FMST 201/ ENGL 220 Introduction to Film Studies

Spring 2020

Professor Abigail Cheever                                 

Sarah Brunet 115                                                     

Office Hours: By appointment


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 using both 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. First, we explore the early history of narrative fiction film to discover how 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 while learning the language of film analysis. We are introduced to 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 examine critical approaches in film analysis: author studies, genre studies, formalist, feminist, and new historicist. In this section, we explore 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.


The skills students develop in Introduction to Film Studies are important for humanities majors (such as Film Studies, English and other modern literatures, History, Art History, etc.) and crucial for any career that priorities the synthesis, interpretation, and communication of complex ideas. As importantly, this class provides an opportunity to think about the nature of human cultural production and the important questions that have challenged humans for centuries. Over the course of the semester you will:

  • Engage with the big ideas: the movies we watch raise questions about individual agency and social power, about the past’s influence over the present, about love and obsession, and the ways that stories shape and influence us. These are the questions that define humanity and are well worth spending time on!
  • Analyze diverse forms of cultural production: class discussion and assignments teach students to break down diverse and ambiguous texts, synthesize information from multiple sources and points of view, formulate and test hypothesis, construct compelling arguments, and communicate those arguments convincingly to your audience.
  • Contribute to ongoing scholarly conversations in parsing the work of experts in the field, students will learn to analyze and evaluate arguments and to add one’s own voice to ongoing critical debates.

Course 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. You must attend a total of seven labs over the course of the semester. 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 on reserve at the BML circulation desk. The course blog has the links to streaming sources.
  • 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.

Class time …

  • 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 class. It’s disruptive when students leave during discussion.


  • 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

Buscombe, The Searchers (BFI)

Buscombe, Unforgiven (BFI)

Barr, Vertigo (BFI)

Additional materials posted on course blog


Class engagement (including attendance): 15% 20%

Early Film Exam: 15% 20%

Western Analysis Paper: 15%

Production Assignment: 15%

Hitchcock Paper: 20%

Final Exam: 20% 25%


Rubrics can be found on the course handouts tab

Please note:

The materials provided by the instructor in this course are for the use of the students enrolled in the course.  Copyrighted course materials may not be further disseminated.  Learn more about copyright law and restrictions at: