Neoformalism : an approach to teaching film studies in New Zealand secondary schools : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Media Studies at Massey University, New Zealand
Noting the lack of subject material available in New Zealand for the teaching of film studies in secondary school, this thesis attempts to describe a framework which is designed to introduce particular concepts and provide a base for different ways of thinking about film. It endeavours to bridge the gap between those texts that do not have enough theory and those that have too much, lacking easy application to the secondary school classroom. The objective of this study is to reduce the generalisation that cinema is of little cultural value, and to bring the genuine love that individual's have for film, into an educational context. This has been done through the use and adaptation of Kristin Thompson's Neoformalist approach. The first part of this study discusses the differences between an approach and a method, and the benefits of the neoformalist approach. This includes an investigation of available literature and how applicable it is to the practical teaching of film studies. The second part deals with the academic principles of the Neoformalist approach, the tools of analysis, and foregrounds the fact that film is a constructed medium in which spectators have an active role. The third part involves the breaking down of the academic terms of the Neoformalist approach and the demonstration of how they can be applied in an educational context. It does this by foregrounding film studies within the paradigm of the Classical Narrative, or mainstream, popular film. The final section offers two brief analyses of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and Once Were Warriors, because the only way for a student to gain ability to analyse films is through practice in viewing films critically and reading analyses by other critics. Essentially it is argued that, Neoformalism is merely one approach to teaching film studies and does not preclude any other reasonable approach. It is based on the assumption that one must understand what one is studying (the film) before one can go to the next stage and search out wider notions such as ideology, meaning and so on. Therefore it is beneficial for students that a formal analysis precede any cultural or other form of analysis, under the assumption that certain skills need to be developed before the ideological and cultural are able to be effectively isolated from the formal. Neoformalism does not preclude such concerns, but grounds them in some contextual, concrete base.