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Master of Arts Core Courses

This course surveys those methods and topics that have proven most historically salient and analytically fruitful in the field of cinema studies through a semester-long discussion of a single film or other medial artifact chosen for the tremendous and varied impact it has had on film culture. In addition to engaging with that textual object in an ongoing manner, students in the course will examine both the critical literature it has generated from a wide array of scholars and other films to which it relates. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to map the various critical contexts in which meanings emerge as well as the intertextual connections such contexts provoke. Past iterations of the course have featured Touch of EvilImitation of Life, and Disneyland.

Organized around a series of issues that have incited ongoing discussion and debate among scholars, cultural critics, and filmmakers, this course takes a topical approach to the study of film theory. In the process it both revisits some of the most canonical texts in the field and attends to more recent attempts to think through our contemporary moment, when digitality and transnationalism are radically changing the nature of film as well as the manner in which it is produced, distributed, exhibited, and viewed. Among those issues to be discussed are medium specificity, spectatorship, narrativity, affect, and the relationship between aesthetics, economics, and politics.

This course will examine a limited number of important developments in the history of cinematic media. It will extend the in-depth study of these developments in technique, technology, and text to include considerations of the sociocultural forces, economics, theories of the cinematic and aesthetics that have played a role in their development, or in the ways in which we have studied them. The course will cover a wide range of distinct time periods, geographical areas, and stylistic tendencies, and will engage with a range of scholarly approaches to key developments in cinematic media. The course aims to ensure that students' knowledge of the history of film and media is enhanced, and that they have the opportunity to engage more critically with the issues surrounding the historical study of cinema and related media that are of interest and importance to them.

CIN1006Y - Major Research Paper in Cinema Studies (Summer)

This course provides each student with the opportunity to write a major research paper on a topic to be devised in consultation with an individual member of the Cinema Studies core faculty. Students will be encouraged to make use of the special collections housed with the Media Commons as the basis for their research projects.

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CIN1007Y - Internship in Cinema Studies (Summer)

A variety of placement settings connected to film culture. Each placement will entail some form of film-related research and/or examination of / participation in how organizations use and study film and disseminate it within a broader cultural field. Students will produce a report at the end of their internship outlining the learning experience and the implications for research and film scholarship.

Doctor of Philosophy Core Courses

In 1824, the influential German historian Leopold von Ranke described the aim of history as "to show what actually happened," assuming the possibility of an unambiguous access to the past. Today few theorists of history would be as confident. And yet, if an unmediated past is inaccessible – if history is instead inevitably a personal construct, shaped by the historian's perspective as a narrator – how is one to assess the historical enterprise? What can it mean to think historically, and what are the unique characteristics of historical inquiry? And what clues can cinema, as a supposedly "referential" visual form, provide about history, as a similarly (and also supposedly) "referential" discourse? Broadly stated, the class can be defined in terms of three major goals: to investigate the range of hermeneutic perspectives from which film history has been written; to assess and to theorize the kind of archival sources that film historians have conventionally drawn upon; and to confront cinema's status as a technology and the pressures that technological change (in particular, digitization) has placed on history and cultural memory. Rather than deny or avoid these pressures, this course seeks ultimately to suggest ways of running positively with them; ways of "doing history in the postmodern world" – arguably the world we live in.

This course examines the multiple factors that are shaping the field of cinema studies, especially as pressures exerted on our conception of what constitutes “cinema” are reflected in current scholarly debates.  Rapid changes to technology, shifts in delivery systems, diverse spectatorial responses to and uses of cinema, globalization and industrial consolidation--all of these forces work to alter both the nature of cinema as a medium and its social and cultural functions.  This course will study how cinema’s protean nature remains a central issue in debates about medium specificity, the role of digitalization, and different viewing communities, among other topics.

A mandatory course for second-year students.

Elective Courses

Seminar format. Drawing on the scholarly interests of faculty, courses may include intermediality, film genres, corporeality, and transnationality.

Offers students the opportunity to design a reading list, research project and/or writing assignments in the student’s designated area of interest.

Personal filmmaking first emerged with the avant-garde in the 1950s, as artists explored the performativity of identity via the apparatus. Focusing primarily on the German cultural context, we will explore how such films reference national social and political history while also unsettling inherited distinctions between public and personal archives, public event and private experience, historiography and subjective memory, national character and personal identity, and family and self. Films covered will include experimental feminist films from the 1970s, more recent family films investigating the legacy of the National Socialist past, personal documentaries about the Holocaust produced by children of Holocaust survivors, experimental queer cinema, and the contemporary avant-garde. We will view these films parallel to reading theories of subjectivity and authorship advanced by Roland Barthes, Philip LeJeune, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler.

An in-depth examination of the intersection of cinema and nationhood, such as British Social Realism or German New Wave. Content in any given year depends on the instructor.

An in-depth examination of aspects of documentary and non-fiction media, such as first-person filmmaking, interactive documentary, or reality television. Content in any given year depends on the instructor.

An in-depth examination of aspects of documentary and non-fiction media, such as first-person filmmaking, interactive documentary, or reality television. Content in any given year depends on the instructor.

An in-depth examination of a specific topic in film and media history not covered by the core curriculum, such as Women’s Film Festivals, or Animals and Film. Content in any given year depends on the instructor.

An in-depth examination of a specific topic in film and media theory not covered by the core curriculum, such as theories of the viewing subject, film and phenomenology, or reviewing spectator studies. Content in any given year depends on the instructor.

This course will consider the role race has played in defining film genres and film language. We will look primarily at American films, from the silent era to contemporary cinema and we will consider how the representation of race informs (or deforms) film narratives. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect in film and film theory.

Taking their cue from the title of Claire Johnston’s foundational article in feminist film theory, “Women’s Cinema as Counter Cinema,” many feminist filmmakers of the last 30 years have defined their charge as follows: to talk back to patriarchal texts through their radical retelling.  As a result, much of feminist cinema is characterized by intertextuality.  While talking back in this manner can be an extremely effective critical approach, allowing for the production of works that challenge those iconographic and narrative traditions that reify conventional definitions of femininity and masculinity and/or deprive women of agency, it also runs certain risks – chiefly, the re-centering rather than de-centering of the patriarchal text at hand and the exclusion of certain audience members (i.e., those who are unfamiliar with that text).  In this course we will explore the political and aesthetic possibilities of talking back by examining various examples of feminist cultural production that are intertextual in nature from a perspective informed by theoretical writings on feminist aesthetics and filmmaking practice.

This seminar examines the relations between Surrealism and the cinema in interwar France, and the aesthetic, political, and theoretical debates produced by their encounter. To what extent may Surrealism, in its varied iterations, be productively read through the optic of cinema, and even as a cinematic movement? And to what extent is cinema an implicitly Surrealist medium? In addition to tracing a precise history of Surrealism, cinema, and its discontents between the end of World War One and the outbreak of World War 2 through works by Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, Walter Benjamin, André Breton, Luis Buñuel, René Clair, Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dalí, Robert Desnos, Louis Feuillade, Sigmund Freud, Germaine Dulac, Man Ray, Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon, Jean Vigo, and others, this class explores the potential of Surrealism as a methodology for critical and theoretical studies of cinema, literature, culture, and history.

It was arguably the international avant-garde of the 1950s that first inspired wider exploration of the camera’s potential as a technology of the performative self. Since then, first-person filmmaking has gained ground, dovetailing with disparate social trends across the decades, including those of the New Wave, and more recently, resulting in feature-length autobiographical documentaries that circulate at festivals and garner commercial appeal. Using the German cultural context as case study within a comparative framework, this interdisciplinary seminar draws on diverse theories of subjectivity, including recent scholarship in performance studies (Goffman, Butler, Phelan), Lacanian psychoanalysis, documentary theory (Gaines, Nichols, Odin, Renov), phenomenology (Sobchak), post-structuralism (Barthes, Derrida, Foucault), and theories of cultural memory (Assmann, Halbwachs, Nora) and of transgenerational trauma (Caruth, Felman, Laub). We will explore how the subjective stance navigates a line between exhibitionistic display and introspective narcissism and, in the process, also blurs the lines between public event and private experience, between national historiography and subjective memory, between families of origin and the bounded self. Consideration will be given to both socio-historical context and continuing innovations in narrative form (confession, diary, testimonial), including the nesting of different technologies (photography, Super 8, home video, archival newsreel, cell phone). Our chronology will include avant-garde and feminist filmmaking of the 1970s, but focus primarily on productions of the past 15 years, including: investigative family films by (grand)children of both Holocaust survivors and Nazi perpetrators, experimental queer cinema, reconstructed family historiographies of immigration to Germany, and mainstream features.

Affliliated Courses

The 'Berlin School ’ is a shorthand moniker that emerged among critics and curators around the millennial turn as a means to reference a heterogenous group of German directors whose work was gaining visibility and sustained attention. Their emergence parallels the installation of the so-called Berlin Republic, when the German government transferred its official seat of power from Bonn to its pre-World War II location. The politics and aesthetics of these filmmakers can be situated in the same lineage with the Nouvelle Vague and the New German Cinema. Their films emphatically resist the temptation to deliver escapist narratives to a public struggling with the erosion of the social welfare state under the pressures of globalization; instead, they continue to pursue an uncompromising realism focusing in exacting and uncanny detail upon the forms of subjectivity, both ordinary and extraordinary, produced among different social groups and classes. We will review the films of contemporary directors Christian Petzold, Thomas Arslan, Angela Schanelec, Ulrich Köhler, Benjamin Heisenberg, and others, with consideration for theories of affect, duration, and the everyday, together with contemporary social and aesthetic theory.

Drawing on recent exemplars of world cinema whose stories take place against the backdrop of contemporary Germany and neighbouring countries, this seminar examines mobility – and it’s antithesis, immobility -- as an increasingly complex cipher. Domestic and transnational productions alike advance diegetic stories that focus on the transience, itinerancy, and flux that have come to characterize contemporary life for widespread numbers of people across the continent and beyond. Readings from social and cultural theory offer a lens through which to excavate uneven modernities, revealing archaic residues of earlier life worlds that haunt protagonists pressured into motion (or alternately, trapped in stasis) by neoliberalism’s tectonic shifts in economy, infrastructure, and social welfare. Recent writings on aesthetics, realism, genre, and affect will also inform our engagement with the ‘realist turn’ in film style that often mediates this contemporary preoccupation with territorial dislocation.

This course provides an introduction to the field of theoretical writing addressing the nature of digital media and the role of technology in modern and contemporary culture from a humanistic perspective. In doing so, this course will consider a range of critical pressure points that have been central to media studies, technology studies, digital humanities, art and performance, cinema studies, and archival studies. How have developments in digital culture and theory impacted the critical commonplaces of analogy, time, space, sound, motion, network, body, and narrative? Do digital networks, databases and data modeling, algorithmic mediation, hyperlinks, and ever-accumulating indexes alter the conditions of knowledge, artistic practice, subjectivity, and the place of ideology critique?

In dialogue with critical paradigms that have been fundamental to the discourse of critical theory, including affect, power, constructionism, archives, colonialism, nationalism, and the politics of race, gender, and sexuality, we will reflect on the parameters of a deeply significant archeological shift from the conceptual apparatus of “perspective” to the elastic platforms of “fold” that are emphasized, if not wholly embodied, by the digital condition. Such a shift turns around the paradoxical inscription of novel procedures of archivization, accumulation, divergence, and fractal simultaneity in past paradigms of projection, the baroque, dialectics, surveillance, and philosophical teleology. This course will provide students with the opportunity to scrutinize the work of a wide spectrum of thinkers central to critical theory in digital discourse, including Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Wendy Chun, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Alexander Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Jacques Rancière, Jussi Parikka, Katherine Hayles, Lisa Nakamura, Arjun Appadurai, Frederick Kittler, Alan Liu, Lev Manovich, Timothy Murray, Donna Haraway, Mark Poster, Gilles Deleuze, Mark B. N. Hansen, Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, and David Rodowick. We will examine how these different approaches to digital media and technology inflect what Karl Marx called the history of the sense, or the relation of political and aesthetic experience.

In order to foreground the intellectual trajectories that surround digital media, it is important to examine pre-digital media theories before moving into writing on digital new media. The syllabus thus follows the reception of media theory in North America starting with the work of University of Toronto English professor Marshall McLuhan in the 1950s and 1960s. It then moves backward in time to examine several German critics writing in the 1930s and 1940s. However, the bulk of the syllabus focuses on the work of digital theories in the late twentieth/ early twenty-first centuries, which mark the dawn of networked personal computing.

The course presumes no prior experience in digital discourse, only a basic familiarity with analytic writing at the graduate level. The course is open to both Master’s and Doctoral students.

This course will explore musicological approaches to cinema by looking at the films of arguably the most famous director of the twentieth century, Alfred Hitchcock. In a career spanning half a century, Hitchcock’s output of some sixty films ranged from the silent era to the advent of Dolby Sound, with composers spanning several generations of greats, from Franz Waxman to John Williams. Hitchcock’s music varies widely, from non-diegetic orchestral scoring in nearly every film after 1930 to key diegetic uses such as whistling and singing. Using these films as a starting point, the seminar will explore theoretical approaches to film music, in particular the seminal work of Michel Chion. The seminar will conclude with a consideration of music’s role in how Hitchcock came to be “Hitchcock.”