ENG 363: Film: The Happy Film

The experience of film is different from other media. It involves embodied perception and its own version of both space and time. In other words, it is a somatic medium, identified since its formative years with an experience of shock that encompasses both the physical and the mental. Over the more than hundred years of its existence, the function of “shock-effects” has diversified greatly to include a variety of mood-enhancements and the recognition of cinema as potentially therapeutic.

This course focuses on films specifically intended to create a cinematic language of happiness. The course of happiness may be a turbulent one, conveying the viewer through unhappy and less-happy stages to reach happiness. It may also be episodic, providing happiness in spurts. Some of the films chosen are distinctly sad, but the sadness culminates in happiness; sometimes through classical catharsis, at others through a simple sense of relief. One of the principal means through which film establishes these happy affects/effects is by bringing psychic and narrative continuity to existential discontinuity, or else in reverse, attacking the continuity of suffering through effects of discontinuity. Camera and editing techniques play a key role in this latter aspect.

Students will walk away from this course with an understanding of: 1. camera and editing techniques and the larger range of “film grammar”, 2. key moments of film history, and 3. genre categories, which produce the affect-effect of happiness.

Key Films

L’Atalante (1934, dir. Jean Vigo, 89 mins)

Bicycle Thieves (1948, dir. Vittorio De Sica, 93 mins)

Rear Window (1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 115 mins)

The Red Balloon (1956, dir. Albert Lamorisse, 36 mins)

All About My Mother (1999, dir. Pedro Almodovar, 105 mins)

Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, 88 mins)

Whale Rider (2002, dir. Niki Caro, 105 mins)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004, dir. Stephen Chow, 99 mins)

Om Shanti Om (2007, dir. Farah Khan, 196 mins)


Watching films intelligently is the most important activity in this class. Our classes will thus be devoted to watching and discussing films. You will have to maintain a film journal and keep an activity log of all the films you watch. You will read critical essays and historical surveys. Attendance and Participation (20); assignments will consist of short response papers (20), shot by shot scene analysis (20), film grammar quizzes (10), and a medium-length film essay (30).