To register for graduate courses, please contact the Graduate Assistant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Master of Arts Core Courses
WINTER: Wednesdays 3-7
Room: see ACORN
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.
FALL: Wednesdays 11-1, Thursdays 1-3
Room: see ACORN
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.
2023 Iteration: This is a course about how to “do” film history. For the film and media historian, the media object is located in a complex and ever-changing web of relations. Politics, culture, technology, economics, and more are all factors determining how media comes to be, and what media means in its contextual moment. Such an approach invites particular debates in the research and writing of media histories. How are media histories written and what kinds of evidence are used? How does working with the particularities of moving images call for specific and at times nontraditional historical methods? In working with “evidence” we are alerted to how archives too are repositories of select knowledge—machineries of power that enable certain histories to be written but not others. How then, amid histories of colonialism, racism, environmental degradation, and much more, would the historian write “against the grain?” This course will explore the ways in which histories of film and media have been conceptualized, researched, written, refuted, and revisited. In addition to learning methodological skills in primary source research and analysis, we will be theorizing film/media history and its methods.
SUMMER: CIN1006Y - Major Research Paper in Cinema Studies
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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SUMMER: CIN1007Y - Internship in Cinema Studies
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
FALL: Mondays 1-3, Thursdays 1-3
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This course examines a range of factors that shape and contest the field of cinema studies. It maintains a focus on pressures exerted on our conception of what constitutes “cinema” as they are inflected in current scholarly debates, including institutional pressures on steady and gainful employment in the field. Rapid changes in technology; shifts in modes of delivery; individual, embodied, and communal spectatorial practices, experiences and uses of cinema; globalization and industrial consolidation—all of these forces work to alter both the forms of cinematic media and their place in social, cultural, and political life. This course will study how cinema’s mutable nature remains a central issue in debates about medium specificity, the role and toll of digitalization, and the shapes and purposes of different viewing communities, among other topics.
Lauren McLeod Cramer
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This course is required of all second-year PhD students in the Cinema Studies Institute. Structured as a workshop, it aims to develop students' skills for surviving and thriving in the doctoral program, as researchers and teachers in the fields of cinema and media studies, and as professionals in the academy and beyond.
FALL: Tuesdays 5-9
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The complex allure of moving images in the history of time-based media includes --but is by no means limited --their capacity to activate visceral responses in spectators. Throughout this history, theorists have sought to make sense of both the mechanisms by which this occurs and their socio-psychological implications. This seminar engages the ‘affective turn’ in film/media and cultural studies. As a response to post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theory, whose epistemologies are founded in discourse and a hypothetical subject, recent theories of affect since the l990s have devoted renewed attention to the role of material conditions, including visceral, lived experience of the body and the intensities that traverse it. Affects may be said to circulate publicly, or even transmit contagiously; in Brian Massumi’s words, “The skin is faster than the word.” While affect – which we will distinguish in this course from emotion or feeling—has been theorized as a pre-personal and pre-linguistic phenomenon, this has not hindered scholars and students alike from striving to put into words what exactly transpires before cognition and speech. Our weekly readings, our class discussions, and our writing, will constitute a collective striving to think, write and implement the concept of affect, using the curated screenings as a vehicle for both theorizing its immersion in textual narratives and analyzing our own responses to these.
WINTER: Fridays 11-3
Room: see ACORN
This seminar will explore recent issues in feminist filmmaking, with an emphasis on aesthetics, geopolitics, authorship, and methods. The course will undertake an in-depth study of a limited number of films, which will be selected from across a wide range of geopolitical contexts, historical periods, and styles. While we will address questions of the gaze, gender, and sexual difference as they appeared in second-wave feminist film theory, we will also critically examine more recent developments in feminist approaches to the moving image, such as archives and/or their absence, activism, ethics, and the persistent question of authorship. Texts will engage with a range of questions that may include colonialism, empire, race, sex, sexuality, mothering, labour, and abolition, among others. The seminar will also devote attention to our own methods of working with, on, and alongside these texts.
FALL: Mondays 3-5, Tuesdays 1-3
Room: see ACORN
This course takes as its starting point a single text: Claire Denis’ Beau Travail. Upon its release in 1999, Beau Travail was widely lauded, winning recognition as one of the best films of the year and earning prestigious awards for both Denis and cinematographer Agnés Godard. Since that time, its reputation has only grown. In the 2012 edition of the Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll, it was ranked number 78; ten years later, in 2022, it rose to the number seven spot on the list to become one of two films directed by women among the top ten. One factor that has contributed to the growth in stature of Beau Travail is the extraordinary wealth of critical literature it has inspired from film and media scholars working with a wide range of methodological approaches and intellectual concerns. In this course we will use that critical literature as a way to study Beau Travail in a sustained manner and, in the process, to survey those methods and topics that have proven most historically salient and fruitful in cinema studies. More specifically, as we view Beau Travail through the lens of different discourses— including adaptation studies, auteurism, performance studies, postcolonialism, queer theory, film philosophy, and formal analysis—and put it in conversation with an array of other films, we will map the theoretical contexts in which meaning emerges as well as the intertextual connections such contexts provoke. In this way we will not only gain insight into a single film text, but also the stakes and possibilities of the critical processes that we, as film and media scholars, engage in more generally.
FALL: Tuesdays 9-1
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What are the geopolitical, institutional, and ethical imaginaries that shape the idea of “world cinemas” and how do they intersect with the senses of worlds within what may be called worlds within cinemas or “cinematic worlds”? The first session of the seminar series published as The Beasts and the Sovereign, Volume II, begins with “I am alone. Says he or she. I am alone.” From here, Jacques Derrida experiments with variations of this phrase, including “I am alone with you in this world” and considers questions of islands, alterity, power, solitude, and finitude. Thinking of the “part of those who have no part,” in conversation with Hannah Arendt’s critique of human rights, Jacques Rancière defines a dissensus as “putting two worlds in one and the same world.” Recently, Judith Butler’s What World is This? continues Butler’s pursuit of the question of shared vulnerability, interdependency, and the philosophical and political arguments underpinning the sense of a common world while the “world keeps dividing into unequally exposed zones.” Following Naoki Sakai’s critique of nationalist insularity and the binaries of “the West and the rest,” within the post-World War II modern international world, we will also consider empire, decolonization, and Pax Americana in the constitution of the “world” of “world cinemas.” Through critical and creative juxtapositions of films and political and philosophical texts, this class is an invitation to investigate the possibilities of thinking world and worlds, world-formation, worldhood and, as Roland Barthes once considered, How to Live Together.
WINTER: Tuesdays 9-1
Room: see ACORN
The “essay” derives its meaning from the French “essayer”: to try or attempt. Provisionally situated at the intersection of the documentary, experimental, and personal modes of cinema, the essay film defies easy classification while also pointing to compositional principles of non-linearity, association, and fragmentation. The essay has thus been described as interdisciplinary—even anti-disciplinary—a meta-practice that interrogates the entanglements of images, language, history, politics, geography and subjectivity in the production of meaning.
In his introduction to The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker, Timothy Corrigan argues that “essays describe and provoke an activity of public thought …..The essay presses itself as a dialogue and reflective communal experience, stretched between the intimate other of self and the public ‘other’ that surrounds a self. In this sense, one of the chief defining features of the essay film and its history becomes eliciting an active intellectual response to the questions and provocations that an unsettled subjectivity directs at its public.” Together, we will consider the essay film as an expressive form, one which bridges and disturbs distinctions between the literary and the cinematic, portraiture and analysis, the public and the private, thought and feeling.
This graduate seminar class will explore the history, theory and practice of the essay film, from its origins in the early 20th century to its contemporary manifestations in the age of digital media. The aim of this seminar is twofold: First, to consider the history of the essay film as form and method, examining the literary and photographic heritage from which it emerges and the evolution of documentary and avant-garde cinemas within which it sits, albeit uneasily. Second, to explore the essay as a mode of critical practice. We will consider the affordances of the essay form within cinematic practice and engage the film essay’s interdependent relationship with the literary essay. We will watch essays, read essays, write essays and make essays, all while asking how form begets experiments with observation and cognition across the cinematic field, and with what consequence.
FALL: Wednesdays 6-9
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This course will look at Theodor Adorno’s influential writing on media and mass culture in light of recent technological developments in image production and dissemination. We will tend, as well, to more recent efforts in media theory to either reinforce in new ways, or else deny, Adorno’s insights about the relation between aesthetics and technology and the possibility of autonomy. The course will be divided in two halves. In the first half, we will read Adorno’s largely skeptical accounts of mass culture as a form of mass deception. In the second, we will turn to his writings on aesthetic autonomy in order to ask what autonomy could mean for cinema with respect to both industrial modes of production and avant-garde practices. Readings will include The Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, Aesthetic Theory, Composing for the Films (with Eisler), and Philosophy of New Music, among other works. We will look at a diverse range of films, television shows and forms of new media.
WINTER: Tuesdays 3-7
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This course will explore the concept and embodiment of “the monstrous” by staging a conversation between the pivotal figures of monstrosity that haunt the history of moving image media and the figures of monstrosity that haunt the philosophical discourse of deconstruction—particularly the work of Jacques Derrida. The course will explore a range of theoretical questions regarding the ontological nature of the relation between modernity, monstrosity and technologies of mediation in the process. And yet, to the extent that the figure of the monster has long served to delimit the categories of biological existence that belong in “nature’s order”—and by extension, to articulate the various forms of racial, sexual, and physical difference that modern science has framed as disruptions of this “order”—these questions will ultimately pool around the ontological roles these processes of mediation have played in the production, reconstruction, and deconstruction of this distinctly biopolitical order. As this characterization begins to suggest, we will be reading both “high” and “low” representations of monstrosity coextensively with philosophical and scientific treatments of the subject, relying on the former to illuminate the shifting, yet always specific sets of historical, theoretical, aesthetic, and sociopolitical terms that define the latter, and vice versa. The central preoccupation of the course will thus be theoretical in scope, but engaged with historically specific discourses by necessity: what can the history of mass-media, and the seemingly fundamental obsession with monsters that unfolds there, teach us about the ontological relationship between the category of monstrosity, the simultaneously aesthetic and technological act of monstration (or showing), and the political anxieties about media, technology, knowledge, and being that circulate around them in modern culture and thought? How might the figure of the monster help us rethink the relationship between the multiple different technologies, aesthetics, and cultures of mediation that “converge” throughout the modern history of monster media texts, but also in the more recent technical phenomenon of “media convergence”? And finally, how might a different view of these relationships help us make sense of the role that “monster media” have played in the articulation of social, technological, and political categories of being, difference, and mediation over time?
The course will engage these types of questions by discussing screenings alongside a range of different readings from the fields of philosophy, cinema studies, and various traditions of critical theory, but will place special emphasis on deconstruction and related developments in post-structuralism. The point of this methodological emphasis is not only to give students an introduction to a complex but important tradition in contemporary thought—one that also plays a defining role in the way that scholars understand the “problem” of the monster in the modern colonial and post-colonial imagination more generally—but also to explore the conceptual nuances of these ideas through the sensuous material features of the film, TV, new media, and sometimes even literary texts with which they entwine. In other words, the textual features of the visual and literary works we look at will take on equal philosophical importance to their more properly academic counterparts, so that attending to the distinctly “monstrous” aesthetic and technological features of the moving image can be understood as part of a multi-media discourse of “monstrosity” that supersedes any and all such categories and distinctions.
WINTER: Tuesdays 1-3, Thursdays 1-3
Room: see ACORN
The emergence of cinema at the end of the nineteenth century has often been associated with shocks and flows of Western modernity. This course will explore early cinema’s relationship with modernity, modernism and modernization through a more global and inclusive understanding of film history. The course will ask two core questions: How helpful is the ‘modernity thesis’, as theorized by Euro-American film scholars, in historicizing cinemas of the Global South? And more broadly, how does film history help us understand the cultural lag and socio-economic disparity that characterizes the deep divide between the Global North and South? Our objective in this graduate course will be to provincialize any universalist understanding of technological, social and aesthetic transformation that emerges in Euro-American film cultures and gets diffused in other parts of the world. We will instead globalize film history by exploring the multiple modernities of film cultures in the Global South and beyond, and also understand how they open up new ways of thinking about media temporalities through broader concerns in social and critical theory.
FALL: Fridays 10-2
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In his 2007 volume Mobilities, John Urry defines the “mobility turn” as “a different way of thinking through the character of economic, social and political relationships.” According to the late sociologist, the “mobility turn is post-disciplinary” and “connects the analysis of different forms of travel, transport and communications with the multiple ways in which economic and social life is performed and organized through time and across various spaces.” (6) Connecting the “spatial turn” to the “infrastructural turn” of contemporary humanities and social studies, the mobilities paradigm helps us historicize and interrogate time-based media’s complex and layered relationship with movement and circulation. The theoretical framework employed by this course seeks to illuminate and bring together storied symbioses (cinema and railway, for example) as well as make new connections (location tourism and art photography), revisit classic genres (the road movie, the tourist film), and re-examine classic figures (the flâneur, the driver), vehicles (the automobile, the airplane), actions (running, flying), and affects (wanderlust, vertigo).