An Introduction to American Film Criticism

Course Dates: 11/03/23 - 18/03/23
Time: 10:30 - 13:00
Location: Online
Why do we read film critics? What makes a great film critic? Is film criticism an art form in itself?
This online film studies course explores the work of two of America’s greatest film critics - Manny Farber and Pauline Kael – and provides an overview of American film criticism, its history and rich literary tradition, and shows how film critics wrote about the medium of cinema as it evolved in the 20th century.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £59.00 Senior fee £47.00 Concession £38.00

Course Code: HF326

Sat, day, 11 Mar - 18 Mar '23

Duration: 2 sessions (over 2 weeks)

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What is the course about?

This online film studies course explores the history of American film criticism through the work of two of its most influential practitioners, Manny Farber and Pauline Kael. It situates both writers, born two years apart (in 1917 and 1919 respectively), within the historical context of American film criticism, while looking at some of their most notable reviews, essays and critical positions. It compares and contrasts their approach to writing criticism, and looks at the reasons for their enduring influence—both on fellow film critics and filmmakers. Martin Scorsese called Farber “one of America’s greatest film critics”, an opinion shared by Susan Sontag, while Pauline Kael’s writing not only helped define the era of “the New Hollywood” but made film criticism central to America’s national conversation in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

- A brief history of American film criticism.
- American film criticism as a branch of American literature and non-fiction.
- Film culture and magazine journalism.
- Notable American film critics, including James Agee, Otis Ferguson and Robert Warshow.
- Farber and Kael’s artistic and literary influences.
- Farber and Kael’s enduring influence – on film critics, film culture and filmmakers.
- Farber’s essay – White Elephant Art vs Termite Art
- Pauline Kael’s essay – Trash, Art and the Movies,
- Criticism as an art form in itself as an area for discussion.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Expand your knowledge of American film criticism, its history and most notable practitioners.
- Understand the reasons for Manny Farber and Pauline Kael’s enduring influence.
- Have a different view of film history through the specific periods which both Farber and Kael covered.
- Think critically about the art of criticism itself.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course is open to anyone with an interest in film criticism, film history, film journalism and non-fiction, and how we respond to works of art.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The course will be delivered online over two 90-minute sessions on consecutive Saturdays.
Each class will feature a short lecture, Power Point slides and film clips followed by an interactive class discussion.
There will be recommendations for further reading or viewing around the subject for those that are interested.
There is no work outside of class except for some related reading.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

There are no other costs. Bring a pen and paper or tablet / device for note taking.
Links to recommended reading and viewing will be provided.
Books of interest:
Manny Farber: Negative Space
Pauline Kael: For Keeps, or any of her collections from the 1970s – Deeper into Movies, Reeling and When the Lights Go Down.
A number of Kael’s essays and reviews are available online, both at The New Yorker and The New Republic.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other Film Studies courses under History Culture and Writing/Film Studies at

Mick McAloon

Mick McAloon has 18 years’ experience in cinema exhibition – running cinemas, programming events and film series. His writing has appeared in numerous publications including the books Movie Star Chronicles and 1001 Movies. Previously he was a Visiting Lecturer at Kingston University on the Media & Communications degree.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.