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ML1102 The Birth of Film

ML1102 The Birth of Film

Term 2

Convenor: Eric Robertson


Essay 1: 30%, 1,200-1,500 words; Essay 2: 60%, 1,200-1,500 words.

Online (Moodle) Test: 10%


The purpose of this course is to provide students with an introduction to the early phase of film history. Broadly speaking, the course will be concerned with the period between 1895 and the early 1930s, from the invention of motion pictures to the establishment of sound cinema. During this phase, film-making was largely national but the absence of the spoken word gave film a truly cosmopolitan dimension, with directors, actors and technical personnel moving freely across national boundaries. Nonetheless distinctive national film cultures emerged, with Italy specialising in dramas set in the ancient world, France making ample use of theatre and popular literature, Germany developing the new medium within broader artistic phenomena such as Expressionism, the Soviets pioneering political montage, and, of course, Hollywood, and its studio system, popularising stars and genres across the world. The course will be concerned with film as art (and with its links to the Avant-garde) but it will also examine cinema as an entertainment industry and the way in which genre (horror films, crime films) helped to drive innovation.

Three recommended text books:

Graham Roberts and Heather Wallis, Introducing Film (London: Arnold, 2001)

Susan Hayward, Key Concepts in Cinema Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1996)

Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film (New York: Longman, 1998)

Set Films on DVD:

The set films will vary slightly from year to year, according to staff preferences and availability. An indicative range of films would include some of:

 selections of short films by the Lumière brothers and Georges Meliès

 Cabiria, dir. Giovanni Pastrone, (1914)

 The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915)

 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)

 The Last Laugh (F.W. Murnau, 1924)

 Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

 Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel, 1929)

 Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929) – both silent and sound versions

  M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

 Key Primary Bibliography / FilmographySecondary Literature: General, Theoretical, Introductory

You do not need to read all of these texts, though your lecturers may refer to some of the names here, and dipping into some of them will help you think about some of the questions raised in the course and to research your essay questions.

Abel, Richard (1984) French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915-1929. Princeton: Princeton U.P.

Coe, Brian (1992), Muybridge and the Chronophotographers. Exhibition catalogue, London: Museum of the Moving Image.

Conley, Tom (1991), Film Hieroglyphs: Ruptures in Classical Cinema. Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press

Eisenstein, Sergei (1943, rpt 1986), The Film Sense. London and Boston: Faber and Faber.

Elsaesser, Thomas (1990) ‘National Subjects, International Style: Navigating Early German Cinema’, in Before Caligari, eds Paolo Cherchi Usai & Lorenzo Codelli. Pordenone: Edizioni Biblioteca dell’Imagine, pp. 338-54.

Kaes, Anton (1989), From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film. Cambridge: Harvard U.P.

Kracauer, Siegfried (1947), From Caligari to Hitler. Princeton: Princeton U.P.

Kracauer, Siegfried (1960, rpt 1997), Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. London and New York: Oxford U.P.; Princeton: Princeton U.P.

Judith Mayne, Cinema and Spectatorship. London: Routledge, 1993.

Marc Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context. Wayne State U.P., 1995.

Virilio, Paul (1989), War and Cinema: the Logistics of Perception. London: Verso.




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