FILM 3410 Readings in Film & Television Theory (Cinema in the Digital Age)

YORK UNIVERSITY / Cinema and Media Studies, Department of Film


Course Director: Professor Janine Marchessault


Telephone: 416-736-2100 x 33485

Office hours: Tuesdays 1-3 or by appt


Seminar: Thursdays 9:30pm – 1:30pm, CFT 106

Course Website:


This course is concerned with the transformations that cinema in the age of digital media has been undergoing over the past two decades.  Our starting point is that the architectures of film circulation and display developed during the 20th century, are in a state of transition. This presents cinema studies students and scholars with a challenge: What is cinema? Or perhaps more appropriately: Where is cinema? How should we situate the digital culture enabled by smaller mobile media like cell phones (micro or mobile cinema?), or the high resolution 3D displays of massive urban screens? What new aesthetic, economic and political forms are being actualized through environmental, database and networked narratives that belong to the new “multimodal” cross-platform contexts of digital media? Traditional forms of cinema are both disappearing and expanding, becoming more participatory (open source/DIY) and, increasingly, completely controlled by global media conglomerates (Google Inc. etc.).

In this course we shall examine recent debates in cinema studies that reconsider medium specificity (the poetics and ontology of film), spectatorship and authorship. Through the writings of Thomas Elsaesser, David Rodowick, Mary Ann Doane, Lev Manovich, Jacques Rancière, Mackenzie Wark, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Hito Steyerl and others, we will explore the shifts from traditional film theory to contemporary digital media theory. We shall consider the most appropriate theoretical frameworks and methodologies for making sense of digital aesthetics. The course will use experimental and narrative films and media, film installations and internet projects to explore contemporary cinematic landscapes and practices.

Course Learning Objectives: In this course, students shall develop the ability to identify the various ‘effects’ of the cinema and digital media through the use of critical theory. Students shall also be well versed in current debates surrounding new screen technologies (augmented, locative, mixed reality) broadly defined.

Furthermore, students will:

1) Be able to synthesize and use a wide variety of film and media theories.

2) Judge which kinds of theory are relevant in the development of the research they wish to pursue.

3) Understand cinema and media theory alongside contemporary image practices in an historical context.



Required readings will be made available to students.

Required readings will be made available to students.










a)  Participation 15%


b)  Two Essays 40% (1200 words/20% ea)


c)  Group Presentation 20%


d)  Final Exam 25%






a) Participation:


Being part of an intellectual community means attending class regularly and punctually, reading thoughtfully in advance and involving yourself in class discussions in a way that enables you and other students to learn.




The website is an important aspect of the course. Students are encouraged to contribute to it on an on-going basis (post thoughts and ideas; share links, events, film reviews etc.). This will count towards your participation grade.




b) Short Essays: Students will be asked to write two short essays. A list of possible topics and essay questions will be distributed in class. Essay #1 Feb. 6; Essay #2 March 20




c) Oral presentation: Students will be working on a group presentation that critically and creatively engages with one or two of the assigned readings through a power point presentation that will not exceed fifteen minutes. The presentation must end with three questions that will help to guide group and class discussion. Presentation topics will be organized around platforms that the students will choose as of the first class: Interactive Docs, Television (the new animal), Games,  Social Media, Big Films (3D/Image/4D).




d) Final Exam: Students shall write a final exam (short answer and essay) that will give them an opportunity to synthesize the course themes and readings.




Grading, Assignment Submission,          


Lateness Penalties and Missed Tests     


Grading:  The grading scheme for the course conforms to the 9-point grading system used in undergraduate programs at York (e.g., A+ = 9, A = 8, B+ – 7, C+ = 5, etc.).  Assignments and tests* will bear either a letter grade designation or a corresponding number grade (e.g.  A+ = 90 to 100, A = 80 to 90, B+ = 75 to 79, etc.)  


(For a full description of York grading system see the York University Undergraduate Calendar –


 Students may take a limited number of courses for degree credit on an ungraded (pass/fail) basis. For full information on this option see Alternative Grading Option in the (Faculty name) section of the Undergraduate Calendar.


Assignment Submission: Proper academic performance depends on students doing their work not only well, but on time.  Accordingly, assignments for this course must be received on the due date specified for the assignment.  Assignments are to be handed in at the beginning of class on the due date.


Lateness Penalty: Assignments received later than the due date will be penalized. The penalty will be one-half letter grade (1 grade point) per day that the assignment is late).  Exceptions to the lateness penalty for valid reasons such as illness, will require supporting documentation (e.g., a doctor’s letter).


 Missed Tests:  Students with a documented reason for missing a course test, such as illness, compassionate grounds, etc., which is confirmed by supporting documentation (e.g., doctor’s letter) may request accommodation from the Course Instructor.  Further extensions or accommodation will require students to submit a formal petition to the Faculty. 




All students are expected to familiarize themselves with the following information, available on the Senate Committee on Curriculum & Academic Standards webpage (see Reports, Initiatives, Documents)   


• York’s Academic Honesty Policy and Procedures/Academic Integrity Website


• Ethics Review Process for research involving human participants  


• Course requirement accommodation for students with disabilities, including physical, medical, systemic, learning and psychiatric disabilities 


• Student Conduct Standards


• Religious Observance Accommodation




Academic Honesty and Integrity         


York students are required to maintain high standards of academic integrity and are subject to the Senate Policy on Academic Honesty (




There is also an academic integrity website with complete information about academic honesty. Students are expected to review the materials on the Academic Integrity website (






York provides services for students with disabilities (including physical, medical, learning and psychiatric disabilities) needing accommodation related to teaching and evaluation methods/materials. 


 It is the student’s responsibility to register with disability services as early as possible to ensure that appropriate academic accommodation can be provided with advance notice. You are encouraged to schedule a time early in the term to meet with each professor to discuss your accommodation needs. Failure to make these arrangements may jeopardize your opportunity to receive academic accommodations.   


Additional information is available at or from disability service providers:


Office for Persons with Disabilities: N108 Ross, 416-736-5140,


Learning and Psychiatric Disabilities Programs – Counselling & Development Centre: 130  BSB, 416-736-5297,


Atkinson students – Atkinson Counselling & Supervision Centre: 114 Atkinson, 416-736- 5225,


Glendon students – Glendon Counselling & Career Centre: Glendon Hall 111, 416-487- 6709,


 Ethics Review Process            


York students are subject to the York University Policy for the Ethics Review Process for Research Involving Human Participants. In particular, students proposing to undertake research involving human participants (e.g., interviewing the director of a company or government agency, having students complete a questionnaire, etc.) are required to submit an Application for Ethical Approval of Research Involving Human Participants at least one month before you plan to begin the research.  If you are in doubt as to whether this requirement applies to you, contact your Course Director immediately




Religious Observance Accommodation        


York University is committed to respecting the religious beliefs and practices of all members of the community, and making accommodations for observances of special significance to adherents.  Should any of the dates specified in this syllabus for an in-class test or examination pose such a conflict for you, contact the Course Director within the first three weeks of class.  Similarly, should an assignment to be completed in a lab, practicum placement, workshop, etc., scheduled later in the term pose such a conflict, contact the Course director immediately.  Please note that to arrange an alternative date or time for an examination scheduled in the formal examination periods (December and April/May), students must complete an Examination Accommodation Form, which can be obtained from Student Client Services, Student Services Centre or online at 


 Student Conduct             


Students and instructors are expected to maintain a professional relationship characterized by courtesy and mutual respect and to refrain from actions disruptive to such a relationship.  Moreover, it is the responsibility of the instructor to maintain an appropriate academic atmosphere in the classroom, and the responsibility of the student to cooperate in that endeavour.  Further, the instructor is the best person to decide, in the first instance, whether such an atmosphere is present in the class.  A statement of the policy and procedures involving disruptive and/or harassing behaviour by students in academic situations is available on the York website 


 Please note that this information is subject to periodic update.  For the most current information, please go to the CCAS webpage (see Reports, Initiatives, Documents):


Seminar Schedule (subject to change)


Many of the classes will include screenings of films and various media. These have not been scheduled, as we will watch works that respond to our conversations and course themes. Web resources may be added throughout the term for enrichment.




Week 1 – 9 January – Introduction: Cinema in the Digital Age 


Screening: Selection of David O’Reilly animations:


Please Say Something (Ireland, 2009, 10 min.)




The Science of Sleep. Michael Gondry (France/US 2007, 106 min.)




Week 2 – 16 January Medium specificity and Total Cinema:






Required Reading:


André Bazin. “The Myth of Total Cinema,” and “The Evolution of the Language of  Cinema,” in What is Cinema? Vol I, Trans. Hugh Grey. Berkeley: University of California, 1971, pp. 17-40 Consult new Translation: André Bazin. What is Cinema? Trans. Timothy Bernard. Montréal: Caboose P,    2009


Siegfried Kracauer, “Inhererent Affinities,” Theory of film; the redemption of physical reality. New York: Oxford, 1960, pp. 60-74.






Russian Ark Alexander Sokurov (Russia 2003, 96 min.)


Decasia Bill Morrison (USA 2002, 67 min.)




Week 3 – 23 January  Soft Cinema




Required Reading:


Lev Manovich. “What is Digital Cinema”




Lev Manovich. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press,


            2001. 293-333.


Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Immediacy, Hypermediacy and Remediation,” Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge,  Mass.,: The MIT Press,  2000, pp. 20-84. (ebook York Library)




Suggested Reading:


Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: the making typographic


            man.Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1962. 124-150.




Screening: Remix Manifesto Brett Gaylor (Canada 2009, 80 min.)




Week 4 – 30 January What was Cinema? (reflections on ontology 1)




Required Reading:




Stanley Cavell, “Automatism,” The World Viewed: Reflections on the


            Ontology of Film. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University


            Press, 1979. 101-107.2009,


D.N.Rodowick, “What was Cinema?”, The Virtual Life of Film.


            Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 2007.Part II 25-




Gene Youngblood “Cinema and the Code.” Future Cinema: The

Cinematic Imaginary After Film. Eds. Jeffrey Shaw and PeterWeibel. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.




Suggested Reading:


Noël Carroll, “Medium Specificity Arguments and the Self-Consciously Invented Arts:    Film, Video, and Photography” Theorizing the Moving Image,”  Cambridge:         Cambridge University Press, 1998.


“What Photography Calls Thinking”, Raritan, 4:4, 1-21, reprinted in Poirier (ed)   Raritan Reading (Rutgers UP, 1990), 47-65.


Rosalind Krauss, ‘A Voyage on the North Sea’: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000)




Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and I  (France 2000, 82 min.)




Week 5 – 6 February Television Reinvented (reflections on ontology II)




Required Reading:


“The Fact of Television”, Daedalus 111:4, 75-96, reprinted in Themes Out of  School.


Martine Beugnet and Elizabeth Ezra, A portrait of the twenty-first century, Screen 50:1, pp. 77-85.


Suggested Reading:


Thomas Elsaesser, “Afterword – Digital Cinema and the Apparatus:  Archaeologies, Epistemologies, Ontologies,” in  Bruce Bennett, Marc   Furstenau and Adrian MacKenzie (eds), Cinema and Technology: cultures, theories, practices  (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp       226-240.






Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait. Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno


(France/Iceland, 2006, 90 mins).


An episode of Breaking Bad!




Week 6 – 13 February  Games I


Marshall Mcluhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man    (Cambridge,  Mass; The MIT Press, (1964) 2002 pp. 226-245)


Mackenzie Wark, Gamer Theory, “Agony” and “Allergory,” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 2-50).


Marsha Kinder. “Narrative Equivocations between Movies and Games.” In The New Media Reader, ed. Dan Harries, 119-132. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.


Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: “Worship at the Alter of Convergence: A New Paradigm of Understanding Media Change, Convergence Culture: Where  Old and New Media Collide, 1-24. New York and London: New York  University Press, 2006.


And “Nine Propositions Towards a Cultural Theory of YouTube”






Suggested Reading:


Ron Burnett. “Computer Games and the Aesthetics of Human and  Nonhuman Interaction.” How Images Think, 167-197. Cambridge MA:   MIT Press, 2004.


Sabinne Himmelsbach. “The Interactive Potential of Distributed  Networks: Immersion and Participation in Films and Computer Games.” Future Cinema, eds. Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.






Tracing the Decay of Fiction based on Pat O’Neill’s 35mm film, “The


            Decay of Fiction” (2002), this interactive DVD-ROM is an


            archeological exploration of the Hotel Ambassador.




Week 7 – 20 February






Week  8 – 27 February  Games II




Ian Bogust, Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge: MIT    Press, 2006.


Mary Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009.


Alexander Galloway. The Interface Effect. (Cambridge, UK: Polity) 2012


Suggested Reading:


Scott MacKenzie , “The Horror, Piglet, The HorrorFound Footage, Mash-Ups, AMVs, the avant-garde, and the Strange Case           of Apocalypse Pooh” (Cineaction 72 2007)  HYPERLINK “”


Chuck Tryon, “Hollywood Remixed: Movie Trailer Mashups, Five Second Movies, and Film Culture,” Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, 149-195. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2009.


Elijah Horwatt,  “ New Media Resistance: Machinima and the Avant-Garde” (Cineaction 73/74 2008) HYPERLINK “”






Offshore Brenda Longfellow (Canada 2013 – interactive doc)








Week 9 – 6 March Spatial Abundance, Game Films




Required Reading:


Thomas Elsaesser, “The Mind Game Film.” In Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, ed. Warren Buckland, 33-41. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.


Gene Youngblood. “Synaesthetic Cinema: The End of Drama.” Expanded Cinema, 75-91. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970.  Ebook


William Buckland, “Making Sense of Lost Highway,” Puzzle Films, pp. 42-61.






L’Intrus, Claire Denis (France, 2004, 130 min) (excerpt)


Twin Peaks, David Lynch (US, 1991 45 min) (excerpt)


Five Obstructions, Lars Von Trier (excerpt)


The Phoenix Tapes Matthias Muller (Germany, 1999 No 1-6)  (excerpt)


Lost Highway, David Lynch (US, 1997, 134 min.)




Week 10 –  13 March LOCATIVE  MEDIA (mobiles)




Required Reading: 


Locative Media, Ronald Lenz




Mary Ann Doane “The Location of the Image: Cinematic Projection and Scale in Modernity,” Stan Douglas and Christopher Eamon (eds) Art of Projection, (Berlin: Verlag, 2009, pp. 151-166)




Irak in Fragments, James Longley (US, 2006, 94min.); Mobile Media Projects




Week 11 – 20 March BIG SCREENS/Immersive VIEWS: 3D/IMAX/Google Earth




Required Reading:

Leon Gurevitch and Miriam Ross “STEREOSCOPIC MEDIA: Scholarship beyond Booms and Busts,” 3D Cinema and Beyond, eds. Dan Adler, Janine Marchessault and Sanja Obradovic (Intellect Books, 2013) pp 72-82.


Anna Munster, “Welcome to Google Earth” in Arthur and Marilouise Kroker           (eds), Critical Digital Studies Reader (Toronto: University of Toronto      Press, 2008, pp 397-416.


Susan Stewart, “The Gigantic,” On Longing: Narratives of the Minature, the          Gigantic, the             Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore and London: John   Hopkins University Press, 1984, pp. 70-102.).




Suggested Reading:



Janine Marchessault, “Multi-Screen and Future Cinema: The Labyrinth Project at Expo 67” in Fluid Screens, Expanded Cinema.






A Big Movie (TBA)





Week 12–  27 March ARCHIVAL CULTURES 




 Required Reading:


Wendy Chun, “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory,” Critical  Inquiry 35:1 (2008): 148–171.


Hito Steyerl, “Politics of the Archive: Translations in Film.”








Tarnation Jonathan Caouette (US 2003, 88 min.)










Required Reading


Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator.” Art Forum 45.7


            (March 2007). 271-280.


Stephanie Marriott, “The audience of one: adult chat television and the      architecture of participation,” Screen 50:1, 2009 pp. 25-34.


Francesco Casetti, “Filmic experience” Screen 50:1, 2009, pp. 56-66.