FMST 201/ ENGL 220 Introduction to Film Studies

Spring 2019

The Introduction to Film Studies explores the ways that narrative fiction film constructs meaning for an audience. Presently one of the world’s most vibrant and influential cultural practices, narrative fiction films use a variety of literary and visual techniques both to create a world (the world of the film), and to use that world to comment on various aspects of human existence and experience (the world in which we live).

To understand how narrative fiction film achieves these aims, Introduction to Film Studies introduces students to the methodology of contemporary film studies. Students will learn how to analyze films as creative texts that use visual and literary techniques to impart meaning. They will learn how to develop those analyses into sophisticated arguments that assert a film’s significance both in and of itself and as a part of a larger cultural context.

The course is divided into three unequal sections. The first five weeks of the course examine the early history of narrative fiction film and the concepts of film and narrative form. Tracing the process whereby stylistic innovations—such as the use of close ups to communicate a character’s emotion or the deployment of cross-cutting to allow for greater narrative complexity—became filmic conventions, this section immerses students in the visual and literary language of narrative fiction film by presenting that language in the context of its historical development. In these first weeks, the course introduces the style of three important early film movements—the Classical Hollywood Cinema, German Expressionist Cinema, and Soviet Montage Film—whose influence still reverberates through film culture.

Using the genre of the western and the films of Alfred Hitchcock as templates, the second two sections of the course interrogates the dominant critical approaches in film analysis: author studies, genre studies, formalist, feminist, and new historicist. In this section, we will examine representative critical articles of individual films and learn to recognize not only the authors’ claims for a given film (or group of films), but also the larger assumptions about film that structure those claims. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which individual films both influence and are products of particular cultural and historical moments, reflecting and commenting on the times in which they are produced and consumed. By the end of the semester, students will have learned the methodology that undergirds analysis of film. Students will be proficient at developing their own critical arguments about specific films, situating those arguments within the larger field of film studies, and be ready to pursue advanced courses in film analysis.

Viewing Guidelines:

  • Screening lab time for the course is Monday evening, 6:00 – 8:30 pm in Adams Auditorium. There are 12 screening labs scheduled during the semester. Two are required: Monday, January 14th and Monday, April 22nd. You must attend an additional five labs during the semester, for a total of seven labs. You may choose which of the films to see during the screening labs, though I will make recommendations in class for those I think will benefit most from a big-screen viewing experience.
  • Additional labs may be required if 1) a regular class session has to be cancelled unexpectedly (weather / illness) or 2) if we need that time for special event, etc. I would strongly recommend that you not schedule other events during screening lab time, since you won’t know in advance if we’ll need to schedule a session.
  • Films can be streamed and are also and on reserve at the MRC. The course blog has the links.
  • In class, you will be expected to be thoroughly familiar with the assigned films. Proper preparation requires 1) taking notes on important scenes and shots while you are viewing and 2) reviewing those scenes and shots before class. This will help you not only in discussion but also in your written assignments and exam preparation.

Classroom Guidelines:

  • Students are required to attend all class meetings. I take attendance and more than one unexcused absence will adversely affect your grade. More than four unexcused absences will mean you automatically will not pass the course.
  • You are required to be on time and to be well prepared to discuss the films and readings. I will call on students if our discussion needs the energy of new perspectives and voices. Do not be startled if I call on you.
  • Consume all foods before class. Having a drink with you will be fine.
  • Please use the restroom before It’s disruptive when students leave during discussion.

Assignment Guidelines:

  • Extensions on assignments are granted if there is a valid reason and you ask well in advance. Late assignments are penalized by one grade (B to B-) for each 24-hours the assignment is late.
  • You may not use the same paper for this and another class without explicit permission.
  • Please proofread essays carefully. Points are deducted for typographical errors.

Required Texts (available at bookstore and other retailers):

Geiger & Rutsky, eds. Film Analysis: A Norton Reader, 2nd ed. (Norton)—marked FA

Grant, Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology (Wallflower)

Buscombe, The Searchers (BFI)

Buscombe, Unforgiven (BFI)

Barr, Vertigo (BFI)

Additional materials posted on course blog


Class engagement (including attendance): 20%

Early Film Exam: 20%

First Analysis Paper (1750 words): 15% total

Second Analysis Paper (2100 – 2300 words): 20%

Final Exam: 25%