In: New Review of Film and Television Studies (forthcoming in 2022)
Against the background of a widespread language skepticism among film theorists and practitioners, this article aims to highlight the evocative potential of spoken words in cinema. Focusing on an aesthetic device dubbed ‘suggestive verbalization,’ it demonstrates how character speech can powerfully appeal to the spectator’s sensory imagination: language allows film viewers to imagine – in various sensory modes – something they do not see or hear. The article sets out to show that the evocative power of character speech and dialogue is largely uncharted territory in film studies and then defines the term ‘suggestive verbalizations’ more closely. By means of various examples, it subsequently distinguishes four types of suggestive verbalization. Taking the drama theoretical terms ‘messenger report’ and ‘teichoscopy’ as a model, the article suggests a distinction along temporal lines: verbalization-of-the-past, verbalization-of-the-present, verbalization-of-the-future and verbalization-of-generalities. In the final section, a number of functions are discussed that suggestive verbalizations can have for the aesthetics of a film and the viewer’s experience. An implicit goal is to contribute to the ongoing work on the poetics of ‘omission, suggestion and completion’ in the cinema and the phenomenology of the viewer’s imagination. The article thus supports recent attempts to define film not exclusively as a perceptual audiovisual medium but also as a medium that depends on and, in fact, thrives on the sensory imagination of the viewer.