Film Studies – A Relatively New Academic Discipline
Film Studies is an academic discipline focused on the critical appreciation of cinema as an art form as well as its role in, and impact on, culture and society. Some cinema theorists argue that its primary purpose is to understand how best to look at films and understand their meaning. The discipline forms part of the larger subject areas of media studies and cultural studies. The discipline is relatively new, its origins as a systematic body of thought dating back to the latter half of the twentieth century.
The field of study is comparatively new one dating back only a handful of decades to the latter part of last century. The explosive growth of movies and their powerful influence on pop culture has been a major factor driving interest in the subject. That interest has given birth to a large range of peer-reviewed, academic journals such as Cinema Journal, Journal of Film and Video plus the British journal Screen.
Graduates of cinema studies generally pursue a career in non-technical fields such as film criticism, journalism and media analysis. They also select the subject as a non-major component of programs of study focused on the technical aspects of filmmaking.
Given the commercial dominance of Hollywood movies on contemporary culture, it may surprise many some people to learn that Russia and Europe have had a strong influence on both filmmaking and theory. A clear example is the Moscow Film School. This institution, founded in 1919, and was the first school in the world to focus on the production of movies.
As another example, Frenchman Andre Bazin is generally acknowledged to be the first cinema theorist. He writings date back to 1943 during World War II in 1943, when he was only 25 years old. Soon after, in 1951, he co-founded the widely read Cahiers du cinema magazine with two other colleagues, Joseph-Marie Lo Duca and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze. His writings remain an influential voice in contemporary cinema circles.
Perhaps the most controversial of all of the views of Bazin on cinema was his support for appreciative criticism alone. He believed that only critics that liked a movie had a legitimate basis to review and assess it. Clearly this is a restrictive stance. It is also an extreme view all the more so since Bazin was himself a prominent critic.
Bazin also favored films that presented an objective reality rather than indulging in blatant fake manipulations of reality. He supported documentaries and films crafted on the lines of Italian neorealism. From a technical viewpoint, he encouraged directors to render themselves invisible in their films; he supported advocated deep focus shots and wide shots; he discouraged adding meaning through montage favoring instead continuity via mise en scene.
Not all Bazin views are supported by contemporary film studies scholars. He is nonetheless celebrated as an original thinker of his time. Francois Truffaut dedicated his The 400 Blows to Bazin who, coincidentally, died only one day after shooting for the movie started.