Introduction to Film Analysis

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 28, 2021 - August 11, 20216/28 - 8/116 WeeksOnlineCancelledOnline11641

Course Description

This course is designed as a general introduction to film analysis. The main objective will be to help students develop the analytic tools necessary for understanding how meaning is constructed in narrative cinema.

Using examples from classical and contemporary Hollywood cinema as well as films from around the globe, we will introduce vocabularies and techniques used in serious writing about, and the analysis of, narrative cinema. Throughout the course, students will become conversant with specific elements and operations of the cinematic apparatus (e.g. camera, editing, soundtrack) and its production of discursive meanings. We will also pay close attention to the multiple ways in which digital technologies have altered the construction of narratives in Hollywood and other national cinemas. Along the way, we will examine the structural and ideological attributes of cinema, concentrating on the dominant narrative model developed in the Hollywood studio system as well as alternatives to that model. The skills developed during the course will be of interest to a wide array of students - from those interested in film criticism, journalism or scholarship, to those thinking about careers in the film industry.

Because we experience movies as a part of popular culture, often as entertainment, it is easy to neglect the complexity of their construction. As a counter to this, we will interrogate the complex ways in which films make themselves intelligible to us, as well as the political, cultural, and ideological implications of these systems of meaning. Although we will be screening and discussing a number of films in class throughout the term, this is neither a course about the appreciation of films, nor a survey of the canon. Instead, we will focus on developing the skills necessary for the active viewing of, and critical writing about, various film texts and the strategies they use for constructing meaning. We will begin by learning the basic vocabulary used to describe films: mise-en-scène, montage, cinematography, differences among camera lenses, aspect ratio, lighting, etc. We will then use these terms to examine a sequence of films exemplifying the development of film style, moving from the single shot tableaux to the style and mode of narration now associated with Classical Hollywood. Throughout, we will also pay careful attention to the many cinematic traditions that formed outside of and in reaction to the Hollywood system, from the heyday of European silent cinema, to Third Cinemas from the Global South, and finally to independent and digital cinemas from around the globe. These traditions will be treated as equally important for understanding the construction of cinematic meaning. We will ultimately focus on learning how to analyze filmic form and to actively read films through the formal features that emerge through our analyses.

By the end of this course, students will be able to: (1) Develop a deeper understanding of the forces and structures that go into the construction of cinematic meaning; (2) Put analyses into clear argumentative writing; (3) Describe and analyze film using the analytic vocabulary of film studies; (4) Develop a basic understanding of the formal techniques necessary for the production of cinematic narratives.

Prerequisites: This course is open to all students with interests in any aspect of film production, criticism, journalism, or scholarship. It assumes no previous familiarity with film studies, but students with backgrounds or interests in any of the above areas are encouraged to take the course.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEMS0921

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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