2013-2014 Film History Courses
Introduction to Film Art
This lecture is designed to introduce students to the rich art of film. We will begin by studying cinema’s basic aesthetic features: its stylistic techniques such as editing, cinematography, and sound, as well as its major narrative and non-narrative forms. We will then consider aesthetic concepts relevant to film art such as genre and auteur. Throughout, we will watch a variety of films from the United States and abroad that exemplify cinema’s myriad forms and styles: mainstream and avant-garde, fiction and nonfiction, narrative and non-narrative, black-and-white and color, silent and sound. The class will heighten students’ aesthetic appreciation of any film by enabling them to notice and evaluate the creative choices made by filmmakers of all kinds. We will meet twice a week; in addition, there will be two separate mandatory screenings per week.
Cinema in the 1930s
In the 1930s, the first decade of sound, cinema flourished around the world. It was a great decade for Hollywood movies, with gangster films such as The Public Enemy and Scarface, musicals such as 42nd Street and Swing Time, melodramas such as Man’s Castle and Stella Dallas, political films such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Young Mr. Lincoln, and comedies such as City Lights, Trouble in Paradise, It Happened One Night, and The Awful Truth. It was also a great decade for French and Japanese cinema: directors like Jean Vigo and Jean Renoir in France and Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Hiroshi Shimizu in Japan were taking the art of film in new directions. And in Germany and the Soviet Union, as well, some remarkable movies were being made. In this course, we will look at a rich sampling of world cinema from the 1930s.
Film is a collaborative art. The director, the writer, the cinematographer, the editor, the actors...all these and several other talents come together to make a movie. “People are incorrect to compare a director to an author,” John Ford said. “If he's a creator, he's more like an architect. And an architect conceives his plans according to precise circumstances.” In this course, we will examine the work of four major filmmakers and great architects of cinema: John Ford, Kenji Mizoguchi, Jean Renoir, and Luis Buñuel. All four had long careers whose development and evolution, both stylistic and thematic, we will look into with some care.
The Horror Film
Frankenstein, Dracula, The Thing from Another World, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Alien, Videodrome, The Silence of the Lambs...these are just some of the influential films we will be watching in order to study the ways in which American horror films and their monsters have been designed to make their audiences feel horrified. We will pay equal attention to the creative innovations of individual filmmakers and the conventions of the genre within which they work. We will examine whether the genre reflects, if not promotes, the fears of American society and address some of the larger philosophical questions it raises: What, precisely, is horror? Why do we enjoy watching films that make us feel ostensibly undesirable emotions such as fear and disgust—emotions which, in our ordinary lives, we tend to avoid? Finally, we will compare and contrast American and Japanese horror films, a number of which have recently been remade in the United States.
Characters in fiction are often doubles of each other, as in the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this course, we will examine various forms of the double in films from the silent era to the present day. We will begin with The Student of Prague, a German movie from 1913 that tells the story of a student haunted by his mirror image after he sells it to a mysterious stranger; and we will read Otto Rank’s classic psychoanalytic study, The Double, which focuses on this film. Like Jekyll and Hyde or Dorian Gray and his picture, the student of Prague and his reflection are an example of the Gothic double, the uncanny doppelganger in the Romantic tradition. We will consider several other examples in works by such filmmakers as Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Maya Deren, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Werner Herzog, and David Lynch. But there is an older, comic tradition of doubling that has to do with social identity—the outer rather than the inner self—and we will also consider the comic double in works by such filmmakers as Chaplin, Lubitsch, Ozu, Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and Almodóvar. Besides the comic and the Gothic, there are other kinds of doubling: the gangster father and the son turned gangster in The Godfather, the figures of East and West in John Ford’s westerns, the dreamlike other selves in Buñuel’s surrealist films, the director impersonator in Kiarostami’s Close-Up, the husband looking for his wife and the wife looking for her husband in Zhang Ke Jia’s Still Life, and the portraits of the artist in works by such filmmakers as Cocteau, Mizoguchi, Fellini, and Tarkovsky. Any characters set in comparison with one another may be viewed as doubles; and characters can be doubles not only of each other but also of the spectator – when we identify with a character he or she becomes in a sense our double – and of the implied author behind the work. We will look into figures of the author and of the spectator among other variants of the double in a medium whose images and sounds are themselves doublings: animated duplicates of life.
The New Waves
The New Wave is often assumed to be a uniquely French development in which, around 1960, a group of young film critics modernized filmmaking in their innovative first feature films that appealed to the tastes of young people as never before. In fact, the years 1958-67 saw a host of new cinemas emerge throughout Europe and beyond, as young filmmakers entered the film industry in unprecedented numbers and pioneered new film forms and styles. This course will consider The New Wave as an international phenomenon. Hence, although we will begin in France with the films of Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais, and Varda, we will quickly shift focus to young filmmakers working in other countries in Europe in the 1960s, such as Bertolucci and Pasolini in Italy, Reisz and Anderson in Great Britain, and Kluge and Straub/Huillet in Germany. We will then turn our attention to the Young Cinema in Poland, the Czech New Wave, and the New Cinemas in Yugoslavia and Hungary; we will end the first semester with the work of Tarkovsky and Paradzhanov in the Soviet Union. We will begin the second semester with the extraordinary films of Oshima, Teshigahara, Yoshida, Shinoda, Imamura, Suzuki, and other members of the Japanese New Wave before moving on to the New Hollywood of the late 1960s, in which filmmakers such as Kubrick, Scorsese, and Altman combined classical Hollywood genres with modernist innovations. Finally, we will consider the more politicized Cinema Novo in Brazil. Throughout, we will pay attention to the innovations of individual filmmakers, what they shared in common, the extent to which they transformed their film industries, and the social and economic conditions that made their innovations possible. Previous study of film history is a prerequisite for this class.