978-1457663543 Chapter 11

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
The Film Experience: An Introduction 4th Edition
Authors
Patricia White, Timothy Corrigan
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CHAPTER 11
READING ABOUT FILM: CRITICAL THEORIES AND METHODS
KEY OBJECTIVES
Explain the concept of cinematic specificity. Introduce the method of formal analysis.
Describe the interdisciplinary nature of film and media studies.
Outline the major positions in classical film theory, from Soviet montage theory to realism.
Demonstrate knowledge about the key schools of thought within contemporary film theory, including
semiotics and structuralism, psychoanalysis and apparatus theory; feminist, queer, and critical race theory;
cultural studies; philosophical approaches; and postmodernism.
CHAPTER OVERVIEW
Chapter 11 explores major methods, concepts, and thinkers in film theory from the first decades of the medium
to the digital age. The first chapter in Part 4 begins with an overview of the two concepts at the heart of film theory:
the interdisciplinary nature of film and film studies and cinema’s medium specificity. It then considers film theory in
historical context, beginning with early film theory and the major concerns of classical film theory from Soviet
montage to formalism and realism. Next, the chapter looks at postwar film culture, including auteur theory and
genre theory, as well as the role film journals played in developing these ideas. The chapter ends with contemporary
film theory, engaging students in theoretical approaches rooted in structuralism and semiotics, Marxist ideological
critique, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, apparatus theory, spectatorship, feminist film theory and queer theory,
reception theory and star studies, race and representation, cognitive theory, philosophy, and postmodernism.
This chapter aims to demystify the field of film theory, although students may certainly have to st ruggle with theory
and do some work to understand film on a more abstract plane. In reading and picking apart theoristswork, it is important
to remember that referring to “theory” is a useful, shorthand way to refer to a body of knowledge and a set of qu estions. It
is important to emphasize to students that we study film theory to gain historical perspective, to acquire tools for decoding
our experiences of particular films, and, above all, to comprehend the hold that movies have on our imaginations, desi res,
and experiences. While this chapter serves as an overview of the major critical questions in film theory, encourage your
students to seek out and read the work of theorists mentioned in this
chapter and to engage with the Viewing Cues available on LaunchPad for The Film Experience.
TEACHING THE OPENING VIGNETTE
Using the shot of Sherlock, Jr. (1925) in which Keaton’s slumbering projectionist enters the film on the screen
to launch a lesson on film theory can open up several fruitful lines of discussion. He’s a detective, so is it a mystery?
An action film? A psychoanalytic examination of cinematic illusion, identification, and spectatorship? Students can
debate aspects of spectatorship theory as they try to determine whose gaze the viewer is meant to identify with:
Keaton the passive projectionist or Buster the active protagonist. What is the effect of having the divided self of the
viewer acted out on screen? Consider assigning groups of students to take different theoretical approaches identity
politics, apparatus theory, Marxismand debate the advantages and liabilities of each film theory for analyzing
Keaton’s film. Or compare Keaton’s screen crossover with similar scenes in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and
Paprika (2006).
TEACHING THE CHAPTER
To present an overview of the history and debates of film theory, situate some important concepts and methods in
relation to two general issues of theoretical inquiry:
Interdisciplinarity
, which
recognizes that cinema draws from other arts, and that the study of film borrows
from other disciplines such as philosophy, literature, and history.
Cinematic specificity
, which addresses the distinct characteristics of the medium or of the inner workings of
a specific film.
Emphasize to students that film studies, like any academic discipline, tends to advance by active questioning
and dissent. Pluralism and skepticism add a welcome perspective on ideas that might otherwise become rote and
ossified, simply “applied” to new cases. Film scholars continue to draw on the legacies of previous inquiries to
identify the salient questions our contemporary audiovisual experience raises and to develop tools with which to
address those questions.
When teaching this chapter, consider assigning supplementary readings that demonstrate different or evolving
theoretical approaches to the film you screen. If the class reads both Laura Mulvey and Tania Modleski on Rear
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Window, for example, they will more readily realize that film theory is a lively, contentious, ongoing conversation in which
they, too, can take part.
Teaching Film Theory and Historical Context
Film theory today is considered part of an academic discipline. Earlier writers on film, however, came from
many contexts and traditions. An overview of film theory from a historical perspective allows us to contextualize how the
works of major film theorists were formulated over time and to understand how key principles and terms have been
defined and debated.
One way to show students how specific theoretical concerns develop or change over time is to take
one of the two main issuescinema’s interdisciplinary nature or its specificityand follow it
through the different historical periods. For example, ask students to explore how both early film theorists and
contemporary media theorists are dealing with questions of cinematic specificity. What’s similar about their
questions or paths of interrogation? What’s different?
Teaching Technical Vocabulary and Key Concepts
The chapters in Part 4 explore and explain how reading and writing about film deepens and enriches our
experiences of the movies. When teaching technical vocabulary for this section, encourage students to explore
through essays and journal entries the different critical methods that have evolved over the years that shape and color
how we think about a movie.
Another approach to evaluating comprehension could be to administer short quizzes at the beginning of classes.
Select only a few of the boldface terms from each section, perhaps emphasizing those that most closely relate to the film
you’ll be watching. Giving a definition and an example allows students to begin to parse and refine their
understanding of the reading.
TEACHING THE VIEWING CUES
The Evolution of Film Theory, p. 379
Compare a scene from a film you have viewed either in class or on your own with a passage from the book from which
it was adapted. What elements are specific to the film?
This Viewing Cue works well as a prompt for a short research assignment for which students could choose from
among all of the films screened for the course and track down the source of one film’s story. For example, compare how
the graphic novel A History of Violence (2005) represents a scene that also occurs in the movie
adaptation. Or, if you are using Film in Focus movie Clueless (1995) and/or giving the course in an English
department, consider asking students to read selections from Emma and discuss how the filmmakers updated and
translated Jane Austen’s novel into a different medium. Or look at the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and
the 2007 animated film adaptation of her memoir, made with Vincent Parranaud.
Film Aesthetics, p. 384
In this clip from M (1931), consider how elements of form such as the close-up, theorized by Béla Balázs, and the
two-dimensionality of the screen, emphasized by Rudolf Arnheim, direct the viewer’s interpretation.
This Viewing Cue works best as a journal entry, as students will be considering how their own responses to the cli p are
shaped by form. As an in-class exercise, you will want to stress how this sequence from M is essentially a
combination of two things: Peter Lorre’s face (his reaction to the chalk letter on his shoulder sleeve, to the men stalking
him) and the street and railway station (three-dimensional spaces in reality, but viewed as graphically
flattened planes). Both face and shape dominate the sequence.
Realism, p. 384
Analyze a recent film you viewed from a realist position. Can you identify a scene that might support André Bazin’s
ideas about the long take or Siegfried Kracauer’s ideas about photography’s power to capture the everyday?
One approach would be to narrow down this Viewing Cue and apply it to an action sequence of the Opening Vignette
film Sherlock, Jr. After screening it in class, ask how Keaton’s representation of the
backdrops that change with every cut while spotlighting his very real stunt work jibes with Bazin and Kracauer’s
ideas.
Structuralism and Semiotics, p. 390
Watch the online clip of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and consider how its plot resembles a fairy tale.
Instructors may wish to assign excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s 2008 BFI Film Classics monograph on The
Wizard of Oz for the students to read before watching the clip on LaunchPad for The Film Experience. The ideas he
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advances can help shape the discussion.
Ideological Critique, p. 392
Does the film you are watching put forth a clear ideological position? Are there ways to see conflicting positions in
it?
Persepolis offers any number of interesting ideological positions about ethics and the nature of power. Consider
dividing the students into groups and asking each group to characterize the position of a secondary character from the film
and present its findings to the class. For example, you might ask how Momo’s worldview is conveyed by his dialogue and
clothing versus how the older Marjane characterizes it in her voiceover.
Spectatorship, p. 394
Consider your experience as a spectator of the film screened most recently for class. Did you relate to the point of
view of a particular character or was your perspective more omniscient? Were you aware of the apparatus (camera,
projector, screen)?
Film in Focus movie Clueless would work well with this Viewing Cue. It uses classical Hollywood continuity
editing techniques to align the viewer with Cher’s female point of view. Clueless also offers a surprisingly rich array
of examples of gender representation and gendered spectatorship, located primarily in adolescent girls. Consider
using director Amy Heckerling’s film and this Viewing Cue to launch class discussion of feminist and queer film
theory. Perhaps show a few scenes from Heckerling’s earlier film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to provide
additional context.
Reception Theory, p. 398
Conduct a reception study of the film you just viewed by surveying your classmates about which characters and
situations they responded to most favorably. Compare and contrast their opinions with those of film reviewers.
Be certain to ask students to gather pertinent data about geography, age, gender, and membership in a particular
interpretive community when they conduct their surveys. Or have them retroactively compile this data for all the films
shown for class, based on student journal entries or response papers. You might also consider assigning this Viewing Cue
after every film, having a different student or group conduct the survey each time, then ask the
students to analyze all of their data in light of what they’ve now learned about reception theory.
Star Studies, p. 400
Research the star of the film you are about to watch for class. What does your previous knowledge of this star bring to
your viewing? Is the role at odds with his or her established image?
Ask students to respond to this Viewing Cue in class or in their journals before watching the film. In the class after
the screening, ask them to share their previous knowledge of the star and discuss his or her role in this movie. Or modify
the Viewing Cue and ask students what they know about Tom Cruise versus “Tom Cruise” or about another actor
frequently mentioned in the tabloids.
TEACHING THE FILM IN FOCUS
Clueless
about Contemporary Film Theory (1995)?, pp. 402-403
In addition to making certain that students are familiar with Jane Austen’s novel Emma, it might be useful to assign
them Baudrillard’s work on the simulacra, or Dick Hebdige’s studies of teenage subcultures in England, or Mike
Davis’s 1992 book about Los Angeles, City of Quartz. The virtual “shopping” montage is a sequence that occurs again
and again in movies directed at young women.
Discussion Question 1:
How might unbridled consumerism actually circumscribe women’s choices? To drive the
point home, you might show the scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) in which the characters
watch Pretty Woman (1990) and Romy mocks the main character when she is prevented from shopping.
Discussion Question 2:
What aspects of Clueless come across as dated now? Are outmoded technologies like
computer programs and clunky telephones a useful way to think about the evolution of film theory? What is still
“useful” about past styles in the movie and in the academy? How about the treatment of Cher’s “boyfriend
Christian?
conventions of action movies upside down.
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ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS
Alternative Activity
Alternative Activity
FILMS CITED
All About My Mother (1999)
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
And God Created Woman (1956)
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1896)
The Birth of a Nation (2016)
Blade Runner (1982)
Breathless (1960)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Clueless (1995)
Crash (2004)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Doubt (2008)
Ender’s Game (2013)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
Fences (2016)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Gandhi (1982)
Germany Year Zero (1948)
The Godfather (1972)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Good-Bye to Language (2014)
Hamlet (1921)
The Help (2011)
His Girl Friday (1940)
How to Get Away with Murder (2014-2017)
Indiana Jones series (1981-2008)
The Jungle Book (2016)
The King and I (1956)
L’Avventura (1960)
Lemonade (2016)
Lucía (1968)
M (1931)
The Matrix (1999)
Mean Girls (2004)
Moonlight (2016)
Morocco (1930)
Mother (1926)
Now, Voyager (1942)
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Polyester (1981)
Rear Window (1954)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Rhythmus 21 (1921)
Riddles of the Sphinx (1977)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Sherlock, Jr. (1925)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Spectre (2015)
Star Wars (Star Wars: Episode IVA New Hope) (1977) Star
Wars series (1977-2017)
Suicide Squad (2016)
To Sleep with Anger (1990)
Vertigo (1958)
Volver (2006)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Zajota and the Boogie Spirit (1989)
Zootopia (2016)

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