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Discovering Cinema (Evening) (FI 101X)


This module introduces you to the close analysis of film texts, considers a number of key developments in film history and asks you to explore some of the critical debates that have shaped the development of Film Studies as an academic discipline. Over the year we will progress from examining how individual films and groups of films make meanings to considering the cultural analysis of cinema as an institution and film consumption as a set of social practices.

In term 1, our work begins with the analysis of film form and concentrates on the basic question of how film texts work - how moving images and sound combine to make meanings and trigger our expectations and responses as viewers. We focus initially on the workings of "the continuity system" that emerged from "Classical" Hollywood's studio production structure and became the most familiar mode of cinematic storytelling (film language) in the first half of the 20thC. This is only a starting point however and we will go on to look at some other modes of film making that address us in different ways. As a contrast, we will examine the alternatives offered by Soviet (Montage) and German (Expressionist) film in the early part of the century. There are some key questions here about how different film languages negotiate the relationship between narrative and film spectacle and (to conclude this block of work) we will turn back to look again at Hollywood that is often taken as proof that popular cinema is (negatively) dominated by the requirements of storytelling. This time we will look at the Hollywood Musical to examine the extent to which it can be argued that, even in Hollywood, narrative and the continuity system never dominated film making in any simple sense. Finally, to complete the term (and add another level of complexity to the arguments we are looking at), we will focus on the question of what the film languages we have studied have to do with non-fiction (realist) modes of film making (like documentary, news reporting, cinema verite) whose identities and justifications are based on the claim they present us with facts rather than fictions.


The module is taught in the Autumn and Spring terms and there will be a short period (3 to 4 weeks) of teaching and revision in the Summer Term.

The Lecture/Seminar meetings are “Must-Attend”. For the Screenings each week, a video copy of the film will be made available. The Seminar work will be based on the assumption you have watched the film more than once.

Wednesday, Lecture/Seminar, 6.30-8.30, Room 043


The module is organised in ways that require you to develop your skills in analysing film texts and make yourself familiar with some key Film Studies debates. The programme (below) expects you to do some reading each week (usually a single book chapter or article) in preparation for the weekly seminar. This is to help you get the most out of the lectures and seminars and is intended as the basis for your own, independent work and reading. Attached to the programme is a (very) brief supplementary reading list organised around the topics/critical debates we will be looking at. It is intended as a starting point only.

While the module has a tight core focus, it is designed to present you with a range of issues, questions, research areas and challenges. If you look carefully, you will see there is a good deal of cross referencing between screenings, weekly topics and readings across the year's work. In other words, arising out of our core focus, there are many (many) opportunities to explore and develop your own interests. In case it is not evident, though a good portion of our work is historically focused both in terms of the films we will look at and the critical debates we will be following, we will regularly be asking you to make connections with the world (our world) of contemporary films ---- to make comparisons, note differences and spot continuities. In that broader context, we are inviting you to think about how those earlier histories, arguments, conflicts have shaped the films and visual cultures we now access in so many different ways through multiplexes and video stores, DVD and on-line, TV and play stations not to mention theme parks and Toys R Us. Our focus will be very determinedly on the close textual analysis of films we will watch on celluloid and the examination of some of the key critical debates that have driven the development of Film Studies. That work however has a much wider set of resonances for you to think about.