Understanding Cinema: Analyzing Film Language and Style

II - July 20–August 6, 2021
Modality, Day & Time:
Monday–Friday, 9:10 –11:00 a.m. and 1:10–3:00 p.m.

Gabriel Wilson

A willingness to engage thoughtfully with challenging films.

“I learned about such a range of topics from film history in the US to world cinema movements to screenwriting and storyboarding.”  — From a program course evaluation

Course Description

This course introduces students to the art and analysis of cinema through examination of works by filmmakers ranging from Orson Welles to Martin Scorsese. Readings, screenings, the analysis of clips and full-length movies, as well as hands-on exercises such as storyboarding, blocking, shooting, and editing a scene all combine to convey the excitement and artistry of film.

Week One:

Students learn how motion pictures developed their own language—their own, universally understood visual system of representation—by studying the masters of early and contemporary cinema: the edge-of-your-seat last minute rescue scenes of D.W. Griffith; the bravura long takes of Jean Renoir; the nail-biting tension created by Quentin Tarantino; and the nerve-tingling suspense that is the hallmark of Alfred Hitchcock. Using their smartphones, students try their own hand at conceptualizing, blocking, and editing scenes in the continuity style of classic Hollywood cinema.

Week Two:

Having learned Hollywood’s tricks of the trade, we branch out into international cinema, where other nations developed different systems of representation—their own languages—that challenged but also inspired the American film industry. Meet the Soviet style of filmmaking that revolutionized cinema in every sense of the word; the Gothic excess of German Expressionism, whose use of lighting, setting, and costume echoes in all contemporary horror flicks; and the samurai swordplay of Akira Kurosawa and its reincarnation in gun-slinging Hollywood Westerns. Each student writes a review of one contemporary American film that owes a debt to foreign cinema—or vice versa.

Week Three:

Putting it all together, Week Three culminates in group analyses of some of the masterworks of classical and contemporary cinema such as Citizen Kane, La La Land, and Run, Lola, Run. We examine and discuss the ways in which sound and image, editing, and the elements of mise-en-scène combine to create transporting cinematic experiences that have the ability to make audiences cry, experience fear, feel empathy and joy and, above all, marvel at the magic of movies.

Assigned readings include film reviews and essays on film analysis, technique, and history. Students are also responsible for an oral presentation on a specific scene, film, or director of their choice.

Please be aware that some of the films viewed contain violence and mature subject matter.


Gabriel Wilson

Gabriel Wilson is a director and cinematographer living in New York City. He has taught film at both Columbia University and the School of Visual Arts. His films have screened at numerous festivals including the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Independent Film Festival Boston, the River Run International Film Festival, and the Urbanworld Film Festival. He has also worked extensively both directing and shooting advertisements for brands such as Quicksilver, Harper Collins, and Mashable. Gabriel holds a BFA in English from Tufts University and a Masters in directing from the School Of Visual Arts.

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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.