Comm 3400, Film Theory

Fall 2005 MWF 1-1:50 ∙ LA 019


Short syllabus in printable format



Christa Albrecht-Crane, Ph.D.

Office: LA 121U

Phone: 863-6286

Hours: MWF 9-10, 11-12, and by appointment






1. Book (at the bookstore):

Corrigan, Timothy.  A Short Guide to Writing about Film. Fifth Edition.  New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004.  ISBN 0321096657.

2. Articles, available as PDF files on UVSC's on-line reserve. You must print these articles and always bring them to class. Quizzes sometimes will ask for specific quotes from them. For print articles, go to  to access them (password is "uvsc"), and for on-line articles, click on the red-colored url.  


Alleva, Richard. "Two Kinds of Paranoia." Commonweal, August 14, 1998: 20-21.

Davis, Todd. "Shepherding the Weak: The Ethics of Redemption in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction." Literature Film Quarterly 26:1 (1998): 60-66.

Denby, David. "The Current Cinema: Dirty Business." The New Yorker 29 Aug. 2005. <>.

Dinello, Dan. "We, Robots!" 21 June 2001. <Salon Entertainment. 5 June 1998. 4 Jan 2004 <>.

Doll, Susan and Greg Faller. "Blade Runner and Genre: Film Noir and Science Fiction."  Literature Film Quarterly 14:2 (1986): 89-100.

Fahy, Thomas. "Killer Culture: Classical Music and the Art of Killing in Silence of the Lambs and Se7ev." The Journal of Popular Culture 37:1 (2003): 28-42.

Floyd, Nigel. "Infinite City." Sight and Sound 7:6 (June  1997): 6-10.

Grixti, Joseph. "Consuming Cannibals: Psychopathic Killers as Archetypes and Cultural Icons." Journal of American Culture 95:1 (Spring 1995): 87-97.

Hall, Stuart. "Introduction." Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Ed. Stuart Hall. London: Sage, 1998. 1-12.

Hawk, Byron. "Hyperrhetoric and the Inventive Spectator: Remotivating The Fifth Element."  The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Ed. David Blakesley.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003. 70-91.

Heller, Steven. "Pulp Fiction." Print 57:5 (Sept./Oct. 2003): 108-114.

Hill, John. "Film and Postmodernism." John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. Film Studies: Critical Approaches. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 94-103.

hooks, bell. "Cool Cynicism." Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. London: Routledge, 1996. 47-51.

Majer O'Sickey, Ingeborg. "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets (Or Does She?): Time and Desire in Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run." Quarterly Review of Film & Video 19 (2002): 123-131.

O'Brien, Harvey. "The Fifth Element." 1997. <>. 6 Jan 2004.

Roberts, Graham and Heather Wallis. "Bringing It All Together." Introducing Film. London: Arnold, 2001. 153-170.

Shaviro, Steven. "Intrusions: Lost Highway and the Future of Narrative." Paradoxa 4: 11 (1998): 501-509.

Taylor, Charles. "The Boy in the Celluloid Bubble." 5 June 1998. <>. 4 Jan 2004.

Tiitsman, Jenna. "If Only You Could See What I've Seen With Your Eyes: Destabilizing Spectatorship and Creation's Chaos in Blade Runner."  Cross Currents 54:1 (Spring 2004): 32-47.

Visosevic, Tanja. "Tremors of Postmodern Spectatorship: Notes on David Lynch's Lost Highway." Nach dem  <>. 4 Jan 2004.

Vorndam, Jeff. "The Silence of the Lambs." May 1999. <>. 6 Jan 2004.

Wood, Robin. "Written on the Wind." University Vision 12 (1974): 27-36. Reprinted in John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. Film Studies: Critical Approaches. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 22-24.



This course will provide an advanced introduction to the substantial field of film theory.  Equal attention will be given to the serious study of individual films as well as film theory scholarship.  Overall, the course explores the connections and influences between communication theory and contemporary film, including larger philosophical and political questions about the cinema.  The course has two goals: to teach students how to interpret films seriously and to analyze various ideas (in both films and philosophical texts) about contemporary cinema and culture.  In particular, the course focuses on the interplay between postmodern and poststructural theory and contemporary film.  An important aspect of the course is to investigate how culture impacts film, and vice versa.  We will examine the following seven films (they may be considered controversial and may carry and "R" rating):

Blade Runner

The Fifth Element

The Silence of the Lambs

Lost Highway

Pulp Fiction

The Truman Show

Run Lola Run


In this course students must complete all the readings and view these films in their original release version.  Viewing of all films is mandatory, even if you have seen the title before. The films will be shown at special evening screenings;  students enrolled in this course should ensure they have this time available. If you feel uncomfortable watching any of the films in public, you must make accommodations to watch them on your own.  Class time is devoted to lecture and discussions.  Assignments include critical analyses of theoretical essays and films.  You must come to class prepared to discuss both the required films and readings assigned for a particular day.  The readings can be quite difficult so allow sufficient time to read them carefully before class.  This course requires a large amount of time and effort; do not enroll if you are not prepared for a rigorous, demanding, and serious class.  


Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

1. Understand the basic tenets of contemporary film and communication theory

2. Recognize what distinguishes contemporary communication theory from earlier literary and artistic approaches to film and art

3. Distinguish the methods and representation techniques of cinema from the other arts.

4. Understand the modes of form, narration, and style in contemporary film

5. Value the interconnections between culture and film

6. Critically examine written and cinematic texts

7. Analyze and compare a variety of points of view in written and cinematic texts

8. Appreciate the aesthetic and intellectual depth of film

9. Consider issues of culture from an interdisciplinary perspective


Attendance at all class sessions is required. Small group activities and class discussion will be emphasized.  Research shows that what occurs during class is an important part of the learning process so your attendance is necessary.  If you miss class, talk to a classmate or two and get their notes, then talk to me if you have specific questions about what we covered.  Excessive absences (more than three) will lower your grade.  Missing more than six classes will result in your failure of the class.   Attendance will be taken at the start of every class period, and late arrivals and early departures will count against you. 



Our class sessions will be structured around discussions and short lectures.  It will be more enjoyable for all of us (and you’ll do better) if you (1) attend class regularly, (2) do the required reading, and (3) be prepared to discuss what we’ve read.  

In this course you are expected to be an active learner and to take responsibility for your work.  You should contribute meaningfully to our discussions on a daily basis.   Your participation will be affected if you miss class.  Consider that a good participation grade reflects consistent active participation throughout the semester.  “Heaping up” participation efforts one week in order to make up for low participation at other times will not help your overall score.  In order to encourage as much participation from as many students as possible, I will make every effort to insure that as many people as possible get to be heard during our class discussions. 

Please be advised that this component of the course is quite important and that I take it very seriously.  I strongly discourage “fluff” contributions and disruptions.  I reserve the right to penalize students who, in my judgment, make repeated and obvious efforts to undermine quality discussion and/or to bolster their participation score with irrelevant and distracting comments. 

Required Writing

Note: Our book A Short Guide to Writing about Film provides excellent suggestions on how to write the types of essays outlined below.  We will read this book and discuss it at length in class.  You will write better essays if you read the book carefully and attend all class sessions during which we will go over these assignments.  The "assignment" link on this web site provides detailed instructions for each assignment.



General Guidelines

·         Writing assignments are due in class at the start of the period on the date indicated on the weekly schedule.  Generally, I do not accept late work unless a student faces a real emergency.  In the event that I accept late work, I reserve the right to reduce its grade in relation to its lateness—with the minimum penalty of one full letter grade.

·         The lengths listed below are expectations of how much you’ll need to write in order to complete the assignments well.  I will not automatically penalize shorter papers, but it’s unlikely that you will be able to get an “A” if your papers are shorter than the suggested length. 

·         As a safety precaution, you should always keep at least a hard copy, and better yet, a hard copy and an electronic copy, of any written work you hand in.

·         I expect to be reading your best work.  Revise, edit, and proofread carefully before you turn in your papers.  Use a standard academic format (APA or MLA) to structure the form and content of your papers. Your essay should manifest both careful thinking and good academic writing.


Movie Reviews

You have to complete one movie review (500-600 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. 


Critical Essay

Each student has to complete one critical essay (800-1000 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).


Theoretical Essay

Each student has to complete one theoretical essay (1000-1200 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. In your essay you need to make reference to at least two texts we have read together in class and one text you find through library research. 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.  The theoretical essay is due in week 16 (see schedule).


Reading Quizzes

On a regular basis, I will ask students to complete 5-10 minute reading quizzes at the beginning of class.  If students read the assigned readings and are prepared to discuss them in class, quizzes should pose absolutely no problem.  We will start quizzes promptly at the beginning of class.  If you come late or miss class, quizzes cannot be made up.


Grading Outline

If, at the end of this semester, you have earned a C in this class, it means you did what was minimally expected of you: you came to all classes and did all the work.  If you want a B or an A, you must not only come to all the classes and do all the work, but you must do the work with shining effort and attention.

Final grades will be determined based on the following structure:




Reading quizzes:


Movie Reviews:


Critical Essay:


Theoretical Essay:


Final Exam


Grading Standards


A = 93% and above

C = 73-76%

A- = 90-92%

C- = 70-73%

B+ = 87-89%

D+ = 67-69%

B = 83-86%

D = 63-66%

B- = 80-82% 

D- = 60-62%

C+ = 77-79%

E = below 60%


Course Calendar

Students are responsible for reading and keeping up with the weekly course calendar.  Please be aware that this schedule is tentative and that it might be changed as we go along.  It is your responsibility to make note of such changes when they are announced in class. 


The web page for the course will by dynamic. It will change constantly, and will be updated with new information, details about assignments, study and discussion questions for assigned readings, sample student writing, links to relevant sources, etc. Check it regularly. 

Help with Papers

You can meet with me after scheduling an appointment or contacting me regarding specific help.  You may email me with questions at any time.  To make sure that I can help you when you need help, contact me as soon as you feel like you need assistance or support.  I also recommend that you consult UVSC’s excellent writing center as you draft and revise your papers.  You can submit papers online (at with a turnaround time of 24 hours, or you can visit the Writing Center (with or without an appointment, depending on available tutors) in LC 227 for one-on-one tutoring help.

Classroom Etiquette

Cell phones, beepers, pagers, etc. are to be turned off before you come to class.  Class members should treat each other with respect and a productive attitude.

Final Exam

Students are required to complete a final exam assignment during the scheduled final exam period. Details will follow in class

Students with Disabilities

If you have any disability impairing your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (room BU-145).  Academic Accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified documented disabilities.  Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.

Academic Dishonesty

The Statement from the UVSC “Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Code“ reads: “Each student is expected to maintain academic ethics and avoid dishonesty in all its forms, including but not limited to, cheating and plagiarism, and fabrication as defined hereafter.” 

With respect to this particular class plagiarism refers to knowingly copying another person’s work or ideas and calling them one’s own or not giving proper credit or citation.  This covers copying sections or entire papers from printed or electronic sources as well as handing in papers written by students for other classes or purchasing academic papers.  Plagiarism and cheating are not only dishonest but they cheat you out of learning.  You must submit your own work in this course.

The consequences for academic dishonesty are grave.  The penalty for a first offense in an F for the assignment; a second offense means that you fail the course and will be reported to the Department Chair and to Student Advising.  If you have any questions about plagiarism, please talk to me.

This syllabus may be changed to accommodate the needs of the students or the instructor.