Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information

Module UXS-1065:
Film Criticism

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures, Linguistics and Media

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Gregory Frame

Overall aims and purpose

This module aims to broaden the students' coverage and understanding of the ‘canon’ in film. What are the criteria on which we base or judgement of cinema's greatest works? Who gets to decide? The module will also provide them with some of the necessary skills to conduct in-depth study of film texts. The module comprises two strands:

Landmarks: viewing and critical placement of a selection of landmarks in film history (films and skills taught complement those on Film Language and Film History). Screenings will survey key moments in technical and artistic development of film and its establishment as a global artform, and the lectures and seminars will explore the critical history that has established these films as landmarks.

Study skills: introduction to the skills necessary to pursue film and television scholarship. This strand of the module includes an individually constructed viewing programme, an introduction to specialised research in film using the university library’s physical and electronic resources.

Course content

Films might include: The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927), The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1928), Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1928), Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), La Regle de Jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939), Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948), Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952), The Searchers (John Ford, 1955), Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955), Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963) The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973), The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1973), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975), Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), Festen (Thomas Vinterberg, 1995), In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000), Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001), Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010).

Topics might include: the origins of the feature film, archiving and film history, propaganda and art, issues of taste and judgement in film criticism, émigré directors in Hollywood, ‘international’ cinema and film criticism (India, Sweden, Spain, Jamaica, Australia, Denmark), the relationship between film theory and film criticism, censorship and controversy, critical rehabilitation of commercial failures, technological innovation and landmark status.

Assessment Criteria


A grade

Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways: 1. Has originality of exposition with the student’s own thinking being readily apparent. 2. Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study. 3. Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions


B grade

Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: - Very good structure and logically developed arguments - Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student - Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning - Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style

C grade

Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: - Good structure and logically developed arguments - At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student - Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and reasoning - Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style


D grade

Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows: 1. Generally accurate but with omissions and errors. 2. Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning. 3. Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions. 4. Draws on a relatively narrow range of material.

Learning outcomes

    1. The student will be able to contextualise individual films within a broader appreciation of history of cinema.
    1. The student will be able to combine these understandings with close textual analyses to articulate the aesthetic importance and significance of individual ‘landmark’ films.
    1. The student will understand the critical processes through which films become ‘canonised’: how a film’s reputation or status changes and evolves over time, who plays a role in this development (archivists and archives, distributors, film festivals, filmmakers, and the audience) and how a film becomes a ‘landmark’.
    1. The student will develop the skills necessary to research ‘landmark’ films (both within the parameters of the module’s screening programme and outside of it), understanding their contexts and changing critical reputations.
    1. The student will be able to explain, analyse and evaluate critical debates about particular films, filmmakers and film movements.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
LOGBOOK OR PORTFOLIO A portfolio of independent research about films in the canon not taught on the module. 60
ESSAY Discuss one module film's place in the canon. 40

Teaching and Learning Strategy


A broad introduction into the key critical, historical and contextual issues relating to the week's screening. Offers guidance and suggestions for aspects of the film and essential reading to focus upon in preparation for seminars.


Group discussion about key critical, historical and contextual issues relating to the week's screening and lecture, based on assigned essential reading. Students will be expected to prepare screening notes for their classmates based on their own research.

Private study

A key component of this module is developing the skills to research independently. The assessment (the film diary) is contingent upon this. It will be expected that the students conduct a great deal of wider reading, viewing and research outside of contact hours, with tutorial support.


Screening of a key text relating to the module's programme of learning. This will form the basis (in conjunction with the assigned essential reading) of the discussion in seminars.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in

Subject specific skills

  • Artistic engagement and ability to articulate complex ideas in oral and written forms. (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2).
  • Awareness of how different social and cultural contexts affect the nature of language and meaning (English Benchmark Statement 3.2).
  • The ability to synthesize information from various sources, choosing and applying appropriate concepts and methods (English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
  • Ability to formulate and solve problems, anticipate and accommodate change, and work within contexts of ambiguity, uncertainty and unfamiliarity (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
  • Ability to engage in processes of drafting and redrafting texts to achieve clarity of expression and an appropriate style. (English Benchmark Statement 3.3; NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2).
  • Ability to gather information, analyse, interpret and discuss different viewpoints (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
  • Information technology (IT) skills broadly understood and the ability to access, work with and evaluate electronic resources (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).


Resource implications for students

As it is currently envisaged, students will not need to purchase any core texts for the module.

Reading list

On film canonisation

‘The Greatest Films of All Time’, Sight and Sound (September 2012); Ian Christie, ‘Canon fodder’, Sight and Sound (December 1992); Ian Christie, ‘The Rules of the Game’, Sight and Sound (August 2001); Andy Medhurst, ‘But I’m Beautiful’, Sight and Sound (July 2002); Peter Wollen, ‘Films: Why Do Some Survive and Others Disappear’, Sight and Sound (May 1993); Paul Schrader, ‘Canon Fodder’, Film Comment (September-October 2006)

On films

Robert Lang (1994) The Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith, Director, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; Melvyn Stokes (2007) D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation: A History of the “Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time”, New York: Oxford University Press; Paul McEwan (2015) The Birth of a Nation, London: BFI/Palgrave; Lucy Fischer (1998) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, London: BFI/Palgrave; Steven L. Lipkin (1977) ‘Sunrise: A Film Meets Its Public’, Quarterly Review of Film Studies 2:3, pp. 339-55; Dorothy B. Jones (1955) ‘Sunrise: A Murnau Masterpiece’, The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television, 9:3, pp. 238-62; T.A. Kinsey (2001) ‘The Mysterious History and Restoration of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.’ The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists 1.1, 94–107; Tony Pipolo (1988) ‘The Spectre of Joan of Arc: Textual Variations in the Key Prints of Carl Dreyer’s Film.’ Film History 2, 301–324; Paul Cuff (2016) A Revolution for the Screen: Abel Gance’s Napoleon, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press; Paul Cuff (2016) ‘A monumental reckoning: how Abel Gance’s Napoleon was restored to full glory, Sight and Sound, December 2016; Nelly Kaplan (1994) Napoleon, London: British Film Institute; Kevin Brownlow (1983) Napoleon: Abel Gance’s Classic Film, London: Cape; Hilmar Hoffmann (1996) The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and national socialism, 1933-1945, Providence: Berghahn Books; Alan Sennett (2014) ‘Film Propaganda: Triumph of the Will as a case study’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 55:1, pp. 45-65; David B. Hinton (2000) The Films of Leni Riefenstahl, Lanham: Scarecrow Press; V.F. Perkins (2012) La regle de jeu, London: British Film Institute; Raymond Durgnat (1974) Jean Renoir, Berkeley: University of California Press; Alistair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau (2013) A Companion to Jean Renoir, London: Wiley-Blackwell; Virginia Wright-Wexman (ed.) (1986) Letter from an Unknown Woman, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; Lutz Bacher (1996) Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; Paul Willemen (ed.) (1978) Ophuls, London: British Film Institute; Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar (2009) Singin’ in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press; Peter Wollen (1992) Singin’ in the Rain, London: British Film Institute; Edward Buscombe (2000) The Searchers, London: British Film Institute; Arthur M. Eckstein and Peter Lehman (2004) The Searchers: Essays and Reflections on John Ford’s Classic Western, Detroit: Wayne State University Press; Keya Ganguly (2010) Cinema, Emergence and the Films of Satyajit Ray, Berkeley: University of California Press; Suranjan Ganguly (2007) Satyajit Ray: In Search of the Modern, Lanham: Scarecrow Press; Darius Cooper (2000) The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between tradition and modernity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Philip and Kersti French (1995) Wild Strawberries, London: British Film Institute; Robin Wood (2013) Ingmar Bergman, Detroit: Wayne State University Press; Jesse Kalin (2003) The Films of Ingmar Bergman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; David Thomson (2009) The Moment of Psycho: How Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, New York: Basic Books; Robin Wood (2002) Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, New York: Columbia University Press; Raymond Durgnat (2010) A Long Hard Look at Psycho, London: BFI; Tullio Kezich (2010) Federico Fellini: The Films, New York: Rizzoli; Peter Bondanella (2002) The Films of Federico Fellini, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; D.A Miller (2008) 8 ½ , London: British Film Institute; Maria M. Delgado and Robin Fiddian (2013) Spanish Cinema 1973-2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory, Manchester: Manchester University Press; Linda C. Ehrlich (2007) The Cinema of Victor Erice: An Open Window, Lanham: Scarecrow Press; Carmen Arocena (1996) Victor Erice, Madrid: Ediciones Catedra; Mbye B. Cham (1992) Ex-iles: essays on Caribbean Cinema, Africa World Press; Jonathan Rayner (2003) The Films of Peter Weir, London: Continuum; Roslynn D. Haynes (1998) Seeking the Centre: The Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Noel King, Constantine Verevis, and Deane Williams (2013) Australian Film Theory and Criticism Vol. 1, Critical Positions Bristol, UK: Intellect; Marion Schmid (2010) Chantal Akerman, Manchester: Manchester University Press; Janet Bergstrom (2015) ‘Keeping a distance: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman’, Sight and Sound, October 2015; Anthony Todd (2012) Authorship and the Films of David Lynch: Aesthetic Receptions in Contemporary Hollywood, London: I.B. Tauris; Warren Buckland (2003) “‘A Sad, Bad Traffic Accident’: The Televisual Prehistory of David Lynch’s Film Mulholland Dr.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 1.1, 131–147; Michel Chion. David Lynch. Translated by Robert Julian. London: BFI, 2006; Leighton Grist (2013) The Films of Martin Scorsese 1978-1999: Authorship and Context II, London: Palgrave Macmillan; Richard Kelly (2000) The Name of this Book is Dogme 95, London: Faber and Faber; Jack Stevenson (2003) Dogme Uncut: Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and the Gang that Took On Hollywood, Santa Monica: Santa Monica Press; Shari Roman (2001) Digital Babylon: Hollywood, Indiewood and Dogme 95, LA: National Book Network.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: