Genre, Rhetoric and Music in The Cove

The Cove is a ninety minute long documentary released in 2009 exposing the dolphin fishing industry and it’s practices in Taiji. Louie Psihoyos, the film’s director, uses his own potent photography to frame his position on moral ground and brief cut scenes to deliver factual credibility. Genre controls the perception of the dolphin slaughters throughout the film. Psihoyos flips between three different modes of communication: the redemption story of Ric O’Barry, the gruesome display of dolphin killings, and the action story of the films production itself. The use of  specific music genres to effectively to pinpoint the mode of rhetoric employed allow Psihoyos to communicate his story on multiple fronts.

"We were kinda like a rock concert, incognito"

The spy story is where music genre stands out the most in The Cove. One expects to be given factual information or ethos throughout a documentary and the use of short action sequences provides a counterpoint to the pacific shots of dolphins and re-engages the viewer on a different tack. The soundtrack and audio used in these shots are the work of J. Ralph, whose other notable works include Lucky Number Slevin and Chasing Ice—  an action film and tense documentary. One notable moment in The Cove where the use of music drives the genre perception is the “team recruitment scene.” While team members are recruited to join on Ric O’Barry’s dolphin espionage mission, an electronic, synth-heavy undertoe of sound pulls the viewer away from the factual data provided before into this new genre. The music makes the heart race and prepares the audience for a climatic moment. It’s not the audio that one expects from a dolphin story, rather, the notes seem pulled from “Minefields” by The Prodigy in The Matrix. Sounds open up new mechanisms of interaction between the audience and the film, one of anticipation and excitement. The electronic high hats and drum machines signal that something awesome is going to happen, and we are going to be there watching every detail when it does.

No commentary is necessary for this image to rally viewers to Ric O'Barry's cause

We can contrast this to the audio soundtrack presented to us during the dolphin slaughter. There is a noticeable lack of music in these shots; it doesn’t seem as if these scenes were polished at all. The perception one receives is that of uncut, unedited, raw footage. This, combined with the graininess of image, the shriek of wounded dolphins, the roar of motors and the hum of unfiltered audio create a new environment. It’s unsanitary, rough, unrefined. It’s a perception of image without commentary, without slant or redirection. Psihoyos wants the image to speak for itself, and he wants the audiencethat this is a pure, unfiltered view of the rawness in the world. Psihoyos’s ability to use solely image to convey message is highlighted here, and his past experience with camera work at National Geographic shines through. The message is in the production, or the apparent lack thereof. It confronts the viewer as an point-of-view documentary. The viewer is shut in to watch, and cannot leave, and nothing but a pane of glass separates the camera from the real world.
Psihoyos delicately combines image with audio in The Cove to amplify the perceptions of genre throughout the film. By matching rhetoric to genre, Psihoyos is able employ a full arsenal of persuasive techniques in an effective manner, exploiting every avenue to deliver a message.


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