Introduction to Film Studies



Fall 2016
Tuesday and Thursday, 9:35 - 11:35 am or 12:50 - 2:50 pm
State Hall 326

Web address for this page:
On Blackboard, log in to: COM.ENG_2010.2450_1609_002.005.003_COMB

Steven Shaviro ( or

5057 Woodward, Room 9309
Office hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 11:40 am - 12:40 pm, and by appointment

This class offers an introduction to the study of film. First, we will look at the film experience as a whole. Then, we will take a detailed look at the major formal elements of film (mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound). Finally, we will look at at examples of different film genres and forms, and study the influence of new digital technologies on film.

By the end of the course, successful students should be able to:
1. Use a basic vocabulary of film analysis when discussing film texts, as well as other media.
2. Analyze the basic formal elements of cinema (narrative, mise-en-scene, editing, sound, etc.) to identify how they work separately and how they work together as a meaningful whole.

I have not ordered a textbook for this class, because all the available textbooks are excessively expensive. Instead, the lectures will be supplemented by Concept Guides, giving definitions of key terms. These will be handed out in class, and also available on Blackboard.

Tuesday classes will be devoted to the screening of full-length feature films. Thursday classes will consist of lecture and discussion. (The only exception is the first day of class, when we will both watch and discuss a short film) Attendance, both at the screenings and at the lecture/discussion classes, is mandatory, and will be taken at the start of every class.

The aim of each lecture/discussion will be twofold: to analyze the films that we have seen, and to discuss more general concepts important for the critical understanding of film. In the course of the semester, we will watch both a number of older films (pre-1960), and a number of more modern films (dating from the 1980s to the present). Though the class does not survey the history of film in any detail, one of its aims is to is to make you more aware of the variety of film art over the past century, by introducing you to older films that you may not have seen before, including silent films, black-and-white films, and films in foreign languages (shown with English subtitles).

Grading will be according to a point system. The maximum is 40 points, which translates to a grade of A (4.0).
37 points = A-
33 points = B+
30 points = B
27 points = B-
23 points = C+
20 points = C.

  1. This class meets 27 times in the course of the semester. You are allowed up to 4 unexcused absences. (3 points for attendance if you have four or less unexcused absences; 0 points for for more than four unexcused absences).
  2. You must write a short account (150 to 200 words each) of each of the 13 films (except for Sherlock Jr the first class session) that we watch and discuss in class. These are due every Tuesday morning, before the screenings on those days. They will be graded pass/fail. (1 point for each pass, 0 points for fail). I will not return these short accounts, aside from notifying you if you fail.
  3. There will be 6 analytic exercises, one for each of the six sections of the syllabus (the film experience; mise en scene; cinematography; editing; sound; genres and forms). They will each be worth 4 points; the only grades will be 4 (full credit), 2 (half credit) and 0 (no credit).
  4. Over the course of the semester, you will have three opportunities to to hand in short accounts or analytic exercises late, or to redo/revise analytic exercises. (No redos on the short accounts of movies). Once these three opportunities are used, no more late assignments or revisions will be accepted.
  5. There will be no incompletes. Grading is based on the total number of points. Even if you miss some assignments, you may still be able to pass the course if you have enough points overall.
  6. All assignments will be digital only (no hardcopies to hand in). When I give out the assignments, I will explain how to send the papers to me.


September 1
General introduction
Buster Keaton, Sherlock Junior (1924)

September 6-8
The film experience
Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)

September 13-15
Mise-en-scene (1)
Josef von Sternberg, The Scarlet Empress (1934)
September 13: first analytic exercise (the film experience) due

Septemer 20-22
Mise-en-scene (2)
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity (2013)

September 27-29
Cinematography (1)
Orson Welles, Touch of Evil (1958)
September 27: second analytic exercise (mise en scene) due

October 4-6
Cinematography (2)
Michael Mann, Collateral (2004)

October 11-13
Editing (1): Continuity Editing
John Ford, Stagecoach (1939)
October 11: third analytic exercise (cinematography) due

October 18-20
Editing (2): Expressive Editing
John Woo, The Killer (1989)

October 25-27
Editing (3): Disjunctive Editing
Tony Scott, Domino (2005)

November 1-3
Film Sound (1)
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
November 1: fourth analytic exercise (editing) due

November 8-10
Film Sound (2)
Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

November 15-17
Genres and Forms (1): Film Noir
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944)
November 15: fifth analytic exercise (sound) due

November 22 NO CLASS (Thanksgiving week)

November 29-December 1
Genres and Forms (2): New Media
Leo Gabriadze, Unfriended (2014)
November 29: fifth analytic exercise (sound) due

December 6-8
Genres and Forms (3) New Media, continued
Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, Nerve (2016)
Joseph Kahn, Detention (2011)

December 13
No class, but sixth analytical exercise (genres and forms) due

Grade Appeals:
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences stipulates that course grade appeals must be initiated within 30 days from the time the grade is posted. The English Grade Appeal Form can be obtained at the English Main Office on the 9th Floor of 5057 Woodward or by emailing Royanne Smith at More information on this process, including the limited grounds for appeal, can be found at

Plagiarism is a very serious matter and should be recognized as such. The University has a very strict policy on plagiarism. Always refer to your sources when quoting, paraphrasing, or using the ideas ofother writers. When paraphrasing, place in quotes any phrase of four words or more that comes directly from the source being used.