Research Essay Assignment

Film 1400 – Introduction to Film – 2013-14 – ESSAY ASSIGNMENT

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Essay Assignment (1500 words, 6 pages)

1. Topic due in tutorial Week 18 – 11 Feb 2014: Pass/Fail. Write 1 paragraph (about 150-200 words) describing your topic, including the films you analyse, and positing a potential hypothesis that suggests what your essay’s main argument might be.

2. Research prep assignment due in tutorial Week 19 – 25 Feb 2014 (right after Reading Week): 5% of total course grade. See description on page 4 of this assignment description.

3. First paragraph of essay due in tutorial Week 20 – 4 Mar 2014: Pass/Fail. This is a draft of the first paragraph of you essay. It should have your thesis bolded and tell us what examples you will be using to support your argument. Examples of first paragraphs will be distributed later.

4. Essay (1500 words, 6 pages) hard copy due in tutorial Week 21 – 11 Mar 2014. Essays must also be uploaded to Moodle/Turnitin by 11:59pm on 11 Mar: 15% of total course grade.

Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

ESSAY SEQUENCE—these are the steps you should take to complete the essay:

A. Select ONE topic from the options below.

B. Select the film or films about which you wish to write. The “compare and contrast” essay format is a tried and true way to explore a topic but you are free to organize your essay as you wish. You are advised to choose a significant scene or sequence from EACH film to analyze.


C. Learn about how to write essays! Required reading on essay writing:

  • Bordwell/Thompson pp. 443-451
  • Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 7th ed. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2007. pp. 1-81, 98-119, 129-130 + reference for Chicago Style bibliographicform.
  • **Students will be expected to use Chicago Style for references in papers; it is accessible online through theYork Library website: suggested reading on essay writing:

• Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. 2nd ed.

New York & London: W.W. Norton, 2010.

D. Develop a HYPOTHESIS and eventually a THESIS about the topic and themes in the film(s) you’ve chosen. The readings in Turabian (esp. p. 48-51) and Bordwell/Thompson p. 443 have advice about thesis statements, although you should read all of the suggested reading in Turabian and Graff/Birkenstein in preparation for this essay. You may also want to use the online tools, Thesis Builder or Topic-o-rama:, although these are just starter tools.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

Write a film analysis essay on one of the topics below.

  • You are encouraged to write about films that we have seen – or will see – in class. IF (and only if) your tutorial leader approves the film, you may write on a film (or television episode) not seen in class.
  • All essays must address how style and form construct your films’ meaning.1. The Attraction. Discuss the similarities and differences between the early cinema of attractions and contemporary spectacle films using Tom Gunning’s article and a recent film of your choice (You must clear that film with your TA). Pay attention especially to the role of the narrative, mise-en-scène, cinematography and editing.

2. Sergei Eisenstein. Examine Eisenstein’s arguments about aesthetic form and montage in “The Dramaturgy of Film Form.” Eisenstein proposes that spectators’ ideas and emotions can be powerfully affected by film form. Chose 1-2 examples of film, television, or other media forms (e.g., advertisements, video games, etc.) that can productively be analysed using Eisenstein’s theory. What political or social values are expressed in the examples you consider?

3. André Bazin. In “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” Bazin proposes that celluloid film’s “ontology” is inextricably linked to its photographic nature. From this ontology, he argues for what the function of film should be. Chose 1-2 examples of film, television, or other media forms (e.g., advertisements, video games, etc.) that can productively be analysed using Bazin’s theory. Are Bazin’s arguments still applicable in an age of digital recording and editing? Why or why not?

4. Music. Film music is a powerful communicative tool. Choose at least two films to discuss the ways in which the use of music in film contributes to character, plot development, and or atmosphere. A few areas you could address include issues of spectatorship, authorship, and cultural meaning within and beyond the diegetic world of the film.

5. Authorship. As Katherine Thomson-Jones argues in her essay, “Authorship,” despite the contradictions in theories of authorship in cinema, the idea that films have a sensibility that can be traced across films made by the same people remains powerful. Compare and contrast two films that you argue have an auteur (e.g., director, screenwriter, actor, etc.) and describe the author’s sensibility. To what extent is your sense of authorship rooted in the biographical figure of your author and/or in an “implied author” you have constructed from your readings of the films?

6. Genre I. Genre films are often dismissed as merely formulaic and unoriginal. Yet the repetition and variation in genre cinema can also be seen as a version of social beliefs being tested by its audience. Genre critic Thomas Schatz writes that, “”The determining, identifying feature of a film genre is its cultural context, its community of interrelated character types whose attitudes, values, and actions flesh out dramatic conflicts inherent within that community” (Hollywood Genres 21-22). Compare and contrast two genre films and describe its “community of interrelated character types” and how the story dramatizes “dramatic conflicts inherent within that community.” What themes are articulated in your genre and how do the films you’ve chosen offer a specific articulation of those themes?

7. Genre II. Genres centered on teen characters, themes, and/or audiences are complex and variable. Based on your own choice of at least four (4) films, describe a genre, sub-genre, or genre cycle that emerges from the common properties of the films you have chosen. You should reference the assigned essay by Schatz and at least one other piece of critical writing related to the films you have chosen. You may wish to extend discussion about this topic in tutorial.

8. National Cinema. The idea of a national cinema has been one of the most persistent critical categories in film studies, whether seen as a simple “reflection” of an ostensible “national character” or a more complex articulation of desires and tensions shared by a certain portion of a social group united by borders or traditions. Referencing the Jim Leach essay, “Introduction: Not Just Another National Cinema,” examine a number of films that you or other critics have argued share certain national characteristics and explore how the label “national cinema” helps (or hinders) interpretation of the films.

9. Experimental Film and Media. Stan Brakhage below articulates the mission of experimental cinema to engage film in an “adventure of perception.”

Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure in perception. […] Imagine a world before the beginning was the word. (“Metaphors on Vision,” 228)

Brakhage sees “vision” opposed to conventional ways of seeing, understanding, and interpreting the world. Through close analysis of one or two films, demonstrate how the filmmakers use film form to “imagine an eye” that allows the film viewer to understand and see the world in new ways. You may wish to consider non-experimental in addition to experimental films and media.

10. Documentary. In Paul Ward’s essays on documentary, he describes a “dilemma” of documentary film: “how to deal with and understand something that quite clearly us attempting to represent reality (or some part of reality), but as it does do, used specific aesthetic devices. A commonsense suggestion is that the aesthetics somehow distort or change the reality being represented” (6, his emphasis). Ward is at pains to challenge this “commonsense” but the tension between reality and aesthetics remains in documentary. Ward quotes Stella Buzzi on the “perpetual negotiation between the real event and its representation … the two remain distinct but interactive” (Ward 11). Using his essay and at least one other piece of critical writing, either

a) write a close analysis of a single film or television show that exemplifies the “negotiation between the real event and its representation”; or

b) compare and contrast two films to examine different approaches to documentary reality and artifice.
You may wish to approach questions like: What kind of truth claims and arguments are advanced in these films? What kinds of truth do these films purport to be able to tell?

11. Animation and Digital Media. Paul Wells writes in Re-imagining animation: the changing face of the moving image, 2

“Animation has always been a profoundly self-reflexive medium, right from its emergence as a populist yet modernist art in all the contexts in which it found purchase and progress. Constantly aware of its own high artifice and illusionism, and the overt presence of an author always configured in the self-conscious nature of the image-making, animation has insisted upon its distinctiveness and potential difference, if not subversiveness as a form” (24). Discuss 1-2 films animated in whole or in part in relation to reflexivity and the freedom of expression/manipulation that animation affords.

Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013)

Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013)


The purpose of this assignment is to encourage you to develop research skills, including how to:

  • Correctly list bibliographic references according to an accepted style (the Cinema and Media programuses the Chicago Style)
  • Adjudicate the quality of research sources
  • Correctly use quotations and paraphrase research sources
  • Harness your research to support your own argumentsA. Compile a bibliography of EIGHT (8) research sources related to your topic. Of these 8 research sources, include one from EACH of the categories below.
  1. Book
  2. Essay in anthology (edited book)
  3. Journal article
  4. Magazine article
  5. Newspaper article or review
  6. Film
  7. Scholarly and reliable webpage
  8. Unreliable internet webpage

Hint: From the Libraries’ Home page (, select Find Articles by Subject (under the EResources category) and then select Film (under the Fine Arts category).

B. Complete the Library Research Roadmap online Tutorial
You may either choose Djelal or A.J. as your players. At the end of the tutorial, you must login using Passport York in order to register your successful completion of the Roadmap Tutorial. Print a copy of your record.

C. Compile your list of eight sources in a bibliography.

  • You are strongly advised to use an online bibliography program as you can use throughout youruniversity career. A good free option is Zotero:
  • Please compile your bibliography using the Chicago Style. This is outlined in the supplementary text forour class, Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 7th ed.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • The Chicago Style guide is also accessible online free through the York Library website: Working with quotations:
  1. From at least two of the sources from your bibliography, isolate a total of 3 quotations from these sources,including one quotation that is at least 4 sentences long.
  2. Type these quotations, using correct Chicago Style citation methods. With the long quotation, make sure youindent the quotation correctly.
  3. Paraphrase is a form of summary and/or synthesis of research source. Paraphrase your quotations,integrating parts of their language into your own prose, making sure that you mark the quotation off from your own prose using quotation marks. For a model, see a sample “case study” from the Academic Integrity Tutorial:
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)


  • Use concrete evidence and examples to support your points.
  • Assume you are writing for someone who has seen your films once, knows the story and characters, but whodoes not understand how the film works and needs to be told specifically to what details and techniques youare referring.
  • Do NOT just produce a plot summary.
  • Do NOT construct your essay as a simple list of techniques and their uses.
  • You cannot possibly write about everything related to your topic or films. You have to select what is most significant and/or important to your thesis.
  • Review film terms covered in the course and use them in your essay.
  • The grading criteria include:

o ability to formulate an interesting and feasible thesis in relation to your topic;
o ability to organize a logical argument and support with examples from film analysis and secondary source research;
o ability to interpret film meaning through film style;
o writing mechanics (sentence and paragraph structure, grammar, and style).

  • You must conduct research for this assignment. However, do NOT let your research overwhelm YOUR argument. We are more interested in what YOU have to say about the films than in what other critics may have to say. Plagiarism or any other form of deliberate academic dishonesty will be punished to the fullest extent. Learn from the Academic Honesty tutorial.
  • Wikipedia, despite its many fine qualities, is limited as a research source. Try consulting film magazines, reviews, essay, books; use the York Libraries keyword search to begin:
  • You MUST provide a bibliography, using Chicago Style format for these references.
American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013)

American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013)


  • 1500 words (6 pages)
  • 1 inch margins on top/bottom/sides
  • Double-space
  • 12pt Times font.
    This should make your essay about 6 pages long. Please do not go over the word limit (brevity ensures that every word counts)• Put page numbers in the bottom right hand corner of the page
    • Staple pages;n ofolders,please.
    • Italicize film titles,e.g.,“Citizen Kane(Orson Welles, 1941) is in black and white.”
    • The first time you mention a film list its director and year of release in parentheses (see above)
    • Make sure to indicate your T.A.’s name and Tutorial Number
    • Proof read the essay for spelling and grammar (get a friend to help)
    • Upload an electronic copy of your essay to Moodle/Turnitin. You will be able to read the Turnitin report.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s