The Birth of a Film Critic
December 3, 2007 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm starting a self-study program in film theory and history. I want to approach it in a systematic way.

Chronological seems to be the easiest but I'm open to other approaches. Are there any particular resources (books, blogs, etc.) you have used or would recommend to help me create my film theory and history study guide (think graduate degree level)?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How much do you know about film theory already? Do you already know basic terms like mise en scène? If not then I strongly suggest you find an "Introduction To Film"-type textbook that will explain the basics.

Try looking up film classes at various universities for ideas. You will be able to find what textbooks they use, and they may even have articles and other materials available for download.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2007

If you need a good introductory textbook like burnmp3s suggests above, I recommend Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's Film History: An Introduction, which you can get on Amazon. It's pretty expensive, since it's a textbook, but check your local library. If you don't need an introductory text, skip it, but it's good for vocabulary and overview. It has good citations and a solid bibliography in the back, which you should look at if you can, even if you don't buy the book.
An indispensable book, in my opinion, is Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen's Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, which is also available on Amazon (used). You need this book.
You should also scour University websites for course materials and syllabi as well. This might be a good place to start for those types of things.
I certainly agree that you should approach the subject chronologically at first, but you will want to branch out and investigate particular subjects that interest you as well, like Soviet film, film noir, and documentaries.
posted by k8lin at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I found this book to be very helpful as an introductory text.

Bordwell's books are fantastic, but keep in mind that he is deeply opposed to semiotics in film studies. To balance that, it may be useful to read books that take the other approach.
posted by rottytooth at 11:04 AM on December 3, 2007

2nd Braudy & Cohen. I've gone back into mine so many times it's in tatters. It's a perfect starting point, there's really nothing else I would tell you. That is the right answer.

Another idea to build into your project: look for online syllabi, to get some generative reading/screening pairs.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:30 AM on December 3, 2007

oops, I guess k8lin covered that, too!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2007

Cineliteracy: Film Among the Arts, by Charles V. Eidsvik

How to Read a Film, by James Monaco

I found this book to be very helpful as an introductory text.

I hate it when people do that. Please put the name of the book with the link. Why should the poster, or anyone else, have to click a link to figure out what you're talking about?

posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on December 3, 2007

A core text: Andre Bazin, What is Cinema?

I am also quite fond of two Robin Wood books: Sexual Politics and Narrative Film and Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan and Beyond.
posted by mattbucher at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2007

All the stuff already mentioned, plus:
David Cook's History of Narrative Film. Thick as hell, but comprehensive and pays significant attention to early film (DON'T skip this part of film history in your studies!), the sociopolitical context in which film history developed, and international cinema.
Pamela Cook's Cinema Book. Theory. Theory. Dear God, theory.
Louis Gianetti's Understanding Movies. I like this one better than the Bordwell book that everyone always mentions, but that's just me.

A sidenote to your aspirations:
-Read all you can about movies, by different authors and critics. Their opinions differ radically, so you'll learn lots.
-When you watch movies to supplement your study of film, watch them more than once whenever possible. The first time through, just try to watch like a "regular" viewer-- enjoy the show! Once you know what the story is and how the plot is executed, you can watch again (and again and again, if you like) with an eye toward writing, cinematography, lighting, recurring themes, symbolism, etc.
-As with literature, importance/artistry =/= enjoyability/personal appeal.
posted by Rykey at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2007

I like Film as a Subversive Art simply because it is organized by broken taboo! Plus it's a great overview of a lot of movies that you probably wouldn't hear about otherwise as well.
posted by mike_bling at 5:48 PM on December 3, 2007

I'd recommend taking a look at Ebert's Great Movies. He doesn't just look at the old classics, he looks at the new ones, too. And he's incredibly passionate about movies.
posted by daveqat at 6:19 PM on December 3, 2007

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