Teaching Key Concepts in Film and Media Studies with The Seventh Art’s Video Essays

Teaching Key Concepts in Film and Media Studies with The Seventh Art’s Video Essays

Teaching Key Concepts in Film and Media Studies with The Seventh Art’s Video Essays

The Seventh Art’s video essays offer an in-depth examination of a range of classic and contemporary film texts and authors—from Hitchcock to Godard to Malick, and from Moneyball to Casablanca—in order to extract and illustrate key concepts in image studies. These concepts range widely, from intertextuality to symbolism, from homage to camp, from modernism to meta-fictionality, and all are useful to both students and instructors of film and media studies at the post-secondary level.

Most commonly, complex concepts in image studies are outlined in written texts by scholars and critics, but students may not always find this type of presentation captivating. The Seventh Art’s video essays offer an engaging example of the act of “reading” a film text, while also providing a valuable visual illustration of the key concepts under examination.

So which of The Seventh Art’s video essays are useful to your particular instructional needs? Read on and find out!

Teaching classical, modernist, and post-modernist film texts

What happens in modernism and postmodernism to the strict binaries set up in the classical Hollywood film text? What formal devices are used to convey and problematize these binaries? The video essay below examines sequels and remakes in the horror genre through iterations of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho:

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Taken together or set against each other, the various iterations of Psycho occupy different eras, thereby demonstrating the differences between classical, modernist, and postmodernist discursive traditions and aesthetic practices. Ask students to define postmodern horror and the concept of “the monster as human” in Psycho’s various sequels and remakes. What makes postmodern horror different from classical and modernist horror films?

Issues surrounding modernity and postmodernity are also explored in the Death in Cinema video essay, which compares representations of death in classical and postclassical cinema, as well as in the video essay that compares Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris) and Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva. In this essay, the two films are examined within the framework of the cultural, political, and industrial conditions that produced them. Ask students to explain the assertion in the video essay that Contempt is a “closed modernist text.” Why and how is Diva different? Which of the formal signatures employed in each film situate it within a modernist or postmodernist paradigm?

With the above video essays, you can ask students to reflect on the concepts of aesthetic resolution, authorship, discursive closure, and distanciation in the contexts of the classical, modernist, and postmodernist eras.

Metaphor, symbolism, and meaning in the film text

Even the cinephiles among first-year post-secondary students may be unfamiliar with the conception of film as a “text.” While more complex examinations of semiosis and the uncertain status of film as a language are usually reserved for upper-year post-secondary courses in film and media studies, an introduction to thinking about the construction of meaning is valuable in introductory film and media courses.

These issues are explored, for example, in the video essay on acclaimed filmmaker Ang Lee’s early film Pushing Hands:

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Instructors can review, with students, the various symbolic meanings of Lee’s film’s title, as they are described in the video essay. Ask students to explain how and why Lee makes use of metaphor and symbolism. Pause the video essay and look at various shots with students; ask them to examine visual motifs, framing, light, and blocking. Ask students to describe the ways in which spaces, bodies, doorways, and movements are represented by the camera. What are the intended or perceived meaning(s) of these formal choices?

A few other Seventh Art video essays explore similar issues, including the video essay that examines David Fincher’s remake of the original Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the role of symbolism is explored in this essay’s focus on Fincher’s title sequence), and the video essay on the famous so-called Rodney King videotape and its role in narrative cinema as an “undecidable text” with ambiguous meaning.

Homage, repetition, and intertextuality among texts

Texts, and particularly those produced within contemporary popular culture, often refer to, are inspired by, or derive from other texts themselves. Instructors can introduce students to the inter-relationships between film texts with, for example, The Seventh Art’s video essay on the 1983 made-for-TV prequel to the 1942 film Casablanca:

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This video essay addresses cult fandom, repetition, and intertextuality, and prompts students to consider fandom and fans’ relationships to an original artwork as compared to its “spin-offs.”

Ask students to formulate a definition of “intertextual collage,” as it is used in this video essay. Can they think of other examples of intertextual collage within popular culture? How do various kinds of repetition play out in such products (i.e., recycled themes, beloved references, seriality)? What does it mean to say that works that reference or borrow from other works are “self-aware”?

Other Seventh Art video essays that examine intertextuality and referentiality include an exploration of Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers, whose preoccupations with causality, accident, and linearity mirror those of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, and an essay about the Godfather trilogy, whose third and final instalment (released in 1990) is recuperated against its initially poor reception through a reconsideration of the film as an “epilogue” rather than a sequel.

Learning through seeing

You can use The Seventh Art’s video essays in your post-secondary classroom as an engaging and visually stimulating vehicle for introducing complex theoretical concepts that are otherwise usually presented in written texts. Students may find that with practical examples taken from their favourite classic or contemporary films, their engagement in film theory and history becomes stimulating, thought-provoking, and fun. 

This post was written by Jovana Jankovic. Jovana is a critic, cultural worker, and lifelong student of media aesthetics and cultural technologies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Film Studies from Carleton University and a Master of Arts in the Joint Graduate Programme in Communication and Culture from York University, where she also worked as a Teaching Assistant. Most recently, Jovana was the NFB’s resident blogger; you can peruse all her blog posts here.

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