Early Film Exam

Part One: Clip Identification & Explications

(20 points each. 30 minutes.)

For each of the two clips, please do the following:

1) Identify the title and director.

2) Discuss its stylistic features. You should decide what the most prominent stylistic features are and explain how they work. For example, you might consider the film’s mise en scène, editing, narrative structure, etc.

3) Relate those features to the film’s overall style and meaning. How do these features reflect the historical moment in which the film was made or the stylistic movement of which it is a part? How do these features combine to suggest an overall approach to narrative filmmaking?

Part Two: Short Essay

(60 points. 40 minutes)

In response to the prompt, write a mini-essay (approximately 5 paragraphs) in which you make an argument about the material we’ve been studying for the past 4 weeks. Your answer should contain:

  • A discussion of at least three films that we’ve seen thus far in the semester;
  • A reference/explication of at least two of the readings that we’ve read.

The prompt is broad to allow a wide range of responses. Begin with a clear statement of your argument. Be as specific as possible, mentioning scenes or shots in your response. Points are given for answers that are clear, cogently argued, and refer specifically to the scenes and articles under consideration.

Western Analysis Paper

Length: 2000 words (approximately 6 pages, Times New Roman, 12-point font)

Paper topics Due: Thursday, March 26th at 5pm via email

Final papers due: Thursday, April 2nd at 5:00 pm via email


In class and through our readings we have discussed the Western and its depiction of American expansion during the 19th century. We discussed how genre films combine tradition and innovation, drawing upon settings, characters, plots, and iconography from the Western tradition to represent and investigate American history and culture.

Your task is to write a paper based in the close analysis of one or two of the Western films we’ve studied. Your essay should provide a clear and well-conceived argument about how your film engages with the Western genre to suggest meanings to its audience. It should support that argument with ample evidence from specific shots and scenes in the film, making reference to mise en scène, editing, dialogue, camera angles, shot composition, lighting, and so on. To gain this evidence you will need to watch your chosen film(s) more than once or twice. Ask yourself: How do the visual aspects of the film combine with the narrative to create meaning for the audience? What, ultimately, does the film want to communicate about your chosen topic?

Since the purpose of this paper is to foreground your developing skills in film analysis, do not consult sources other than those explicitly assigned for the class (readings, etc.). Do not consult Course Hero or other websites that provide notes, papers, exams, etc., from other students.

If you are stuck getting started, I would recommend making a list of the qualities that are associated with Western cinema and then looking for those qualities in your chosen film(s). Rewatch key scenes and use the attached handout on mise en scène by Louis Giannetti that to get you started in thinking about them. How is the film using these techniques to create and build the spaces of the film? Then ask yourself: how do those spaces contribute to the questions about human existence and experience that the film explores? How is the film using the West and the Western to think about human experience in America?

Keep in mind: The most successful papers will not simply list the qualities of Westerns and then locate them in your chosen film. Rather, they will go beyond a description of those qualities to analyze how the film deploys those qualities to provide meaning for its viewers.

Topic email: I am requiring that you submit your paper topic to me to tell me in what direction you are planning to take your paper. These emails don’t have to be extensive; three or four sentences are enough. But keep in mind that the more information you give me at this stage, the more help I can be in suggesting possible approaches or areas in which you might want to go. If you’re unsure what you want to write about, put down some possible ideas and I can help you figure out which would be most productive.

Possible themes to consider:

  • Violence: How is violence used in the film(s)? What is considered to be legitimate or illegitimate uses of violence? What are the consequences of the use of violence for the individual or the society?
  • Gender: How does the film define appropriate gender roles for men and for women? What qualities are men and women expected to possess (or not to possess)? What happens when characters violate those expectations?
  • Society: What defines a just society? Or an unjust society? How can the just/unjust society best be achieved? Whose job is it to bring about?
  • Heroes and Villains: How do we know who is a hero or a villain? How does the film use these simple categories to define what matters in our cultures? Is it ever difficult to tell whether someone is a “good” or “bad” character? What does such confusion tell us?


Final Analysis Paper

Length: 2100 ~ 2300 words (approximately 7-8 pages, Times New Roman 12-point font)

Due Date: May 1st at 5pm, via email

Your task is to write a close analysis of one or two films using the techniques of film interpretation that we have been developing this semester. Your essay should respond to the prompt and should provide a clear and well-conceived argument about 1) what issues, ideas, or concepts related to human experience the movie(s) investigate, 2) how those issues, ideas, or concepts are explored by the film(s), and 3) in what ways those issues, ideas, or concepts are communicated to the audience. It should support that argument with ample evidence from specific scenes in the films that are rigorously analyzed. It should analyze all of components of feature films that we have discussed this semester: dialogue and character, mise en scène, shot composition, editing techniques, and so on.

Since the paper should foreground your skills in film analysis, you should focus your attention on your own analysis. You may use materials that we’ve read for class (e.g. Robin Wood’s essay on Shadow of a Doubt or Laura Mulvey’s discussion of gaze theory) but the emphasis is on your ideas. If you would like to research additional materials, let me know in advance of doing the research. I can steer you in profitable directions. Any materials that you consult for the paper must be listed in a Works Consulted list at the end of the paper (MLA Citation style).

Do not consult Course Hero or other websites that provide notes, papers, exams, etc., from other students or other schools. To do so will constitute a violation of the UR Honor Code.


In “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” Andrew Sarris discusses the three premises that undergird his definition of a cinematic auteur: technical competence, personal style, and interior meaning. In class we have been studying Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema, investigating his style and the central questions or ideas with which his films typically engage (premises two and three).

Your paper should analyze no more than two of Hitchcock’s films, examining how Hitchcock uses aspects of film form (mise en scène, lighting editing, composition, and so on) to tell stories that explore broader ideas about human experiences in the world. How does Hitchcock use stylistic features (premise two) to tell a story that speaks to larger ideas about human existence (premise three)? What does the film(s) suggest to their audiences about the world and humans’ experience of it? How is that meaning communicated in the visual and narrative techniques?

For example, a paper on Shadow of a Doubt might argue that Hitchcock uses high contrast lighting to reveal Young Charlie’s gradual awakening to her uncle’s hidden desires, desires that Uncle Charlie argues are present in everyone. These lightening techniques culminate in the three fade-to-black moments that mark Young Charlie’s growing awareness of her Uncle’s perspective, her recognition of her own unacknowledged desires, and her anxieties about her future life as an adult. (Obviously, you cannot use this idea.

Keep in mind:

Successful papers won’t simply state the qualities of a Hitchcock film and then describe those qualities in the film(s) you are discussing. They will go beyond a description of those qualities to analyze how they are used to make a point about individuals and their experiences. For example, we discussed how Hitchcock uses Young Charlie’s loss of innocence in Shadow of a Doubt to comment on midcentury American small-town life. The most successful papers will build to points of similar significance.

Possible themes, concepts, and features to consider in Hitchcock’s films:

  • The power of desire. How does desire operate, and can it be controlled? How does it affect individual’s behavior? Is desire ultimately a positive or a negative force?
  • Masculinity and/or femininity: its construction, strength and/or vulnerabilities. What roles are men and women expected to perform? Are masculinity and femininity fixed and determined or fluid and evolving? How do men and women experience gender expectations?
  • Identity: how it is constructed and the elements that threaten it. How do individuals experience their identities in Hitchcock’s films? Are identities fixed and determined or fluid and evolving? Are identities easily known? What challenges the character’s sense of self? What shores it up?
  • Voyeurism and cinematic spectatorship. What does it mean to gaze upon other people? How does Hitchcock imagine the gaze to affect our relationship with one another?

These topics are deliberately broad. You will need to focus them to create an argument that can be supported successfully.

Films to choose from:

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) / Strangers on a Train (1951) / Rear Window (1954) / Vertigo (1958)/ Psycho (1960)