INTRODUCTION TO FILM
Nowadays, it seems difficult to come to grips with what exactly the Canon is. If you ask the right person, they may tell you that “8 Mile” is more important to cinema than “Citizen Kane” is because it defined what a hip-hop musical could be long before “Hamilton” blew our minds open. “Wait,” you say, “are you trying to make light of Eminem’s Magnum Opus?” No, my goal is to explore the different works that matter to culture in no particular order, to rewrite an American Canon that is more like a mix tape of popular culture than it is a Sight And Sound poll (by the way, the first time I watched “Vertigo” I literally fell asleep out of boredom.) My course will also not dwell on worshipping godly directors or magnificent cinematography because any clown on Youtube can do that 10x better than me. Rather, we will focus on the cultural aspects of film and media.
By the end of the course, participants will be able to:
- Formulate an extended essay based on basic film theory
- Analyze a work of media outside of its filmic elements
- Understand that “Great Cinema” isn’t always defined by the critics
Formal classes will meet twice a week for 75 minutes. During those times, we will engage in short lectures, discussions of reading assignments, screenings, critiques and presentations of students work. There will also be one screening weekly of the work we will be studying in class, tentatively scheduled for Sunday night at 7 PM. Students are not required to attend these screenings, but are expected to have watched the work by the subsequent class session.
As for the films we watch: I am a naturally indecisive person, and thus have multiple options for each week listed on the syllabus (i.e. for THE CLASSICS week, we have “Sunset Boulevard,” “Citizen Kane,”“Vertigo,” and "The Searchers" listed as possible options.) At the beginning of every new week, we will take a class vote between the films listed for the coming week. I promise to honor this vote unless I believe the class will be better served by an executive decision.
Someone told me once that just the act of showing up every day matters more than any single piece of work. I’d like to push back against that and allow you two unexcused absences, with two more allowed in dire circumstances (athletic event, illness, dire hangover, etc.) Missing discussion sessions will affect your performance in my class, but more than my limits will result in a lowered grade or automatic failure of the course at my discretion.
There are a few class norms: show up on time, stay for the whole duration, and demonstrate your knowledge of the work we are studying by contributing your opinions. These contributions may take place either verbally during our class time or via more lengthy responses written before or after our class (an introvert myself, I understand how difficult it can be to speak up. Your voice is different, but it still matters.)
The following has been copied from professors in the Media Studies Field Group at Pitzer College:
“We may study sexually explicit, political, and otherwise challenging material in this course. These are not included for shock value, but are legitimate investigations of controversial subject matters in media. You are certainly encouraged to explore difficult and complex subject matters in your work, and you should be prepared to consider these issues intellectually and emotionally. Our class is a safe space in which students can express their beliefs and opinions. You always have a voice, but please be respectful of others as well. Abusive language and behavior will not be tolerated. Open-mindedness is encouraged!”
All reading assignments will be provided online, and I expect everyone in our class to contribute on our class blog at least once a week discussing the readings and films. This blog post does not need to be lengthy or even complicated, it should simply ask one discussion question for the class or offer up a response to a classmate's discussion question.
The first piece of writing for our class (Essay 0) is essentially a progress check, a time for me to give feedback on your style of writing about film before our first essay is turned in. Students are advised to be adventurous and try new ideas.
Each member of our class will also write three longer essays. The first two essays may range in length from 1500-2500 words, while the final essay should be between 3500-5000 words. If you feel you are able to make a thoroughly convincing essay that does not fall within these limits, please send me an appeal (with an outline) at least 24 hours before the due date.
Essay 0 (500-1000 words): Analyze a character, scene, or moment that struck you in one of our films.
Essay 1 (1500-2500 words): Use 2 films and at least two readings on our syllabus (or with my approval) to construct an argument about a subgenre or theme. I've listed some examples below, but students should feel to pursue their interests:
- Consider a movie we haven't said is a musical against one we have said is in order to make a statement about film music.
- Compare two musicals, one from the first week and one from the second. What are the differences, and what can we tell from them?
- Many films are made in and about the same cities. Pick one city and write a reflection of two films based in it.
- How did the differences in structure from "Sunset Boulevard" to "Chinatown" reflect changes in American culture?
Essay 2 (1500-2500 words): Use 1-3 films and at least three readings on our syllabus (or with my approval) to construct an argument. I've listed some examples below, but students should feel free to pursue their interests:
- Compare the portrayal of women in a film from Unit 1 with "Riddles Of The Sphinx" or "Run Lola Run."
- Consider the mission of "Toward A Third Cinema." Does any film in particular meet the lofty demands?
- Using at least two different cultures, analyze what filmmakers produced in response to Hollywood.
- Find one piece of media you consider "revolutionary" made in the past five years. Compare the formal and cultural elements with a film we have studied.
Final Essay (3500-5000 words): Using more than one film and at least five scholarly sources (two of which must not be required reading on our syllabus,) construct an argument about a subgenre of film, a style of film or media, or any topic approved by the instructor. To prepare you for this task, I will be requiring every student to meet with me for 10-15 minutes during Week 11.
One letter grade will be deducted each day that any work is late. (A to B for one day late, A to C for two days late.)
- 15% Attendance & Participation
- 5% Blog Postings
- 10% Essay 0
- 15% Essay 1
- 20% Essay 2
- 35% Final Essay
UNIT 1: BUILDING BLOCKS
WEEK 1: The Classics
- Citizen Kane
- Sunset Boulevard
- The Searchers
- Man With A Movie Camera (Selections) (In Class)
- Metropolis (Selections) (In Class)
- John Berger: Ways Of Seeing (Excerpts)
- Roland Barthes: The Rhetoric Of The Image
- Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigori Aleksandrov: A Statement
WEEK 2: The New “Classics”
- Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man (Selections)
- Peter Biskind: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (Introduction, Chapter 1)
- Jean Luc Godard: Supermann: Man Of The West (Optional)
- Pauline Kael: Bonnie And Clyde (Excerpted) (Optional)
ESSAY 0 DUE FRIDAY AT 5 PM
WEEK 3: Musicals, Part 1: I’m Ready For Love
- Michel Chion: The Voice in Cinema (Selections)
WEEK 4: Musicals, Part 2: The Official Movie Soundtrack
- Anahid Kassabian: Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music (Selections)
WEEK 5: This City Of Angels Loves You Deeply But Hates You Personally
- Jenny Price: THIRTEEN WAYS OF SEEING NATURE IN LOS ANGELES
- Sam McPheeters: Repo Man: A Lattice Of Coincidence (Optional)
ESSAY 1 DUE FRIDAY AT 5 PM
UNIT 2: FILMMAKERS IN RESISTANCE
WEEK 6 & 7: Making New Waves OR Imported Goods Are Better Than Imported Bads
- The 400 Blows
- Touki Bouki
- La Noire De…
- The Hour Of The Furnaces (Selections) (In Class)
- Soy Cuba (Selections) (In Class)
- Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino: Toward A Third Cinema
- Dziga Vertov: We: Variant Of A Manifesto
- Stuart Hall: Cultural Identity And Diaspora
WEEK 8: Vaginal Power
WEEK 9 & 10: Letters From Home OR The Traveller Roams, The Exile Flees
- Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
- Powwow Highway
- Chan Is Missing
- Brother From Another Planet
- Do The Right Thing
- Tongues Untied (Selections) (In Class)
- Elayne Rapping: Aliens, Mad Dogs, Nomads And Road Warriors
- Edward Said: Culture And Imperialism (Selections)
- bell hooks: Eating The Other
ESSAY 2 DUE FRIDAY AT 5 PM
UNIT 3: WHERE ARE WE NOW?
WEEK 11: Michael Bay Is Drugging The Masses
- Transformers 4: Age Of Extinction
- Bad Boys 2
- The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology (Optional)
The Pervert's Guide To Cinema (Optional)
- Read Independently For Final Project
- Slavoj Žižek: The Plague Of Fantasies (Optional)
WEEK 12: Walking The Dogme 95 OR Is It Really Independent If It Has Ryan Gosling?
- Continue Reading Independently For Your Final Project
WEEK 13: Beyond The Televisual
Note: This week's class discussion and screenings will be decided by a combination of current events and a class vote.
- Limor Shifman: An Anatomy Of A Youtube Meme (Optional)
- Tiziana Terranova: Free Labor: Producing Culture For The Digital Economy (Optional)
Yasmin Ibrahim: Instagramming Life: Banal Imaging And The Poetics Of The Everyday (Optional)
FINAL ESSAY DUE MONDAY OF FINALS WEEK AT 5 PM