Course Description

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Because it is impossible to survey the entire history of film in a single semester that meets once a week, we will be focusing on two broad themes in pre–World War II era and in the post-World War II era.

  1. Following the commercialization of motion pictures in the late nineteenth century and the development of narrative techniques in the early years of the twentieth century, national cinemas emerged throughout the world. Filmmakers working these national cinemas emphasized certain stylistic techniques in their filmmaking. For example, American cinema emphasizes storytelling over all other techniques, while filmmakers in the Soviet Union theorized that editing was the most important technique. We will focus our study in the prewar era on these national cinema tendencies. We cover this in modules 1–6.
  2. Following World War II, new waves of filmmaking that focused less on the differences between nations in favor of the common bonds between people. There was also an emergence of modernism in film, breaking established conventions of the previous generations. We cover this in modules 7–12.

The midterm exam divides the modules and our coverage of these broad themes.

Remote Online Course

This course will be conducted remotely over the Internet.

Most learning activities will be asynchronous, meaning that you will complete these on your own time. This includes readings, screenings, quizzes, essays, and exams.

In addition, there will be a certain number of synchronous activities, including a weekly discussion session on Zoom where we discuss the major issues relating to that week’s module on the history of film.

Instructor

Juan Monroy

Office Hours

I will be available for individual meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays, between 12:00 – 1:00 PM, US Eastern Time. Sign up for an appointment at least one day in advance at:

https://juanmonroy.com/prattofficehours

After you sign up, I will email you a Zoom Meeting link for you to join the meeting.

Assignments

Please complete all of the assignments by the date noted on the course schedule

Readings

Assigned readings are listed in the course schedule below and available from the following sources:

  1. Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction, 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2022.

  2. Required readings not found in the textbook are linked on this website in the course schedule.

If you prefer, you’re welcome to use older editions of Film History: An Introduction published in the last decade. The course schedule links to readings found in the digital textbook that is available for sale or rent from Vitalsource.

Reading Quizzes

Each week, I will post a reading quiz on Canvas. The quiz will consist of true-false and multiple choice questions.

Complete each quiz by the dates noted on Canvas.

  • Ten of twelve quizzes are required
  • Weight: 20%

Screenings

Watch each of the films listed in the course schedule below. You will need to authenticate with your Pratt One Key credentials to access these screenings.

All films produced prior to 1930 are silent and are identified as such. Any music or other sounds was added years later. The soundtrack you hear should not be considered part of the original filmmakers’ work.

Some titles are available to stream from commercial services, such as The Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Kanopy. Where available, I have linked to Just Watch, a service that aggregates the availability of online streaming for most movie titles.

I also have a Letterboxd list of relevant films for each module.

Lectures

Each module requires you to watch a recorded lecture in multiple parts. The recorded lectures move through the course material quicker than an in-person lecture. As you watch each video, pause and rewind the video as necessary to take notes on the material. This will help ensure you’re ingesting the course material.

Each lecture is unlocked on Wednesday and are linked on the course schedule and on Canvas.

Live Discussion Session

We will have an hourlong, weekly discussion session on Zoom, at the following time:

  • Section 1: Tuesdays, 9:00–10:05 AM on Zoom

In these sessions, we will discuss the major issues relating to that week’s module on the history of film and closely examine how the films we studied represent those issues.

Students will be assigned to a breakout room to analyze an excerpt from a film we have studied for this module. The excerpts (“clips”) are posted in Canvas under the respective module.

These sessions will be recorded and made available only to students in our class upon request.

Essay 1: Prewar National Cinema: Germany, France, Soviet Union

In this first written assignment, you will analyze a 1920s film from Germany, France or the Soviet Union and its use of mise-en-scène, cinematography, and/or editing from specific scenes, and you will contextualize those scenes in the context the greater narrative discourse of the film and the motivations of the filmmaker working in the particular national context.

Essay 2: New Wave Cinema

In this second written assignment, examine the use of one or two stylistic devices in new wave film(s) studied in class.

Exam 1

The first exam, covering our survey of early film to World War II, will consist of two parts:

  1. Identification of film stills from films screened in class, requiring you to identify and explain the clip in the context of the film.
  2. Short answer questions, requiring you to engage the screenings and readings related to the major movements and trends in film history we covered in class.

Details:

  • Available on Canvas
  • Due: see due date on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Exam 2

The second exam, covering our survey of film history after World War II, will consist of two parts:

  1. Identification of film stills from films screened in class, requiring you to identify and explain the clip in the context of the film.
  2. Short answer questions, requiring you to engage the screenings and readings related to the major movements and trends in film history we covered in class.

Details:

  • Available on Canvas
  • Due: see due date on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Course Schedule

Complete each assigned activity—readings, quizzes, lectures, and screenings—by the date listed for each module.

Module 0: Introduction

In this introductory session, we will meet each other on Zoom, at the time noted below. I will discuss the format of the course, our approach to film history, and our goals for understanding the history of film for this abbreviated course.

  • Get the required textbook: Film History, 5th ed.
  • Read Thompson and Bordwell, Chapter 1, “The Invention and Early Years of the Cinema," available on Vitalsource
  • Introduce yourself and ask a question about the course, if you have one, on the discussion board on Canvas
  • Join the Live Discussion Session on Zoom:

Module 1: Invention of Cinema

The invention of motion pictures in the late 19th century was a combination of breakthroughs in photography, persistence of vision, industrialization, and a commercial fascination with visual entertainment. By the early years of the 20th century, filmmakers developed novel techniques to tell stories that would keep audiences interested in the movies and an entire industry to exhibit these films.

All films in this module are silent films. Any music or other sounds were added years later. The soundtrack you hear should not be considered part of the original filmmakers’ work.

  • Read Thompson and Bordwell, Chapter 2, “The International Expansion of the Cinema, 1905–1912," available on Vitalsource
  • Watch the recorded lectures on Canvas:
    1. Motion Picture Terminology (5 min.)
    2. Invention of Motion Pictures (7 min.)
    3. Edison and American Film Industry (5 min.)
    4. Beyond the Peepshow (13 min.)
    5. Edison’s Cartel and the Independents (10 min.)
  • Watch Edison films
  • Watch Lumière Brothers films
    • Workers Leaving the Factory (1895, less than a min.) Note the amount of motion that is captured, especially the large number of people walking in various outfits.
    • Feeding the Baby (1895, less than a min.) Note the amount of motion, including the trees reflected in the adjacent window.
    • Arrival of a Train at Ciotat (1895, less than a min.) The myth that people jumped out of their seats when they saw films like this is not true, but it may have been a marketing gimmick about the realism of these motion pictures.
    • The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895, less than a min.) One of my all time favorites because it looks like something prepared for the stage where the actors hit their marks. Note that the kid and the gardener never walk outside of the frame.
    • Snowball Fight (1896, less than a min.) A quick prank that seems right from the stage. Note how the bicyclist never leaves the frame.
    • Demolition of a Wall (1896, less than a min.) This shows us the possibilities of film in not just demonstrating how it can capture reality but also how it can manipulate time and space.
    • Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (1896, less than a min.) The legend of this first tracking shot was that it was captured on accident.
  • Watch Edwin S. Porter films
    • Jack and the Beanstalk (1902, 9 min.) Porter’s interpretation of the famous fable.
    • Life of an American Fireman (1903, 7 min.) Yes, another fire rescue film. But this one is set across various scenes as film narration develops.
    • The Great Train Robbery (1903, 10 min.) This is the most famous film of the early silent era and one that was copied many times. Rescue scenes were—and still remain—a common dramatic trick for most movies. The color tinting was done by hand.
    • Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest (1908, 7 min.) I can imagine that they needed to make another rescue film and, Porter, who is likely exhausted every other story idea for a rescue film, asks, “what if an eagle kidnaps a baby?” The heroic father is played by D.W. Griffith.
  • Watch George Méliès trick films
    • A Trip to the Moon (1902, 12 min.) Méliès’s best-known film based on the science fiction of Jules Verne. Note that the moon-dwellers resemble native Africans, which has some resonance for France’s colonial history.
    • The Black Imp (1905, 4 min.). One of my favorite films by Méliès for its playfulness of having a mysterious imp (a devil) appear and disappear to haunt a hotel guest.
    • The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon (1907, 9 min.) There are some great optical tricks here to give the sun and moon some personalities.
  • Watch An Unseen Enemy (D.W. Griffith, USA, 1912, 15 min.) It’s hard to justify Griffith’s racist views, but I also think it’s unwise to dismiss the ingenuity of this film.
  • Watch The Cheat (Cecil B. deMille, USA, 1915, 60 min.) Content warning: depicts man branding a woman.
  • Reference my list of relevant films on Letterboxd
  • Complete Quiz 1 on Canvas
  • Join the Live Discussion Session on Zoom:

Module 2: Weimar Germany and Mise-en-Scène

In the years following its defeat in World War I, German filmmakers borrowed from painting and theater to craft a distinct style that would influence filmmakers throughout the world for many decades.

All films in this module are silent films. Any music or other sounds were added years later. The soundtrack you hear should not be considered part of the original filmmakers’ work.

Module 3: France, the Avant-Garde, and Cinematography

All films in this module are silent films. Any music or other sounds were added years later. The soundtrack you hear should not be considered part of the original filmmakers’ work.

French filmmakers in the 1920s fostered a film culture that treated film in the tradition of fine arts, not commercial entertainment as was common in the previous decade.

Module 4: Soviet Union and Montage

Editing allowed filmmakers in the Soviet Union to combine shots not only for the purpose of storytelling but for communicating complex themes and concepts relevant to the Russian Revolutions.

All films in this module are silent films. Any music or other sounds were added years later. The soundtrack you hear should not be considered part of the original filmmakers’ work.

Module 5: 1930s Hollywood and the Studio System

American filmmaking was dominated by a streamlined, assembly-line production system that would largely prioritize storytelling ahead of exploiting the visual possibilities of filmmaking.

Module 6: World War II and Documentary

Between the two world wars, documentary filmmakers forged narrative and experimental traditions for nonfiction filmmaking. When World War II broke out, the form was well suited for promoting the causes of Great Britain and of the United States against fascism and the Nazis.

Module 7: Italy and Neorealism

Following the aftermath of World War II, Italian filmmakers disavowed the polished look of their predecessors in favor exploring the struggle and anguish of everyday postwar life.

Module 8: France and the New Waves

At the end of the 1950s, a new wave of mostly young, first-time filmmakers excited international audiences with films that simultaneously portrayed their philosophical and literary concerns and borrowed from Hollywood films of the war years with their own distinct personal styles.

Module 9: Latin America and Third Cinema

Latin American cinema surged in the 1930s, after the coming of sound, particularly in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. But Hollywood, like the US government and industry, also dominated Latin American nations. In the wake of the New Waves and Neorealism, some nations, particularly Cuba and Argentina, rejected the cinemas of the First and Second Worlds in favor of unique, experimental style that would be used for engaging the public with revolutionary ideas.

Module 10: West German and Eastern European New Waves

While most filmmaking behind the “iron curtain” was state-controlled, some intrepid filmmakers in Eastern European nations developed experimental techniques to craft a political cinema that could skirt the scrutiny of state censors.

Module 11: New Hollywood

The fall of studio system in the late 1960s allowed filmmakers, inspired by the work of the European New Waves, to challenge the established practices and style of Hollywood in favor of an artistically minded cinema.

Module 12: East-Asian Cinemas

Following the Chinese Revolution of 1949, cinema would evolve as an isolated, state-sponsored propaganda model on the Mainland and as a commercial, narrative system critical of the Revolution in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

  • Read Thompson and Bordwell, Chapter 27, “Cinema Rising: Pacific Asia and Oceania Since 1970,” available on Vitalsource
  • Watch the recorded lectures on Canvas:
  • Watch Raise the Red Lantern [Da hong deng long gao gao gua] (Yimou Zhang, PRC, 1991, 125 min.)
  • Watch Chungking Express [Chung Hing sam lam] (Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong, 1994, 102 min.)
  • Reference my list of relevant films on Letterboxd
  • Complete Quiz 12 on Canvas
  • Join the Live Discussion Session on Zoom: