Introduction to Film



Winter 2015
Monday and Wednesday, 9:35 am - 11:35 am
State Hall 326

Web address for this page:
On Blackboard, log in to: "WINTER 2015 -- ENG COM 2450 2010 Sec 001 (COMBINED)

Steven Shaviro ( or )

5057 Woodward, Room 9309
Office hours: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00 - 1:00 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 consider how film works as a whole, by looking at several examples (from the 1940s, the 1970s, and the 2000s) of the genre of detective films.

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 three Concept Guides, giving definitions of key terms in Mise-en-scene, Cinematography, and Editing. These Concept guides will be on Blackboard, together with weekly lecture slides.

Monday classes will usually be devoted to the screening of full-length feature films. Wednesday classes will usually consist of lecture and discussion. Each lecture will be accompanied by a slide presentation and some short film clips. 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.

For each of the units of film form that we discuss (mise en scene, cinematography, editing, and sound) we will see both an older film (pre-1960) and a more modern one (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).

Class requirements: regular attendance, participation in discussions, and five short assigned papers (approximately 800 words each). Each assigned paper will count for 20% of your grade. Points may be deducted for non-attendance and for late papers. Points may be added for positive participation in class discussions.

January 12
General introduction to film
Buster Keaton, Sherlock Junior (1924)

January 14 & 21
The film experience
Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)

January 26/28
Mise-en-scene (1)
Josef von Sternberg, The Scarlet Empress (1934)

February 2/4
Mise-en-scene (2)
Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark (1987)

February 9/11
Cinematography (1)
Orson Welles, Touch of Evil (1958)

February 16/18
Cinematography (2)
Michael Mann, Collateral (2004)

February 23/25 Editing (1): Continuity Editing
John Ford, Stagecoach (1939)

March 2/4
Editing (2): Expressive Editing
John Woo, The Killer (1989)

March 9/11
Editing (3): Disjunctive Editing
Tony Scott, Domino (2005)

March 23/25
Film Sound screenings
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Peter Strickland, Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

March 30/April 1
Lectures on film sound

April 6/8
Film Genres: The Detective Film (1)
Howard Hawks, The Big Sleep (1946)
Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

April 13/15
Film Genres: The Detective Film (2)
Lecture/discussion on classic detective films
Robert Altman, The Long Goodbye (1973)
Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974) [watch on your own]

April 20/22/27
Film Genres; The Detective Film (3)
Rian Johnson, Brick (2005)
Lecture/discussion on 1970s detective films and on modern detective films


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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

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