COURSE DESCRIPTION:  Susan Sontag writes, “One can’t possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images.”  This remark alludes, in a slightly sinister way, to one of the central goals of this course, which is to help you learn to better dissect and analyze film.  The words “possess” and “dissect” suggest an analysis that is forceful and violent.  The best analysis, though, does not attempt to control or master its subject but is, rather, a subtle sort of engagement that finds a soft middle ground between possessing and being possessed.  Rephrasing Sontag, when we analyze a film, we edge closer and closer, seducing and being seduced by its sound and images.

This course introduces the critical study of film, exploring theoretical, historical, and technical concerns while presenting a survey of important film genres.  This is not just a film appreciation class.  Certainly, over the course of the semester, we will increase our appreciation of film, however we will also focus intently on honing our critical thinking, close-analysis, and writing skills.  The point of the course is not to become an expert in any one film or perspective on film; instead, we will watch (and read about) a wide variety of films, approaching them from numerous perspectives, considering both the effect films have on individual viewers and their ability to reflect culture.  

We will begin by asking very important questions about the nature of film:  What is film?  Why do we watch film?  How is film evolving as a medium?  What is the relationship between film and other artistic media?  As we proceed, our questions will build upon one another, considering the following sorts of subjects:  the language of film, what happens to reality when it’s put on film, the gendered gaze, the film spectator, the horror genre, postmodernism, the auteur and the death of the author, etc.  All the while, we will think also about our own relationship to the film medium (and our own evolution as viewers), exploring the real (psychological and physical) impact film has on us.

Jill Nelmes, Ed., Introduction to Film Studies (5th Edition) (2011)
Online PDFs (Available within D2L.)

REQUIRED FILMS: (While you are not required to purchase all the films, I am including links here in case you want to work more closely with any of these films on the assignments you complete this semester.  You may also want to consider investing in a Netflix membership for this course.  You can get a free trial by clicking here.)

Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1927)
Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)
John Carpenter, Halloween (1978)
Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run (1998)
Alain Berliner, Ma Vie En Rose (1999)
David Fincher, Fight Club (1999)
Ridley Scott, Gladiator (2000)
Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko (2001)
Warner Herzog, Grizzly Man (2005)

CLASS PARTICIPATION:  This film course will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community.  And so, you are, in a very real sense, the primary text for the course.  And as such, you have the unique ability to alter discussions, to share new discoveries, to work at a markedly more personal level than you may have opportunity in other courses.  There are no right and wrong answers--no hidden meanings that only your instructor has access to.  Film truly comes alive through your interpretive readings.  And so, we will be like a hive mind, coming to a greater understanding of the films together than we ever could as isolated viewers.  Take advantage of that; this community will depend on you. Learning results from being present; there are no make-up assignments for missed participation.

OFFICE HOURS:  I have scheduled virtual office hours; however, I’m generally very easy to reach by e-mail any time during the week.  You can send an e-mail with questions or comments.

E-MAIL:  E-mail is an important component of this course.  I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss crucial information.  

COLLABORATION:  I encourage collaboration on many of the assignments you’ll complete this semester, especially the final project.  If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.

•  Discussion.  20% of final grade.  (Discussions worth 2 points each)
An asynchronous discussion forum will serve as our classroom.  There will be 1-2 threaded discussion forum topics open each week, where you will contribute your own ideas about a particular topic and/or set of questions.  Rather than just throwing your ideas into a vacuum, you should engage each other by asking questions, answering questions, amplifying/complicating ideas, and otherwise using each other’s posts as jumping off points.  I will participate in these forums as I would in the classroom, guiding the discussion as it evolves over the course of the week.  The majority of these discussions will ask you to apply concepts from that week’s lecture and reading to specific clips from that week’s film.  Links to short clips from the film will often be included on the page for the discussion.

You should expect to post one initial comment in each discussion topic, followed by a number of responses to your classmates’ posts.  The quality of your responses is much more important than the quantity.  An initial post should be around 250 - 500 words.  A response should be at least 100 words.

•  4 Worksheets.  40% of final grade.  (10 points each)
Worksheets will include a series of short answer questions.  Each will have several questions, for which you will write anywhere from a couple of sentences to several paragraphs.  The questions will have you making connections between various subjects/films studied throughout the course.  Each worksheet will be a teaching tool in and of itself, as well as an assessment, with questions/ideas from one building to the next.

•  Analytical Paper.  10% of final grade.  (10 points each)
This first paper (500 - 750 words) will ask you to close-analyze a single frame or transition from one of the films we’re studying.  

•  Midterm Project.  10% of final grade.  (10 points)
For the midterm project, you will create an illustrated glossary that uses stills or short clips from films we’ve watched in class to explore 8 - 10 important film terms.

•  Final Paper / Project.  20% of final grade.  (10 points)
Choose one:  1.  Final Paper.  Write a more comprehensive analytical (750 - 1250 words) paper that makes an argument, using close-analysis of one or more films and secondary sources.  The goal of this paper is to investigate one of the important subjects of this course; another goal of your final paper is to combine close-analysis of a film we’ve watched with analysis of one (or more) secondary sources, which can include any of the course readings (or outside materials).  In a paper of this length it is always best to choose one or two short scenes from the film to focus on in detail, rather than saying very general things about the film as a whole.  Feel free to develop this paper from one of your worksheets.

Or:  2.  Final Project.  For this option, you will create a short 3 - 5 minute film.  The technical polish of the film is less important than the degree to which it engages with one of the many important subjects of the course.  You will post the film on YouTube, so it can be reviewed and responded to by other members of the class.  The conversation that develops around these projects will be nearly as important as the content of the films themselves.  While your film can certainly be fiction, you should think about it in much the same way you would a more conventional paper.  So, it should make an argument, using visuals and audio to support that argument.  Your film can either address or be inspired by one of the weekly topics of the course, or it can consider the nature of the film medium in a more general way.  Along with your film, you will write a short artist's statement (about 150 words) that discusses the choices you made.  Submit your artist's statement to me via this assignments tool, along with a link to the youtube video.  You should also upload the youtube video to the final project discussion forum.

Or:  3.  Some combination of these.  For example, you could write a 500 word paper, accompanied by a 2 minute film.

PLAGIARISM: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me.  Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy.  At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create?  Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged).  So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class?  Let me go out on a limb and say:  in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates).  However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head.  In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others.  It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image.  This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it.  That’s just stealing.  Instead, think very consciously about how you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance.  And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.

DISABILITIES ACCOMMODATION:  If you have any physical, psychological, or learning disabilities that need accommodations, please let me know early in the semester.  If you have questions or concerns, you can also contact the Disability Services Office in Willard 322 (phone 303-492-8671).  Their website is available at  

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES:  Please let me know if the observance of religious holidays conflicts in any way with class assignments, attendance, etc., and I am happy to work with you.

HONOR CODE: All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-725-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion).

DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT: The University of Colorado policy on Sexual Harassment and the University of Colorado policy on Amorous Relationships applies to all students, staff and faculty. Any student, staff or faculty member who believes s/he has been the subject of discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Judicial Affairs at 303-492-5550. For information and campus resources see


Week 1:  What is Film? (June 3 - June 9)
Film:  Ridley Scott, Gladiator (2000)
Discussion:  Introductions.  
Reading:  IFS, “Ch. 1: The Industrial Contexts of Film Production”

Week 2:  Close-analysis of Film I (June 10 - June 16)
Film:  Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run (1998)
Lecture Notes:  Semiotics
Discussion:  What is film?  Why do we watch?
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 4: Film Form and Narrative”
Reading:  Bill Nichols, “From Engaging Cinema”
Assignment:  Analytical Paper Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 3:  Close-analysis of Film II (June 17 - June 23)
Film:  Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1927)
Film:  Chris Marker, La Jetee (1963)
Audio Lecture:  Metropolis
Discussion:  Punctum and Metropolis.
Reading:  Roland Barthes, “From Camera Lucida”
Assignment:  Worksheet #1 Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 4:  Film Authorship (June 24 - June 30)
Film:  Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)
Lecture Notes:  Authorship
Discussion:  The auteur.  Hitchcock’s authorial gestures.
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 6: Cinematic Authorship and the Film Auteur”
Reading:  Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”
Assignment:  Worksheet #2 Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 5:  Film Genre (horror) (July 1 - July 7)
Film:  John Carpenter, Halloween (1978)
Lecture Notes:  Deconstruction, the Abject, the Grotesque, and the Other
Discussion:  Why horror?
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 8: Approaches to Film Genre”
Reading:  Mark Jancovich, “Horror, the Film Reader: General Introduction”

Week 6:  The Documentary (July 8 - July 14)
Film:  Warner Herzog, Grizzly Man (2005)
Discussion:  Grizzly Man
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 9: The Documentary Form”
Assignment:  Midterm Project Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 7:  Gender and Film (July 15 - July 21)
Film:  David Fincher, Fight Club (1999)
Lecture Notes:  The male/female gaze
Lecture Notes:  Queer Theory
Discussion:  Fight Club and the Gaze
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 11: Gender and Film”
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”
Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”
Assignment:  Worksheet #3 Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 8:  Queer Film (July 22 - July 28)
Film:  Alain Berliner, Ma Vie En Rose (1999)
Lecture Notes:  Queer Theory
Discussion:  Close analysis of Ma Vie En Rose.
Reading:  IFS, “Chapter 12: Lesbian and Gay Cinema”
Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”

Week 9:  Reality and Film (July 29 - August 4)
Film:  Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko (2001)
Lecture Notes:  Realism
Lecture Notes:  Postmodernism
Discussion:  Reality and Film.  What happens to reality when it’s put on film?  
Reading:  “From Postmodernism for Beginners”
Robert Stam, “The Politics of Postmodernism: Introduction”
Assignment:  Final Paper / Project Due (submit by 11:59pm on Sunday)

Week 10:  Conclusion and Final Projects (August 5 - August 9)
Film:  No Film.
Lecture Notes:  Walter Benjamin
Discussion:  What is becoming of us?  What is becoming of film?
Discussion:  Final Projects
Reading:  Roland Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theatre”
Reading:  Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
Assignment:  Worksheet #4 Due (submit by 11:59pm on Friday)