What is it about?

Almost a century ago, when film was still a young medium, Sergej Eisenstein already realized that visual metaphors are very creative and effective instruments for making meaning very quickly. In the film October, for instance, he ridiculed politician Alexander Kerensky by cross-cutting him with a preening, mechanical peacock, and in the film Strike he metaphorically compared soldiers ruthlessly killing workers by cross-cutting this massacring with butchers slaughtering cattle. For many decades since Eisenstein's films, interest in cinematic metaphor was at a low ebb. This began to change with the publication of Black's (1979) influential paper on creative metaphor and Lakoff & Johnson's (1980) Metaphors We Live By on structural metaphor. This chapter, in a volume edited by Kathrin Fahlenbrach, provides a survey of issues pertaining to visual and multimodal metaphor (the latter combining information from different semiotic resources: visuals, language, sound, music ) in moving images. Discussions and examples cover both feature films and commercials . After all, whereas metaphors are excellent tools for nudging viewers into adopting a certain attitudinal or emotional slant toward a character, object, or event, they are also highly suitable for quickly claiming certain qualities, and fuellng desires, for commercial products or services. , The paper contains references to a wide range of more detailed studies by myself and by others (e.g. Trevor Whittock, Noel Carroll, Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Maarten Coegnarts & Peter Kravanja, Maria Ortiz).

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Why is it important?

Metaphor is one of the most powerful among the classical tropes. It is no coincidence that Aristotle amply discussed it with reference to both poetry and rhetoric. Given the general acceptance of Lakoff & Johnson's claim that metaphors are primarily a matter of thought and action , not of language, it is imperative that non-verbal and multimodal media and genres are systematically examined for how they can present metaphors. Visual and multimodal metaphors are nowadays one of the best-researched phenomena in the quickly developing discipline of multimodality.


Black's insights on creative metaphor and Lakoff & Johnson's theorization of structural metaphors are equally important. My paper devotes attention to both varieties. In my view the work on visual and multimodal metaphor must be seen as the start of a vast research project, in which the visual and multimodal varieties of many other tropes (metonymy, symbolism, hyperbole, irony, antithesis ...) are investigated.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: Visual and Multimodal Metaphor in Film, October 2015, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.4324/9781315724522-2.
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