Is the study of an artwork's rhetoric essentially the analysis of its form in a larger sociopolitical context? When Nicole Brenez writes on 'the forms of the question' in Godard (in the For Ever Godard book), she's trying to outline the authorial and aesthetic strategies by which Godard's films do what they do: the substance (political and otherwise) of their compositions rather than the content in them. This needn't be author-based or author-centric: when Serge Daney writes about watching She Wore a Yellow Ribbon on television in one of the greatest passages of Cinema-in-Transit, he does so as a compendium of thinking about what Ford does and what the small screen does to what Ford does. The rhetoric to be found in Ford's accomplishment (immediately available to us in celluloid, although perhaps diluted by time and history, and embroiled with the 'Hollywood system') is mediated again, if by no means destroyed, by cathode ray, which has its own rhetoric, and one most immediately tied to corporate/capitalist machinations and the continuing emergence of globalized communications which could render the cinema out of its medium and out of its historical elements. Even Pauline Kael noted this in some piece or another: old films were being presented to younger viewers completely out of context.
The confluence of variegated rhetorics is one of the things that makes art, and discussion about art, so difficult--and one of the things that continues to make auteurism confusing or threatening to some people (or why lazy applications and definitions of "auteur theory"--sans any theory really--are sometimes so ridiculous). We have to talk about Ford's rhetoric (no easy task in itself) and how it plays against the rhetoric of the cast, crew, and suits behind the film he made, and how the finished product originally got to people (film screenings), and how it tends to get to people now (via DVD or TV), and how the rhetoric of those modes of distribution and exhibition shape, affect, limit, and move the art about which we care so deeply. Tracing forms is, for me, the most workable way to map out how the cinema works and how it works in the world. Serge Daney's figure of passeur really is some sort of inspiration here, as is the man to whom Daney is (was) an heir according to Bill Krohn: Walter Benjamin. We should be drafting the skeleton of the cinema (/world), or connecting the dots into meaningful constellations--whatever sort of metaphor fits best. It doesn't matter. Henceforth I consider myself renewed in an effort to play a part mapping out this skeleton in as much of its completeness and complexity as I can.
(Sorry about all the run-on sentences here but I found them hard to avoid ...)