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Contemporary Theories of Film


Admission requirements

BA degree


After years of so-called ‘Grand Theory’ in the 1970s and early 1980s– with a cocktail of semiotics, psychoanalysis, and ideology criticism (think of Metz, Baudry, Comolli, Mulvey) – film studies took a few different ‘post-theoretical’ turns from the mid-1980s onwards. One can think of a rise in prominence of cognitive and empiricist research; media archaeology; the field of film-philosophy; reflections on film’s materiality in the era of digitisation. These turns tie in with some noteworthy shifts: from cinema and its questions of medium-specificity to the cinematic as event; from index as a trace (in the analogue era) to index as a sign (in the age of digital reproduction); from the film viewer as a theoretical construct to theories of affect.

In this course we will delve into some of the consequences of these shifts. The first half, in particular, will mediate between classical theories and new interventions, as in the case of the (neo-)Marxist approaches to present-day art-house blockbusters (such as Fincher’s Fight Club). We will also examine how psychoanalysis has been revisited by close-reading both a French classic (Renoir’s La règle du jeu) and a Hollywood mind-game film (Nolan’s Inception). But we will also examine some new takes on cinephilia, discuss the possibilities of the digital in relation to Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma, and explore the idea of cinema as either a ‘mass art’ or a ‘thought experiment,’ the latter in relation to Von Trier’s Melancholia.
In the second half, we will readdress the notions of cinematic indexicality and subjectivity from the point of view of a theory of affect. Key terms that will be addressed, and that have become key in our thinking on cinematic experience today, are: index-as-sign, deictics, affect, the affection image, the perception image, the cinesthetic subject, synesthesia, intersubjectivity, haptics, tactility, post-cinematic affect, neo-baroque, and eco-cinema.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course the student:

  • is familiar with the key concerns in contemporary studies of film;

  • is capable to close-read complex film-theoretical texts independently;

  • is able to paraphrase key arguments from complex film theoretical texts, so as to able to situate, evaluate and reflect on them based on these close-readings;

  • is able to put these skills to the task of writing a critical reflection on a case by choice from the perspective of one of these key concerns.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method


Two essays of approximately 3000 words.


Both essays account for 50% of the final grade.
The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


In the case of a fail you are entitled to rewrite the essays.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the paper results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the paper results, an paper review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Selection of Articles. As most readings are excerpts from selected books, they are often too long to be placed on Brightspace for copyright reasons. Therefore, hardcopy’s will be made available at a designated library shelve at the UB. Articles must be read and brought to class, either printed or digitally. To be announced via Brightspace


Enrollment through uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, email:

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Contact details

Dr. P.W.J. Verstraten Dr. J.J.M. Houwen

Coordinator of Studies Media Studies