Introduction to Film Studies


ENGLISH 2450 section 3

COMMUNICATIONS 2010 section 2

Fall 2021

Steven Shaviro ( or

This class offers an introduction to the study of film. We will watch a series of movies, old and new; along with interpreting these films, we will also ask larger questions about how movies work. 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). After that, we will take a detailed look at the genre known as film noir. Finally, we will study the influence of new digital technologies on contemporary 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.

This class will not meet in person, but will be conducted entirely online, asynchronously. Every week will include a movies screening, a number of mini-lectures, and written discussion boards for you to make comments and ask questions.

The movies are available on various online streaming services. Six of them are licensed to the University so that you will be able to watch them for free by logging in with your university ID. The other nine are available from various commercial screening services (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc); you will have to pay to rent these films, but the price is relatively low. Consider the fees for renting movies to be a class expense, like paying for a textbook; but the total cost of rentals will still be considerably less than buying a film studies textbook would have been. (Nine films at $3.99 each comes out to less than $36 over the course of the semester). The lectures and discussion boards will be posted on Canvas.

You should watch the film for each week, and then look at the lectures. Each week, we will discuss and analyze the film that we have watched, and then use the film as an example in order to discuss more general concepts important for the critical understanding of film. For much of the semester, we will watch classic films, starting in the silent era of the early twentieth century and reaching up to the middle twentieth century. Through these films, we will develop the basic concepts of film analysis. In the second half of the semester, we will watch more recent films, made by directors who are still active today, and ranging from the 1970s to the 2010s. In discussing these, we will consider what has changed, and what has not, in the form and structure of films. Though the class does not survey the history of film in any detail, one of its aims 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).

Class content will be provided in the form of mini-lectures, consisting of slides accompanied by my voiceovers. There will be several mini-lectures each week: one for each of the movies we watch, and additional ones looking at major concepts necessary to the understanding of film.

Your class grade will be based in part on your participation in the discussion boards on Canvas; and in part on four analytical exercises that I will ask you to turn in over the course of the semester. There will be a discussion board for each of the mini-lectures. Individual participation is important; I will expect everyone in the class to make weekly comments. These can include responses to the films, questions about specific points in the lectures that need further explanation, discussions about further implications, or references to related examples of what we are discussing. I encourage discussion, comments building on or questioning previous comments. The discussion should remain polite and focused.

The four analytic exercises will be due as follows:

  1. October 1
  2. October 29
  3. November 19
  4. December 17

Assignments for these analytical exercises will be given out two weeks in advance of the due dates.


Week of September 1
General Introduction
Buster Keaton, Sherlock Junior (1924) –

Week of September 6
Silent Film
Robert Wiene, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) –

Week of September 13
The Film Experience
Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of September 20
Elements of Film Form: Mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing
John Ford, Stagecoach (1939) –

Week of September 27
Elements of Film Form: Sound
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of October 4
Film Genres: Film Noir (1)
Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street (1945) –

Week of October 11
Film Genres: Film Noir (2)
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of October 18
Film Genres: Film Noir (3)
Orson Welles, Touch of Evil (1958) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of October 25
Foreign Films: Italian Neo-Realism
Vittorio De Sica, Bicycle Thieves (1948) –

Week of November 1
Modern Films: Neo Film Noir (1)
Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of November 8
Modern Films: Neo Film Noir (2)
Rian Johnson, Brick (2006) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of November 15
Modern Films: Society and the Individual (1)
Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989) –

Week of November 29
Modern Films: Society and the Individual (2)
Carlos Lopez Estrada, Blindspotting (2018) – stream on HBO, or rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

Week of December 6
New Film Technologies (1)
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity (2013) – rent from Apple, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, or other services

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.