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CS6: European Film

This paper is available for the academic year 2021-22. It will be available as an Optional Dissertation only in 2022-23.

This paper offers the opportunity for comparative study of European Cinema. Teaching on Film Language offers an introduction to cinema’s fundamental properties as a medium. Students will learn techniques for close analysis of film texts as well as developing an intellectual understanding of the ontology of film, of film as an indexical medium, and of key aspects of film language. The variety of lecture topics introduce students to key areas in European film history and film theory, through close work on a series of prescribed films and through theoretical reading as well as broader comparative work. The paper is taught in English, all prescribed readings are in English, and all prescribed films are subtitled in English. Should they wish to do so, however, students are welcome, with the advice of their supervisors, to expand their engagement to include materials in language areas in which they have proficiency.


The paper begins with two lectures on Film Language, which introduce cinema as a complex mode of representation. There are five further topics, all compulsory: ‘Cities and Bodies: Early Cinema, ‘Art and Industry, ‘Propaganda, War, Memory’, ‘Border crossings and displacement’ and ‘Gender and Sexuality: Identity, Fixity and Drift’. There are three or more prescribed films per topic. Students may supplement the list of possible films for discussion with other appropriate examples, in consultation with their supervisor and the convenor.

Information on the topics, films and suggested and essential reading can be found in the reading list (on Moodle, requires Raven login).

Preparatory reading: 

General Theory and Context

Jacques Aumont, ‘Griffith—the Frame, the Figure’, in Thomas Elsaesser, ed., Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative (London: BFI, 1990), 348-59

André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, in Bazin, What is Cinema? vol. 1, Hugh Gray, ed. and trans. (Berkeley: UCalifornia Press, 1967), 9-1

_______, ‘The Virtue and Limitations of Montage’, What is Cinema? vol. 1, Hugh Gray, ed. and trans. (Berkeley: U University of California Press, 1967), 41-52

Sergei Eisenstein, ‘A Dialectic Approach to Film Form’, Film Form, Jay Leyda, ed. and trans. (San Diego, NY and London: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1949), 45-63

_______, ‘Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today’, Film Form, Jay Leyda, ed. and trans. (San Diego, NY and London: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1949), 195-255

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations, Hannah Arendt, ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 217-251

Tom Gunning, ‘The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, its Spectator and the Avant-Garde’, in Thomas Elsaesser, ed., Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative (London: BFI, 1990), 56-62

_______, D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 10-30; 188-232


Introductory texts on film form, film analysis, and writing about film

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (NY: McGraw Hill, 2008) other editions acceptable

Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film (New York and Harlow: Longman, 1998)

Amy Villarejo, Film Studies: The Basics (London: Routledge, 2007)

Moodle Reading List: 
Teaching and learning: 

The course is taught largely through lectures and seminars (see also online timetable entry for Part II Comparative Studies). You are expected to attend the lectures and seminars for the entire paper. The first supervision assignment, accompanying the film language lectures and seminars, will be an exercise in close reading and formal analysis. Typically you will produce a substantial supervision essay for each of the five subsequent lecture topics, although some supervisions may be organised around group work, presentations, and/or other assignments that will engage you with the screenings and readings. Follow-up supervisions are offered in Easter Term as a means of preparing for the exam. Students work with one supervisor across the year. Seminars meet weekly. All students, including those writing Optional Dissertations, are expected to attend the seminars and to make one un-assessed seminar presentation.

Please see the Moodle site for CS6.


The exam is structured in two parts. Part I is a comparative commentary question, in which students are asked to identify a pair stills (from a range of three paired options) taken from two of the prescribed films, to analyse them individually, and to discuss them in relation to one another. Part II requires students to answer two (out of a range of ten) questions in which they are asked to make connections across the various topics, including the introductory lectures on Film Language. The framing of exam questions will necessarily compel students to engage materials produced in at least two different national contexts and/or language areas. It is expected that Optional Dissertations will be comparative and thus should focus on filmmaking practices and/or theories produced in at least two different national contexts and/or language areas. These areas, however, need not correspond to languages students are studying on the Tripos.

Guidance for Optional Dissertations:

In keeping with the paper’s comparative remit, dissertations should be comparative across at least two language areas and/or national contexts. These areas need not, however, be identical to the student’s tripos language areas, and films made in languages or national contexts that are not taught elsewhere on the MML tripos but that are, broadly speaking, European are allowable as objects of study. Moreover, dissertations can encompass films made in more than two national contexts and/or European language areas. British filmmaking is an allowable object of research, however dissertations that focus on British filmmaking should also include the study of filmmaking from two other European national contexts and/or language areas. If the dissertation is historical in its focus or methodology, the project can be organised inside a tight historical framework (e.g. WWII, or the 1980s). The above is meant as guidance, and students should consult with both their supervisor and the paper convenor in coming up with a suitable project.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Laura McMahon
Dr John David Rhodes