Introduction to Film Studies

Thinking about Film

Author: Abigail Cheever

Final Exam

I have posted the description of the final exam format under the Assignments tab. Please take a look and bring any questions you may have to class tomorrow.

Sample Early Film Exam Responses

Below you will find some sample responses to the clips and the essay identifications that received a significant number of points. For the final exam, they can serve as models for how to frame your answers and the type of information and level of detail that is most effective:

Examples: Discussions of Clips:

Eisenstein; Battleship Potemkin (1925)

“Battleship Potemkin is a cinematic masterpiece because of its creative use of Soviet Montage-style editing. The clip shown shows a mob of Russian citizens being chased down the Odessa steps by a firing squad of Cossacks. Widely considered one of the most important and earliest examples of the montage, Eisenstien stitches together shots that curate a greater emotional response and understanding than a simple objective view would create. He likens this to hieroglyphs, by claiming that combining multiple different images creates something new through forced conflict. By cutting from mob, to soldiers, to the faces of individuals reacting to the massacre, to a child being tramples, and then a mothers horrified reaction, Eisenstein demonstrates how multiple shots can be combined to form more than their sum. The wide variety of angles and camera motion is not only visually interesting, but deliberately utilized to tell a provocative story.

“This particular scene represents a large part of the film’s overall narrative, that of social awakening. The Cossacks represent the oppression of all classes by an authoritative government. When the film was released in 1925, it was in the wake of the Russian Revolution, which peddled ideas of equality and opportunity, and a greater sense of overall camaraderie in the Russian people regardless of class. This contradicts the previous era of hierarchal status with prestigious tzars and starving peasants. The film was largely political, utilizing several acts to show the social progression take hold in different parts of Russia. Unique to this film, is the lack of a central character throughout, instead opting for the collective ‘Russian people’ as its main focus. Originally, there is a sailor who sparks the mutiny on the ship, but he is killed midway through the film in a scene that might leave modern filmgoers struggling to situate themselves within the narrative after he passes. This is part of what makes the film relevant and experimental, as most American and western films hinged on a central character for the audience to empathize with. The stress on the collective is perhaps what makes the film so effective as, for lack of a better word, soviet propaganda.”

Sherlock Jr. – Keaton, 1924

This chase scene from Sherlock Jr. is a prime example of how all chase scenes are composed as well as the power of contiguity–a fundamental aspect of Classical Hollywood Cinema. The intercutting between Keaton and his pursuers is able to clearly represent the chase by having him move through one shot ‘location’ and then having those chasing him go through the same ‘location’ in the next shot. However, the contiguity from this sequence largely comes from the direction’s in which Keaton moves. Near the beginning, as he sneaks away in a dress, he is moving from left to right; the chase breaks out! Now as he enters the next scene he comes in from the left and eventually leaves out the right. Then in the scene on the roadway he enters from the rear right and moves towards the center. By preserving the direction from shot to shot (even as said shots occasionally cut between Keaton and his pursuers) the audience is able to construct a mental map thanks to the contiguity editing. Each of these sets was probably not adjacent to the others (I suspect some are the same location redressed) but the editing techniques produce synthetic locations in the viewer’s head. The chase, and truly the film, is ultimately a narrative constructed to tie a series of vaudeville gags together and being inside a film is the perfect medium for this. By having Keaton enter the film world, it is not so different from having him enter a dream world where the constraints of how things ‘should’ work no longer hold. In using a clever narrative to tie together comedic scenes, the film ascends to a higher concept about how film itself is not at all dissimilar to a dream; a motif that continues to this day even in mainstream films such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Examples: Quotes from the readings:

Coates, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Radical Modernism or Commercialism?”

“In this passage, Coates identifies the various forms of authority in Weine’s film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. According to Coates, there are two types of authority in the film: bureaucratic and charismatic. The clerks in the film represent the bureaucratic authority, as they hold high positions yet appear unintimidating or powerful. Caligari, on the other hand, represents the charismatic authority as he holds the power of the “photogenic” and can easily influence others. As Coates explains, those who hold charisma do not necessarily hold any formal position of power, as they must stand “outside the ties of the world and routine obligations.” Without any formal position, charismatic authorities are often “unstable.”

“The instability of charismatic authorities emphasizes the ideas of instability in Expressionist art and cinema. Expressionism in cinema can be defined in two ways: a set of themes or a set of visual strategies. As a set of themes, it seeks to analyze the “divided self” and the character’s “double” who can fulfill the individual’s true desires without fear of punishment. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Cesare is a double for both Francis and Caligari as Francis and Caligari both seek to commit murder without being caught. This idea of a fractured self with multiple sides reinforces the instability evoked in Expressionist cinema as human beings have a repressed self that cannot remain repressed forever.

“As a set of visual strategies, Expressionist cinema seeks to place the viewer in the shoes of an alienated person to view the world how he or she sees it. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the film puts the viewer in Francis’s point-of-view by making the world appear jagged and alienating with an unsettling set design for Holstenwall. By putting the viewer in Francis’s perspective, the viewer can recognize Francis’s isolation from the world as well as understand how the world for people alienated after World War I feels unstable and ready to collapse.”

Gunning, “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator”

“Gunning discusses the contrast between modern cinema, or even just cinema post 1910 or so, by discussing how our perceptions of older films are not entirely correct. He spends some time refuting the popular myth that early audiences were in fear of the silver screen, but were instead gasping in awe over the new art form. The short passage describing this as a natural reaction to, “an experience of assault.” The lens of film was not yet focused on telling a story at this time but rather conveying exciting and new possibilities to their aristocratic viewers; this ranged from informational (ex. Lions at the zoo) to purely visual excitement from the medium itself (ex. Workers Leaving the Factory or Snowball Fight). Films with any narrative such as The Sprinkler Sprinkled were not the norm, but rather the exception. Even with the more mundane films there was excitement to be found within their visuals; the inherent qualities of the film, the mise en scene, were themselves a spectacle. The depth and contrast of Factory or just the unique magic of seeing living people recreated in such comparative reality to prior arts, such as painting, from the films showing workers or children. Unfortunately, “The cinema holds the spectator” for only so long on pure excitement alone and therefore narrative films and the techniques for telling them effectively developed in place of the passe ‘cinema of attraction.”

First Analysis Paper

Happy spring break, everyone!

I hope you all get a chance for some rest and relaxation while on your spring break adventures. This is quick post to let you know that I have provided a prompt for the first analysis paper. It can be found under the Assignments tab.

A few things to note:

  • Your paper topic needs to be approved by me in advance. This will help me  redirect any topics that don’t promise to be successful and keep everyone on track. Please email me a brief description of your topic (1 ~ 3 sentences) by Wednesday, March 20th at 5:00pm.
  • Although the syllabus says the paper is due on Monday, March 25th, I have extended that deadline until Wednesday, the 27th at 5:00pm.

See you on the 18th!


Dr. Cheever


Early Film Exam

We’re just about finished with our section on early film, so it’s time to start preparing for the early film exam. I’ve provided a description of the format under the “Assignments” tab; please look it over before class and bring any questions that you may have.

What the movies teach us….

Good morning,

A former student — Virginia Sun — brought this article from Manohla Dargis, co-chief film critic for The New York Times, to my attention. She discusses the ways that Hollywood teaches us; in this case, specifically about gender and the opportunities and limitations placed upon it. I like the article because it suggests that such lessons are not monolithic or easily defined. We learn contradictory things not only across movies but within them. It seems like a good fit with our discussion of Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. today.


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