Comm 3400, Film Theory

Fall 2005 MWF 1-1:50 ∙ LA 019





This page provides more details about course assignments.  Clicking on the links below will take you the appropriate place in the page where you can view individual assignment instructions:

General Information

IEssays on film, like all good writing, require care, preparation, and awareness. Do not waste your time, and donít waste mine.  I love to read essays that have something interesting to say and that take their task seriously.  Take this chance to listen to the readings and to the films we are watching, and then talk back to/with them.   Relate them to your life and to things that matter to you, and then write about that relation. Supplement and support your points with relevant quotes and details from the readings and from the films.  Work with the texts and with the films, draw out your points carefully, and offer a thoughtful contribution. 

One way to think about writing on film is expressed by Pauline Kael, a prominent movie critic, who remarked, "it seems to me that the critic's task should be to help people see more in the work than they might see without him" (Leonard Quart, "'I still Love Going to the Movies': An Interview with Pauline Kael. Cineaste 25:2 (2000): 8-14).  So, you can look at writing about film as a way to uncover the depth and complexity of films that might get lost in a cursory viewing.  Draw on your excitement and enjoyment of the cinema as you approach writing about it.

In general, reading our textbook with care will provide the best background information for completing all writing assignment in this course.  Not only will you read the book, but in class we will discuss each chapter and address questions and concerns you might have.  Thus, is it really important that you attend class regularly, that you do the readings, and that you take the opportunity to participate in class.  You should make use of the various approaches and the critical vocabulary discussed in the textbook.  Generally, use the checklist on pp. 121-123 as guidelines for each paper you write in this course.

Good papers also employ correct citation procedures.  Follow the instructions and explanations in chapter 7 of our book regarding formatting and documenting your papers.  This chapter contains information about quoting from texts and from films, and also provides instructions on how acknowledge your sources.  Even when you write about readings we have done or about the films we have watched, you must provide correct documentation and a Works Cited page.  In addition, a good, short, and accurate guide to both MLA and APA style can be found on our schoolís writing center website.  Go to:

Use standard academic format:  1 inch margins, Times New Roman 12 size font, indent first line of a paragraph (no extra space between paragraphs).  Do not include a title page.  Instead, put all relevant information on the top left hand corner of the first page: your name, my name, course title, and most importantly, the kind and number of assignment you are turning in.   Number all pages.

Always, always, run the spell -checker, revise, edit, and proofread carefully before you turn in your essays. 

Grading Criteria

I will evaluate essays based on the following criteria:

Style--the paper includes professional, academic presentation (overall neatness, tight and logical organization, correct in-text citations and references according to MLA or APA style), precise and clear writing style (including grammatically correct standard English)

Content--the paper meets the assignment and provides succinct analysis and relevance (including depth, use of course materials, and overall effort/quality in content). 

UVSC's policies regarding academic plagiarism apply.  See course description for more details.


Movie Review

Movie reviews are discussed in our textbook on pp. 7-9.  You have to complete one movie review (500-700 words each) on each movie we are watching as a class.  Your reviews need to be modeled after published reviews.  The audience of these reviews are peers and readers who have not seen the movie under discussion.  We will also read and discuss a number of published movie reviews in class that you can use as models for your own reviews.  Movie reviews  are due the Monday after a movie screening (see schedule).


A good movie review will provide both plot summary and interpretation.  Your review should answer the following two-fold question: would you recommend the movie to your audience, and why?  Since movie reviews are literally all around us (in newspapers, magazines, on TV, in conversations), you should have ample opportunity to be exposed to them.  In the reviews you write for this course, foreground your voice and your reactions to the films in question.  Make your reviews engaging and personalized.  Assume that your audience has no special knowledge of film, and that they have not necessarily seen the films you are reviewing. 


Critical Essay

Each student has to complete one critical essay (800-900 words).  These essays should be directed at readers who are somewhat knowledgeable about the film under discussion and are well educated.  Critical essays remind readers of key themes and elements of the plot, but will not retell it at length.  Good critical essays reveal the depth and complexity of a movie.  The critical essay is due at midterm (see schedule).


A critical essay goes beyond a movie review in the sense that it focuses on particular themes or details and makes connections to other texts and films.  In your critical essay, focus on a particular aspect of a film or a small group of films and analyze the connections; you might explore connections by comparing one aspect in various movies, you you might make connections between a film and the readings we have done.  Another good idea would be to elaborate on an idea we discussed in class, or something that caught your attention somewhere else.  The point in a critical essay is to provide a deeper understanding of a movie or a group of movies by analyzing specific points or aspects.  Do not simply retell a film's narrative, but concentrate on how certain issues or a certain point are being represented and explored.


Theoretical Essay

Each student has to complete one theoretical essay (900-1100 words).  The audience of the theoretical essay are college educated readers who possess a great deal of knowledge about specific films, film history, and other writings about film.  These types of essays provide in-depth analysis and discussion, usually focusing on a specific issue relating to film and other film theory essays. Your essay may focus on a movie or a theme we discussed in class, but I encourage you to write about any film of your choice as long as your analysis is rigorous and relevant to the focus of the course.  If you chose to write about movies we have not watched together, your paper should provide relevant background information as well as clear and detailed explanations of how the discussion and the movie connect to the course.  The theoretical essay is due in week 16 (see schedule).


As you compose the theoretical essay, keep in mind the six approaches to writing about film, highlighted in chapter 4 of our textbook (film history, national cinemas, genres, auteurs, kinds of formalism, and ideology).  Though you do not have to employ any of these approaches, an awareness of them will help you understand and structure your own paper.   Use three authoritative sources in your essay: two texts we have read together in class and one scholarly articles you find on your own through research.  The article may be from the Internet, but be careful that it is solid and academic.