Yale’s Film Studies “canon”

Yale’s Film Studies program is old-school in certain ways, and one of those ways is that we have an exam at the end of our Ph.D. program to test our knowledge of various essential films and film scholarship. We students have nicknamed it the “canon exam,” although it seems as though the professors avoid calling it that.

I was remembering how, the summer before I started grad school, I wondered what films I should watch to make myself conversant with other film students. I think I just ended up checking out every Criterion Collection movie I could find.

I thought you might be interested to see what we’re drilled on, and I don’t think the canon exam is a private affair (quite the opposite, actually, since it exists in part to assure prospective employers that we’ll be up to speed on the canon). So I’m posting the film list below. I’ll post the reading list later. [Update: here’s the reading list.]

As to the politics of a “canon,” or the wisdom of these particular choices … well, I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say that I don’t think this is a bad list, though it’s missing a lot of my favorite movies. (And the movies it does contain are so somber!)

Silent Shorts
All films on Before the Nickelodeon (Musser, 1982)
Early Edison films in The Movies Begin
Lumière films in The Movies Begin
The Great Train Robbery (Porter, 1903)
A Trip to the Moon (Melies, 1902)
Rescued by Rover Hepworth, 1905)
The Runaway Horse (Pathé, 1907)
The Lonely Villa (Griffith, 1909)
Fantômas (“Juve contre Fantomas” Feuillade, 1913)
The Tramp (Chaplin, 1915)

Silent Features
The Cheat (DeMille, 1915)
Birth of a Nation (Griffith, 1915)
Intolerance (Griffith, 1916)
Within Our Gates (Micheaux, 1920)
Greed (Von Stroheim, 1924)
Sherlock Junior (Keaton, 1924)
Sunrise (Murnau, 1927)
The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1927)

Silent Features, non USA
Cabiria (Pastrone, 1914)
Mute Witnesses (Bauer, Russia, 1914)
Sir Arne’s Treasure (Stiller, 1919)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1920)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1921)
Metropolis (Lang, 1925)
Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925)
Napoleon (Gance, 1927)
Storm over Asia (Pudovkin 1928)
Earth (Dovzhenko, 1928)
Fall of the House of Usher (Epstein, 1928)
Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1929)

Sound  Features

The Jazz Singer (1927)
Hallelujah (Vidor, 1929)
The Public Enemy (1931)
Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)
42nd Street (Bacon, 1933)
It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934)
Modern Times (Chaplin, 1936)
Stagecoach (Ford, 1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, 1939)
His Girl Friday (Hawks, 1940)
Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)
Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, 1946)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, 1948)
Singing in the Rain (Donnen, 1952)
Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
Rebel Without a Cause (Ray 1955)
The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)
Imitation of Life (Sirk, 1959)
Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
Nothing but a Man (Roemer, 1965)
2001:A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969)
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1969)
Sweet, Sweetback’s Baaaad Ass Song (Van Pebbles, 1971)
The Conversation (Coppola, 1974)
Nashville (Altman, 1975)
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)
Do The Right Thing (Lee, 1988)

A Nous la liberté Clair, 1931)
L’Atalante Vigo, 1934)
Le Jour se lève (Carné, 1939)
Rules of the Game (Renoir, 1939)
Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson, 1950)
Pickpocket (Besson, 1960)
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, 1960)
Jules et Jim (Truffaut, 1961)
Vivre sa vie (Godard, 1962)
La Jetée (Marker, 1963)
Playtime (Tati, 1966)
Céline and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, 1974)

Paisà (Rossellini, 1946)
Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1947)
Voyage In Italy (Rossellini, 1953)
Senso (Visconti, 1954)
La dolce vita (Fellini, 1959)
L’avventura Antonioni, 1959)
Gospel According to Matthew Pasolini, (1964)
Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1967)
Once Upon a Time in the West Leone, 1968)

M (Lang, 1930)
Kuhle Wampe (Dudow, 1932)
The Kaiser’s Lackey (Staudte, 1951)
Abshied von Gestern [Yesterday’s Girl] (Kluge, 1966)
Aguirre: the Wrath of God (Herzog, 1973)
Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974)
Kings of the Road (Wenders, 1976)
Germany Pale Mother (Sanders-Brahm, 1979)
Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder, 1979)

La Caza [The Hunt] (Saura, 1966)
Belle de jour (Bunuel, 1967)
Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1974)
Law of Desire (Almodovar, 1987)

Ivan the Terrible part 1 (Eisenstein, 1947)
Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1970)

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz, 1960)
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1966)
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Davies, 1988)

Latin American
María Candelaria (Fernández, México, 1943)
Los Olvidados (Buñuel, México, 1950)
Antonio Das Mortes (Rocha, Brazil,1967)
Memories of Underdevelopment (Gutiérrez Alea, Cuba, 1968)
Bye Bye Brasil (Diegues, Brazil, 1979)

I was Born but… (Ozu,1932)
Sisters of the Gion (Mizoguchi, 1936)
Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi. 1953)
Seven Samurai (Kurosawa,1954)
Cruel Story of Youth (Oshima, 1960)
Branded to Kill (Suzuki, 1967)
Double Suicide (Shinoda,1969)
In the Realm of the Senses (Oshima, 1975)
Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997)

Goddess (Wu Young Gang, 1934)
Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1983)
Rouge (Kwan, 1986)
City of Sadness (Hou, 1989)

Pather Panchali (Ray, 1955)
Mother India (Mehboob, 1957)
Sholay (Sippy, 1975)

Black Girl (Sembene, 1966)
Yeelen (Cissé, 1978)

Various Sound Features
Persona (Bergman, Sweden 1966)
Daisies (Chytlova, Czechoslovakia, 1966)
The Red and the White (Jansco, Hungary, 1967)
Traveling Players (Angelopoulos,  Greece 1974)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce (Ackerman, Belgium 1976)
Man of Marble (Wajda, Poland, 1977)
Time of the Gypsies (Kusturica, Yugoslavia 1988)
And Life Goes On (Kiarostami, Iran, 1991)

Manhatta (Strand, 1921)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)
Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)
Land without Bread (Bunuel, 1932)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
The River (Lorentz, 1937)
Nightmail (Grierson, 1936)
Les Maitres Fou (Rouch, 1956)
Night and Fog (Resnais, 1956)
Primary (Leacock, 1960)
Chronicle of a Summer (Rouch & Morin, 1961)
Culloden (Watkins, 1964)
High School (Wiseman, 1968)
Sans Soleil (Marker, 1981)

Entr’acte (Clair/Picabia, 1924 )
Ballet mecanique (Dudley Murphy, Ferdinand Léger, 1924)
The Smiling Madame Beudet (Dulac, 1924)
Page of Madness (Kinugasa, 1926)
Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel/Dali, 1928)
Colour Box (Len Lye, 1935)
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1944)
A Movie (Bruce Conner, 1958)
Dog Star Man (Prelude), Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 1961)
Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)
Nostalgia (Hollis Frampton, 1971)

5 Replies to “Yale’s Film Studies “canon””

  1. Hi, Miriam, I stumbled upon this today. I was wondering if you ever posted the readings? I’m not sure if I missed it. I’m nosy! Did you enjoy the program?

  2. Hey, Michelle! D’oh, I forgot to post the readings! Here they are. I did enjoy the program. Feel free to get in touch if you want deets. — Miriam

  3. Thanks for posting – that is awesome! I was a film studies major in college. I’m a few years out now, but am considering returning to school for film studies. I would probably have to enter a Master’s program first since I don’t have an extensive amount of research experience nor did I write a thesis. But I’d love to hear about your journey!

  4. Hi Miriam,

    I googled for “film studies degree reading list” and up popped your blog entry, at #3 on the list. The universities of Warwick and Keel in the UK pipped you to the top spot! 🙂

    Many thanks for posting that list and I look forward to making my way through a good few of those films, just as a great way of spending the evenings when on business trips, which is most of the year … 🙁

    Not being a student of film, but just trying to intelligent in my personal film viewing, I’d be really interested in knowing the motivation or rationale for the inclusion of the individual films in that list. Did a film represent a particular landmark in the development of film either in the techniques used or the subject matter, or maybe a film had a significant impact on wider society?

    Anyway, thanks again for posting this!

    Best regards,

    Stefan Aalten-Voogd

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