Introduction to Film Theory

Home/ Introduction to Film Theory
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr Vebhuti Duggal and team

Email of course coordinator: vebhuti[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: No special requirements, however, students crediting this course from outside MA Film Studies will be required to familiarise themselves with some texts in classical film theory that are part of the Evolution of Cinema as Art I and II (MA Film Studies, I semester).

Course Objectives/Description:

This course aims to introduce students to some of the key readings in Film Theory and its various topics as have been established within canonical film writing. It aims to survey some of the core schools of thought in film theory. It works through the canon of writing within film studies (specifically, post-classical film theory) covering areas such as psychoanalytic readings of film, apparatus theory, cognitivism as well as later approaches that have developed in Film Studies including questions of history, culture, and media.The course further tries to make the limits of the theorisation evident through its ability speak to the contexts of Indian and other South Asian cinematic examples through screenings, discussions and some readings.

For students to (a) gain familiarity with debates on film theory (b) to be able to deploy these debates through the course of their research, particularly as they build towards the MA dissertation requirement in the fourth semester. Thus, it hopes to also impart research-related skills and the ability to communicate ideas that inhere in cinematic expression effectively. It is also important for students to be able to develop ideas on Indian cinema in relationship to a broader field of film studies concepts.

Course Outcomes:

  • The course will form part of the core courses for MA Film Studies. It aids, thus, in the building of disciplinary knowledge and in this it is central to the very foundational discourses and debates of the programme.
  • Further, it allows for the instilling of (i) critical thinking and (ii) analytical reasoning, especially across various kinds of materials (texts (secondary, primary) and films).
  • Given that this course engages with cinema in relationship to regional, national and transnational cinemas, it allows for multicultural competence.
  • This course allows for an engagement with a variety of transnational forms of cinema, prompting discussions of various aesthetic values and an appreciation thereof.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

The course does not have modules, rather the week-by-week readings take students through different key debates. See below.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Mid-term exam (may be take home or in-class): 35%
  • End-term paper: 35% (25 + 10)
  • The final paper (not exceeding 3000 - 3500 words including notes and references) will be due at the end of the semester. This includes abstract and annotated bibliography building towards the final paper to be submitted 45 days before the final submission (10% of the total grade).
  • In-class presentation: 30%

Reading List:

Note: ** indicates page numbers to be confirmed. In no week is a complete book assigned, these are only excerpts from various books or single book chapters or essays that the students are expected to read.

Screenings are in-class, collective exercises that are necessary along with readings and discussions. Individual films may as listed here may be changed by the course instructor, if necessary so long as they speak to the key concerns that each week highlights/engages with.

Reading List, week-wise

Week I / Course overview and Introduction or, why film theory
No readings

Screening: Hugo (dir. Scorsese, 2011)

Week II/ Early debates on the medium

Hugo Munsterberg, Photoplay: A Psychological Study. New York/London: D. Appleton and Company, 1916, **.

Screening: The Passion of the Joan of Arc (dir. Dreyer, 1928)

Additional reading:

[Already read in ECA I] Selections from Bela Balazs, Sergei Eisenstein, Andre Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin.

Week III/ The non-fiction film theories


John Grierson, “The Documentary Producer” in Cinema Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 1, 1993, pp. 7 - 9.

Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001, **.

Screening: Supermen of Malegaon (dir. Khan, 2008)

Weeks IV and V/ Structuralism and Semiotics


Christian Metz, “Some points in the Semiotics of the Cinema” in Leo Brody and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp 68 - 75.

Roland Barthes, Mythologies. London: Vintage Classics, 2000, pp. 56 - 57.

Robert Stam et al. New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics: Structuralism, post-structuralism and beyond. London/New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 29 - 69.

Screening: Bhuvan Shome (dir. Sen, 1969)

Week VI/ Apparatus Theory


Jean-Louis Comolli, Cinema against spectacle: Technology and ideology revisited. Trans. Daniel Fairfax. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015, **.

Screening: La Regle du Jeu (dir. Renoir, 1939)

Week VII and VIII/ Psychoanalysis and feminist film theory


Christian Metz, “Identification, Mirror” and “The Passion for Perceiving” in in Leo Brody and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 800 - 813.

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in Leo Brody and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 833 - 844.

Screening: Sancharram (dir. Pullappally, 2004)

Suggested reading

Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema. London: MacMillian, 1981, pp. 76 - 112.

Week IX/Sound theory

Mary Ann Doane, “The voice in cinema: The articulation of body and space” in Leo Brody and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 318 - 330.

Rick Altman, “Moving Lips: Cinema as Ventriloquism” in Yale French Studies, No. 60, Cinema/Sound (1980), pp. 67-79.

Screening: A Quiet Place (dir. Krasinski, 2018)

Additional reading:

[Already read in ECA I] Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema. Trans. Claudia Gorbman. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 1 - 13.

Week X/ Cognitivist film theory


Gregory Currie, “Cognitivism” in Robert Stam and Toby Miller (Eds) A Companion to Film Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999, 105 - 122.

Screening: Meghe Dhaka Tara (dir. Ghatak, 1960)

Suggested Reading

Ira Bhaskar, “Historical Poetics: Narrative and Interpretation” in Robert Stam and Toby Miller (Eds) A Companion to Film Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999, 387 - 412.

Week XI/ Cinema and the virtual


Gilles Deleuze, Cinema-1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp. 1 - 11.

Screening: Om-Dar-Ba-dar (dir. Swaroop, 1988)

Week XII/ Embodiment, Affect, and the Spectator


Vivian Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, **.

Screening: Shirin (dir. Kiarostami, 2008)

Additional references:

Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous theory and multisensory media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Week XIII/ Cinema and/as media

Seung-hoon Jeong, Cinematic Interfaces: Film Theory after New Media. New York/ London: Routledge, 2013, pp. 1 - 18.

Screening: Love, Sex aur Dhoka (dir. Banerjee, 2010)

Suggested reading

DN Rodowick, The Virtual Life of Film. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Week XIV/ Conclusion
No readings, wrap-up discussions in class.