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June 2007, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 14 Jun 2007 08:44:47 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Jason Mittell <[log in to unmask]>
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I agree that my quick dichotomy was overly simplifying. What I meant to say
concerned what the primary focus & goal of the course might be, not an
"either/or" approach to film studies. I feel that any introductory course
needs to teach enough about formal terminology and techniques to be able to
write & talk clearly and appropriately about a film with precision &
sophistication (which I believe many faculty without film/media training do
not teach in sufficient depth). But for many teachers, that's not the goal
for the course, but a means to get into cultural & ideological issues. Any
teacher approaching film studies from that mindset will find FILM ART
frustrating (as it seemed to become for Cagle in his blog post).

The Corrigan & White book offers a good deal of formal instruction (albeit
with less detail & range than Bordwell & Thompson), but then covers much
more theoretical ground concerning cultural analysis. An alternative type of
textbook that focuses exclusively on representation & culture would be
something like Benshoff & Griffin's AMERICA ON FILM, which tends not to be
considered as an Intro to Cinema style book.

The flip side of the dichotomy you mention is that FILM ART itself does
teach a particular theoretical approach of neoformalism & historical poetics
- by privileging form, we're making theoretical & methodological claims
about how best to understand a film, at least at an introductory level. I
generally agree with those claims pedagogically, as I think it's important
for students to learn the formal attributes of film & media before they try
to write about film as an analytical object. But we shouldn't pretend that
one model uses theory and the other doesn't - it's just a different type of
theoretical approach. We're always implicitly teaching theory, even if we
don't explicitly call it theory.

> Date:    Tue, 12 Jun 2007 17:24:52 -0400
> From:    "Frank, Michael" <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: intro textbook query redux
> my thanks to all who have shared their ideas about intro textbooks--and
> especially to jason mittell for calling my attention to chris cagle's
> remarkably helpful blog post comparing all the leading texts, a resource
> that anyone thinking about this question would do well to use . . .  the
> web address is:
> but jason's post includes a distinction that seems to me perhaps worth
> pursuing on list . . . he writes that=20
> if understanding the formal system of film, is the goal of the
> course then FILM ART is probably the best option [but] If  [the goals
> is] introducing a broader range of theoretical approaches to film,
> Corrigan & White's FILM EXPERIENCE is excellent.
> . . .and what i find somewhere between fascinating and troubling is the
> implied distinction between "formal system" and "theoretical approach" .
> . . i of course recognize how much contemporary thinking about cinema is
> concerned mainly with what for convenience i'll call its ideological
> work, and recognize too that such work may exceed the frames of
> reference provided by conventional mise-en-scene or montage analysis
> but -- and it's a big BUT -- shouldn't an intro to cinema course focus
> not merely on the ideological content as such that gets inscribed in
> cinema but on the way the "formal system" of cinema is used for
> ideological ends? . . . put somewhat differently, shouldn't a truly
> cinematic "theoretical approach" also be at the very same time an
> inquiry into the "formal system" of film? . . . critics ranging from
> bazin to mulvey have explored the ways in which formal systems are used
> for cultural or philosophical or ideological purposes  -- and i would
> imagine that an analysis of the way the formal properties of the moving
> image are deployed for larger cultural purposes should be at the center
> of any theoretical approach to film . . . so -- the question -- does the
> distinction jason makes serve us well or does it serve us badly?
> mike

Jason Mittell, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Film & Media
Middlebury College
204 Adirondack House
Middlebury, Vermont 05753
(802) 443-3435 / fax: (802) 443-5123

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