Introduction to Film imageThis introductory course offers an opportunity to expand your knowledge of cinema and to engage in critical discussions about films. Taking a broadly chronological approach the course covers some of the key movements, styles, genres and periods in the history of cinema and considers a wide variety of film from the Hollywood mainstream to the independent sector and key national cinemas.

Term one will use an overview of international cinema history up to the 1960s to introduce a number of the key issues and concepts in film studies. Semester two will then build on this previous semester to look in more depth at a number of national cinemas, including European, South, Central and North American and Asian cinemas, particularly in a more contemporary context.

Each weekly session will be packed with clips and focus on a specific topic which will be introduced and discussed in relation to the extracts screened.

By the end of the course you will have a broad understanding of film history and its wider cultural context, as well as an enhanced appreciation of film in general. No prior knowledge is required, just an interest in and love for film and an enthusiasm to learn more!

[Autumn Term]

Week 1: Introductions and overview of the course

Week 2: The Birth of Cinema

The first public exhibition of films was presented by the Lumière Brothers in 1895 in Paris. This session looks at some of the earliest films and traces the development of the first single-shot films to the beginnings of the language of film we are familiar with today. Special attention will also be paid to the early science fiction and fantasy films of Georges Meliès, which contain some of the earliest instances of the use of cinematic special effects, and to the development of an international film-going culture.

FILMS: La Sortie de l’Usine (Louis Lumière, 1894), L'Arroseur arrosé (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1895), Le Diable au Couvent (Georges Meliès, 1899), Voyage dans la Lune (Georges Méliès, 1902), The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903), The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915), Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915-6)

Week 3: German Expressionism

This week will focus on German cinema after the Great War. It will include more mainstream Weimar-era cinema and the way it addressed issues of gender and sexuality in late 1910s and early 1920s Germany, but will privilege especially the development of German Expressionism in the early 1920s. The storylines of such films matched their highly stylised visuals in terms of darkness and disillusionment, and often featured criminal or mentally disturbed characters. This session looks at both the films themselves and the political and social context within which they were made.

FILMS: Ich möchte kein Mann sein (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918), Die Puppe (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920), Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922), Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, 1928)

Week 4: Soviet Montage

This session considers montage - an approach to editing developed by the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s. Filmmakers Vladimir Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein used the technique to emphasise dynamic relationships between shots and the juxtaposition of images to create ideas not present in either shot by itself. It will also address the presence of the political and the anti-capitalist both within the movement as such and within the narrative of the films. 

FILMS: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Esfir Shub, 1927), Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925), Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1926), October (Sergei Eisenstein, 1927), The End of St. Petersburg (Vladimir Pudovkin, 1927), Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

Week 5: The Studio System and Pre-Code Hollywood

This session examines the period 1915-1930 and the beginnings of cinema as an institution/industry; this is the period in which the US begins to dominate the film industry. We see the emergence of large scale ‘vertically integrated’ film companies that control the production, distribution and exhibition of films. We then go on to explore the so-called “pre-Code” era of Hollywood, particularly the five years (1929-1934) between the advent of sound and the widespread enforcement of censorship through the Hays Production Code, and the ways in which this era deal with issues of marriage, divorce and sexual and criminal transgression in an unprecedentedly progressive way.

FILMS: Don’t Change Your Husband (Cecil B. DeMille, 1919), The Sheik (George Melford, 1921), Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926), The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Ernst Lubitsch, 1927), It (Clarence Badger, 1927), The Divorcee (Robert Z. Leonard, 1930), A Free Soul (Clarence Brown, 1931), Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933), Ladies They Talk About (Howard Bretherton and William Keighley, 1933), Female (Michael Curtiz, 1933)

Week 6: Post-Code Hollywood and Film Genres

We then go on to explore the post-Code Classical period from 1934-1960, a time when Hollywood consolidated its domination of the film industry with the further development of the huge film studios. At the same time, we will examine the way genre was used a way of categorising or grouping films together at this time, both by film studios to organize the production and marketing of films, and by audiences and reviewers to guide viewing.

FILMS: Stagecoach (John Ford, 1929), The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937), Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938), His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940), Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945), Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946), Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954), Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955), Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)

Week 7: Film Stardom and Fan Culture

This session will examine the rise and development of film stardom, particularly in studio-era Hollywood, as a way to categorise films and as a way to attract audiences. We will consider the star personas of a number of key stars (Norma Shearer, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Doris Day,…) and note the different ways in which these personas were disseminated to audiences and potential fans, both through the films and through ephemeral texts such as contemporary fan magazines like Photoplay and Motion Picture.

FILMS: Upstage (Monta Bell, 1926), Bombshell (Victor Fleming, 1933), The Women (George Cukor, 1939), Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940), Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952), A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954), Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959)

Week 8: Italian Neorealism

Italian neorealism is rooted in the Italian Resistance of northern Italy at the close of World War Two and was greatly influenced by socio-historical factors of the time. This session traces the movement from its earliest days during the Resistance against the German occupation, to the aftermath of the War and the hopelessness of reconstruction that ensued. We will also connect this movement to the wider cinema culture of the time by highlighting the early 1950s professional and personal association between key director Roberto Rossellini and major Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman.

FILMS: Rome Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945), Ladri di Biciclette (Vittorio de Sica, 1948), La Terra Trema (Luchino Visconti, 1948), Stromboli, Terra di Dio (Roberto Rossellini, 1950), Viaggio in Italia (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)

Week 9: French New Wave and Authorship

This session examines the work of the young directors of the French New Wave who dramatically changed filmmaking inside and outside France by encouraging new styles, themes, and modes of production. Closely associated with the New Wave, the Cahiers du Cinéma magazine critics writing in the 1950s argued that the director was the central artist in the film making process. They maintained that a close analysis of the films of directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks revealed they expressed a world view, and that directors whose work revealed such a vision deserved to be called auteurs.

FILM: Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946), The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953), Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), Les Quatre Cents Coups (François Truffaut, 1959), Hiroshima mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959), A Bout de Souffle (Jean-Luc Godard,1960)


[Spring term]

Week 10: American Independents: 1950 - 1970s

This week deals, firstly, with the decline of the studio system in the late 1950s and 1960s, as Hollywood struggled in dealing with the advent of television and the growing inefficiency of film censorship. Beginning with the ground-breaking work of John Cassavetes in the late 1950s, this session looks at a moment in American film history which marked a significant shift towards independently produced and innovative works by a raft of new young directors including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Terrence Malick and Roman Polanski.

FILMS: Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959), Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970), Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973), Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

Week 11: American Independents: Indiewood

This session continues the examination of new American independent filmmakers, and explores the often complex relationship between the mainstream and independents, known as Indiewood, in the 1990s.

FILMS: Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984), Blood Simple (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1984), Sex, Lies and Videotape (Steven Soderberg, 1989), Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989), Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001), Kill Bill Vol. 1-2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-4)

Week 12: The Rise of the Blockbuster and the Franchise

This session traces the roots of the modern blockbuster back to Jaws and Star Wars in the mid-to-late 1970s, and then examines the recent phenomenon of the franchise film in which a successful formula is made into a series of lucrative films. Special attention will be paid to the Star Wars franchise, as one which has existed across five decades and was recently revived with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2016). In this context, we will discuss the Star Wars series in terms of continuity and change, in terms of enduring stardom, and in terms of fan activity.

FILMS: Samson and Delilah (Cecile B. DeMille, 1949), Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2016), Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings series, Twilight series.

Week 13: British Social Realism: 1950s - 1990s

British cinema has become closely associated with a certain type of film, often referred to as social realism, which aims to put the experiences of real Britons on screen. This session traces this connection from the Free Cinema Movement of the 1950s and the ‘kitchen sink’ dramas of the late 1950s and early 1960s, to the ‘state of the nation films’ of the 1980s and those recent releases that consider social issues of pressing concern in contemporary Britain.

FILMS: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1960), Cathy Come Home (Ken Loach, 1966), High Hopes (Mike Leigh, 1988), Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999), We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011), ill Manors (Plan B, 2012)

Week 14: Contemporary British Cinema

Continuing on from week 13, this session will consider the ways in which recent British cinema has represented both contemporary and heritage Britain.

FILMS: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame, 1969), A Room with a View (James Ivory, 1985), Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998), This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006), The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010), Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, 2011), Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine, 2011), Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012), And Then There Were None (Craig Viveiros, 2015)

Week 15: Northern European Cinema

This session will focus especially on Scandinavian cinema, from the relatively early work of Victor Sjöström, Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman to more contemporary productions by, for example, Lars Von Trier.

FILMS: The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström, 1921), The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Dreyer, 1928), Ordet (Carl Dreyer, 1955), The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978), Fanny och Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982), Pelle the Conqueror (Bille August, 1987), Pusher (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996), Festen (Thomas Vinterberg,1998), Italian for Beginners (Lone Scherfig, 2000) The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier, 2003), Dead Snow (Tommy Wirkola, 2009), In a Better World (Susanne Bier, 2010), Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)

Week 16: Latin-American and Spanish Cinema

This session will examine Latin-American – particularly Mexican, Brazilian and Argentinian – and Spanish cinema. Particularly attention will be paid to auteurs Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro.

FILMS: Pepi, Luci, Bom: And other girls on the heap (Pedro Almodóvar, 1980), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988), All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999), Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000), Nine Queens (Fabian Bielinsky, 2000), The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001), City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002), Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, 2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006), Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, 2009), I’m So Excited (Pedro Almodóvar, 2013)

Week 17: Chinese Cinema

This session includes an overview of the so-called First, Second, Third and Fourth Generations of Chinese filmmakers with a close examination of the Fifth and Sixth Generations in the mid-to-late 1980s. The session will also examine the revival of the ‘wuxia’ or martial arts epic in the 2000s.

FILMS: Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1987), Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000), Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2004)

Week 18: Hong Kong Cinema

The session examines the Hong Kong action films of the 1970s and the so-called ‘Second Wave’ directors, in particular Wong Kar-Wai, who were interested in going beyond the usual commercial subject matters and styles.

FILMS: Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973), Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1991), Chungking Express (Wong Kar Wai, 1994), The Grandmaster (Wong Kar Wai, 2013)

Week 19: Documentary Film

This session traces the history of documentary from the earliest silent documentaries to the latest trend for crowd-sourced films. In this way, it will examine the boom in documentary film during the last decade, but it will also examine the ways in which the nature of documentary films has changed radically over the years.

FILMS: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922), Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922), Tabu (F. W. Murnau, 1931), Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967), The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988), Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989), Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994), Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005), Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008), Crossfire Hurricane (Brett Morgen, 2012), Made of Stone (Shane Meadows, 2013)

Week 20: Film Festivals, Film Awards and Round-Up

This session examines the programmes and press coverage of some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals and awards ceremonies including the Sundance, Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals and the BAFTAs and Oscars.


If you have any questions about the course content please contact the course tutor, Miss Lies Lanckman,

Enrolment infos

Imperial College undergraduates and postgraduates may, if they wish, acquire 2 ECTS credits after successfully completing their Evening Class. To qualify, a student must attend the classes regularly and pass a test at the end of the second term. Students will be invited to apply in the second term to take the test.