Seminar in Film Theory and Criticism: Contemporary Film Theory and Criticism

Description: this course offers a survey of representative texts of contemporary film theory and criticism, illustrated by a selection of relevant films. Film historians identify May 1968 (the student uprisings in Paris) as the beginning of the contemporary period of film theory and criticism, that moment when film criticism began to break from the naturalist assumptions of the realism and formalism of film theory’s classical period in adopting the stance that all languages or systems, such as film, are constructed and informed by ideology. Contemporary film theory arose with the encounter of Marxism and psychoanalysis within the field of semiotics, and all three strands–semiotics, theories of ideology, and theories of subjectivity–came together in the field from the 1970s to 2000. In these models, film is an ideological construct with ruptures of resistance, and a site that positions the spectator as subject whether passive or active, fixed or fluctuating. As such, these three models, either separately or in combination, informed the investigations into narrative, genre, authorship (the auteur), spectatorship, gender, sexuality, and race.


The last part of the course will look into the present Foucauldian, poststructuralist, and postmodern environment, and the emphasis on plurality and the hybrid approach to film investigations, combining any number of theories and practices, along with cultural and historical research into production and consumption.


Assignments will include: oral reports based on written reports on assigned readings, which would form the basis of class discussion; two papers, one of medium length focusing on a theoretical discourse and its practical application to a film through close analysis, and another longer paper involving research into an issue within the field along with references to relevant films.


Student Learning Outcomes:


This course offers an opportunity for students to develop an interdisciplinary perspective between film and literary studies, in terms of theoretical underpinnings, methods of critical analysis, and broader cultural formations.


The assignments will enable students to demonstrate advanced analysis in both written and oral formats.


The assignments will also provide the means for students to understand advanced research methods and to develop independent research skills.


Texts: The reading texts will be collected in a Course Reader and they will be culled from a variety of textbooks that include:


Corrigan & White, eds. Critical Visions in Film Theory (2011)

Etherington-Wright & Doughty. Understanding Film Theory (2011)

Braudy & Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism, Eighth Edition (2016)

Stam & Miller, eds. Film and Theory: An Anthology (2000)

Kaplan, ed. Feminism and Film (2000)

Thornham, ed. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader (1999)


Specific authors include: Jean-Luc Comolli, Jean Narboni, Jean Louis Baudry, Stuart Hall, Ella Shohat, Richard Dyer, David Bordwell, Linda Williams, Tania Modleski, Judith Mayne, Laura Mulvey, Manthia Diawara, Carol Clover, Robert Ray, Mary Ann Doane, Teresa de Lauretis, Slavoj Zizek, Robert Stam, Christian Metz, Fredric Jameson, Dudley Andrew, and Fatimah Tobing Rony.


Relevant Films (tentative): Casablanca, Breathless, Shadow of a Doubt, Blue Velvet, Vertigo or Rear Window, Halloween, Dressed to Kill, Chinatown, Basic Instinct, The Crying Game, Chocolat (Denis), White Material, Birth of A Nation, The Battle of Algiers, Ali Fear Eats the Soul, King Kong, Cache, The Piano, Moonlight, Bird of Paradise, The Tango Lesson, Elle, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2.