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The University of Southampton

FILM8003 Classical Film Theory and Textual Analysis (iPhD version)

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. 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:

  • understand to a high degree of sophistication the principal theories that have been applied to film
  • understand systematically 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
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • apply with precision and self-reflexivity different film theories to individual films
  • evaluate theories carefully, both in themselves and in their application to films, demonstrating a synoptic view of the discipline
  • achieve sophisticated and complex textual analysis of films, the exhibit detail and precision to a high level
  • assess precisely the impact of theories to the development of Film Studies as an academic discipline
  • develop to a high standard highly-informed, original and intellectually persuasive critical arguments in discussions and in writing
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • engage in informed and authoritative discussion with peers on specific topics related to questions of film studies paradigms
  • communicate ideas in a competent and highly-informed 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


Typically the syllabus will include a number of important 'big questions' that have animated film theory. The module is concerned with the foundational questions and theories that grew up with film as a medium and remain important and unanswered questions. 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. Other concerns include how film is able to have such a strong emotional impact, its potential as a manipulative device, and its status as an art.

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

Independent Study110
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

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

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

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


Assessment Strategy

Assessments are designed to provide formal and informal feedback. Informal includes peer discussion/support, and consultation with the tutor in preparation for the formal assessments. Formal Assessment takes place on the written assignment.




MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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