FMA 5671                                                                                              Instructor: Dr. Chris Cagle

Film History and Theory                                                             Office: Annenberg 132

Spring 2010                                                                                           Email:

T 11AM-1:20PM/Th 5PM-8:00PM                                             Office Hours: T 2:30-4:30 and W 3-4, or by appt.


This course surveys key concepts and debates in film and media theory. Ranging from classical and 1970s film theory to cultural studies interventions, digital media theory, and more recent theoretical trends, it will examine models of medium specificity, cinematic narration, spectatorship, interpretative meaning, and ideology. Examples from narrative, documentary, and experimental cinema will be screened to illustrate major readings in the field. In the process, this introduction seeks to connect the normative concerns that the maker has – what should film or video be? what formal, aesthetic, and political choices can the maker adopt? – with the scholarly activities of interpretation, theorization, and explanation.


This course assumes no prior knowledge of or training in film or media studies. However, those students without any should consult the reference text to gain the basic vocabulary of the discipline.



Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism, sixth edition (FTC)

David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (NFF)

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (LNM)

Additional readings by electronic reserve on Blackboard



The instructor will provide a DVD of film clips cited in the reading. The syllabus will have a (clip) indication next to such readings. One should view these clips before the reading and before class.




T 1/19. Introduction: A Popular Art

In-class Screening: Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944, 83m)


Th 1/21 Screening: Ménilmontant (Dmitri Kirsanoff, 1926, 33m); Day of Wrath (Carl-Theodor Dreyer, 1943, 105m)


T 1/26. Classical Film Theory: Medium Aesthetics

Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram,” "Dickens, Griffith, and Ourselves" (FTC) 

Andre Bazin, “Ontology of the Photographic Image,” “Evolution of the Language of Cinema” and “De Sica: Metteur-en-scŹne(FTC) 

Siegfried Kracauer, “Basic Concepts” (FTC)

Jean Epstein, “Magnification,” “The Senses,” “On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie,  Photogénie and the Imponderable”

Malcom Turvey,  “Epstein, Bergson, and Vision” (clip)

Optional:  Rudolf Arnheim, “Film and Reality” (FTC)


Th 1/28 Screening: trailer for The Tingler (William Castle, 1959); Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1959, 100m); Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966, 55m)


T 2/2. Interpretation and Auteurism: the Literary Model of Meaning

Susanne Langer, “Expressiveness”

Monroe Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy”

Andrew Sarris, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” (FTC)

Robin Wood, “Welles, Shakespeare, and Webster”

Robert P. Kolker, “The Film Text and Film Form”

John Waters, “Whatever Happened to Showmanship?”

Recommended: The Film Experience, chs. 3-6


Th 2/4 Screening: Letter to Jane (Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1973, excerpt); Primary (Drew Associates, 1960, 53m); Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955, 87m)


T 2/9. Semiotics: Culture as System

Roland Barthes, "Myth Today" and "The Reality Effect"

Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?’

Stephen Heath, "Terms of Analysis," excerpt

Jo Evans, "Sex and the Censors: The femme fatale in Juan Antonio Bardem's Muerte de un Ciclista"

Jeanne Hall, “Realism as a Style in Cinema Vérité”

Richard Dyer, “White” (clip)


Th 2/11 Screening: Thriller (Sally Potter, 1979, 34m); Klute (Alan Pakula, 1971, 115m)


T 2/16. Subject Positioning: Ideology and Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage”

Louis Althusser, “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus”

Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni, "Cinema/ Ideology/Criticism" (FTC)

Christian Metz, from The Imaginary Signifier: “The Investigator's Imaginary” and "Story/Discourse (Two Kinds of Voyeurism)” (Blackboard)

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (FTC) (clips)

Christine Gledhill, "Klute"


Due: 2-3 page textual analysis


Th 2/18 Screening: Vertical Roll (Joan Jonas, video art, 1972, excerpt); Serene Velocity (Ernie Gehr, 1970, 23m); Television news broadcasts;  ER, “Ambush” (Thomas Schlamme, TV, 1996, 45m)


T 2/23.  Apparatus/Medium Theory: Technology and Culture

Jane Feuer, “The Concept of Live Television: Ontology as Ideology”

Walter Benjamin, “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (FTC)

Marshall McLuhan, “Medium is the Message”

Richard Dyer, “Lighting for Whiteness” (clip)

Martha Rosler, "Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment"

Optional: Jean-Louis Baudry, “The Apparatus” (FTC)




Th 2/25 Screening: Illusions (Julie Dash, 1983, 34m); Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1987, 113m)


T 3/2. British Cultural Studies

Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding”

Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, from Bond and Beyond

Manthia Diawara, “Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance” (FTC)

Charlotte Brunsdon, “Postfeminism and Shopping Films”

Henry Jenkins, from Convergence Culture


Th 3/4 Screening: super-8 shorts (Derek Jarman); Superstar (Todd Haynes, 1987, 43m); All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955, 89m)




T 3/16. Corporeality and Excess: Star Bodies, Body Genres, and Embodied Spectatorship

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "The Primacy of Perception and its Philosophical Consequences"

Gilles Deleuze, from Cinema (FTC)

Linda Williams, "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess" (FTC)

Richard Meyer, "Rock Hudson's Body"

Paul Willemen, “Distanciation and Douglas Sirk”; “Toward an Analysis of the Sirkian System”

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “Six Films By Douglas Sirk”


No Thursday Screening

Outside-of-class Viewing: Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929, 80m)


T 3/23. Digital Aesthetics

Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, prologue, chs. 1, 2, 4, 6


Due: first draft of seminal paper


Th 3/25 Screening:  The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919, 60m); The Day I Became a Woman (Marziyeh Meshkini, 2000, 78m)


T 3/30. National Cinema and Global Media Culture

Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities

Dudley Andrew, “Time Zones and Jetlag”

Hamid Naficy, from An Accented Cinema

Michelle Langford, "Allegory and the Aesthetics of Becoming-Woman in Marziyeh Meshkini’s The Day I Became a Woman"

Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, "Toward a Third Cinema"




Th 4/1 Screening: Correction, Please (Noel Burch, 1978, 50m); Hot Water (Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1924, 60m); The Crash (William Dieterle, 1932, 57m)


T 4/6. Classicism

Edwin O'Connor, The Last Hurrah, excerpt

Robin Wood, “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” excerpt (clips)

David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, chs. 4 and 9: “Principles of Narration,” (pp. 49-53, 59-62), "Classical Narration" (pp. 156-164, 178-198) (clips) – ch. 6 optional

Rick Altman, “Dickens, Griffith, and Film Theory Today”

Optional: Nick Browne, “The Spectator in the Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach” (FTC)


Th 4/8 Screening: Spider’s Stratagem (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970, 90m); The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008, 93m)


T 4/13.  Art Cinema and Post-Classicism

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”

David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, ch. 5, 6, and 10: “Narration and Time,”  “Narration and Space” (pp. 117-146) and “Art Cinema Narration” (clips)

Jason Mittell, “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television”

David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film” (clip)


Th 4/15 Screening:  The Text of Light (Stan Brakhage, 1974, 71m); In Order Not to Be Here (Deborah Stratman, 2002, 30m); Handtinting (Joyce Wieland, 1968, 6m)


T 4/20. Experimental Film and Media

Roman Jakobson, "The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles"

Viktor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique"

Peter Burger, from Theory of the Avant-Garde

P. Adams Sitney, "Structural Film"

Maya Deren, “Cinematography: the Creative Use of Reality” (FTC)

Rosalind Galt, “'Brash, Indecent, Libertine': Derek Jarman's Pretty Colors”

Optional: Brian O’Doherty, from Inside the White Cube: the Ideology of the Gallery Space


Th 4/22 Screening: Law and Order (Frederic Wiseman, 1969, 80m); Daughter from Danang (Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, 2002, 83m)


T 4/27.  Documentary Narration and Ethics

John Grierson, “First Principles of Documentary”

Bill Nichols, "Modes of Documentary"

Carl Plantinga, “Structure,” from The Rhetoric of Nonfiction Film

Calvin Prylock, "Ultimately We Are All Outsiders: The Ethics of Documentary Filming"

Kimberly Chabot Davis, “White Filmmakers and Minority Subjects: Cinema Vérité and the Politics of Irony in Hoop Dreams and Paris Is Burning”


Th 4/29. Historical Narration

In-class screening: Salvatore Giuliano (Francesco Rosi, 1962, 125m)

David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, ch. 8: “Historical Materialist Narration”