Film Theory and Analysis
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Level: Graduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: School of Media Studies
Department: Media Studies
Course Number: NMDS 5115
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Film & Video History, Theory & Criticism
  • Media Studies
One might have thought that the cinema, perhaps the most complex of all art forms, would from the outset have been the object of major theoretical approaches. But, although a handful of theorists such as André Bazin, Jean Mitry, and Sergei Eisenstein appeared on the scene early on, the most significant manifestations of film theory began to appear around the mid 1950s, pretty much contemporaneously with the work of filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and others, particularly artists involved in and around the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Interestingly, much of the most important film theory has evolved out of work developed more for the analysis of literature, psychology and politics than of film. This work would include linguistics (most particularly the work of Fernand Saussure), semiotics (Barthes et al.), psychoanalysis (including Freud, Jung, and, most particularly, Lacan), structuralism, poststructuralism (Derrida and Lacan), existentialism, Marxism, etc. In this course we will examine various ways of theorizing the cinema, starting with a consideration of the presentational versus the representational elements of the cinema. We will consider ways in which we can break the cinema out of frameworks that trap it within the ideologies of realism, starting with the tools of modernism, which ask us to consider the construction of the film as well as the materials used to construct it. We will study the cinematic image not as the object(s) it represents but rather as images that create what Jean-Paul Sartre calls “the presence of absence.” Most weeks we will screen a different film that will form the basis for a discussion of various theoretical issues that each particular work evokes. In the final weeks of the course we will read the first four chapters of Professor Brown’s work in progress, Images of Images: Myth, Lacan, and Narrative Cinema, with screenings from films that are the object of significant analysis in these chapters. Class work will involve two written projects and a final paper. The first two projects, to be completed during the semester, will involve comparisons on various technical and theoretical levels of two films devoted to the same subject or based on the same book: Psycho and Ed Gein, and Manhunter and Red Dragon. (I know: all of these films deal with very ugly subjects; see Julia Kristeva’s “Ellipsis…” for one way of dealing with this.) For Manhunter/Red Dragon I will also ask for you to read the Thomas Harris novel, Red Dragon, on which both films are based, and to comment on how each film deals with the original written text. For more details see below. The third project will be a final paper, due 15 May, on a subject of your choice, preferably but not necessarily an analysis of a single film that we have not discussed in class.
Course Open to: Degree Students


Open to Schools of Public Engagement students.


Open to Graduate students.