work in order to assess a work’s rhetorical value.

What are rhetorical theories?

Rhetorical theories are concepts that make philosophical or paradigmatic assertions concerning how rhetoric works. The rhetorical critic draws on these concepts to develop criteria for assessing certain texts. For instance, Aristotle claimed that rhetoric appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos. Early rhetorical critics applied those concepts to speeches to demonstrate how successful speeches appealed to audiences’ values, emotions, and/or reasoning.