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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Introduction to Early and Classical Cinema

Unit code DRAM13331
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course provides students with a grounding in the origins of film as a creative medium and introduces them to major developments in early and classical film history.  Key practitioners, styles of cinema and technological innovations (including the introduction of synchronous sound, colour and widescreen) will be explored and the course will encourage students to identify the ongoing influence and impact of these developments on contemporary film.  Case study films and filmmakers will be placed in their broader socio-historical context and the course will address forms of cinema from around the world rather than focusing exclusively on Hollywood or Anglophone cinema.  The course paves the way for SALC11002: Introduction to World Cinema, which considers the ‘new wave’ movements which began to emerge in the 1950s, by closing with a discussion of the decline of classical forms of film and film production in the 1950s and the growth of independent cinema.


  • To develop students’ understanding of the origins of film and major developments in early film history 
  • To expand students’ awareness of both mainstream and non-mainstream film cultures including seminal examples of non-Anglophone cinema
  • To encourage students to discuss and debate the cultural significance of film and its wider socio-political relevance and impact
  • To encourage students to make connections between early and contemporary film practice and understand how current tendencies in film have been shaped and enabled by earlier practitioners and movements


Indicative syllabus (representative only – all of the topics listed below may not be covered every year):

Week 1: Introduction and the pioneers

Week 2: Narrative fiction film

Week 3: German expressionism

Week 4: Documentary film

Week 5: Surrealism and the avant garde

Week 6: Sound

Week 7: The Hollywood studio system

Week 8: Major practitioners

Week 9: Colour

Week 10: Film, politics and propaganda

Week 11: Decline of the studio system and the rise of independent cinema

Week 12: Consultation for forthcoming assessments


Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught via:

1 hour Lecture

1.5 hour Seminar (including student presentations and discussion exercises)

Film screenings

Required reading, case study films and additional media and online resources will be available via Blackboard

Knowledge and understanding

  • An increased awareness of the origins of film as a creative medium and key developments in early and classical film history  
  • An enhanced familiarity with the broader historical shifts that have affected film production in its early and classical eras, including the Russian revolution, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the Second World War and the invention of television
  • An increased awareness of the technological innovations that have impacted on the development of film, including the introduction of synchronous sound, colour and widescreen cinema
  • An improved understanding of the aesthetic strategies employed by filmmakers working in various styles and movements, including German expressionism, Surrealist film and classical Hollywood
  • An enhanced ability to be able to identify the legacy and influence of aspects of early and classical film on contemporary cinema and culture more broadly

Intellectual skills

  • Critically analyse and interrogate films and related sources (posters, trailers, reviews and industry documents)
  • Learn how to historically contextualise films and practitioners, and to draw on contextualisation to develop understanding
  • Critically evaluate a series of films, practitioners, industrial and technological developments in relation to key moments of socio-political change in relevant territories
  • Synthesise theoretical terms and concepts and apply these to analysis and argument

Practical skills

  • Research academic and non-academic materials, and evaluate the effectiveness of these materials as supporting evidence for individual essays and group presentations
  • Plan, undertake and evaluate independent critical work
  • Work efficiently as a member of a small group engaged in research and presentation
  • Use relevant software to collect, compile and present audio-visual material for presentations
  • Communicate research material both verbally, audio-visually and in writing

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Work to a deadline
  • Collaborate with peers
  • Have developed and implemented their independent research skills
  • Stimulate and facilitate the intellectual and creative work of others

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Emotional intelligence - our teaching environment encourages students to develop self awareness, and an ability to use emotional and cognitive capacities when approaching new challenges;
Group/team working
Ability to work independently and as part of a team, often as part of creative and critical projects that present unpredictable and challenging scenarios
Creative thinking - our teaching environment enables students to develop creative and critical approaches to problem-solving;
Project management
Our teaching environment demands that students plan, undertake, manage and evaluate projects independently and as part of teams;
Oral communication
Verbal, written, prepared/rehearsed and improvised
Problem solving
Understanding of professional cultures/environments - our students are supported to develop professional approaches to timekeeping, peer support/review, self reflection/evaluation and dealing with sources of concern/complaint.
Awareness of the importance of contributing to public life and demonstrating good citizenship - our curriculum is socially and politically engaged, and encourages students to develop a sense of social responsibility in their professional and social life;

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%
Oral assessment/presentation 40%

Feedback methods

Verbal in class feedback on seminar presentation


Verbal feedback on group presentation proposal


Written and verbal feedback on group presentation


Written feedback on final essay


Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment)

Formative and Summative


Recommended reading

Allen, Robert C and Gomery, Douglas. 1985. Film History: Theory and Practice. New York: McGraw Hill.

Bordwell, David, Thompson, Kristin. 2009. Film History: An Introduction (Third Edition). New York: McGraw Hill.

Braudy, Leo and Cohen, Marshall. 2009. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (Seventh Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chapman, James. 2003. Cinemas of the World. London: Reaktion Books.

Cook, Pam. 2007. The Cinema Book (Third Edition). London: British Film Institute.

Dix, Andrew. 2016. Beginning Film Studies (Second Edition). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Grainge, Paul, Jancovich, Mark and Monteith, Sharon (eds). 2007. Film Histories: An Introduction and Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Hayward, Susan. 2013. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (Fourth Edition). Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (ed). 1997. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Cathy Gelbin Unit coordinator

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