guidelines for writing humanist film criticism


  1. Sources
    • Primary
      All films are potential subjects for humanist criticism. Think of films that have had a powerful effect, made a distinct impression, especially those that caused you to think or wonder. Though mainstream Hollywood films can be investigated in this way, don't fail to seek out foreign, cult, documentary, and experimental films.
    • Secondary
      Read the film criticism of the film journals like Sight and Sound, Film Comment or Literature/Film Quarterly. Use the library card catalog and internet resources related to your films.

  2. Method

    See the film/s you want to write about more than once. Videos/lasers/DVDs are very helpful here. Re-view key scenes to help locate the aesthetic devices or the way themes are developed in specific detail. This kind of close analysis of passages is the best way to support your generalizations about the film. Observation of the film comes first. Then comes the writing itself, building your argument with logical support.

  3. Questions the Writer Using the Humanist Approach Might Ask:
    • Did the film provoke a powerful emotional response?
    • What was the film's theme? Was it important or trivial? How did the film reveal the theme?
    • Was the film complex, full of ambiguity in terms of plot resolution? Was it ironic? Paradoxical? Straightforward? Historical?
    • Were the characters stereotypes or well-rounded?
    • Did the film's formal aspects-the lighting, composition, editing, music, design, script, acting-add to the film's impact? Why? Why Not? How?
    • Does the film belong to the larger body of work of a noted director?
    • If the film is an older movie, (why) is it still worth seeing today?
    • If it is a Hollywood genre film, does is transcend its genre to become art?
    • Does the film tell us something about the mass audience, popular assumptions, American values, gender, class, race, ethnic, or other national points of view?
    • Does the film tie to any of the topics, authors, issues studies elsewhere in the course materials?
  4. Structure - The film review should:
    • have a thesis;
    • support the thesis with evidence;
    • present the thesis one step at a time;
    • avoid serving as plot summary;
    • should move beyond the like/dislike approach to analysis.