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Film & Cultural Values (HCOM 452)

Course Information:


Texts and Course Description

Text: David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (4th edition). Additionally, you will read a number of photocopied essays (distributed in class).
One of our main goals this semester is to examine attitudes and assumptions about film. For example, since film is so familiar to us, it is often labeled "entertainment." We assume that it is easier to understand than literature (which is often regarded as "serious" or "art"). In fact, film really is entertaining--and it really is complex. It employs two channels--sound and image--and it is culturally ambiguous, blurring distinctions between art, entertainment, and mass communications. It poses major problems for, but offers new possibilities to, the traditional categories of cultural criticism.
HCOM 452 is an introduction to the reading and comprehension of film as a language and to cinema as an institution. It is divided into three broad units (which are, in turn, divided into smaller sections). In Unit One, we look at film as a medium: both what is specific to it (e.g., editing/montage) and what it shares with other media (such as theater and photography). In Unit Two, we direct our attention to the ways people organize filmic materials into formal systems (e.g., into stories, arguments, and expositions). In Unit Three, we seek to understand how cinema functions as an institution: disseminating ideology, enculturating us.
Since this is an introductory course and since I am well aware that certain types of movies are extremely popular, I assume that you have seen plenty of movies but that you lack a conceptual understanding of cinema (i.e., that your awareness of films far exceeds your vocabulary for describing them). Hence, I hope that you will regard this course as (1) an opportunity to experience a broader range of movies than you are, perhaps, used to seeing, and (2) as an occasion for developing strategies for talking and writing about film in both institutionally sanctioned and creative ways. We will seek to comprehend film by employing an analytical language learned from course readings and practiced in class discussions.
Although we shall attend to historical problems associated with cinema, this course is not organized as a history of the movies. Neither is it a production course: a guide to filmmaking. For although we will not shy away from the technical aspects of film production or resist situating movies in their historical context, our ultimate goal is to learn something about the construction of movies and the role cinema plays in relating individuals to the values and assumptions of their culture. We want to learn how film/cinema "reads and writes" us.

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Requirements

Note: Keep all materials returned to you. Back up your work! Points earned at semester's end divided by possible points X 100 yields your final grade as a percentage.

Exam:
To demonstrate your mastery of concepts examined in Unit I, you will view a number of film clips taken from Citizen Kane and answer "objective" questions about techniques employed in these clips. 100 possible points.

Paper:
Compose a 1000-word paper, demonstrating your ability to apply concepts explored in Unit II of this course. Instructions provided in writing in class. 100 points.

Take-Home Final Exam:
Students will answer four (out of ten) essay questions on a movie chosen by the class. 100 points. Old exams are available to aid in final-exam preparation.

Screenings/Journal:
Students are expected to view and write journal entries (400-500 words) on at least fifteen films (150 pts). Each entry will be assigned a score (max. 10 points).

Class Participation:
Talking about the readings, films and assignments during class discussions is an explicit part of this course, crucial for making it successful and enjoyable. 50 totally subjective points.

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House Keeping and Fine Print

I will show little-to-no toleration in dealing with late work. I will glance at it only to determine whether it merits a grade of "D" or "F." Late work is, by definition, below-average; deadlines are a normal and necessary component of all scholarly and artistic production.
Type or print-out all papers on 8 " X 11" white, smooth-edged paper. Print on one side only, double-space your work, and use 1" margins. Give all papers a title, but do not type this title, your name, my name, or this course's title on a separate cover page. Do not place your work inside an attractive folder. Instead, all of this pertinent information should appear on the first page of your essay (upper right-hand corner). Note: It is a good idea (1) to make a back-up copy of all work that you turn in and (2) to keep all papers that are returned to you.
If you miss class three or more times, you will receive a failing grade--unless you drop the course. In one sense, there is no such thing as an excused absence. A missed class means missed material. If you are unable to attend class, perhaps because of illness or a death in your family, that situation will be dealt with individually. Never, when you miss class, ask me if you missed anything. There are no make-up assignments; any missed notes should be copied from another student.

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Outline and Schedule


I. UNIT ONE: FILM AS A MEDIUM

A. FILM AS COLLAGE

WEEK 1
AUG 22 Introduction; B&T, "The Work of Film Production"

WEEK 2
AUG 29 B&T, "Editing"

WEEK 3
SEP 5 B&T, "Sound in the Cinema"

B. FILM AS PHOTOGRAPHY

WEEK 4
SEP 12 B&T, "Cinematographic Properties"

WEEK 5
SEP 19 B&T, "Cinematographic Properties"

WEEK 6
SEP 26 B&T, "Mise-en-Scene"B&T

WEEK 7
OCT 3 B&T, "Mise-en-Scene"B&T


II UNIT TWO: FILM FORM

A. FILM AS EXPOSITION, ARGUMENT, & EXPERIMENT

WEEK 8
OCT 10 EXAMINATION; B&T, "The Significance of Film Form"

WEEK 9
OCT 17 B&T, "Nonnarrative Formal Systems"

B. FILM AS STORY TELLING

WEEK 10 B&T, "Narrative as a Formal System"
OCT 24


III. UNIT THREE: CINEMA AS AN INSTITUTION

A. INTERPOLATING THE VIEWER

WEEK 11
OCT 31 Pratt, "Natural Narrative" (not in text)

WEEK 12
NOV 7 B&T on Range & Depth

B. INTERPOLATING THE CULTURE

WEEK 13 Werner, "Camcorder" (not in text)
NOV 14

WEEK 14
NOV 21 Comolli & Narboni (not in text)

WEEK 15
NOV 28 Thanksgiving:Class Dismissed

WEEK 16 Paper and all Journal Entries Due
DEC 5

Final Exam: Time to be announced.

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