Sense, Sensation & Cinema

By Anne Moore, studying MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway – Part Time 2 years

Film Studies Overview

If you are looking to study film theory, then the University of Exeter provides access to a wide range of research materials, world-class expert tutors teaching from within specialized fields, use of a vast library and online resources, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and many opportunities to take advantage of listening to visiting speakers in lectures and seminars. There are also special screenings and a regular film talk session, which is an informal discussion between staff and students about a particular film.

University of Exeter Pop-Up Cinema event for students on the MA in International Film Business (MAIFB) course in the Bill Douglas Centre, Streatham Campus.

This semester is well underway, and I must say it has been incredibly stimulating – some debate can even get quite lively at times! Every module is taught slightly differently, which also gives variety. Dr Joe Kember, the course convener for this module, likes to open the floor to general debate and encourages student participation as we thrash out the finer points of the week’s readings. Generally, there are about 4-5 texts to read along with two films to watch. The films are analysed in parallel to the text topics. It is great to see how each of us have unique interpretations according to our own experiences. In theory, of course, ideas are continually evolving, and I personally have gained some surprising insights into my own film-making practice which I hadn’t considered before embarking on a deeper research into film theory.

I get a lot of very incredulous ‘raised eyebrow’ looks when I explain to people that my course centres on analysing film. The general response is along the lines of, ‘oh, so do you get to sit around watching films all day?’ – Not quite! It’s a strangely incongruous practice; you have to watch the film as ‘naturally’ as possible in order to understand the affect of the film from a theory perspective, but at the same time you have to step outside of the enjoyment factor and look for minutiae, often stopping the film scene-by-scene in order to thoroughly comprehend the detailed information present. I admit I was closed minded at first about the genre or era of films that I wanted to watch, the ones I thought I enjoyed the most. But after one and a half semesters, I have found to my utter surprise that I have enjoyed films that you could not have paid me to watch before!

The reading is highly academic as you would expect; there is a lot to take in for the first few weeks, but this is essential in order to ‘get on top’ of current and historical theories in order to be prepare for the first assessment: The Literature Review. At 2500 words, this doesn’t seem to be a lot, but you do need to have read a wide range of theorists in order to compile a decent amount of research.

For me, this is my first ‘University’ experience, where the course is arranged over modules which act independently of one another but are weighted equally. I came from an Art College background, where the writing was supportive of practical assessments, hence the written work was around 50% of the overall award. I realised pretty quickly that I needed to read more…a lot more! I have learned to become more focused and keep to timetables in organizing my coursework. At Master’s level it is understood that you can be self-sufficient and organize your time well. Of course, there is plenty of help at the university by way of one-to-one tutorials, the Study Zone and wellbeing services, to name a few.

If you have got this far (stay with me!) I thought it might be useful to write a typical week breakdown, and the insights that I have gained in deepening my academic practice.

This week, (week 4), we have been analysing the kinesthetic affect of performance on audience spectatorship. The films to watch were: City Lights by Charlie Chaplin (1931), and A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson (1956). There were four texts to read, all dealing with the topic of kinesthesia from cognitive and phenomenological theory and philosophy. As audience/spectator in the cinema, we talk of ‘being moved’ by a film, but how so? And in what manner? Are we moved emotionally, as in ‘does the film make us laugh/cry’, etc.? Are we moved physically – do we jump in a startled response? Do we find our feet tapping to a dance number, or cover our eyes in horror, or, (like me watching The Aeronauts’), do we fall out of our seats? These seem like obvious and simple questions to answer, but as they say, the devil is in the detail, and there is great wealth to be uncovered in dissecting these responses using ourselves as subjects as well as reading the available texts.

Regarding the two films, I surprised myself by quite enjoying Chaplin in this role, and even found the film did in fact ‘move’ me, which I didn’t think possible, due to an unremitting antipathy for the actor. Likewise, I didn’t know what to expect from A Man Escaped. Although I enjoy the ascetic approach to filmmaking with its minimalism and strange emptiness, I found the film far more emotive on a tension level that, again, was surprising. These films are chosen by the tutors, and they are chosen I think because of this very likely presumption on behalf of most students – i.e. they won’t like them. It would be easy to put-up well-known blockbusters for perusal, but in using these more obscure films, then, we must cast aside all presumption and preference in order to reveal the meanings offered by the textual interpretations and apply theory accordingly.

I will post further insights of my own experiences of my course soon!

Disclaimer: I am a mature student on the course mentioned in the title, and all views and opinions on this blog are purely my own thoughts about my experience of it. All information given is correct to my knowledge regarding activities and services. Please feel free to contact me at any time for any corrections, advice or for anything else that I may be able to help with.