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David Nicol, assistant professor

A day in the life

David Nicol, assistant professor

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Dal’s Film Studies minor is distinct because of its inter-university nature—students can access a range of professors with different skills. We offer close analysis and film history—and we’re good at international cinema, with our experts in the Italian, French, and Russian Departments.

Opening doors to new experiences

While doing his Master of Arts in Shakespeare Studies, David Nicol had no idea he’d end up incorporating film studies into either his research or teaching.

“I fell in love with Shakespeare because of the opportunities to do different things with those texts,” Dr. Nicol says. “The plays can be performed in an infinite numbers of ways, according to different actors’ and directors’ interpretations. That’s what appeals.”

That carries over into the film versions of Shakespeare’s plays. “It’s also interesting to compare across time periods,” he adds. “Two of the most popular film interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, one from 1968 and the other from 1996, are really time capsules of those periods.”

His knowledge of history comes in handy when teaching Film History 1 and 2 for the Film Studies minor. Film History 1 deals with films made between the 1890s and the 1950s—not the period you’d expect students to naturally gravitate toward.

“I’ve been surprised by how open students are. I thought they might sulk about having to watch movies made by ‘old weirdos,’” he laughs. “But they have a real readiness to embrace different forms. It’s delightful—especially as I like to think I’m opening doors to students having new experiences. It’s nice to see how excited people get about that.”

One assignment is something Dr. Nicol calls “a contemporary response analysis.” Students choose a movie made pre-1955: “Students look into the history of the period—the director, the trailer, the poster, cinema reviews published at the time—to find out what a person from that time would have known. Would that person have been surprised or unsurprised, pleasantly or not, by what they saw? What impression was formed in the viewer, and how does that compare to what was intended?”

Though Dr. Nicol’s primary research interest is Shakespearean drama—he’s working on a book about Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, collaborative dramatists from Shakespeare’s time—he’s just published a paper on Terrence Malick’s 2005 film, The New World.

“I focused largely on the original sources Malick was working with—the 17th-century texts about how Virginia was colonized,” he explains. “Other film scholars have treated his film as an adaptation of the events. I looked at how he was taking inspiration from the words in those sources and fusing them into his film.”

Dr. Nicol has also taught a course about the films of David Lynch. Read the story in DalNews.