Comparison of two persuasive articles
There is one thing about the way human beings are that each of us should know well, otherwise one risks to become unaware of the reasons that underlie the attitude of other people to him or her - Comparison of two persuasive articles introduction. This important thing boils down to the rule that it is not so much what you say to people that matters but rather how you say it. This general principle of human perception can be found in various manifestations in different aspects of our life, ranging from the well known for businessmen and, quite ironically, swindlers fact that good-looking and well-clothed people evoke more trust and sympathy, to the phenomenon of charismatic leaders of some infamous sects who with the help of masterful rhetorical manipulations have managed to persuade people to do crazy things. To take a detailed look at the way this principle of persuasion works in rhetoric, we can compare, in detail, two articles which make different arguments about the same topic, namely provide an educated review by two critics of the film by the director Michael Cimino “Heaven`s Gate” (1980). More specifically, we shall try to analyze the rhetorical strengths and weaknesses of each of the two articles, and then single out the best of the used strategies, and the overall effectiveness of the articles.
First of all, we should start with the overview of the film discussed by the critics. The picture “Heaven`s Gate” generally belongs to the genre of Western, immensely popular in the middle of the last century. However, Cimino created what can be characterized as the revisionist Western, also known as anti-Western, which, among other things, was different from traditional Westerns due to the presence in films of this genre of a generally darker atmosphere, and due to the increased amount of violence depicted in them. Indeed, “Heaven`s Gate” revolves about the story of an idealistic Sheriff James Averill, who attempts to save immigrant farmers as he learns that rich landlords hired soldiers to kill them on the ground of accusations in theft and other alleged transgressions. As the film progresses, we also witness the clash between Averill and Nathan Champion, an immigrant who betrayed his people by joining mercenary group, as both men have an affection for the same woman. It is on this background that the film through the experiences of its main protagonists explores the theme of the personal involvement into the attempts to build a better life on the frontier, and demonstrates how idealistic expectations can be shattered by the harsh circumstances of reality. It should also be pointed out that this film, which with the budget of around $36 million was one of the most expensive productions of its time, was a failure from the commercial point of view, so that the whole studio that had produced it was not able to recover form the losses and was eventually sold out.
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Now, with the realization of the fact that this film was indeed a rich material for the analysis by film critics, we can start off with the overview of the article containing the film`s review by Roger Ebert. In his relatively concise piece of writing Ebert goes a long way trying to provide overwhelming evidence why the film of Cimino failed so notoriously. Providing a brief overview of the plot of the film in the middle part of his article, this critic spends the rest of his text for concretization of those structural and cinematic flaws that, according to Ebert`s opinion, have doomed the picture. For example, he observes that “. . . this movie is a study in wretched excess” (Ebert 1981), and soon bolsters the statement by pointing out the initial four hours length of the film that was later reduced by the film-makers in the attempt to save the picture. In this way, Ebert from the very beginning of the review connects the film with the history of its production, and uses the facts that go beyond the film`s plot and composition as a properly relevant material for his analysis and conclusions. If we employ the conceptions of ethos, logos and pathos, which stand for the presence of notions of character, reason, and feeling in a literary work, film, or any other rhetorical address, then this attention to the larger context that helps characterize the film can be qualified as the presence in the article of an appeal to the mode of persuasion termed ethos. Still, in the Ebert`s article it is pathos that dominates. Truly, pathos, which can be defined as a style that evokes feelings, permeates the review by Ebert with its numerous metaphorical comparisons and allusions, such as the author`s complaint that the lack of rich color in the film makes one “want to try Windex on the screen”, or the final verdict “It is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen” (Ebert 1981), emotionally reinforced by the author`s commentary “and remember, I’ve seen Paint Your Wagon” (Ebert 1981). At the same time, for a reader who may have yet no opinion of his or her own about this film, and who trusts the point of view of Ebert, the general impression from the article may as well be not devoid of logos, the mode of persuasion based on reason. Indeed, if one forms an opinion about “Heaven`s Gate” solely on the basis of Ebert`s account of the film, then it stands to reason to agree that a picture which has so many inconsistencies, excesses, and ridiculous scenes as indicated by the author can hardly be considered to be worth-while of attention. All in all, the article by Roger Ebert is built in such a way that many of those who would read it in order to decide whether to see the film or not, would most probably opt for the latter option.
The article by Dennis Schwartz is quite different from the previously discussed one, if only due to the completely opposite conclusion reached by its author, who generally qualifies “Heaven`s Gate” as “quite a remarkable film” (Schwartz 2006). This is even more noteworthy when we take into account the fact that Schwartz seems to be no less aware of the objective drawbacks of Cimino`s film than Ebert was, as he also laments the excessive length of the film, its imbalanced pacing and its incoherence. But this straightforwardness of the author`s judgment is a powerful rhetorical tool, consciously or unconsciously used by the critic, which in an almost paradoxical way works to shift the focus of the article`s readers to the merits of the film. And here, Schwartz manages to offer some insights about the film that were missing in Ebert`s critique. First of all, as Schwartz similarly to Ebert attempts to place the film in the historical context, he does it in a different way as he associates the commercial failure of the film with the end of the whole era of “the 1970s Hollywood New Wave of gutsy independent filmmakers” (Schwartz 2006), which may create a totally different impression on readers and actually instigate them to watch this landmark film. Thus, Schwartz may be said to be more accurate in his contextual analysis of the picture. However, we of course should remember that Schwartz was writing his review twenty five years after the film`s premiere, so he could take a look at “Heaven`s Gate” as if from the larger distance. By the way, the very fact that in 2006 it was still relevant to critique Cimino`s film of a quarter century ago implicitly testifies to the correctness of the more complimentary approach exercised by Dennis Schwartz who, generally speaking, opts for the argumentative rhetorical strategy of logos as far as he concentrates on what is most probably perceived by readers as the sound and successive exploration of different layers of the history of the film`s creation and its internal structure. This methodology of analysis, aside from the insightful placement of the film within the chronology of the cinematographic history of Hollywood, also enabled the critic to find some elements among the themes of the film that Ebert omitted. The most significant of those insights of the author is the mentioning of the presence in the plot of “Heaven`s Gate” of the allegory which works the following way – when the violence depicted in the film is over, the film shows that “the American Dream . . . as if nothing much happened to upset the system . . . goes on . . . in the form of unchecked capitalism, where greed is good and the God of profit is worshipped” (Schwartz 2006). At this point, Schwartz rightfully criticizes other critics who ignored such themes in the picture and “instead saw only the filmmaking flaws and gave this uncommercial film an awful beating” (Schwartz 2006). Here, we can also find the application of the rhetorical strategy of pathos as the author appeals to readers` feelings as if asking for a just treatment of a work arbitrarily debased by some critics.
With all this said, we can take a general look at the effectiveness of the both articles. For this purpose, we should keep in mind that their intended audience are mostly potential viewers who seek to make up their mind about whether to see the film. For many such readers, the negative evaluation of “Heaven`s Gate” offered by Ebert would likely be more convincing due to its emotionally loaded style of rhetorical composition, and, quite importantly, due to its conciseness (after all, among available reviews some readers would tend to chose the shorter ones). Still, it seems safe to claim that those readers who would be willing to invest more attention to the study of the opinions about this film by Cimino would in the end be persuaded by Schwartz`s opinion, which on the level of the argumentative soundness is superior to Ebert`s analysis, and may easily dissuade those who had initially read the critique by Ebert. The other thing is that the number of such diligent readers would be much smaller that of those who would be satisfied with just one review.
Finally, those who might wish to read reviews after having seen the film for themselves upon studying both articles would largely retain their already formed impressions due to the tendency of the human psychology to find confirmations for personal opinions and ideas and disregard the evidence to the contrary. Besides, it is less probable that those who disliked the film after the preview would seek for relevant critique, while those who found something valuable in “Heaven`s Gate” might wish to read up on it further.
Cimino, Michael. Heaven`s Gate. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2000.
Ebert, Roger. “Heaven`s Gate”, 1981. URL: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/
Schwartz, Dennis. “Heaven`s Gate”, 2006. URL: http://www.sover.net/~ozus/