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EN 104 - "Thumbs Up? You've Got to be Kidding!" Writing Critically About Film


The following is a guide to secondary sources in Geisel Library that pertain to film criticism.

This guide will point you to some useful reference books and library databases. It will also serve as a 'reality check', reminding you of the search tips you picked up during the library segment of your EN 103 class last term, providing helpful examples. You will be introduced to special tools and library services that will make the process of searching and locating relevant materials a bit easier.

For further assistance, please stop by the Reference Desk in person or pose your question online.


Reference Sources for Background Information

Reference books are shelved by call number in a separate area near the Reference Desk on the main level of the library. They may not be checked out, but photocopiers are available on the lower level. Here's why you should consult reference books:

  • They will assist you in the topic selection process by providing ideas and insights. Many of them are arranged so that larger topics are broken down into sub-sections, allowing you to evaluate where a topic fits within its broader context and helping you to decide whether a topic is too broad or narrow.
  • In the field of literature, they will supply literary analysis of the authors, titles, and sometimes the genre under discussion in your class.
  • Reference books will also help you to locate background information about structure and themes pertaining to your primary source readings.
  • They will familiarize you with vocabulary that might be unique to your topic of study, making searching of the databases easier later.
  • They will point you to additional sources for more detailed scholarly information through bibliographies and lists of 'Further Readings'.

The library also has a growing collection of E-Reference resources which carry 'Articles' about Film and film theories. Among them: Encyclopedia of Communication Theory (see 'Documentary Film Theories'), New Catholic Encyclopedia (see 'The Church and Film'), Encyclopedia of Religion (see 'Film and Religion').

Encyclopedias, Handbooks, Glossaries, etc.

Cinema Studies:  Key Concepts

Complete Film Dictionary
     Ref PN1993.45 .K66

Dictionary of Film Terms:  The Aesthetic Companion to Film Art
     Ref PN1993.45 .B33

Encyclopedia of American Independent Filmmaking
     Ref PN1993.45 .L63

Film Encyclopedia
     Ref PN1993.45 .K34

Film Review Index
     Ref PN1995.F57
Includes citations to reviews from journals and magazines and books.
Volume 1 covers 1882-1949 and Volume 2 covers 1950-1985.

Film Snob's Dictionary

Magill's Survey of Cinema-English Language Films, First Series
     PN1993.45 .M3

Magill's Survey of Cinema-English language films, Second Series
     PN1993.45 .M32

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
     Ref PN1998.2 .T49

Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film (4 vols.)
     Ref PN1993.45 .G65

Variety International Film Guide
     Ref PN1993.3 .I544

Readers Guide to Periodical Literature    Lower Level Reference Area
To locate individual film titles dated prior to February 1977, turn to the subject heading "Moving picture plays-Criticisms, Plots, etc.-Single works." There will be an alphabetical list of film titles and citations to reviews. After February 1977, look up the subject heading "Motion picture reviews-Single works."

Select Listing of Film Critics

Film Critics

The following is a brief listing of some influential critics in the discourse of film. These names would be a good starting point in exploring film criticism in books and online resources.

  • David Bordwell
  • Serge Daney
  • Sergei Eisenstein
  • Annette Insdorf
  • Adrian Martin
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • Kristin Thompson

Popular Critics

These critics review film in popular media forms (television, journals, and newspapers).

  • Roger Ebert
  • Pauline Kael
  • Janet Maslin
  • Elvis Mitchell
  • Richard Roeper
  • A.O. Scott
  • Joel Siegel

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Locate Journal Articles

Below are several online databases and journals in print that may yield useful journal articles for your research on film criticism. Some of the resources focus on film criticism, while others provide historical and socio-cultural context for films and authors.

Online library databases may or may not contain full-text copies of the articles you need. In the results screen, if there is no full-text link readily available, click on the WebBridge icon to determine whether the journal is available in the Geisel Library or in full-text via another electronic database. If the article is not available, click on the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) link to request a PDF copy of the article from another library. Articles requested via ILL will be delivered to your college email inbox within about a week. To learn how to use WebBridge, please watch our video tutorial (3.5 mins; includes audio).

When looking for a film review it is useful to know: 1) the film's complete title; 2) the director's full name; and 3) the year the film was released.

Academic Search Premier
Gain access to full-text as well as indexing and abstracting for a wide range of journal titles covering business, social sciences, humanities, general science, and education. Includes publications such as Cineaste, Cinema Journal, Film Comment, Film History, Film Quarterly, and Films in Review. To locate film reviews:  Enter the film title and select "PS Reviews & Products" from the drop-down menu.

Arts & Humanities Citation Index
This index provides citations to more than 1,300 arts and humanities journals, including articles, bibliographies, editorials, letters, and reviews.

Communication & Mass Media Complete
Not full text
Good source for scholarly readings about contemporary American films

Google Scholar
This specialized web search engine may point you to some useful resources. Click on the WebBridge button to determine SAC availability (on campus only).

JSTOR contains the full text of back issues of major journals in the humanities and social sciences. Use this to locate articles in selected scholarly literature journals. You can set limiters, such as selecting the 'Film Studies' check box for journals covering film criticism. Coverage is generally from the beginning of publication to within 5 years of the current issue.    User Guide

LexisNexis Academic
This is a good database to search for film reviews in popular newspapers and magazines from across the world. The following steps will help you create searches to better locate relevant articles.

  • Step One:  Select the News tab located next to the default General tab.
  • Step Two:  On the 'Selected Sources' drop-down list, choose "Book, Movie, Music, Play, and Video Reviews."
  • Step Three:  Select the time range you want to search from the drop-down list next to 'Specify Date.'
  • Step Four:  Enter your search using Boolean operators (and, or) in the drop-down boxes of the 'Enter Search Terms' fields.

Literature Resource Center
Search and locate biographical information on authors, as well as bibliographies, plot summaries, and criticism of their works. This resource provides the full text of articles from more than 100 literary journals. It also provides an interesting feature entitled "Selected Websites" that provides links to sites of importance on authors and topics.

MLA International Bibliography
Produced by the Modern Language Association of America, this electronic index consists of bibliographic records pertaining to literature, language, linguistics, theory and criticism, and the dramatic arts. (1963–present)

New York Times  Full Text 1851–2003
Search this database for film reviews published in the New York Times. The New York Times offers "full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue. The collection includes digital reproductions providing access to every page from every available issue." This database covers the years 1851-2003. For reviews published since 2003, search the New York Times in the LexisNexis Academic database.

Project MUSE
"Project MUSE provides online, worldwide, institutional subscription access to the full text of more than 200 scholarly journals in arts and humanities, social sciences, and mathematics." Includes relevant journals in film research such as Discourse, Film and History, The Moving Image, and Wide Angle.

PsycINFO, Religion Database (ATLA), SocINDEX
Try using these databases when your film research intersects with psychological, religious or social issues, respectively.


To search for journal articles across multiple databases at once, try CrossSearch. For articles with a literary analysis focus, check the 'English' subject category and perform your search. CrossSearch displays the first 20 results from each database. If an entry from the results list looks useful, click on the WebBridge icon to see if it is available in full-text or in Geisel Library's periodicals collection on the lower level.

Journal Finder

Use the Journal Finder to determine whether a particular article is available in Geisel Library's online databases or periodicals collection. This tool is helpful when you encounter citations to useful journal articles outside the journal databases; for example, in the bibliographies of reference books or other journal articles. Search the journal title (not the article title) in Journal Finder and use the resulting links to locate the article's full text in either a database or the library collection. If Journal Finder does not provide any links, you can request the journal article through Interlibrary Loan. To learn more about how to use the Journal Finder, please watch our video tutorial (3 mins.; includes audio).


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Locate Books/Secondary Sources

Examples of Keyword searches to use in the Catalog:

  • coen brothers
  • disney* AND (violen* OR aggress*) AND children
  • film music
  • julie bertucelli*
  • scorsese* AND women
  • violen* AND wild bunch

Use the * (asterisk) as a truncation symbol to retrieve variant forms of a word root; for example, modern* will retrieve books with the words "modernity" or "modernism" in the catalog record. Use the Boolean AND to combine together multiple concepts, and use the Boolean OR to expand your search with synonyms and related terms. Use AND NOT to eliminate any instances of a term or phrase. AND NOT is particularly useful if you notice in search results multiple instances of terms appearing in titles or entries that are not relevant to your topic.

Examples of Subject Headings to Search in the Catalog:

Try searching some of the phrases below as Subject Headings in the Geisel Library catalog. This method often locates a higher percentage of books that are directly relevant to a particular topic. If you are researching a particular author or work, try searching the author's name as a Subject to locate biographies and literary criticism.

  • Black and white motion pictures
  • Bond, James
  • Hitchcock, Alfred
  • Historical films-History and criticism
  • Horror films
  • Motion picture music


If you are unable to locate enough materials in the Geisel Library catalog, search the collections of libraries worldwide using WorldCat. This enables you to identify relevant books owned by other colleges and have them delivered to Geisel Library for your use, via our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service. Try searching on the same keywords and subject headings that you used in the library catalog. If you locate a relevant book, click on the title and look for the 'Request ILL' link. Once you submit the request, the book is typically delivered to Geisel Library within 7-8 days.

Select Titles in the Library's General Collection

The following books are a representative sample of the books available at the Geisel Library for research on film criticism. Use the library catalog and  WorldCat to search for more books on subjects or filmmakers. Many works that will be relevant to film studies are classified within the PN range of call numbers and are located on the Upper Level of the Geisel Library.

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now
     PN1995 .A448

Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema
     ML2075 .B475 2007

The Cinema of Martin Scorsese
     PN1998.3 .S39 F75 1998

Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood
     PN1995.9 .W6 G74

Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies
     PN1995 .P4

Handbook of American Film Genres
     On Order

Hitchcock's Music
     ML2075 .S89 2006

Hours in the Dark: Essays on Cinema
     PN1995 .V24

In Search of Cinema: Writings on International Film Art
     PN1995 .C3533

Peckinpah, the Western Films

Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique
     PN1995 .S513

Seeing and Believing: Religion and Values in the Movies
     PN1995.9 .R4 M56 1996


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Selected Websites

The following websites are a sampling of interesting Internet resources that may be useful in your studies. You may also want to conduct keyword searching on your topics in a search engine such as Google or Google Scholar, but be sure to look for indications that the site's information is authoritative, objective, and reliable.

All Movie Guide
Features extensive factual and descriptive data and original editorial content for 215,000 movie titles.

Chicago Reader on Film
An alternative press weekly newspaper that publishes well-composed film reviews. Among its film critics is Jonathan Rosenbaum.

For many of its films issued on DVD, Criterion creates supplementary materials that include critical examinations of films. These examinations consist of film critics discussing the importance of films, movements, genres, and directors. Though limited to Criterion films, you will find essays that are included in the film's packaging.

Interviews, reviews, film shorts. Comprehensive resource for current film releases on screen, TV, and DVD.

Film Literature Index
This website allows you to search through over 700,000 citations to film, television and video articles, reviews and book reviews. Search for citations by keyword or browse by subject heading, person name, production title, or corporate name.
The website dedicated to the art and analysis of film sound and music.

Film Studies Resources, UC Berkeley Library
A comprehensive site, well worth browsing.

The Greatest Films
This website includes "interpretive and detailed plot synopses, review commentary, an unparalleled wealth of film reference material, and historical background for hundreds of classic Hollywood/American and other English-language films in the last century."

Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
This website "catalog[s] every pertinent detail about a movie, from who was in it, to who made it, to trivia about it, to filming locations, and even where you can find reviews and fan sites on the web."
UK-based website covering art house, independent, and world cinema. Features, interviews, reviews, forums, directories, and a bookshop available on their website.

Masters of Cinema
This website focuses on but is not limited to the work of major world directors. Especially useful is the links to four sites covering Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, and Andrei Tarkovsky.

Movie Review Query Engine
One of the best search engines for locating full-text reviews online, including reviews in journals and newspapers, user groups, and other miscellanea. Depth of chronological coverage varies.

Moving Image Collection (MIC)
MIC lets you discover, locate, and even (in some cases) view moving images from around the world.

Reel Classics:  The Classical Movie Site
Described as the "Internet's most comprehensive site dedicated exclusively to Classic Movies."

This site provides information about film education, research and film/TV production.

Sight and Sound
The British Film Institute (BFI) publishes this magazine that explores issues of film from a more global perspective. Articles include reviews of films and in-depth analyses of film history.

Voice of the Shuttle - Media Studies: Film and Video
Provides a lengthy list of links to cinema resources, including film history, film theory, contemporary film, and more.


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Citing Sources

MLA is the citation style required in this class. The library has both print and electronic versions of MLA citation guides; or ask a Librarian for assistance.

Please also note that many of the databases offer 'Citation Maker' or 'Citation Management' features, allowing you to save your selected sources to the MLA format.


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Need More Help?

Research Help (a Geisel Library-developed website which includes numerous guides and tutorials)

Video Tutorials:  Journal Finder, WebBridge, CrossSearch (running time: approx.
3 minutes)

Identifying Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Send us an E-mail

Make an Appointment


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