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The University of Southampton

FILM6032 Classical Film Theory and Textual Analysis

Module Overview

Critical and theoretical fashions have led to waves of new approaches and methodologies, each with certain distinctive emphases and concerns. These have made Film Studies into a rich and varied discipline, particularly as they have formed an addition to concerns rather than a replacement for the concerns that have animated film theory and analysis since the birth of the medium. This module was conceived as a complement to ‘Interpreting Film: Contextual Approaches to Cinema History’. It will look at some of the tradition and essential concerns of film theory, including notions of film as art and how films ‘work’ on a micro-scale. Its focus will be on ‘Classical Film Theory’ (including Eisenstein, Bazin, etc), which set out the traditional interests and emphases of Film Studies. It will also embrace more recent film theory (such as ‘Screen theory’ and psychoanalysis, ‘Wisconsin’ formalism and cognitive psychology, Gilles Deleuze and Robert B.Ray). The module will address questions of ontology and epistemology, as well as debates about art and cultural value Another central concern of this module is textual detail and there will be a focus on close textual analysis of films. Consequently, there is an interest in film ‘specificity’ – seeing film as film (as Victor Perkins put it), rather than seeing film as a symptom of something else ( change, cultural degeneration), or as a vehicle for other concerns (such as more general social, economic or cultural history, or sociological, philosophical or psychological concerns) that reside outside of cinema.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the principal theories that have been applied to film
  • the techniques of textual analysis relevant to detailed appraisals of films, formal analysis in particular, embracing different aspects of close material analysis of films, including spatial, temporal, sonic and image analysis
  • the possible underlying structures of films, that have been focused upon by theories of film
  • detailed knowledge about the small repertoire of films studied in the course , in terms of narrative and formal detail, representational aspects, references to other texts and aspects of production
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • engage in informed discussion with peers on specific topics related to questions of film studies paradigms
  • communicate ideas in a competent manner (in terms of clarity of expression, structure of argument, correct grammar/spelling, appropriate presentation/layout etc.).
  • define and manage research projects
  • access recent research findings on the development of Film Studies as an academic discipline
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • apply different theories to films
  • evaluate theories in themselves and in their application to films
  • achieve detailed and precise textual analysis of films
  • assess the impact of theories to the development of Film Studies as an academic discipline
  • develop coherent, original and intellectually persuasive critical arguments in discussions and in writing


The Nature of Film Some of the earliest theories of film were concerned with discovering film’s ‘essence’: what is the defining aspect of film as a medium? Broadly, this so-called ‘Classical Film Theory’ can be divided into ‘phenomenological concerns’ about the convincing depiction of the world, and ‘linguistic concerns’ about the possibilities of providing a point of view of the world through inclusion, exclusion and connection. Narrative Narrative, narration and narratology have retained a central place in Film Studies. This session will look at ways of understanding time development and progression in films, as well as mediating story events. Genre, Taxonomy and Pre-Existing Structures The coming of ‘genre theory’ to Film Studies inspired a new wave of approaches and a rethinking of how films should be approached. At the centre of this theory was the notion that films should be stratified by type and each analysed in line with the ‘rules’ of the genre to which they belong. However, genre theory has some philosophical problems … Desire, the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis The arrival of psychoanalytic theory to Film Studies meant a focus on films as being essentially concerned with desire, playing upon certain desires among audience members and each film manifesting a movement towards fulfilling desire in its narrative and symbols. Interpretation and the Corridors of Exegesis Since the passing of the notion of the existence of one, ‘right’ understanding of complex cultural objects, hermeneutics, or the art of interpretation has become prominent. Perhaps the key notions in this process has been that of ‘representation’ and ideology, where the film is interrogated for its projections of certain ideas about types of people, the world, etc. Authorship, Textual Subjectivity and Adaptation Early cinema often had no notion of who the author of the film was: it was an irrelevance to the film’s consumption. Today, of course, it is still an irrelevant question for many film consumers, and yet a large number of films wish to ascribe authorship prominently in their opening title sequences. This session will look into the notion of the subjectivity ‘in the text’, which not only includes the possibility of a Godlike authorial presence in films but also the development of guiding or surrogate subjectivities as characters on screen. Industry, Audience and Cultural Value Does film theory have cultural value? If so, what and why? If not, why not? The same questions can be levelled at films themselves, and indeed, this has been a theme of film theory since its inception.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - plenary seminar discussion - tutor-supported individual work Learning activities include - preparation for individual discussion and participation in group discussion on a variety of relevant topics - completion of an assignment requiring you research and analysis

Completion of assessment task70
Preparation for scheduled sessions30
Follow-up work10
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

David Bordwell and Noel Carroll, eds (1996). Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. 

Andre Bazin (1967). What is Cinema?. 

Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams, eds (2000). Reinventing Film Studies. 

David Bordwell (1985). Narration in the Fiction Film. 

Sergei Eisenstein and Jay Leyda (1969). The Film Sense. 

Thomas E.Wartenberg and Angela Curran, eds (2005). The Philosophy of Film: Introductory Texts and Readings. 

Victor Perkins (1972). Film as Film. 

Raymond Bellour (2000). The Analysis of Film. 

Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener (2010). Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback - tutor-supported workshops - peer discussion/support - consultation with your tutor in preparation for the formal assessments




MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3500 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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