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This course concentrates on close analysis and criticism of a wide range of films, including works from the early silent period, documentary and avant-garde films, European art cinema, and contemporary Hollywood fare. Through comparative reading of films from different eras and countries, students develop the skills to turn their in-depth analyses into interpretations and explore theoretical issues related to spectatorship. Syllabus varies from term to term, but usually includes such directors as Coppola, Eisentein, Fellini, Godard, Griffith, Hawks, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Tarantino, Welles, Wiseman, and Zhang.

Primary goals

This course is an introductory survey of classic films. Emphasis falls equally on cultural and on artistic matters: on films as anthropological and historical artifacts that articulate the values and assumptions of specific societies and eras and on films as works of art. The course aims to sharpen students' analytic skills, to give them a sense of the history and cultural significance of movies, and to improve their writing.

Textbooks and readings

Films and videos

Film clips will be shown during lectures, and the complete version of each week's film will be screened following the week's second lecture.

Prior to some lectures, students are assigned to watch videos of Prof. Thorburn's lectures from the 2007 version of the class. This frees up lecture time for further discussion and more in-depth analysis.


  1. Introduction, Keaton
  2. Chaplin
  3. Film as a global and cultural form; German film
  4. Hollywood in the 1930s
  5. The Musical
  6. The Western
  7. Film in the 1970s
  8. Renoir and poetic realism
  9. Italian Neorealism
  10. Truffaut and the New Wave
  11. Kurosawa's Rashomon
  12. Summary perspectives: film as art and artifact


David Thorburn is an American professor of literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is notable for media studies, literary criticism, and teaching. He has published poetry in Slate Magazine, Threepenny Review, and The Atlantic. He was one of the first academics to study the medium of television as an academic field of inquiry. He is the director of MIT's Communications Forum. He is regarded as an authority on modernist literature, and he was selected by the Teaching Company to teach a course on entitled Masterworks of Early 20th-Century Literature. Source: Wikipedia.



Creative Commons License
The Film Experience by David Thorburn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 US License.
Based on a work at Cover picture source: PixaBay.

Course content

  • Lecture 1: Introduction

  • Lecture 2: Keaton

  • Lecture 3: Chaplin (part 1)

  • Lecture 4: Chaplin (part 2)

  • Lecture 15. Film in the 1970's (part 1)

  • Lecture 16: Film in the 1970's (part 2)

  • Lecture 19: Italian Neorealism (part 1)

  • Lecture 20: Italian Neorealism (part 2)

  • Essays

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