Ed Sikov | Film Studies: An Introduction

book_film-studies.jpgIt has the twin virtues of assuming nothing and building analytical skills through a series of assignments of progressive complexity.


  232 pages. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. $29.50 (paperback)


 Film is the art form of our modern world (think about it: How many literary novels do you suppose most Americans read in a year? Or in their entire post-university lives?) and colleges are finally catching up by offering courses in film study and analysis aimed not only at those who want to make films, but also those who are members of the audience. There are several textbooks already on the market for this subject but Ed Sikov’s Film Studies: An Introduction offers the clearest and most concise introduction to the field.

In fact (and don’t take this the wrong way, Ed), this text could easily be used in high school because it has the twin virtues of assuming nothing and building the student’s analytical skills through a series of assignments of progressive complexity. But it would be great for college classes and autodidacts as well, and is salted with inside jokes which faculty members and the more in-the-know students can enjoy. Example: Excerpts of bad and good student writing are provided courtesy of "Phyllis Dietrichson, senior, Harvard University" and "Laura Hunt, junior Wagner College." If you don’t get it, maybe you really do need a film studies course to increase your cultural literacy.

Film Studies covers two general subjects: analyzing a specific film or selected aspects of it, and understanding the place of an individual film within the broader context of a director’s total output and cinema history. It begins with a chapter defining and analyzing mise-en-scene, then moves on to consider camera movement, cinematography, editing, sound, narrative and screenplays. Subsequent chapters introduce the auteur controversy and the difficulty of attributing credit or blame for any particular moment on screen, acting and film performance, genre and special effects.

There are no surprises in the topics covered, but each aspect of film is explained very clearly and without making assumptions about the student‘s prior knowledge. Technical terms are defined as they are used and the text includes many diagrams to explain key concepts. Each chapter includes assignments and examples of good and bad writing about film, and the final chapter includes a model ten-page film studies term paper with commentary by Sikov in his professorial mode. Film Studies also includes a glossary and detailed index.

Author Ed Sikov holds a PhD in film studies from Columbia University and has taught at several colleges, including Harverford College, Colorado College and Columbia University. He is also the author of seven books including Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis (Holt, 2007) and Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers (Hyperion, 2002) as well as the American Cinema Study Guide and Faculty Guide issued in conjunction with the 1994 PBS/BBS American Cinema series and telecourse. More information is available his website and from the Columbia University Press website. | Sarah Boslaugh


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