First Semester on the Film MA

Books

In my first blog post I thought I’d reflect upon the modules I took during my first semester on the Film Studies MA course. I took two modules: one is the compulsory core module which everyone on the course has to take, the other was a class run by the History department called Hollywood and the Second World War. In both instances, the class sizes are quite small (fewer than 10) and instead of a lecture followed by a seminar, as you might get as an undergraduate, the format tends to be a sort of lecture-seminar hybrid for 2 hours, with ample time for in-depth discussion.

The core module lasts for two semesters, the first semester focusing on space and the second semester on time. The first couple of weeks consisted of a whistle-stop history of film theory as well as all the key concepts necessary for film analysis. After this, each session was taught by a different lecturer and covered a topic (directly or loosely) relating to space, including spatial theory, marginality in cinema, set design and deconstructing the city. The great thing about the module is the variety; we’d be watching Code Unknown (2000) one week and Dredd (2012) the next. In the first essay, we could pick from the different topics covered and apply it to a film of our choice, so if a particular week sparked your interest you could spend more time exploring it in greater depth.

The Hollywood and the Second World War module looked at the impact of the war on the studio system while also covering some key approaches to film history and theory. Though you may expect from its title that we’d be watching lots of war films, the set viewing didn’t include any combat films, and many of the films didn’t even make direct reference to the war. In addition to classics like Casablanca (1942) and The Big Sleep (1945), we also watched a few titles which I was less familiar with, like Since You Went Away (1944) and Gaslight (1943). Each week we’d discuss the set film in the light of a different approach: star studies, genre, auteurism, reception studies, etc. I found the week on reception studies especially interesting as it involved reading responses to a Mass Observation survey from 1942-3 about people’s favourite movies from the past year. The general consensus was that the respondents didn’t like films about the war or anything they perceived as propaganda. Generally, the responses express a low opinion of contemporary filmmaking, with the exception of Fantasia and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (though one respondent didn’t like it, saying that ‘I don’t like colour and I can remember that the cinema was cold’). A few avoid movie-going altogether because they don’t want to catch flu at the ‘germ-exchange’.

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