English 5040: Film Criticism and Theory

Shaviro/Winter 2010

Final Paper for Writing Intensive option

Write a paper of 10 to 12 pages answering one of the following questions. The paper should present a clear and well-organized argument. It should refer to a substantial range of the theoretical writings we have read this semester (a good rule of thumb is that you should take into consideration writings from at least six weeks of our 14-week syllabus). Films (which need not be restricted to ones we have watched in class, but can also include others you find relevant and interesting) should be cited in support of your argument, but the main focus of the paper should be on ways of theorizing film, rather than on close reading of individual films.

Papers are due on April 27, the last day of classes. If you are taking English 5993 (the writing intensive supplement to this class), then you must submit two copies of the paper.

  1. The relation of film to reality is a vexed one for many of the theorists we have read. On the one hand, most films try very hard to convince us of the actuality of the worlds they are depicting; on the other hand, film often has more to do with fantasy and desire than with actual life. Discuss the various ways in which, according to the theorists we have read, films may strive for reality, strive to reflect reality, strive to affect, change, and alter reality, give us an ideologically distorted and falsified picture of reality, or fundamentally deny and disavow any sort of extra-cinematic reality.

  2. Discuss the value and the limitations of psychoanalysis for understanding film. This is less a matter of arguing whether psychoanalysis is "true" or not, than of looking at what particular sorts of questions psychoanalysis might lead us to ask about film. Note, too, that not all psychoanalytic criticism and theory is alike; the disagreements among various psychoanalytic approaches may well be as great as those between psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic approaches.

  3. Film is a technological art form; specifically, it is one that relies on technologies of "mechanical reproduction" of image and sound, and more recently on digital technologies as well. How have film theorists dealt with the technological basis of film? To what extent have technological changes in the years since 1895 (the introduction of sound, the introduction of color, the introduction of multichannel sound, the currently increasing use of digital technologies) changed the nature of film?