Concept of Star (Discussion)

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Dyer on the star image

  1. Star image: a "structured polysemy" (p. 63) constructed from "media texts":
    1. Promotion
    2. Publicity
    3. Film roles
    4. Criticism/commentary on those roles
  2. All Groups: Dyer argues, "The star image is used in the construction of a character in a film in three ways" (127), which are listed below. Pick one current movie star and one film. How is his/her star image used in the construction of that character? Explain.
    • Selective use
    • Perfect fit
    • Problematic fit
  3. Explain what Dyer's signs of character are (106+):
    • Groups 3 and 4:
      1. Audience foreknowledge
      2. Name
      3. Appearance
    • Groups 5 and 1:
      1. Objective correlatives
      2. Speech of character
      3. Speech of others
    • Groups 2 and 6:
      1. Gesture
      2. Action
      3. Structure
      4. mise-en-scene
    • Apply Dyer's 10 signs of character to one of the characters from Petrified Forest. That is, use one of the main characters (see below) and then discuss how the signs of character are used to build that character.
      • Groups 3 and 4: Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart)
      • Groups 5 and 1: Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis)
      • Groups 2 and 6: Alan Squier (Leslie Howard)
  4. Dyer's signs of performance are (134):
    1. Group 3: Facial expression
    2. Group 4: Voice
    3. Groups 5 and 1: Gestures
    4. Groups 6 and 2: Body posture and movement
    • On pp. 145-146, Dyer discusses how John Wayne's and Henry Fonda's performances in Fort Apache use performance signs--referring specifically to a scene that is illustrated here with a frame grab and online video. Explain how performance signs function in this scene--with each group looking at one specific performance sign (see above). How would you analyze Bogart's performance signs in this scene? (Dyer similarly discusses Bette Davis' performance in Little Foxes, frame grabs for which are available here.)

Recommended-reading questions

  1. Richard Dyer defines "characters" as "constructed representations of persons" (89). And he argues that how a fictional character is defined has changed over the centuries. As the novel rose to prominence in the 19th century, so did a certain "novelistic conception of character" (93). Explain what Dyer means by each of these novelistic qualities of characters:
    • Autonomy
    • Roundness
    • Development
    • Interiority (how is this different for literature and film?)


  1. Richard Dyer, Stars, Second Edition, Supplementary Chapter by Paul McDonald (London: British Film Institute, 1998).

See also

Richard Dyer gallery