Film Textbooks, Take 3
A solidly popular post here continues to be one I wrote in 2009 about textbooks for introduction to film courses. I updated it once, way back in 2011, but enough time has passed that it deserves a quick update again.
First, I should say: Because I've started a Ph.D. at UNH, I'm not teaching film these days, except for a summer class online. So I haven't been thinking about film textbooks too much recently. But I do think about it, mostly because I really miss teaching film. It seeps into everything I do, though — this term, for instance, I'm taking a required course for all new grad students who are teaching First-Year Composition (yes, it's a little awkward having 15 years of teaching experience and taking a course like this...), and for my research project for the class I decided to research the use of film analysis in FYC classes. (If you're curious, you can see the results of all that research here. Creating a Weebly site was a class assignment, so I used it as a place to park my project.) I still love film textbooks, though, and have kept current with a few of them.
I was disappointed with the changes between the second and third editions of the textbook I used most frequently, The Film Experience. It's not bad, just not as thoroughly re-envisioned as I hoped it would be. I had hoped it would have more material to help students understand shot and scene analysis, for instance. These are pretty common assignments in intro to film classes, and yet I don't know of any textbook that provides a really excellent model. I still like The Film Experience best of the textbooks I know, however, because it is closest to my own approach to film history and theory.
The latest edition of Film Art is just as gorgeous as previous ones, and the book remains a tremendously thorough guide to formalist film analysis. I really considered using it for my summer course, but in the end I just couldn't justify the cost, because I need a textbook that's broader and more ecumenical.
My experiences with The Oxford History of World Cinema, The Cinema Book, and A Short Guide to Writing About Film were mixed, and I wouldn't use any of them again, though I think they're all useful books. The problem was that The Oxford History was overkill for my class, The Cinema Book just didn't have the right topics for my Deviants class, and A Short Guide is much too expensive for what it is. We used all of the books in class, but none of them as fully as I had hoped, and A Short Guide in particular was just too thin and sketchy for what the students had to pay for it.
For my First Year Composition course next term, I'm using Signs of Life in the USA, a Comp textbook with a popular culture focus, including a pretty good chapter on film (with an essay by Matt Zoller Seitz, whose presence in the book immediately made me happy). With luck, in a few years I'll get to teach a proper film course again, but until then I'm just going to have to make do...