POSSIBLE FILM ANALYSIS TOPICS
The following are some possible film analysis topics. You may narrow or expand on them, or not use any of them and instead devise your own film history-related topic.
Whatever the case, keep in mind that you’ll need to develop a strong thesis statement that must be supported by specific film examples.
1. Explain the role of the Kinetoscope during the period of cinema’s invention. How did the Kinetoscope modify the capabilities of earlier camera and projection systems?
2. What steps did France’s Lumière brothers take to make cinema a commercially viable enterprise? What kinds of Lumière movies were the most popular? How did the Lumières’ activities influence the development of world cinema?
3. In what ways did motion picture exhibitors in the late 1890s influence the presentation of motion pictures, or how audiences experienced motion pictures? Why did their control over their programs start to diminish around the turn of the century?
4. What were Edwin S. Porter’s significant contributions to the development of early narrative film? In what sense did Porter build upon the innovations of contemporaneous filmmakers, and for what purposes?
5. What is the difference between vertical integration and horizontal integration? In your answer discuss the company strategies of France’s Pathé Frères in the middle and late 1900s.
6. What were the factors behind the nickelodeon boom of the middle 1900s? What were the reasons for the nickelodeon’s popularity—what advantages did this type of exhibition venue offer to both theater owner and patron?
7. In what ways did the motion picture industry in the late 1900s attempt to make films more prestigious and film going more respectable? What pressures were producers and exhibitors responding to?
8. Explain the difference between intercutting, analytical editing, and contiguity editing by providing a brief example (actual or hypothetical) of each.
9. How did the animated film develop during the early twentieth century? What types of animation techniques did the earliest animators use? Give examples of specific animators or from specific films.
10. Analyze how social and cultural factors influenced the development of style and/or narrative in that Germany or Russia’s cinema of the 1910s
11. Analyze how social and cultural factors in Russia or Germany influenced the development of style and/or narrative in that nation’s cinema of the 1910s.
12. What is a “serial,” as it was known in the early silent era? In what ways did the serial act as a transitional form between the one-reeler and the feature film? Support your answer with examples of notable serials and characteristics of influential serial directors.
13. Why did the Hollywood style emerge and develop as it did? Identify the most important American movie firms operating in the 1910s, and summarize how the economic objectives of those companies influenced the style of storytelling subsequently labeled the “classical Hollywood cinema.”
14. Select a scene from an American film or clips of the 1910s screened in class, and explain how its visual style—mise-en-scene, editing, and/or cinematography—might be different had that scene been shot, staged, and assembled by an European filmmaker of the period, or vice versa.
15. Perhaps the most important artistic trend of the early twentieth century was labeled modernism. Summarize some of the principal tenets of modernism, and specify how these ideas influenced the development of the French Impressionism (or German Expressionist [Ch. 5] or Soviet Montage [Ch. 6]) movement in film.
16. What created the problems confronting French film production between 1918 and 1928? Identify the three primary factors as identified in the text, and summarize the effects of each of these causes.
17. The formal qualities of French Impressionism derived partly from the directors’ beliefs about the cinema as an art form. What were these beliefs? Explain how the Impressionists’ theories on the cinema translated to their films with regard to either cinematography and/or editing.
18. Why did French Impressionism decline as a unified filmmaking movement in the late 1920s? What was the role of pressures from both inside and outside the movement in this decline?
19. Explain how Germany’s film industry was able to thrive during the early 1920s, a period of severe economic hardship and hyperinflation. How did the film industry flourish while other industries were devastated?
20. German Expressionism in the cinema debuted with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920, years after Expressionism was well established in other art forms. What techniques used in painting and theatrical design were adapted by filmmakers?
21. How were the elements of mise-en-scene used in German Expressionist cinema? Identify the important characteristics of costume, setting, and figure behavior in these films, and explain how these elements worked together; cite from the movies discussed in the text or from the film screened in class.
22. How did advances in technological resources—as implemented by German studios after the war—influence the development of German film style over the course of the 1920s?
23. Identify the primary formal concerns of the “New Objectivity” trend, and explain how the films of G.W. Pabst demonstrate those concerns.
24. Compare the activities of the Soviet film industry during the War Communism period (1918-1920) and during the years of the New Economic Policy (1921-1924). What difficulties arose for the industry during War Communism, and how were these problems remedied or addressed by the New Economic Policy?
25. Situate the Constructivist movement within the broader trend of Modernism in the arts of the early twentieth century. What were the objectives of Constructivism, and which of those aims were especially important to the development of the Montage movement in film? Identify scenes or moments in the film screened in class that bear traces of the Constructivist influence.
26. How did the theories on filmmaking advanced by Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, and Sergei Eisenstein differ with regard to editing? In your answer, cite evidence from their films as well as their theoretical writings.
27. How was mise-en-scene used as an element of montage in the films of Soviet directors? Give examples of how mise-en-scene was typically employed in Montage films.
28. How did the major Hollywood firms respond to the challenge posed by First National Exhibitors’ Circuit in 1917? What kinds of benefits resulted from the industry’s adoption of vertical integration? Explain how this policy benefited both major and minor film companies.
29. Identify the major technological and aesthetic factors that influenced Hollywood film form during the 1920s. How did the resulting changes enhance or complement the classical narrative style, which was by then the industry norm? How are these changes evident in the film screened in class?
30. What events or conditions motivated the calls for the moral reform of the American film industry in the early 1920s? How did the industry respond to these calls? Analyze how this response placated the reformers and at the same time protected the industry’s own interests.
31. In what ways were the formal innovations of European cinemas assimilated by American filmmakers and integrated into the classical Hollywood cinema during the late silent era? What kinds of contributions were made by European directors working in Hollywood?
32. Under what conditions did African American audiences experience films during the silent era? In what ways did individual filmmakers or companies tailor their films to appeal specifically to these audiences?
33. Discuss the motives behind the emergence of “Film Europe.” How did the national film industries of Europe cooperate in combating the influence of American movies? In what ways did stylistic traits cross over from country to country? Why were these cooperative efforts halted at the end of the 1920s?
34. What were the institutions that championed and promoted “art cinema” during the late silent period? Trace the evolution of these institutions from Europe to the United States, and provide examples of the strategies they used to foster alternative filmmaking practices.
35. What were the theoretical and aesthetic principles that characterized the Dada, Surrealist, and “cinema pur” movements? Which formal and stylistic qualities did their films share, and in what ways did they differ?
36. Compare and contrast the evolution of the studio system in Japan to the evolution of the Hollywood system. In particular, note the similarities and differences with regard to industry structure, film genre, and exhibition practices. What role did Japanese cultural history play in these developments?
37. What factors led the major Hollywood studios to become interested in sound film during the middle and late 1920s? Which system did the studios decide to go with when they converted to sound film production? Why? Summarize the technological advantages and drawbacks of the sound-on-film and sound-on-disc processes.
38. What logistical difficulties were posed by early attempt as sound recording? How did U.S. filmmakers address these problems and bring sound in line with the classical Hollywood style? Cite examples from films discussed in the text or from the film(s) screened in class.
39. How were German firms able to successfully challenge Hollywood for the control of sound film production and exhibition in Europe? How did German directors use sound in ways that were distinct from Hollywood practice?
40. Pick two of the following countries: the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, Japan. Compare the ways in which your chosen countries converted to sound film production, and contrast the methods by which those nations’ leading directors used sound to enhance their films.
41. Identify the Big Five Hollywood studios (or “Majors”) of the 1930s and summarize the activities of each during this decade. What were their strategies for weathering the effects of the Great Depression? What kinds of films did each specialize in?
42. What types of film content caused problems for the major Hollywood production companies during the late 1920s and early 1930s? How did the Hays Office operate to protect, rather than hinder, the interests of the American film industry? Explain how Production Code regulations helped modify the content of Hollywood movies.
43. Pick two of the following stylistic categories: sound recording, camera movement, color, special effects, cinematography styles. Analyze how innovations within these categories influenced the development of the Hollywood style. In what ways did these innovations complement the aims of classical continuity filmmaking?
44. Pick two of the following genres: the war film, the gangster film, the screwball comedy, the musical. Describe the evolution of these genres between 1930 and 1945, and provide examples of representative films. What changes took place, and why?
45. Compare and contrast the production practices of the top three animation studios of the studio era: Disney, Fleischer, and Warner Bros. What sorts of animation techniques did each specialize in? How did their individual expertise influence the style and makeup of the studios’ signature characters?
46. Describe the immediate causes and effects of both of Britain’s Quota Acts (1927 and 1938). In each case, how did these effects contribute to or hinder the consolidation of the British studio system? What kinds of films resulted from these acts?
47. Compare and contrast popular cinema in Japan during the early and middle 1930s to Japanese cinema during the years of World War II. In what ways were the generic conventions and individual directors’ styles developed earlier in the decade applied to or modified for the later war films? How did industry structure change? What was the role of the Japanese government in these changes?
48. Contrast the personal styles of Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi as they developed during the 1930s. Identify the formal traits common to their films, and explain how these traits complemented their narratives and their characteristic approaches to storytelling.
49. Analyze the influence of the Nazis’ takeover of the German film industry. How did the process of nationalization proceed, and what kinds of films resulted from its implementation? In what ways did popular German cinema of the 1930s and early 1940s reflect Nazi ideology?
50. Describe the ways in which the Italian government involved itself in the Italian cinema during the war and pre-war years. How did this involvement differ from that of the German and Soviet rulers? What measures did the Italian Fascists take to prop up the film industry? How did producers respond to Luigi Freddi’s call for a “cinema of distraction”?
51. Two major aesthetic trends within French commercial cinema of the 1930s were Realism (or “everyday Realism”) and Poetic Realism. Identify the leading directors in both trends and describe how the concerns specific to each trend were reflected in their work.
52. Compare and contrast the films directed by Jean Renoir that have been classified as belonging to the Poetic Realist tendency and those Renoir films that were influenced or financed by the Popular Front. What were the aspects of style characteristic of Renoir’s filmmaking in the 1930s, and how were these traits employed to complement the aims of both Poetic Realism and Popular Front activism? Were their cases for which Renoir’s methods were considered (by audiences or critics) to be inappropriate for his subject matter? Why or why not?
53. How did the Paramount decision of 1948 change the U.S. film industry? To what degree did the decision alter the way the industry did business? To what degree were Hollywood business practices unaffected? Explain the causes of the original Justice Department investigation of the studio system, and examine the results of the Supreme Court decision for all three branches of the industry.
54. How did changes in postwar American lifestyles affect the domestic film market? Amidst a climate of more selective moviegoers, what type of film was judged to be capable of attracting audiences? How did the Hollywood Majors exploit technological advances to produce this type of film?
55. Identify the major segments of the U.S. film-going audience targeted by producers in the 1950s. What kinds of films were produced for each of these segments? How did changes in production result in innovations in exhibition, and what were these innovations?
56. Analyze the increasing importance of independent film production in the U.S. during the 1950s. Describe the strategies employed by either mainstream independents or exploitation producers. What were the marketable aspects of their films? How did their projects originate? Did directors thrive under this system of production or were they creatively stifled?
57. What factors lay behind the “upscaling” of Hollywood film genres during the 1950s? Identify the significant genres of the postwar period, and explain how each was affected by enhanced production values and increased thematic complexity.
58. How did European film industries in the post-World War II period attempt to assert their independence and resist U.S. domination? Identify the measures taken by European countries, and evaluate their effectiveness. In what sense were these promotional and protectionist measures beneficial for both Europe and Hollywood?
59. What were the three main stylistic and formal features of postwar European modernist film? Describe how each of these features was employed—in the film screened in class or in the movies cited in the text—and explain how these features represented modifications of classical Hollywood storytelling and technique. Why was ambiguity cultivated by modernist filmmakers as a central effect of these features?
60. Chart the evolution of Italian Neorealist cinema from the immediate postwar period (the “Italian Spring”) through the period of economic recovery in the early 1950s. What factors led to its rise? Why were those films considered “realistic”? What led to the demise of Italian Neorealism, and what sorts of films replaced the Neorealist pictures?
61. What was distinctive about the formal qualities of Italian Neorealism? Identify and describe the stylistic and narrative traits of the Neorealist cinema. In what sense do these traits deviate from classical norms? Can Neorealism be justifiably called “realistic” on either stylistic or narrative grounds? Why or why not?
62. Why did the United States, as represented by SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Armed Powers), take a keen interest in the postwar Japanese film industry? What steps did SCAP take to help rebuild the Japanese studio system? In what ways did SCAP both assist and hinder the efforts of the major postwar Japanese directors?
63. When and where did the idea of auteurism emerge? How was the “auteur theory” modified as it developed in different countries during the postwar era? In what ways did the notion of auteurism help critics explain movies?
64. In what ways do the films of Luis Buñuel play upon the conventions of both classical Hollywood cinema and European art cinema? Identify Buñuel’s characteristic themes, and cite scenes or moments from his films to explain how he employs style and narration to support these themes.
65. Pick two of the following directors: Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Satyajit Ray. For what purposes did these directors use social criticism in their films? How do these instances of critique mesh with their characteristic themes and concerns?
66. Identify and contrast the primary stylistic traits employed in the films of Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson. Specifically, what is the role of the actor in their films? How does performance style complement the formal aims of each filmmaker?
67. What are the unique elements of Jacques Tati’s brand of film comedy? Explain how Tati uses visual style and diegetic sound to put across these elements; specifically, analyze how Play Time’s effects result from a thwarting of traditional comic conventions?
68. What kinds of stylistic techniques were favored by the “new cinema” directors of the 1960s? In what ways did they take advantage of new cinema technologies? How was their inventiveness also reflected in the narrative design of their films—in other words, how did the new cinema directors modify the 1950s art cinema’s presentation of objective and subjective realism and authorial commentary? Use films discussed in the text as examples to support your answer.
69. Compare and contrast the narrative and stylistic practices of the French New Wave directors with those of the Left Bank filmmakers. How did each group’s conception of what cinema should be affect the films they produced? Identify the significant formal innovations of both groups’ films.
70. Pick two of the following three countries: Italy, Britain, Germany. How do the representative films of these nations’ young cinemas of the 1960s relate to prior national filmmaking trends or movements? How do they relate to political or social trends? Explain how the rise and fall of these nations’ young cinemas were affected by the evolving policies of their respective industries.
71. Analyze the important social, economic, and industrial factors leading up to the emergence of the New Hollywood in the early 1970s. What were the causes of the industry-wide recession of 1969 to 1970? What new audiences did the Majors subsequently attempt to target? Describe the ways in which Hollywood style was modified in order to reach these new audiences; draw on the films of Richard Lester and Sam Peckinpah to support your answer.
72. How did European art cinema conventions influence the filmmakers of the New Hollywood? In what ways did art cinemas’ narrative and stylistic techniques infuse new life into standard Hollywood genres? Support your answer with an examination of the “art films” of two of the following three American directors: Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola.
73. Trace the evolution of the Hollywood studio system’s economic recovery in the middle and late 1970s. What were the important blockbusters of the period? How were these blockbusters created and marketed? What happened to the status of the director as this recovery period continued into the 1980s?
74. Compare and contrast the approaches of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to studio filmmaking. In what ways did each director “revise” genres from the classical Hollywood era? How did the personal style of each director reflect or deviate from the norms of classical Hollywood filmmaking?
75. How did the advent of home video technologies change the American film industry? Trace the evolution of home video from the 1970s up through 2000. In what ways did the studios—who in 1976 regarded home video as a competitor—exploit these technologies to their advantage?
76. How did the policies of “synergy” and “high concept” transform American film industry structure in the 1980s and 1990s? What kinds of films resulted from these policies, and in what ways did distributors and exhibitors try to profit from such films?
77. What is “intensified continuity”? In what ways does this system of formal conventions depart from the classical continuity style of Hollywood filmmaking? Specifically, how has video and television presentation influenced editing and cinematographic strategies within mainstream Hollywood cinema during the eighties, nineties, and 2000s? Cite examples from the text or from the film screened in class.
78. What factors enabled independent films to proliferate from the 1980s to the 2000s? Identify the various support systems that emerged to support independent production, and identify and describe the four major trends of independent filmmaking. What was the nature of the relationship between each trend’s representative directors and companies and the major Hollywood studios?
79. In what sense has the digital revolution actually preserved the viability of shooting films on film? How have filmmakers managed to integrate the options provided by digital video with a technological apparatus that dates back more than a century? Describe the ways in which digital tools have (in recent years) affected each stage in a film’s production life.
80. What is at stake with the ongoing move toward digital forms of exhibition? Identify the benefits of digital projection for both theaters and studios, and explain why the rollout of d-cinema in the United States has taken so long, despite early optimism for a quick conversion. Furthermore, what role has the increased production of high-profile movies in 3-D played in the speed of this conversion?
81. What does “convergence” mean in relation to digital media? What does it mean to experience a film via several different “platforms”? Evaluate the effectiveness of the studios’ efforts in the new century to incorporate innovations in DVD, Internet, and videogame technology into their business.
POSSIBLE FILM ANALYSIS TOPICS