History and Theory of Film

Peeping Tom

Instructor: Barbara Brickman
E-mail: bbrk@mail.rochester.edu
Class Meeting Time:
T R 11:00-12:15
Office: TLC 2243
Office Hours: T R 2:00-5:00

This course will explore major developments in film history, theory, and criticism. Students will become familiar with several different film movements in the development of the art form and will be introduced to basic ideas in film theory. Through a variety of film movements and historical periods, students will develop an understanding of the cultural, industrial, and political contexts for some of most significant debates about film. Specific topics covered will include Russian formalism, the history of classical Hollywood cinema, the French New Wave, recent global cinemas, as well as alternatives to Hollywood in the United States. Class time will be divided between discussion of the historical movements and critical texts and the application of those texts to a primary cinematic text. Students will be evaluated on the basis of participation in discussion and presentations, quizzes, exams, and formal writing opportunities.

syllabus button

Required Texts:

Wexman, Virginia Wright. A History of Film, 6th Edition

Electronic Reserve Readings: These readings are in the "Readings" section of the course WebCT page.

Recommended Texts:

Andrew, J. Dudley. The Major Film Theories: An Introduction


  • Students will learn to view and analyze films as texts.
  • Students will demonstrate a basic understanding of the major concepts and debates in film theory and history throughout the twentieth century.
  • Students will learn basic concepts concerning questions of film form, realism, film language, auteurs, the apparatus, spectatorship, or ideological coding/decoding.
  • Students will demonstrate basic understanding of the historical, political or social context of these theories through both U.S. and international film movements.
  • Students will demonstrate in both oral and written work a discipline-specific critical facility through convincing and well-supported analysis of related material.
  • Students will demonstrate their command of academic English and the tenets of sound composition by means of thesis-driven analytical prose.
  • Students will learn to use discipline-specific computer technologies related to the study of language such as listservs, word processing, and internet research.

Program Goals:

  • Oral and written communication will be characterized by clarity, critical analysis, logic, coherence, persuasion, precision, and rhetorical awareness (Core Curriculum learning outcomes I)
  • Cultural and Social Perspectives: Cultural and social perspective will be characterized by cultural awareness and an understanding of the complexity and dynamic nature of social/political/economic systems; human and institutional behavior, values, and belief systems; historical and spatial relationship; and, flexibility, open-mindedness, and tolerance. (Core Curriculum learning outcomes III)
  • Aesthetic Perspective: Aesthetic perspective will be characterized by critical appreciation of and ability to make informed aesthetic judgments about the arts of various cultures as media for human expression (Core Curriculum learning outcomes V)
  • Humanities/Arts Learning Outcomes:

1. To develop the ability to recognize and identify achievements in literary, fine and performing arts;
2. To have an appreciation of the nature and achievements of the arts and humanities; and
3. To develop the ability to apply, understand, and appreciate the application of aesthetics criteria to "real world circumstances.

  • This course contributes to the program goal of equipping students with a foundation in the issues surrounding literary study in contemporary culture.
There are four types of assignments for this class: readings/screenings,
two short formal essays, 'testing opportunities' (quizzes and exams), and discussion leading. You must complete the reading assignments before each class and be prepared to be called on about the content of the readings. Occasionally, there will be quizzes at the beginning of class to encourage consistent reading practices and timely screening of films. The reasoning for this form of assessment is simple: it is highly unlikely that you will make insightful contributions to class discussion if you have not done the reading or seen the films.
Note: Readings and assignments are due on the day they are listed on the syllabus. Many readings are marked with an (WebCT) and can be found on the course WebCT pages. Changes or additions to the readings may occur during the semester. I will announce these in class and post them on WebCT.
Film screenings act as perhaps the most essential 'reading' assignment for each week and should be regarded with the utmost scholarly attention. This is a film class and these texts are your primary sources so they should be treated as such. With this in mind, I recommend you take notes during screenings or just after--your participation and written assignments will depend on it. You can find many of the films in the usual places (for rent in your local video store, for rent on an on-line video store, or for purchase in stores), but I have also put four copies of every film on four-hour reserve in the library. You may take the film out of the library during that four hours to watch in a computer lab or on a laptop or you can use the library's viewers. Additionally, I am working on securing a room for group screenings, but I will say more about that in class.
In the first half of the semester, students will write a short essay on early and silent era films. This 2-page paper will ask students to analyze one element of a screened early film that seems particularly "cinematic" and then explain why. The essay must follow MLA formatting and citation practices (which we will cover in class). In the second half of the semester, you will be asked to write an essay on the historical significance of a film. This 2-page paper will ask students to translate an earlier presentation of their reading of ~2 minutes of a screened film into a formal essay that analyzes how those two minutes of film are historically significant.  Please note: If the syllabus indicates that there will be a writing workshop day on which a draft of your essay will be due and you do not come to class on these days and present a draft to me, your paper will not be eligible to receive a grade. In other words, if you do not go through the workshop process and fail to turn in a draft for shorter and longer essays, you cannot turn in the final version of the paper for a grade.
Quizzes and Exams:
There will be two exams, one at the midterm and one at the end of the semester, and a number of quizzes. The quizzes and exams will test students' understanding of key film terminology and historical developments. The shorter quizzes will be simple reading/viewing comphrension tests and the long quizzes are meant to prepare students for the more difficult task of the examination. The total for all the quizzes will comprise 25% of the student's final grade, after the lowest quiz grade is dropped. The midterm exam will test, in a more compreshensive way, the students' growing understanding of concepts and film movements and will comprise 20% of a student's final grade. Furthermore, the final exam will include the midterm-type questions and an essay portion challenging students to articulate increasing critical sophistication in relation to the cinematic text (20% of final grade).
Class Participation/Leading Discussion:
You will be expected to participate as much as possible in this class. Active participation involves, of course, attending class, but you are also expected to have done all the reading before class and screened the films (well enough for pop quizzes), to listen attentively to the instructor and your other classmates, and to offer provocative and interesting questions or contributions to class discussion. Your participation accounts for a significant portion of your final grade (10%), so I highly recommend that you come to class with your own discussion questions in mind and that you stay on top of any and all absences or tardiness problems. Also, at some point during the semester, each student will lead the class in a discussion of ~2 minutes of one of our screened films. This discussion leading will begin with a presentation of the two minutes and their historical significance for the student and then move to questions that this student would like to pose to the class. This presentation will be the basis for the second short essay and is worth 5% of the final grade.

The percentage breakdown is as follows:

  Short Paper #1 = 10%                             Midterm Exam = 20%
  Short Paper #2 = 10%                             Quizzes = 25%    
  Final Exam = 20%                                  Discussion Leading = 5%               Participation/Reading quizzes = 10%
Class attendance is mandatory. There is too much material to cover in the short time allowed in two meetings a week to be able to afford an absence. I understand, however, that emergencies occur. Do your best to keep me aware of when and why you will miss a class. Be advised, though, that every absence after your 3rd absence will lower your final grade by 1/3, and seven or more absences will result in an administrative withdrawal from the course with an F. Although, again, I understand that emergencies occasionally arise, consistent tardiness will not be tolerated. If this becomes a problem (i.e. I have to speak to you about it), you can expect to lose points from your class participation grade or to be asked to give a presentation to the class on some aspect of that day's lesson.
*Please turn off all cell phones and pagers before class begins.*
Deadlines and Late Papers:
Papers are due at the beginning of class and late papers (even 15 minutes into class) will be penalized. We are often starting new material on the days papers are due, so a late-comer will miss course material and disrupt discussion. More seriously, late papers will lose 1/2 of a letter grade for each day they are late. After a week (seven days late including weekends), the paper will automatically receive a failing grade (F ). If a student has a verifiable medical excuse or family emergency and requests an extension (by e-mail, phone, or in person) before the paper deadline, then an extension can be granted. Excuses such as having papers or exams for other classes, discovering a schedule conflict with work or other responsibilities, or simply feeling overwhelmed occur too commonly to be considered "serious" and will not result in an extension. Please contact me about handing late papers in (in the box outside my office) so that I can pick them up in a timely fashion. Do not ask someone else to verify the time when you handed the paper in. You are supposed to contact me about the appropriate time and place for handing papers in.
Paper Formatting:
Papers should be typed, double-spaced, in 12-point font (preferably Times New Roman or another standard serif font) with 1" top and bottom margins and 1-1.25" right and left margins, and without title pages. Using large margins and enormous fonts (i.e. Courier New) to fulfill the page requirement fools no one, least of all me (I used to work in desktop publishing and I know all the tricks), so follow these guidelines and come for extra help or use the writing workshops to learn how to present a full, well-supported argument that meets the page requirements.
Academic Honesty:
Plagiarism is the act of claiming the ideas or actual words of another as one's own. This act can take several forms: copying an essay from a printed source or the internet, taking answers from another student's paper, or using the language and/or ideas from any source without proper citation. The work you turn in should be your own; however, if you borrow an idea, you must either express it in language entirely your own and acknowledge your borrowing with a parenthetical reference or footnote or indicate the exact extent of your debt to the actual words of the source by enclosing them in quotation marks and documenting the source according to MLA conventions. The penalties for academic dishonesty are severe, and ignorance is not an acceptable defense. Flagrant violations of this policy (e.g. copying papers from the internet or cheating on exams) are grounds for failing the course. I will pursue (and have pursued in the past) any irregularities I detect, and, if necessary, I will begin formal proceedings according to university policy.
Extra Help:
If you feel you need help or if you have any questions regarding the class, come by my office, Room 2243 in the TLC. I will always be in my office and prepared to offer assistance during my office hours, which will be from 10:00-12:00 on Mondays, and 1:00-3:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If for some reason you are unable to see me during my office hours, I can arrange an alternative meeting time. Always bring your notes and past assignments with you when you come to see me so that I can better determine how your preparation is affecting your overall performance. In the worst case scenario (i.e. you can't find me or have to ask me a question immediately), you can always e-mail me. Also, do not forget about the Writing Center where the instructors and staff work to assist writers at any point in the writing process. For more information or to make an appointment, e-mail the Writing Center at writing@westga.edu.
If you need to reach me for any reason, you will have the best luck via e-mail at bbrickma@westga.edu. Please e-mail me from your university account in order to make it easier to identify the sender of the e-mail and to avoid unnecessary security or virus risks. If you cannot access your university account and need to contact me, please use WebCT e-mail.
Special Needs:
The University of West Georgia adheres to the Americans for Disabilities Act, known as ADA, which requires that all programs at the university be accessible to people with disabilities.
If you have a registered disability that will require accommodation, please see me in my office at the beginning of the semester. If you have a disability that you have not yet registered through the Disabled Student Services Office, please contact Dr. Ann Phillips in 272 Parker Hall at (678) 839-6428