Hollywood Studios: Spring 2002

Summary of Richard Dyer’s Stars as Signs

"Stars and Characters"


Dyer proposes the ten signifiers of character in film:

Audience foreknowledge: The spectator comes to the film with preconceptions about a character, based on the following:

Name of the character: The name labels the character and may suggest character traits: class and ethnic background. (e.g., Stanley Kowalski vs. Blanche Dubois).

Appearance suggests personality:

Objective correlatives (character suggested by setting and objects):

Speech of character: Characters are suggested by what they say and how they say it. Direct commentary: what a character says about himself; indirect commentary: what a character betrays about himself. (The spectator tends to give more credence to the indirect.) Special case of the voice-over narration by a character: the position of narration tends to lend credence to the commentary.

Speech of others: What other characters say about a character and how they say it. (Belief is again problematic.)

Gesture: A character’s gestures reveal personality. There are voluntary gestures which are socially regulated; there are involuntary gestures which give unintended revelation.

Action: What the character does in the plot.

Structure: The character’s function in the plot.

Mise-en-scène: film uses the rhetoric of lighting, color, framing, composition, placement of actors, choice of angle, etc.