MA1052 Introduction to Critical Theory and Textual Analysis
Convenor: Jacob Leigh
This course introduces students to a sample of principles that can be used to guide interpretation and analysis of cinema and television. The course teaches the skills of analysis by focussing on discrete parts of film and television history and studying these in-depth. The course is split into four sections, each of which specialises in a topic. Each section includes five lectures by a different lecturer.
- Film Interpretation – Jacob Leigh
- Film Form – Steven Marchant
- Genre (film noir) – John Hill
- Television Form and Interpretation – James Bennett
Section One focuses on individual filmmakers and their creative decisions. Each week, we discuss examples of the effects of decisions made during the filmmaking process.
Section Two examines the different ways films give form (or shape) to the events they depict. It identifies some of the recurrent patterns we find in Hollywood filmmaking (e.g. the stable location of the character in space and the use of point-of-view and reaction shots), as well as exploring alternative approaches developed outside Hollywood.
Section Three explores the role of genre within mainstream cinema. It explains how genre functions commercially within the film industry as a regulator of products. This section also introduces the concept of ideology and considers the significance of gender for Hollywood representations. It uses the film noir thriller as an example of a genre.
Section Four shifts the focus from a specific film or type of film to the way in which distribution and exhibition function as ways of organising types. In this case, we use the example of television rather than cinema. However, the method of focussing on the schedule and delivery of genres to audiences has been applied to cinema. This section asks: how and why does television differ from cinema? What are the characteristic features of television? How is television changing in the new digital landscape?
The four sections are designed to complement each other. Each provides insight into the way films and television are made and the way they work; together they provide a multi-faceted understanding that should serve as the basis for critical and analytic work in the future. Section One focuses on genre movies, but approaches them from the perspective of creative decision-making. Section Two looks at films by studying their form (for example, the construction of fictional space or the use of shot/reverse-shot editing and long takes). Section Three uses genre analysis as one model of how to study the relationship between films and society. Section One also introduces elements connected to this topic, but Section Three introduces conceptual and theoretical frameworks (such as ideology and ideological analysis) more explicitly. Section Four examines issues related to the interpretation of television, including medium-specific issues related to distribution, exhibition, scheduling, access and consumption.
In conclusion, the course teaches analytical and interpretative skills and methods. It introduces students to the analytical and theoretical study of films and television programmes and it encourages reflection on the theories and principles that inform analysis and interpretation. The course is devoted to studying critical problems. By introducing students to analytical methods, it encourages students to engage actively with film and television history. Throughout the course, lecturers present problems related to interpretation, encouraging students to interrogate the frameworks that guide interpretation. Whereas the companion course, MA1051 Film and Television Histories, looks at longer-term historical contexts for the study of film and television, this course introduces students to the analytical and theoretical study of these topics.
Teaching takes place on Fridays between 9am and 5pm.
Screenings: Friday 9am-11am
Lecture: Friday 11am-12 noon
Seminars: Friday afternoons 1-5pm, times and locations to be confirmed.
Please consult the first-year notice board outside the Media Arts office (Arts G15) for details of your seminar groups.
Attendance at lectures, seminars and screenings is compulsory. Students who arrive at a seminar having not seen the film, not attended the lecture or not read the weekly reading will be asked to leave and an unexcused absence recorded against their name for that session. Attendance will be recorded each week and failure to attend at least 70% without prior consultation or reasonable cause may result in your failing the course. Reasonable cause may include (but is not limited to): illness, family circumstances, transportation difficulties, acts of God, the Apocalypse, etc. Leave of absence on medical or other grounds can only be granted by the Head of Department and only on production of appropriate written explanation (doctor’s/therapist’s letter, etc.). If there is an ongoing problem which is persistently affecting your ability to do your work, you should let your personal advisor know as soon as you become aware of it, so that we can make suitable provision. Don’t just let things slide and assume that sooner or later we’ll notice – unfortunately, there are simply too many of you for us to ride shotgun all the time.
Each week’s topic and screening is accompanied by a designated reading, which will be posted on Moodle. You should read these before coming to class.
You will be assigned one oral presentation to your seminar group during the spring term, on some aspect (your own choice) of that week’s viewing, lecture, or one of the critical/theoretical texts you have been asked to read for that week’s seminar. The exact format of the presentation is up to you; but the purpose of the exercise is to offer neither a summary of the weekly reading, nor a film review, but rather to present thoughts, ideas and problems that can help provoke and structure group discussions.
Further Viewing and Reading Lists
Copies of all the films and television programmes to be discussed are available for private viewing from Founders’ Library. Viewing facilities are available in the College Libraries.
Each section in Moodle includes weekly further reading lists for each lecture. These bibliographies on specific lectures will help you in writing your essays and revising for your exam. Should you require more critical backup for a particular project, make an appointment with one of the lecturers or seminar tutors so we can discuss what you might need.