Post-Cinema? New Media and the Digital Turn

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 18, 20217/19 - 8/184 WeeksOnlineCancelledOnlineMatthew Ellis

Course Description

The rapid influx of digital technology and so-called “new media” around the new millennium has led some to suggest that cinema—conceived as an analog technology experienced in public space as a mid-twentieth century cultural phenomenon—is dead or dying.

This course takes up this suggestive claim to ask what it might mean to live through a moment of media transition from the analog twentieth century cinema to the digital twenty-first new media landscape, especially as it relates to the lives and daily experiences of students themselves living through such a transition. From contemporary debates over "prestige television"--is it cinema?--to anxieties over smartphone use and digital media--"how can you watch a movie on your phone?"--we will ask questions about how we interact with moving-image media in the twenty-first century, asking what the political and cultural implications are in taking for granted moments of media change which otherwise might seem naturalized or inevitable.

This course seeks to introduce students to various debates over media change, specifically focused around the so-called “end” of cinema and the transition to digital new media technologies in recent decades. Because this moment of media change is periodized as the dominant mode of experience most students have themselves lived through, we will begin by reading a selection of key debates over the death of cinema, charting a trajectory of key historical moments within the periodization and historicization of cinema leading up to the new millennium.

What “was” this thing called cinema, and how might its so-called “end” preclude experiences students might themselves recognize in this supposedly post-cinematic moment? Are you still watching a movie when you stream YouTube on your phone? What makes television different from “cinema,” if it is? How might social media and streaming platforms from Netflix to Tik Tok continue practices that some theorists might relegate to the “cinematic,” and how might they begin to diverge into what could be seen as a new media environment, radically different from what came before? Where do we “watch” when we watch, and how do we think about our attention when we do?

By asking questions such as these, we will move through a series of readings and screenings, taking care to pay attention to the form and experience of a number of films. Our goal here is to ask how perceived historical ruptures or coherences in form, aesthetic, and material conditions might lead to certain conceptions of “cinema” itself. Finally, we will ask why this particular version of the “end of cinema” emerges within the period of what some call “neoliberalism,” or “Late Capitalism,” asking how logics of market efficiency, technological progress, and decentralized control have contributed to these conceptions. How can cinema can still offer modes of political resistance, or critique?

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
(1) Develop critical tools for thinking through their own consumption of filmic media,
(2) Practice putting their critical thoughts into clear, argumentative writing,
(3) Think critically about the politics and history of media forms which are often taken for granted, and
(4) Develop a basic understanding of technical and industrial aspects of new media and contemporary cinematic production.

Prerequisites: This course is open to any student with an interest in cinema, new media, or social media, from those interested in careers in the industry to journalism or criticism, or even to students who simply want to think harder about their daily interaction with digital media. It assumes no previous familiarity with academic studies of film or new media, but students interested in new media and film are encouraged to take the course.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEMS0931

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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