MA3065 Film Aesthetics
Tutor: Jacob Leigh
Teaching: 20 hours lecture, 20 hours seminar plus individual tutorials
Availability: Autumn and Spring
Film Aesthetics has two main subjects: film storytelling and film interpretation. Films and topics change, but these two subjects are fundamental. Both will be discussed throughout the course. To explore the first subject, the course focuses on a sample of types of cinematic expression within the narrative tradition. We study examples of some of the greatest achievements in narrative filmmaking, looking at work from a wide range of periods and countries. These are canonical films, about which many critics and historians have written and which regularly appear in lists of top films ever made. Thus, on this course, you will be studying the history of film storytelling. To explore the second subject, the course considers different ways in which critics and historians have interpreted films. We will read exceptional film criticism and consider some of its underlying principles. By considering how critics have celebrated cinema in prose, we will be studying films critically and historically. Therefore, this course will help you develop your interpretation and judgement of films, while also encouraging reflection on the principles that support these critical practices.
The films and filmmakers studied on the course can be approached from multiple directions. Therefore, in addition to the focus on film storytelling and film interpretation, the course will repeatedly return to the following issues: themes and ideas; plotting and structure; style and form. There are also a number of overlapping sub-topics that recur during the course: genre adaptation; tone and viewpoint; the ironic tradition; fiction and realism; transcendence and cinema; social determinism. The core requirement for the course is a willingness to study how films build themes, evoke visions and suggest experiences. We will study what decisions are made and what the results of these decisions are, looking at the varying strategies that filmmakers use.
Term 1: Issues of Interpretation and Evaluation
In the first term, we will study films that offer challenges to thinking about value and evaluation. We will reflect on questions such as these: How should we judge films? What are the tools of aesthetic analysis that we can employ to study films? Why do we value some films more than others? How and why do we make value judgements? Can we or should we identify criteria of value? Can watching films be an education in itself, in the way that reading books can be an education? How much value should we attach to things like tradition, conventions, invention and innovation?
Term 2: The World and Its Image
During the second term, we will focus on two central features of cinema: its ability to record or document, and its capacity to be organised into communicative patterns. Therefore, in term two, as well as considering the style and themes of the films we are studying, we will look at the way that film images function both as recordings of the world and as expressive devices, organised so as ‘to heighten the effect and significance of what we see’ (Perkins 1978: 78). We begin the second term by looking at examples of films where cinema’s photographic recording ability is of immense importance to the artistic achievement. We end the term by looking at examples of films where the intricate and detailed organisation of multiple patterns within a film is central to the films’ achievements.