Comm 3400, Film Theory

Fall 2005 MWF 1-1:50 ∙ LA 019



This page contains class teaching notes, reading and discussions questions, additional materials, links to information on the web, and other resources that relate to class readings and class discussions.  I will update this information frequently as we do the readings and meet in class.  You may use any information on this page in your papers, but please cite everything correctly.  Check this page regularly.

Stuart Hall

Film Noir

Film Research



Stuart Hall's introduction to Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices:

In this chapter Hall lays out a fundamental assumption that underlies much of contemporary communication and film theory.  He argues that "meaning is thought to be produced--constructed--rather than simply found" (5).  He goes on to write that "representation is conceived as entering into the very constitution of things; and this culture is conceptualized as a primary of 'constitutive' process, as important as the economic or material 'base' in shaping social subjects and historical events--not merely a reflection of the world after the event" (5-6).

In this same context, James Carey, another prominent communications scholar, argues, "Our models of communication ... create what we disingenuously pretend they merely describe. As a result our science is ... a reflexive one. We not only describe behavior; we create a particular corner of culture - culture that determines, in part, the kind of communicative world we inhabit" (Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Winchester, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1989. p. 32)

In order to illustrate and understand what Hall is arguing,  here are some some examples as a preparation for studying film.  These are a few paintings by the Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte:

The Treason of Pictures
(This is not a Pipe), 1929

The Key of Dreams, 1930

The Human Condition, 1935


Clairvoyance (Self-Portrait), 1936

The Two Mysteries, 1966

The Threshold of Freedom, 1929


Film Noir:

Today we will discuss film noir, a film genre that has been extremely influential for film history.  Many contemporary films, including Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction, take up and rework elements of film noir.  Please click on this link to read a short introduction to film noir.  We will be discussing it and a few examples of classic film noir in class today. 


Help with Film Research:

This section provides links to helpful websites that deal with conducting film research and writing the theoretical essay for our class.  We will look at these links in class as well.  Please use these sites as you plan and write your paper.  I expect your papers to be carefully written and thoughtful.  Please use correct MLA documentation format (or APA, if you wish).

Refer to the webpage below for ideas and topics for your paper.  Generally, write about the movies we watched together, and make connections between them and the readings we have done.


The following two websites (UVSC's Online Writing Lab website and the U of Wisconsin-Madison's writing center website) provide excellent handouts on MLA and APA styles:


Refer to the following web pages for more handy information on how to cite movies in MLA documentation:




"Think about how much we learn about contemporary life by way of interviews.  Larry King introduces us to presidents and power brokers.  Barbara Walters plumbs the emotional depths of stars and celebrities.  Oprah and Geraldo invite the ordinary, tortured, and bizarre to “spill their guts” to millions of home viewers" (Holstein and Gubrium, 1995, p.1).

"We inhabit a secondhand world, one already mediated by cinema, television, and the other apparatuses of postmodern society.  In this world, culture is driven increasingly less by the technological innovation of the written word and increasingly more by the interactive conventions of dramaturgy, performance, and the media.  We have no direct access to this world; we only experience and study its representations.  A reflexive sociology studies society as a dramaturgical production.  The reflexive interview is a central component of this interpretive project" (Norman K. Denzin, “The Cinematic Society, the Interview and the Postmodern Self.”  In Illuminating Social Life: Classical and Contemporary Theory Revisited. 3rd ed. Ed. Peter Kivisto.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005.  299-300.