Engl 272a

R. Sheehan

MW 2:30-4



Introduction to Film: Form, History, Theory


This course provides a comprehensive introduction to film by approaching it from the standpoint of its historical development as a technology beginning with its emergence from photography, its theorization in the 20th century and its life in a variety of national, social and generic contexts. Structurally, the course will trace film’s historical trajectory by focusing on a number of movements and styles beginning with the period of its invention when we will take a close look at early cinema or what Tom Gunning famously described as a “cinema of attractions.” An analysis of late 19th and early 20th century spectatorship and the dynamics of vision will lead us to consider film as it relates to other technologies and trends of the 19th century; the rise of the archive and the catalogue, the industrial revolution and the emergence of the urbanized crowd and the mobility and speed introduced by the railroad. The course concludes in the vein of considering these same ontological attributes in the context of film’s reinvention in the age of digital filmmaking as the digital contests film as an apparatus with the privilege of bearing an indexical relationship with the world. Throughout the course we will explore how this reinvention of film is augured by contestations to mainstream studio productions driven by avant-garde and experimental film forms and theoretically questioned by the evolution and experiments of documentary form.

The readings and films for each week will explore the major film movements of the 20th century including Soviet Montage, German Expressionism, French Impressionism, Classical Hollywood, the Avant-Garde, the French New Wave and Third Cinema. This course aims to provide a solid familiarity with film’s short yet dense history and a fluency with the language of film’s techniques. To this end, key terms and concepts of formal analysis such as “the long-take,” “the close-up,” “deep focus,” “mise en scene,” “superimposition,” and “montage” will have a special introduction to coincide with the topics from each week. During these introductions, students will lead their own presentations and will be asked to submit a 3-5 page sequence analysis of a single film near the end of the semester. Students are expected to attend weekly screenings or to watch the assigned films on their own. In addition to the sequence analysis, the course requirements include an essay-based midterm and final examination.



Texts and Films:


David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film History: An Introduction

Tim Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing About Film

Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith, 1919)

The Great Train Robbery (D.W. Griffith, 1903)

Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Weine, 1920, Germany)

Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925, USSR)

M (Fritz Lang, 1931, Germany)

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941, USA)

Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945, Italy)

Un Chien Andalou (Luis BuĖuel, 1929, France)

Breathless (Jean Luc Godard, 1960, France)

High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968, USA)

Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964, USA)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979, West Germany)

Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalés IĖarritu, 2000, Mexico)

Xala (Ousmane Sembene, 1975)

Chicken Run (Peter Lord, 2000)