Since the earliest cave paintings 64,000 years ago, art has reflected, deepened, and enriched the human experience. Therefore, it is an essential component of a liberal arts education. Arguably, film is both the most ‘complete’ and the most influential form of modern art. Cinema is ‘complete’ because it incorporates numerous major art forms (theatre, photography, literature, painting, and music), blending them into a unique format. And it is influential because it shapes modern global culture like no other, simultaneously reflecting and moulding our collective imagination. Our past, present, and future are imagined and reimagined, and our hopes and dreams, fears and nightmares are experienced not just individually, but also collectively through the medium of film.
Because of its uniqueness and power, cinema has been used – and abused – by elites to shape the popular imagination and to manipulate public opinion. It is not a coincidence that politicians as diverse as Adolph Hitler and Al Gore have commissioned films to mould public discourse to fit their respective ideological agendas and political goals. On both a personal and societal level, then, media competence in general and film competence in particular are key skills. They enable us to appreciate the beauty and opportunities inherent in art while resisting manipulation and ideological entrapment.
In the classic tradition of the liberal arts, this course introduces you to the art form through the study of masterpieces. Similar to a ‘Great Books’ course, you get the opportunity to experience and discuss a selection of the most critically acclaimed and widely celebrated works of all time. We will do this with a twist, however, taking into account the Global Challenges focus of our College and the diversity of our community. So, unlike many ‘Great Books’ courses, we will cover masterpieces both about timeless subjects, e.g. love, desire, the meaning of life, and about contemporary challenges, e.g. environmental crisis and terrorism, from diverse cultures on five continents. The course will also feature a vibrant mix of different genres (drama, comedy/satire, thriller, war etc.) and epochs, ranging from classic masterpieces such as Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Robert Wiene, Germany, 1920) and Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA, 1941) to recent ones like I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, Zambia, 2017) and Gisaengchung (Parasite) (Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2019).
NB: The two sections of this course are independent of each other. Each section will feature a different theme and discuss different films, so it is possible (but not mandatory) to take both sections and to do so for credit.
The course has four main objectives.
It exposes students to some of the most acclaimed pieces of film art, equipping them with a canon of cultural knowledge widely expected of a liberal arts student.
Students will learn how to independently analyse film semantically (content analysis and interpretation) and, to an extent, technically (camera angles, editing, sound design).
Students will acquire media competence, including the ability to identify and critically reflect on how global challenges are represented. This includes examining why some challenges are frequently featured while others are marginalized or absent altogether. It also comprises critically questioning the very notion of a ‘masterpiece’, asking who gets to define cultural hierarchies, how, and for what purpose.
Students will train writing skills across two genres. Specifically, they will practice crafting accessible and critical yet balanced pieces, including personal reflection essays (genre: creative non-fiction) and a film review or an interview with a film director, producer, or actor (genre: journalism).
Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.
Mode of instruction
The course consists of two seminars per week. Each seminar will discuss one film. In addition, screenings of the masterpieces will be organized, usually on Monday and Thursday evenings, 5.15pm, in the auditorium. Attendance is strongly recommended.
Leading a discussion (15%)
Reflection essay (15%)
Film review or interview with a filmmaker (15%)
Final exam (30%)
David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, Jeff Smith 2019: Film Art: An Introduction, 12th edition, McGraw Hill.
Annette Kuhn, Guy Westwell 2012/2020: A Dictionary of Film Studies, Oxford University Press.
Kai Hebel, Christiane Mathes 2009: ‘The Subversion of Evil in the Films of David Lynch’,
in Jochen Achilles, Ina Bergmann (eds.), Representations of Evil in Anglophone
Cultures (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag).
Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator, email@example.com.
Dr. Kai Hebel
The course is accompanied by a film series. Screenings of the masterpieces will usually take place on Monday and Thursday evenings, 5.15pm, in the auditorium. Attendance is strongly recommended.