Introduction to Film



Winter 2016
Monday and Wednesday, 9:35 am - 11:35 am
State Hall 326

Web address for this page:
On Blackboard, log in to: Winter 2016 ENG.COM_2450.2010_1601_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 examples of different film genres and forms.

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.

Monday classes will usually be devoted to the screening of full-length feature films. Wednesday classes will usually consist of lecture and discussion. The only exceptions to this are the first three classes (in which short movies will be screened and discussed in the same class session), and the last three classes (feature films will be shown on both Monday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 20; and both will be discussed during the final class, Monday, April 25). Attendance will be taken at the start of all the lecture/discussion classes. Attendance will not be taken on screening days (aside from the first three class sessions); if you do not make it to the screenings, it is your responsibility to see the movies on your own (most of the movies, but not necessarily all, are available for streaming or on DVD).

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).


January 11
General introduction

January 13
The film experience (1)
Buster Keaton, Sherlock Junior (1924)

January 20
The film experience (2)
Robert Wiene, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

January 25/27
The film experience (3)
Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)

February 1/3
Mise-en-scene (1)
Josef von Sternberg, The Scarlet Empress (1934)
February 4: first analytic exercise (the film experience) due

February 8/10
Mise-en-scene (2)
Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark (1987)

February 15/17
Cinematography (1)
Orson Welles, Touch of Evil (1958)
February 18: second analytic exercise (mise en scene) due

February 22/24
Cinematography (2)
Michael Mann, Collateral (2004)

February 29/March 2
Editing (1): Continuity Editing
John Ford, Stagecoach (1939)
March 3: third analytic exercise (cinematography) due

March 7/9
Editing (2): Expressive Editing
John Woo, The Killer (1989)

March 21/23
Editing (3): Disjunctive Editing
Tony Scott, Domino (2005)

March 28/30
Film Sound (1)
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
March 31: fourth analytic exercise (editing) due

April 4/6
Film Sound (2)
Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

April 11/13
Genres and Forms (1): Film Noir
Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944)
April 14: fifth analytic exercise (sound) due

April 18/20/25
Genres and Forms (2): Digital Film
Joseph Kahn, Detention (2011)
Leo Gabriadze, Unfriended (2014)
May 2: sixth analytic exercise (genres & forms) due

Class requirements and grading:
Grading will be according to a point system. The maximum is 40 points, which translates to a grade of A (4.0).

  1. There are 15 class sessions at which attendance will be taken. You are allowed up to 3 absences. (1 point if you attend 12 or more of these 15 sessions; 0 points for excessive absence).
  2. You must write a short account (150 to 200 words each) of each of the 15 films we watch and discuss in class. These are due before the following week's classes (that is to say, they will usually be due by 9 am on Monday mornings). They will be graded pass/fail. 1 point for each pass.
  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 redo/revise assignments, or to hand in assignments late. Once these three opportunities are used, no more late assignments or revisions will be accepted.

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.