On The Screen

This version of On the Screen will explore various elements of cinematic texts–in particular, mise-en-scène (the setting of action in time and space, the landscape, lighting, decor, placement of camera) and story or plot-line–to determine what makes a film an instance or version of a film of a particular kind, all of whose members discernibly expressing the same underlying narrative pattern despite differences in narrative details. Since each genre is adept at communicating a particular view of reality, classification by kinds is not an empty academic exercise. Discrimination of genre is implicit in understanding film narrative, as it is in understanding narratives of any kind–why the actions of the characters make sense and what they means in relation to lived experience.

To get a handle on generic similarity, we will begin with two films which would seem to have the same kind of overt narrative premise and which yet do not belong to the same genres— movies with all the trappings and plot devices of science fiction can have closer affinities to Westerns than to other science fiction movies— and then move on to examine several popular American genres, such as Westerns, Detective Films, Musicals, Screwball Comedies, Gangster movies, Film Noir, and also a nameless genre: films about the relation of the cinematic medium to reality. Directors whose films will be examined include Buster Keaton, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Carol Reed, Raoul Walsh, Francis Ford Coppola, Leo McCarey, John Houston. In addition to viewing films, we will read some literary or dramatic texts to compare the treatment of similar narrative patterns in different media, and we will glance at some theory of narrative and film narrative.

No previous experience with film analysis or critical theory is presumed.