The following courses are offered by the Cinema Studies Institute. Not all courses are offered every year. Please see the current timetable for this year's offerings, as well as recommended film-related courses elsewhere on campus.
Complete list of courses
Master of Arts Core Courses
plus one ofCIN 1006Y Major Research Paper in Cinema Studies
CIN 1007Y Internship in Cinema Studies
Doctor of Philosophy Core Courses
plusSRD4444H Research and Methods Seminar
Inside Innis College
- Cinematic Cities (2013-14)
- The Reality of Electronic Media (2013-14) *updated June 25*
- The Thought of Film: Cinema and Mind (2012-13)
- The Society of the Spectacle Today (2012-13)
- Texuality of the Cinematic Body (2011-12)
- Colour and the Moving Image (2011-12)
- Media/Participation (2011-12)
CIN 1008H Independent Research and Reading in Cinema Studies
CIN 1425H British Social Realism and Cinema
CIN 1515H The Emergence of Mass Culture: Movies, Vaudeville and Public Amusements in Turn-of-the-Century America
CIN 1539H Film Comedy and Popular Culture
CIN 1772H The Politics of Non-Fiction Film
CIN 5968H Actuality, Documentary, Reality
CIN 6153H Race and Cinema
CIN 6156H Dark Passages: Film and the Geometry of Racial Imagination
CIN 6197H Eyes Looking, Lips Moving: Theories of the Viewing Subject
CIN 6803H Intertextuality in Feminist Cinema: The Counter-Cinematic Impulse
CIN 6817H Text, Context, Intertext: The Touch of Evil Project
JFF 1100H Surrealism & French Cinema
JGF 1773H Autobiographical Documentary: History, Alterity, and Performativity
Core Course Descriptions
Organized around a series of issues that have incited ongoing discussion and debate among scholars, cultural critics, and filmmakers, this course takes a topical approach to the study of film theory. In the process it both revisits some of the most canonical texts in the field and attends to more recent attempts to think through our contemporary moment, when digitality and transnationalism are radically changing the nature of film as well as the manner in which it is produced, distributed, exhibited, and viewed. Among those issues to be discussed are medium specificity, spectatorship, narrativity, affect, and the relationship between aesthetics, economics, and politics.
This course surveys those methods and topics that have proven most historically salient and analytically fruitful in the field of cinema studies through a semester-long discussion of a single film, one chosen for the tremendous and varied impact it has had on film culture. In addition to engaging with that film in an ongoing manner, students in the course will examine both the critical literature it has generated from a wide array of scholars and other films to which it relates. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to map the various critical contexts in which meanings emerge as well as the intertextual connections such contexts provoke.
This course will examine a limited number of important developments within film history while providing students with extended and in-depth study of how such developments entail a consideration of sociocultural forces, economics, technology and aesthetics. Developments to be selected will cover a wide range of distinct time periods, geographical areas, and stylistic tendencies. Selection will also be influenced by the range of scholarly approaches that have been devised to investigate the developments chosen. The aim is to ensure that students' knowledge of film history is enhanced while also encouraging them to engage more critically with the issues surrounding the study of film history.
In 1824, the influential German historian Leopold von Ranke described the aim of history as "to show what actually happened," assuming the possibility of an unambiguous access to the past. Today few theorists of history would be as confident. And yet, if an unmediated past is inaccessible – if history is instead inevitably a personal construct, shaped by the historian's perspective as a narrator – how is one to assess the historical enterprise? What can it mean to think historically, and what are the unique characteristics of historical inquiry? And what clues can cinema, as a supposedly "referential" visual form, provide about history, as a similarly (and also supposedly) "referential" discourse? Broadly stated, the class can be defined in terms of three major goals: to investigate the range of hermeneutic perspectives from which film history has been written; to assess and to theorize the kind of archival sources that film historians have conventionally drawn upon; and to confront cinema's status as a technology and the pressures that technological change (in particular, digitization) has placed on history and cultural memory. Rather than deny or avoid these pressures, this course seeks ultimately to suggest ways of running positively with them; ways of "doing history in the postmodern world" – arguably the world we live in.
This course examines the multiple factors that are shaping the field of cinema studies, especially as pressures exerted on our conception of what constitutes “cinema” are reflected in current scholarly debates. Rapid changes to technology, shifts in delivery systems, diverse spectatorial responses to and uses of cinema, globalization and industrial consolidation--all of these forces work to alter both the nature of cinema as a medium and its social and cultural functions. This course will study how cinema’s protean nature remains a central issue in debates about medium specificity, the role of digitalization, and different viewing communities, among other topics.
Elective Course Descriptions
This course will include readings in international film festival studies, but will involve original research in women's film festivals, on which there is little scholarly literature. Students will be expected to conduct original research on a variety of theoretical issues: feminist issues, transnationalism, globalisation, the world festival 'scene' and alternative paradigms.
Film analysis has often played a pivotal role in the development and application of theoretical presuppositions and models. This course involves the detailed examination of analytical essays that have served to further the aims of film theory or developed new models for approaching film analysis. Some of these essays are central documents in the history of film analysis; others are representative examples of certain types of analytical approaches. Through the study of these analytical essays, students are encouraged to consider how structuralism, semiotics, psychoanalysis, feminism, and neoformalism (among others) have been taken up by scholars in the analysis of film. Finally, the changes in film analysis over the last several decades can be read as epistemological shifts within film study proper; moreover, these changes signal the evolving sense of the meaning and value of the filmic text.
Seminar format. Drawing on the scholarly interests of faculty, courses may include intermediality, film genres, corporeality, and transnationality.
Sections of this course offered in 2013-14:
The screen practices we associate with film in its theatrical mode of presentation interacted closely and from the beginning with the culture of emerging urban modernity even before a workable cinematic apparatus was developed. Exchanges between city and cinema then continued and intensified well into the end of the following century. This course explores selected moments in those exchanges between cities and cinemas. The “cinematic cities” idea implies taking film as a distinctly urban medium, and the modern city correspondingly as a cinematic phenomenon. The medium's technical features, especially montage and spatial manipulation, and film’s diverse roles as an entertainment, poetic, political and information vehicle, as well as cinematic representations of particular cities will be examined.
Cinematic Cities will first focus on two topics: (1) the theorization of modern urban visuality in film, with special consideration of proto- and early cinema related to Paris in the writings of Baudelaire as interpreted by Walter Benjamin and radically reconfigured in Bretonian Surrealism and the films that derive from it; (2) 1920s Berlin, and the writing of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin, focused on films like Joe May’s Asphalt, Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Phil Zutzi’s 1931 Berlin Alexanderplatz, Fritz Lang’s films M. The course will then shift to a topic chosen or elected for development by the class. Possible topics include: Film Noir and the post-war erasure of American cities; Hong Kong cinema and the ‘overexposed’ postmodern city; Rome and the post-war Italian urban film poetics.
The course will explore the representation of reality in television and new media programming with a special emphasis on the phenomenon of "reality" programming in the era of convergence. Drawing from a range of different approaches--including close formal analysis, critical theory and philosophy, and industrial history, among others--it will introduce students to the field of scholarship on reality TV while also providing the resources to push it further by engaging with a longer history of debates about the nature of the relationship between reality and mediation; media technologies and sociological analysis; and the aesthetic paradigms of realism and naturalism that most heavily inform TV and new media representations of reality today. The goal will be to make sense of the sweeping, multi-faceted phenomenon of "reality entertainment" that has come to dominate the landscape of television and new media programming at precisely the same moment that the use of electronic media technologies has come to dominate the practical experience of reality in everyday life.
Sections of this course offered in 2012-13:
In 1948, the French film theorist and filmmaker Alexandre Astruc imagined an important relation between film and thought when he wrote that: “A Descartes of today would already have shut himself up in his bedroom with a 16mm camera and some film, and would be writing his philosophies on film: for his Discours de la Méthode would today be of such a kind that only the cinema could express it satisfactorily.” For Astruc, and many others in the history of film theory, film has an especial affinity for thought—for the depiction of consciousness itself—since what appears in the image are relations between objects and people in space unmediated by language. For this reason, film theorists have been attracted to cinema as an extension of the mind, as a machine that records and assembles the world just as we ourselves do in moments of reflection. This course will survey the history of film theory in light of this preoccupation, beginning with early classical film theorists like Hugo Munsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim, V.I. Pudovkin, Jean Epstein, and Sergei Eisenstein, moving outward to consider the relation between epistemology and ontology in the writings of Annette Michelson and Stanley Cavell, and toward a reflection on the status of film/mind analogies in contemporary film theory—including forays into cognitive and analytical film theory, the cinema books of Gilles Deleuze and his commentators (especially D.N. Rodowick), the Wittgensteinian language games of Edward Branigan, and the reflections on aesthetic seriousness as a mode of thinking that one finds in the film writings of the philosopher Alexander García Düttmann, among others. In this course, we will ask what it means for film to be a form of philosophy, especially as film theory and film philosophy appear, in our time, to be converging. We will also—given our insistence on the film/mind relation—be inquiring about the privileged status of epistemology in the history of film theory, concerned as we will be to learn what a this preoccupation with epistemology in film theory truly begets.
In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord describes spectacle as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” Given the increasingly pivotal role that both images and moving image media technologies play in the formation of social and political relations today, it is easy to understand why Debord’s landmark treatise has generated so much interest among media theorists and philosophers in recent years. And yet, the historical relevance of Debord’s work seems to rise only as the relevance of its theoretical and philosophical insights—which have been heavily critiqued from a number of quarters—seems to decline. What does it mean, then, to read The Society of the Spectacle today? The course will provide students with a critical introduction to Debords writings and films about spectacle, as well as the large body of literature these pivotal works have produced in cinema and media studies. At the same time, though, it will incorporate contemporary interpretations and critiques of spectacle from both continental philosophy and media studies, as well as screenings from a broader array of cinema, TV, and new media spectacles, in order to promote new ways of engaging with the both the timeliness and the untimeliness of Debord’s idea today.
Sections of this course offered in 2011-12:
In this course we will examine the various ways in which the body is constructed, circulated, and read as text in cinema, where the superficial bears the burden of signification. More specifically, we will consider the role of the body in a variety of cinematic genres, including musicals, pornography, horror, and melodrama, in order to explore a wide array of inscriptive practices that serve to map the body as a whole or privilege certain constituent parts, as well as the hermeneutical acts such practices encourage. While our primary object of study will be a set of filmic texts and film-related scholarship (be it theoretical, historical, and/or critical in nature), we will also be reading material from philosophy, psychology, and literary studies on a wide array of topics, from the histrionics of hysteria to the spectacle of race, from the kinetics of dance to the paroxysms of pain. As a result, we will gain insight into not only the relationship between corporeality and cinema, but also, more generally, the ways that concepts such as surface and depth, materiality and meaning, appearance and essence, affect and intellect are defined both against and through each other within visual culture at large.
Jean-Luc Godard once noted that Coca-Cola and Communism share an affinity for the same saturated red—wondering, thereby, how it could be that this beacon of capitalism could share a mode of identification with a system to which it is entirely opposed. The paradoxical character of red—and the polyvalence of colour more generally—has led, until very recently, film theorists and film historians to ignore it, and for a number of reasons. For one, colour poses serious problems for interpretation. If one colour can mean many things, how will we understand any given instance? To make matters worse, we all perceive colour slightly differently and colour has been known to fade in time. If that is so, I may be inclined to wonder if the blue motif that I am analyzing will appear to others in the same way? How am I to know if what appears now has appeared before? Colour, then, is primarily a problem of interpretation and perception, especially if we believe that interpretations can be right or wrong. Our task in this course, however, is not to enlarge the skepticism about colour and interpretation. Rather, in considering philosophical, scientific, and historical discourses about colour, we will arrive at a variety of ways of analyzing colour style in film and video art. Likewise, as we begin to come to terms with the perceptual instability as a positive phenomenon, we will consider how and why dominant histories of film style have been written, especially as the taming of colour has been central to an ongoing categorical distinction between narrative cinema and the avant-garde, morality and hedonism.
In the age of TiVo, YouTube, and voter-based reality shows such as the global Idols and Got Talent franchises, it is easy to think of the “new” in new media as a short-hand for the revolutionary promise of consumer participation in the construction of both global and national popular culture. However, the phenomenon of participatory media is hardly as “new” as new media technology, nor is it the self-evident bearer of democratic values that many proponents of "social media" technology would like to suggest. In order to make sense of the complex social and political issues that surround contemporary discourses of participatory media—as well as their mobilization by activists and consumers alike—this course will provide a historical survey of “old” media technologies and aesthetics of participation, running from 19th century popular theater to 20th century radio, film, television, and activist video art, but with an extended concentration on the participation-driven television shows of the fifties that set the generic precedent for contemporary television and internet programming. At the same time, it will provide a theoretical and philosophical inquiry into the very notion of participation as it intersects with theories of democratic politics and activism. In short, the course will provide an intensive opportunity to think about the politics of participation and the sociopolitical challenges they present in contemporary media culture.
This course provides each student with the opportunity to write a major research paper on a topic to be devised in consultation with an individual member of the Cinema Studies core faculty. Students will be encouraged to make use of the special collections hosed with the Media Commons as the basis for their research projects.
A variety of placement settings connected to film culture. Each placement will entail some form of film-related research and/or examination of / participation in how organizations use and study film and disseminate it within a broader cultural field. Students will produce a report at the end of their internship outlining the learning experience and the implications for research and film scholarship.
Offers students the opportunity to design a reading list, research project and/or writing assignments in the student’s designated area of interest.
How and why have debates about social realism contributed to the distinctiveness of British filmmaking as a national cinema? What are the changing forms of British cinema’s relation to realism, and how do those changes relate to broader social and political contexts? This course examines the various permutations of the British realist tradition from the 1930s to the present – from John Grierson to Ken Loach, from the “kitchen sink” cycle of the early 1960s to the 1990s gangster film – tracing the different ways in which realism has been mobilized to pit a supposedly “authentic” British culture against a “superficial” Americanized culture of glamour and entertainment. It locates British realism against a broader context of debate about working-class cultural and political traditions (e.g., Richard Hoggart, E. P. Thompson); and it considers how British cinema’s supposed “authenticity” has been problematized by the displacing of class politics in the post-Thatcher era, relating these shifts to recent, postmodern appropriations of social realism as pastiche (as in, e.g., the cycle of Guy Ritchie-inspired films, the music of the ArcticMonkeys, etc.).
Through a series of case studies – from vaudeville to dance halls, amusement parks to movies – the course considers the intersecting dimensions of social difference brought together in the new commercial public sphere and their impact on debates about cultural hierarchy and social distinction.
This course will explore the history of American film comedy from the origins of cinema to the end of the studio era in the early 1960s. In its various forms, comedy has always been a staple of American film production. But it has also always been a site of heterogeneity and nonconformity in the development of American cinema, with neither its form nor content fitting existing models of classical film practice. This course accounts for that nonconformity by exploring comedy's close and essential links to “popular” cultural sources (in particular, vaudeville and variety); it considers how different comic filmmakers have responded to and reshaped those sources; and it examines the relation between comedy and social formation (class and ethnicity in particular). Rather than engage the entire spectrum of comic styles (romantic comedy, genre parody, screwball, etc.), this course focuses on a single tradition bridging the silent and sound eras: the performance-centered, “comedian comedy” format associated with performers as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, the Marx Brothers, and Bob Hope. The methodology will be interdisciplinary throughout, examining the history of screen comedy as a history of the changing social patterns that produce and permit laughter.
Personal filmmaking first emerged with the avant-garde in the 1950s, as artists explored the performativity of identity via the apparatus. Focusing primarily on the German cultural context, we will explore how such films reference national social and political history while also unsettling inherited distinctions between public and personal archives, public event and private experience, historiography and subjective memory, national character and personal identity, and family and self. Films covered will include experimental feminist films from the 1970s, more recent family films investigating the legacy of the National Socialist past, personal documentaries about the Holocaust produced by children of Holocaust survivors, experimental queer cinema, and the contemporary avant-garde. We will view these films parallel to reading theories of subjectivity and authorship advanced by Roland Barthes, Philip LeJeune, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler.
This course will examine various presentations of the real in cinema. From the earliest motion pictures to documentaries and current “reality-based” media, the urge to represent the real has driven the development of new genres and sparked a century of debates. In looking at various representations of ‘reality,” we will interrogate the relationship between form and content, both in the works themselves and in critical debates about realism, representation, aesthetics, ethics, technology, and politics. What counts as “real”? How do efforts to picture class, race, and ethnicity impact our understanding of realism? How do new technologies affect the demand for — and even the definition of — reality on screen? We will look at early, classic and contemporary examples of documentary and other reality-based forms (including television and web-based programming), and we will read film studies and critical theory.
This course will consider the role race has played in defining film genres and film language. We will look primarily at American films, from the silent era to contemporary cinema and we will consider how the representation of race informs (or deforms) film narratives. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect in film and film theory.
In Blackface White Noise, Michael Rogin makes the claim that the three most significant changes in American cinema history, the development of analytical editing and classical narrative (Birth of a Nation), the introduction of sound (The Jazz Singer), and the introduction of Technicolor (Gone With the Wind) were all constructed around the racial oppression of African Americans. While the overall accuracy of Rogin’s film history is debateable, it does remain true that these films are considered landmarks in the development of the cinema, and that consideration of them has often overlooked their racial formations. This course will focus on race in film, but will shift from an emphasis on the body, to a focus on the metaphysics of spatial relations in the cinematic and their relationship to notions of racialized geometries and geographies. Over the course of the semester, we will explore such issues in discrete units, such as: animation, minstrelsy, and the screen as boundary between real and ideal; the black western and the regulation of national space; the musical, rhythm, the ludic imaginary; and race and the transnational.
This course surveys theories of the cinematic viewer. Taking in early and late semiotic and psychoanalytic, phenomenological, cognitive, and ethical modes of understanding the viewing subject, the course lays open the purposes and politics of each mode of analysis. Its aim is not to favor one theory over another; rather it is to inform students in the institutional, social, cultural and political stakes involved in delineating the viewing subject. In order to do so, this course not only surveys the theoretical landscape, but understands each approach as contingent, located in a specific sociohistorical moment and responding to a set of particular concerns. This approach will permit students to ground the abstract practice of modeling cinematic viewing in the more familiar terrain of social and cultural practice.
Taking their cue from the title of Claire Johnston’s foundational article in feminist film theory, “Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema,” many feminist filmmakers of the last 30 years have defined their charge as follows: to talk back to patriarchal texts through their radical retelling. As a result, much of feminist cinema is characterized by intertextuality. While talking back in this manner can be an extremely effective critical approach, allowing for the production of works that challenge those iconographic and narrative traditions that reify conventional definitions of femininity and masculinity and/or deprive women of agency, it also runs certain risks – chiefly, the re-centering rather than de-centering of the patriarchal text at hand and the exclusion of certain audience members (i.e., those who are unfamiliar with that text). In this course we will explore the political and aesthetic possibilities of talking back by examining various examples of feminist cultural production that are intertextual in nature from a perspective informed by theoretical writings on feminist aesthetics and filmmaking practice.
This course takes as its starting point a single text: Orson Welles’ film Touch of Evil, which was initially released in 1958 and subsequently re-released in altered form forty years later. Having inspired a wealth of critical literature from scholars working with a wide range of methodological approaches (including formalist, structuralist, feminist, and postcolonial) and intellectual concerns (related to issues such as adaptation, genre, auteurism, sound and stardom), Touch of Evil will provide an opportunity to engage rigorously with those methods and topics that have proven most historically salient and theoretically fruitful in cinema studies.
This seminar studies the often unexpected, strange, and strained encounters between Surrealism and the cinema, and the aesthetic, political, and theoretical debates produced by their conjuncture. The course will pursue three trajectories with regards to its topic. The first traces out a precise history of surrealist-engagements with cinema as it emerged in interwar Paris, including the work of key dissident surrealists (Ivan Goll, Jean Painlevé, Antonin Artaud, and Georges Bataille). The second trajectory examines the manner in which cinematic surrealism exceeds this narrow context and has circulated more globally. The third trajectory approaches surrealism as a sensibility that informs modes of reception and criticism informed by—but not constrained by—geographical and historical limits. In other words, we will examine surrealism as a possible method for critical and theoretical studies of cinema and other media. Seminar in English. Readings will be available in French and in English translation.
It was the international avant-garde of the 1950s that first deployed the camera as a technology of the performative self. Since then, first-person filmmaking has gained ground, dovetailing with disparate social trends across the decades, and more recently, resulting in feature-length autobiographical documentaries with widespread appeal. Using the German cultural context as case study in a comparative framework, this interdisciplinary seminar draws on diverse theories of subjectivity, including recent scholarship in Performance Studies (Goffmann, Butler, Phelan), Lacanian psychoanalysis, documentary theory (Gaines, Nichols, Odin, Renov), phenomenology (Sobchak), post-structuralism (Barthes, Derrida, Foucault), and theories of cultural memory (Assman, Halbwachs, Nora) and of transgenerational trauma (Caruth, Felman, Laub). We explore how the subjective stance blurs the lines between public event and private experience, between national historiography and subjective memory, between families of origin and the bounded self. Consideration will be given to both socio-historical context and innovations in narrative form (confession, diary, testimonial), including the nesting of different technologies (photography, Super 8, home video, archival newsreel, cell phone). Our chronology will touch upon avant-garde and feminist filmmaking of the 1970s but focus primarily on productions of the past 15 years, including investigative family films by (grand)children of both Holocaust survivors and Nazi perpetrators; experimental queer cinema; reconstructed family historiographies of Turkish labor migration to Germany; and mainstream features.
How, in an era of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, can we understand the relation of populism to democracy and to the logic of representation? This course seeks answers by exploring the history of populist representations in American film, literature, and related media, both from the right and from the left, with case studies ranging from the late nineteenth-century dime novel and Popular Front-era Hollywood, to the use of community media in the Seattle WTO protests and Tea Party-affiliated media production. The course locates these representations against a range of historical debates about “the masses” (Le Bon, Tarde), as well as recent theoretical debates about the construction of popular/populist identities and movements (e.g., Ernesto Laclau, Jacques Rancière).