For syllabi, click on course title. 

La Jetee  (Chris Marker, 1962)

La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962)

Time Machines & Puzzle Films

Film and video are devices for recording and perceiving time; they provide vantage points into the nature of movement and memory. As such, cinema can be thought of as a form of time machine—one that displays actual and imagined past events, represents human and inhuman experiences of duration, and envisions the future. This affinity of cinema and fictional time machines has led to countless time-travel narratives, many of which involve complex paradoxes and wrestle with the mysteries of memory, agency, and time; and examinations of temporal experience feature prominently in many of the popular mind-bending films of the past two decades. The course explores a number of interrelated elements: the ways in which the time-based media of cinema, video, and television, as well as digital information and simulation systems serve as “time machines”; the ways in which memory, prediction, and time travel are conceived of and represented as various forms of media; and the ways in which such notions of subjective and/or mediated time underlie the complex narratives, unreliable narrators, and deviations from classical Hollywood continuity seen in contemporary “puzzle films.” We will inevitably address some of the philosophies of time, along with the theoretical paradoxes of time travel, but such discussions will serve primarily as a backdrop for a deeper understanding of mediated representations and experiences of duration. In order to strengthen our understanding of the ways in which media contributes to the particular temporalities of the puzzle film, we begin by analyzing early cinema and how it explored the novelty of “capturing” moments or manipulating the temporality of figures and events, as well as how these techniques and narratives emerged concurrently with new theories of consciousness and the relativity of time. We will examine duration, agency, breaks in continuity, and hypervisuality as they are indicative of three major areas of analysis in current media studies: video games (Run Lola Run, Source Code), neuroscience (Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lucy), and surveillance and terrorism (Déjà Vu, Minority Report, Next), and consider the ways in which such media and disciplines have in turn influenced cinematic narrative.  

Celebrity Culture

This course explores celebrity, stardom, fame, and self-branding as it is produced, circulated, and consumed. In examining the increasingly self-aware culture associated with celebrity, mass media, and Web 2.0, we will discuss the ways in which celebrity is conceived, constructed, performed, and discussed, as well as how it shapes notions of identity, and has reconfigured concepts of work, class, consumption, intimacy, authenticity, and the “American dream.” A critical analysis of celebrity encompasses many aspects of culture, and we will draw connections between celebrity and a number of issues including: the erosion of privacy; fantasies of social mobility; notions of health, beauty, and success; and the ways in which individuals become commodities. 

With an emphasis on media’s relationship to celebrity, we cover a broad range of topics and modes of analysis. We will conduct a brief history of celebrity culture, from the heroes of the pre-cinematic era and the cultivation of the larger-than-life Hollywood star, to the intimate television personality and the even more personal social media micro-celebrity. We will discuss the ways in which celebrity exceeds the boundaries of a given text—for example, how the viewer’s insights into a particular movie star may shape her interpretation or enjoyment of the film. We will examine how celebrity informs many aspects of the public sphere, including politics, journalism, and discourses on race and cultural identity. As celebrity culture commonly entails looking at and judging famous bodies, we will consider how celebrity culture contributes to body image and to the perceived rise in narcissism. We will analyze the ways in which social media such as Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram foster new relationships between celebrities and fans, and blur the boundaries between production and consumption. We will consider the social and cultural roles of gossip and scandal, as they often provide focal points around which cultures establish behavioral norms. Celebrity is also a “product” that is produced, regulated, and monetized; as such, we will address the ways in which people as images are owned and circulated in “the celebrity industry.” 

Woman in the Dunes  (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Body, Brain, & Screen

As a capstone course for Cinema Studies, this class is designed so that students may apply all they have learned in previous film analysis and production courses in order to foster a deeper understanding of contemporary critical engagements with screens, sounds, and moving images. Incorporating a range of methods—including psychoanalytic film theory, phenomenology, neuroscience, Deleuzian film analysis, and theories of digital cinema—we explore the ways in which these may be applied to each student’s creative and critical approach to media. We analyze the relationships between cinema and the human brain and body, as well as consider the ways in which the medium—in its various formats—reflects, evokes, challenges, and even transforms perception, sensation, and cognition. Many early theorists understood cinema as an optical phenomena—not unlike voyeuristically gazing through a window, for example. We begin with an overview of such perspectives of the “disembodied” spectator, and quickly move on to address the growing interest in the ways that the film experience affects a range of senses and can indeed captivate the audience on a visceral level. While the cinema consists primarily of moving image and sound, screens might not only engage the eye and ear, but can also convey other senses like touch or smell. Understanding the ways in which the medium and brain alike transmit such sensations may provide rich avenues for the analysis and production of cinema for years to come. A significant portion of the class is also dedicated to enabling each student to develop his or her own vision and voice—by reflecting upon his or her experience, knowledge, and skills acquired at Northeastern, by articulating in a concise manner his or her particular perspective and area/s of interest, and by completing a substantial critical work that demonstrates mature scholarship. 

The Fly  (David Cronenberg, 1986)

The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

Monsters, Aliens, Androids

Looking at the figures of the monster, the alien, and the android within films, television, and videogames of the past century, this course examines how encounters with “the Other” define as well as challenge what it means to be human. It addresses issues of the body and identity in science fiction and horror—genres that explore bodies of all kind pushed beyond their limits. But these fantastic and terrifying figures are not simply fantasies that have no place in the everyday world; they raise critical questions about individuality, humanity, technology, race, gender, sex, and ability. As we survey a wide variety of monstrous bodies and texts, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the representations it spawned to the latest Terminator film, we consider the following sorts of questions: What cultural functions do these figures serve? What underlies the tendency to be disturbed or disgusted by monsters and aliens? What sorts of bodies—real and imagined—are deemed monstrous, and why? While many of these figures are intended to evoke dread, disgust, and terror, some are also—and simultaneously—alluring or seductive; how do we understand such ambiguity? What is the relationship between humans, animals, plants, and the nonorganic? How do bodies transformed by technology, death, evolution, etc. reveal the ways in which humanity and life itself are being redefined? As a course dedicated to the study of media as well, we consider the ways sound and moving image convey or contribute to notions and experiences of the monstrous, the uncanny, and the fantastic. The course focuses on a number of historical periods and representations. While students are welcome to explore in greater depth any of these subjects in their final paper, they are also encouraged to draw connections to contemporary examples in their critical examination of the monstrous body.

Contagion  (Steven Soderberg, 2011)

Contagion (Steven Soderberg, 2011)

Apocalyptic Film & Media

In the wake of Hiroshima and the Nazi concentration camps, “The End of the World” looms large as the inevitable failure of humanity. With the contemporary discourses of WMDs, terrorism, global climate change, and pandemics, we see an intensified drive for prescience—as indicated by surveillance and simulation technologies designed to avert such catastrophes. Spectacles of meteors, tidal waves, plagues, mushroom clouds, alien invaders, and zombies not only give form to modern anxieties, but also provide fantasy scenarios where the narrative’s survivors (and the spectator as survivor) are thrust into new worlds of possibility, free of mundane and alienating consumer culture. As poignant critiques, absurdist camp, and even lowbrow “trash,” these films, television shows, and video games illustrate their time, often simultaneously critiquing and affirming patriarchal violence. Above all, such works wrestle with the underlying paradox that the apocalypse by definition negates the possibility of expression (it is, after all, unimaginable), even as it compels countless forms of representation. The course will focus primarily on representations of secular apocalypses from the 1950s to the present, with an emphasis on the significance of television as a mode of monitoring the precarious social and environmental order, and how the televisual—and social media to an increasing extent—forms one’s sense of community and crisis. In addition to films that spectacularize postwar anxieties of nuclear annihilation, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse, civil unrest, and Fascistic police states, this class will address the ways media presents and digests real-life “apocalyptic visions,” from 9/11 to Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, often transforming them into controlled “aesthetic” events. As Spielberg’s depiction of terrified, dust-covered citizens running through the devastated urban streets of War of the Worlds reveals, “news” and “fantasy” can sometimes, disturbingly, converge. 

Double Indemnity  (Billy Wilder, 1944)

Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)

Film Noir

This course traces film noir from the “classic” era of the 1940s and 1950s to the present. It begins with an examination of the characters (the hard-boiled detective, femme fatale, gangster, psychopath, sexual “deviant,” middle-class murderer), styles (low-key lighting, unbalanced compositions, voice-over narration), and themes (alienation, existentialism, corruption, absurdity) that arose in World War II America. After an in-depth study of the social, cultural, and economic forces that shaped these first works, the course explores the ways in which film noir has been re-articulated or transformed to reflect each subsequent historical era—in brief, French noir films of the 1950s and 60s, which illustrate the cross-cultural power of this “American genre”; the anxieties, disillusionment, and “demythologization” of the 1970s; the revivalism, genre hybridity, and excesses of the 1980s; the dark and ironic turns of noir and the femme fatale of the 1990s; and the fragmented narratives and characters of the 2000s. While addressing specific films, as well as “noir” in broader media culture (including television and videogames), the course places an emphasis on issues of gender, sexuality, class, race, and the modern city. 

The Searchers  (John Ford, 1956)

The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

Introduction to Film Analysis

This course offers an introduction to the languages, aesthetics, and cultures of cinema. After considering the ways in which films are produced, marketed, and distributed, we study the basic elements of film grammar, from shot construction to editing to sound. We then examine how that grammar is used to construct narrative cinema, non-narrative or experimental work, and documentaries. Finally, we explore the ways in which film analysis is conducted, with a brief overview of the study of film genre, film history, and film theory. Special attention will be paid to writing about film, and this course will develop the critical thinking and writing skills needed for academic film analysis. By the end of the course, students will be able to define and employ terms and concepts fundamental to film studies, and ultimately write analytical essays that show an understanding of, and engagement with film form and culture. 

Peeping Tom  (Michael Powell, 1960)

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

Film Theory

Over the past 118 years, cinema has provoked a wide range of critical responses. Theorists have examined its nature, means of expression, artistic and political possibilities, and psychological and cognitive effects on individuals and cultures. The goal of this course is to familiarize students with the major theoretical positions and debates that have come to define the field of film theory. Among many others, we will explore film semiotics, apparatus theory, auteur theory, feminist film theory, as well as analyses of narrative, genre, spectatorship, representation, and global cinema.           

Many of the films we will watch are addressed in the assigned readings; some are examples of specific cultural movements; some are simply provocative and influential films that invite close analysis and discussion, using the methods and vocabulary introduced in the class. We cover a broad range of styles, nations, and historical eras—including the first experiments by the Lumière Brothers and Goerges Méliès, Soviet Montage, films of Weimar and Nazi Germany, Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, Classical Hollywood (with an emphasis on films noir and Alfred Hitchcock), horror films, and recent works from the US and abroad. While the course provides a broad overview, you are encouraged to pursue your own interests in research and writing, and to raise any number of topics in class. 

Coke "Avatar" Superbowl Ad, 2009

Coke "Avatar" Superbowl Ad, 2009

Digital Media Culture

This course offers students conceptual frameworks for thinking through a range of key issues and theories of the culture of “digital media”—a broadly defined term encompassing computational and interactive objects and practices. Reading seminal and contemporary texts on media and culture, we will explore a range of areas, including social media, videogames, online worlds, surveillance and privacy, “drones” and cyber warfare, hactivism, and artificial intelligence. Critical topics include the formal qualities of digital media, media convergence and ubiquity, consumption and production, digital democracy and collective intelligence, avatars, and fan cultures. Above all, we will discover and interrogate the ways in which digital media challenge our assumptions about the body, identity, property, community, gender, ethnicity, work, and play. While it is important to have a basic understanding of the ways software, hardware, and digital networks operate, our focus is digital media culture—and in particular the effects such media have upon the individual and society. 

By looking closely and critically at digital media, we will come to understand that these are not simply fixed objects, but are complex habits, beliefs, and procedures that permeate the vast majority of contemporary cultural practices. In other words, digital media is not a thing, or even a collection of things, but an ecosystem that has rapidly and profoundly transformed society. These technologies inform almost every aspect of our lives, and have become a “natural” part of our world. As such, the primary goal of this course is to provide fresh, informed, and critical insights on the way these media shape the way we perceive, think, and act. While the course provides a broad overview, you are encouraged to pursue your own interests in research and writing, and to raise any number of topics in class. As “digital natives,” you are inevitably an expert on some aspects of this vast and evolving field, and it is essential that you contribute this experience to the discussion. 

SAGE Air Defense System, 1950s

SAGE Air Defense System, 1950s

War & Media

War and media are reciprocal. Many of the technologies we use everyday were forged in battle, and images shape the sphere of war for civilians and soldiers alike. This class examines the intersections of warfare and media of the past century—through photography, cinema, television, computers, and videogames—in order to develop media literacy and to foster a critical understanding of the nature of war, violence, and representation. 

War shaped the twentieth century, and war has again come to define the United States. While contemporary conflicts fade from public discourse, combat videogames depicting the war on terror rival the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Such mediations drive home that war is an encounter with an almost unimaginable violence that can be both traumatic and ecstatic, an experience with few frames of reference. By examining war stories, images, and technologies from the First World War to the present, this class will explore how such events have been rendered aesthetic—often for propaganda purposes—or presented for critical engagement.

In addition to reading critical texts on war and media, and viewing films that depict real and imaginary wars and catastrophes (from Abel Gance’s J’accuse [1919] to Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo [2010]), students will analyze photographs, television clips, and new media ranging from WikiLeaks’ “Collateral Murder” video, YouTube IED clips, the Virtual Iraq PTSD therapy, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012). Combining a critical analysis of representations of war with media history, we examine how modern warfare has introduced new imaging and information technologies, generated new visual cultures, and thus shaped contemporary consciousness. 

Bonnie and Clyde  (Arthur Penn, 1967)

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

History of Film

As an overview of the history of film, the goal of this class is to explore filmmaking traditions and styles from a number of diverse cultures and contexts, as well as to foster a critical awareness of how the language of film employs image and sound to produce meaning and elicit spectatorial response. Preparing students for a deeper study of cinema, we will analyze films in relation to mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, sound, and narrative. In addition to conducting formal scene analyses and discussing key historical and critical concepts regarding film, we will consider the cultural, political, and economic factors of Hollywood and various national cinemas, including their systems of production, distribution, and exhibition. Above all, the class is designed to broaden perspectives, strengthen analytical vocabulary, and enhance the student’s critical capacity. The course pays particular attention to seminal concepts, works, and movements continue to influence filmmakers throughout the world. As a condensed, intensive course, we will move quickly through a number of eras, and inevitably skip many others. Needless to say, the films screened and topics discussed in class are just the foundation of a broad, rich field, and I will be happy to discuss other films, filmmakers, movements, and national cinemas individually.

The World  (Zhangke Jia, 2004)

The World (Zhangke Jia, 2004)

Modern Film & Global Culture

This course is an overview of modern and contemporary international cinema, with an emphasis on postcolonialism, transnationalism, and the effects of globalization on film cultures. The goal of this class is to explore filmmaking traditions and styles from a number of diverse cultures, as well as to foster a critical awareness of how the language of film employs image and sound to produce meaning and elicit spectatorial response. Preparing students for a deeper study of cinema, we will attentively analyze films in relation to mise en scène, cinematography, editing, sound, and narrative. In addition to conducting formal scene analyses and discussing key historical and critical concepts regarding film, we will pay particular attention to the cultural, political, and economic factors of various national or transnational cinemas, including their systems of production, distribution, and exhibition. Above all, the class is designed to broaden perspectives, strengthen analytical vocabulary, and enhance the student’s critical capacity.

The class begins with an analysis of Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave—movements that profoundly influenced the emerging cinemas in Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, India, and East Asia. We then explore the politically-oriented Third Cinema of Senegal and Brazil; forces of globalization through contemporary films of China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan; the poetics and gender politics of Iranian Cinema; issues of war, terrorism, and representation through Israeli and Palestinian Cinema; and the power of digital film for social change. Many of the films selected exhibit visual styles and narratives, often incorporated as a critique of Hollywood conventions. Most of these works also address issues of national, cultural, or ethnic identity; many represent cross-cultural conflicts; and several reflect the effects of globalization on filmmaking and spectatorship. The films screened and topics discussed in class are just the foundation of a vast field. Students are encouraged to pursue their own interests, and the research and writing conducted toward the final paper should constitute a large part of the learning process. Students will have several opportunities to share their projects and perspectives in class discussions. 

Cleo from 5 to 7  (Agnès Varda, 1962)

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)

The French New Wave

The French New Wave of the 1950s and 1960s marks one of the most creative moments in the history of film. This class looks primarily at Jean-Luc Godard—but also views many other influential filmmakers including Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, and Agnès Varda—all of whom threw out the rulebooks and wrote cinema anew. These young cinephiles produced brash, energetic, and exuberantly inventive movies that abandoned Hollywood conventions, yet were steeped in film history, and they often paid tribute to American cinema. We consider the influence of auteurs such as Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, and Nicholas Ray, paying particular attention to Hollywood films noir—as many of the films screened cite them directly. After viewing a couple of seminal French films of the 1950s, the first half of the class focuses on the major films and filmmakers of the New Wave, which briefly crested from 1959 to 1963. We then examine in depth Godard’s prolific “first cycle,” from Breathless (1960) to Weekend (1968): his most popular and approachable films which contain (more or less) a narrative thread, even as each work becomes increasingly Brechtian, political, and didactic. The class concludes by considering the New Wave’s lasting influence on world cinema, the New Hollywood generation, as well as contemporary filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino.

As the term “auteur theory” implies, the understanding of the filmmaker as author is indebted to postwar French film criticism. We will investigate the personal sensibilities and theories of each individual filmmaker, their position within the New Wave, as well as within local and global cinemas, cultures, and politics. Students are encouraged to pursue their own interests in paper topics and can work on any of the film authors discussed in class, other New Wave filmmakers not addressed, and even other directors from around the world as long as such projects consider film authorship in relation to the impact of the French New Wave.