21L.011 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

The Film Experience


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week**, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Film Screening: 1 session / week, immediately after the week’s 2nd lecture

**Several weeks of this class operate in a “flipped” mode. During these weeks, one lecture will be live, while the 2nd lecture is replaced by students watching Prof. Thorburn’s prerecorded lecture videos on OpenCourseWare.

Primary Goals

This course is an introductory survey of classic films. Emphasis falls equally on cultural and on artistic matters: on films as anthropological and historical artifacts that articulate the values and assumptions of specific societies and eras and on films as works of art. The course aims to sharpen students’ analytic skills, to give them a sense of the history and cultural significance of movies, and to improve their writing.

Textbook and Readings

The primary text is Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. ISBN: 9780393978681.

Supplementary readings will also be assigned.

Films and Videos

Film clips will be shown during lectures, and the complete version of each week’s film will be screened following the week’s second lecture.

During some weeks, students are assigned to watch precorded videos of Prof. Thorburn’s lectures from a prior version of the class.

Writing Requirements

This course satisfies the criteria for communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS-A and CI-H ). Students are required to write three short papers, totaling a minimum of 20 double-spaced typed pages, devoted to films studied during the term.

All students must revise and resubmit at least one of their first two papers, and they are encouraged but not required to revise both. Only the grade received on the revised version of the paper will count toward the final grade in the term. Revisions must be submitted within one week of the date on which papers are returned.

A list of suggested topics will be provided for each of the papers. Students may depart from these suggestions, but the alternative must be approved by their recitation instructor.

Oral Expression

A central goal of the recitation hour in the course is to strengthen students’ powers of oral expression. Attendance at recitation is mandatory. Every student is expected to participate actively in discussion and to give at least one short presentation to the class. This presentation will may be part of a group project, in which two or three students will work as a team to lead class discussion of a particular film or a topic relevant to the course.


Exams consist of a 30-minute quiz, a one-hour midterm test, and a three-hour final exam. The quiz will consist of short identification items. Both the midterm and final will include essay questions as well as an identification segment. Material covered in lectures and in the assigned reading will supply most of the identification questions. [Exam materials are not available for OCW users.]


The course grade is calculated as follows:


Exams (40% of Total)

Quiz + Midterm 15%
Final 25%

Papers (50% of Total)

Paper 1 15%
Paper 2 15%
Paper 3 20%

Oral Expression (10% of Total)

Presentation 5%
Recitation participation 5%


Week # LEC # TOPICS Required Films KEY DATES
Part I. The Silent Era
1 1–2



Porter, The Great Train Robbery

Griffith, A Beast at Bay

Keaton, Cops, The General

Flipped classroom with OCW video lectures

2 3–4 Chaplin Chaplin, The Immigrant, Easy Street, Modern Times Flipped classroom with OCW video lectures
3 5–6 Film as a Global and Cultural Form; German Film Murnau, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh Essay 1 due
Part II. Hollywood Genres
4 7–8 Hollywood in the 1930s

Capra, It Happened One Night

Hawks, His Girl Friday

In-class quiz
5 9–10 Hitchcock Hitchcock, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window  
6 11–12 The Musical

Donen / Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain

Fosse, Cabaret

Midterm exam
7 13–14 The Western Ford, The Searchers Essay 2 due
8 15–16 American Film in the 1970s Altman, McCabe and Mrs. Miller Flipped classroom with OCW video lectures
Part III. International Masters 
9 17–18 Renoir and Poetic Realism Renoir, Grand Illusion  
10 19–20 Italian Neorealism DeSica, Bicycle Thieves

Flipped classroom with OCW video lectures

Essay 3 due

11 21 Truffaut and the New Wave Truffaut, The 400 Blows  
12 22 Kurosawa’s Rashomon Kurosawa, Rashomon  
13 23 Summary Perspectives: Film as Art and Artifact    
    Final Exam    

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights