This course offers a broad survey of world cinema from 1950 to the present. While we will mostly examine narrative/fiction films, we may occasionally discuss other modes of cinematic expression, from experimental film, to animation, to documentary. This course examines transformations and continuities in cinematic style and structure across multiple cultures, technologies, and distribution platforms, as well as how cinematic works can function as a kind of barometer for the social and cultural transformations transpiring during the time of their production, distribution, and consumption.
Your humble guide: Dr. Jay McRoy
Office: CA 228
Office Hours: T 12:00 pm - 2:00pm
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: www.thejaymcroy.com
Class Participation (10%)
3 Critical Microthemes/Brief Essays (approx. 700 words - 30% each). A successful microtheme presents an argument about an assigned topic or question as clearly, precisely, and concisely as possible. Do not worry about elaborate introductions or conclusions. Successful microthemes "get right to the point" and support your claims with evidence drawn from the film under consideration. Although microthemes are very short, it is difficult to write one effectively in a single draft. Given the rigid word limit, narrowing your microtheme to between 500-700 words may prove challenging. NB - At the bottom of this page, I have posted a list of potential discussion questions/critical writing prompts for each of the films we will explore in class. These prompts may be very useful for generating ideas. Lastly, if you are new to writing critically about cinema or simply want to further refine your skills, I can think of few better texts than Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing about Film; this work is a fantastic resource and is readily available used on-line.
Grading Scale for Critical Engagement Papers:
Microthemes will be graded according to the following criteria:
A or A- (Excellent): These papers consist of a thoughtful and carefully articulated thesis statement supported by well-organized paragraphs that make use of solid examples or textual citations. “A” papers demonstrate advanced critical thinking skills, highlighted by the presence of keen, thorough, and informed insights. In addition, ideas must be developed logically. The writing should be crisp, with active sentences, and contain no grammatical errors.
B (Quite Good): These papers contain a solid thesis statement supported with well-organized paragraphs that elaborate with detail upon your major points. These papers demonstrate strong critical thinking skills and have only a few grammar and syntax problems. In other words, these papers are solid works by engaged thinkers and writers.
C (Solid Effort): These papers meet the requirements for the assignment. They contain a discernable main point and provide supporting paragraphs. Grammar and syntax problems exist to the extent that they risk alienating your readers at times or obscuring what you intend to say.
D (Underwhelming): These papers meet some of the requirements for the assignment, but are disorganized and demonstrate minimal effort regarding their construction (including the presentation of the main ideas).
F (Failing): These papers do not meet the requirements for the assignment or fail to convey ideas in a clear and logical manner.
*N.B.: Plus and Minus Grades may also be given (e.g. B+, B-, etc.)
There is nothing wrong with using the words and thoughts of others as long as you acknowledge your debt. In fact, you can frequently strengthen your writing by doing so. However, if you represent the words or ideas of others as if they were your own, then you are plagiarizing. Plagiarism includes: 1) Paraphrasing or copying (without the use of quotation marks) someone else's words without acknowledgment. 2) Using someone else's facts or ideas without acknowledgment. 3) Handing in work for one course that you handed in for credit in another course without the permission of both instructors.
When you use published words, data, or thoughts, you should note their use. We will use MLA Guidelines throughout this course. When you use the ideas of friends or classmates, you should thank them in an endnote (e.g. "I am grateful to my friend so and so for the argument in the third paragraph"). If friends give you reactions but not suggestions, you need not acknowledge that help in print (though it is gracious to do so). Collaboration and using the work of others is the backbone of academia. Plagiarism and academic dishonesty destroys the possibility of working together as colleagues. Therefore, all instances of plagiarism in this class will be addressed with the utmost severity. If you have any questions as to whether something you have written for this class constitutes plagiarism, please see me before handing it in for credit.
This course contains material that relates directly to things that occur in the world. Not all of these things are pleasant, and some viewers may find certain images, sounds, or ideas upsetting, controversial, or offensive.
This class includes material related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and critical race theory.
1/31: Introduction & Italian Neorealism
Watch in Class: UMBERTO D
2/7: The French New Wave
Read "Breathless Then and Now"
Watch in Class: BREATHLESS
2/14: Ingmar Bergman
Read "The Persistence of Persona"
Watch in Class: PERSONA
2/21: The New German Cinema
Read "Ali, Fear Eats the Soul: All that Fassbinder Allows"
Watch in Class: ALI, FEAR EATS THE SOUL
2/28: Indian Cinema
Read "Charulata: Calm Without, Fire Within"
Watch in Class: CHARULATA
MICROTHEME #1 DUE
3/7: Postwar Japanese Cinema
Read "Sansho the Bailiff: The Lessons of Sansho"
Watch in Class: SANSHO THE BAILIFF
3/14: African Cinema
Read "Black Girl: Self, Possessed"
Watch in Class: BLACK GIRL
3/21: NO CLASS - SPRING BREAK
3/28: New American Cinema
Read: "Killer of Sheep" by Chris Robe
Watch in Class: KILLER OF SHEEP
4/4: Chinese Cinema
Read: "In the Mood for Love: Haunted Heart"
Watch in Class: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Available in the Library and on HBO Max)
MICROTHEME #2 DUE
4/11: Danish Cinema
Read: "Breaking the Waves: Breaking the Rules"
Watch in Class: BREAKING THE WAVES
4/18: Iranian Cinema
Read: "A Video from Tehran: It's Not What It Isn't, but What It Is"
Watch in Class: THIS IS NOT A FILM
4/25: Russian Cinema
Read: Mirror: "All is Immortal"
Watch in Class: MIRROR
5/2: Mexican Cinema
Read: "After Darkness, An Impressionistic Light"
Watch in Class: POST TENEBRAS LUX
MICROTHEME #3 Due in my office by 5:00 pm on Tuesday May 9th
Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica, 1952)
Explain how Umberto D (De Sica, 1952) conforms to the stylistic conventions of Italian Neo-Realism. As you respond, focus on one or two brief sequences that best illustrate this particular aesthetic.
Upon its release, Umberto D (De Sica, 1952) was criticized in Italy by the film critic Giulio Andreotti and other members of the Christian Democratic Party, who found the film to be "slandering Italy abroad" by "washing dirty linen in public." Of what social classes, institutions, or ideologies is Umberto D critical? Be very detailed in your response, focusing on specific scenes or sequences to illustrate your point.
Many critics of Umberto D (De Sica, 1952) have focused on how De Sica engages cinematically with time and shot duration as a means of revealing something "honest" and "truthful" about the way people experience their daily lives. Select one or two sequences that stand out to you as remarkable in their representation of time/duration and explain why De Sica may have found including such sequences as crucial for the particular narrative he is telling.
Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959)
Consider the many ways that Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) plays with, comments upon, and violates Hollywood conventions in terms of genre, mise-en-scene, and editing (jump cuts). What does Godard accomplish through these references and deviations?
Discuss the significance of the narrative digressions in Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) - e.g. the news conference at Orly, etc. Explain how these digressions may function in relation to some of the central narrative's major themes?
Where do our sympathies and points of identification lie in Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959)? With Michel or Patricia? With both? With neither? How might the film's cinematography and editing inform our identification with characters?
Many film critics argue that the history of film can be divided into two periods: Before Breathless and after Breathless. What might such a statement mean? How does Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) reflect the time and place in which it was made? What aspects resonate as especially innovative or modern?
Jean-Luc Godard once remarked about Breathless (1959): "Although I felt ashamed of it at one time, I do like Breathless very much, but now I see where it belongs - alongside Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was Scarface." With which of the texts Godard mentions do you see Breathless as most resembling and why?
Discuss the ending of Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959). How do the film's final moments function in relation to recurring motifs and/or major themes explored throughout the work's entire running time? Cite specific examples.
Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
Discuss Ingmar Bergman's cinematic style in Persona (1966). How does he make this largely two-person drama compelling? In the process, consider is alternation of long shots and close ups, his exploration of tonalities of black and white, his sparse use of non-diegetic music, his revisitation of crucial motifs, etc.
Discuss the motif of "masks" and/or the theme of "masking" in Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966).
What do you make of Persona's (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) opening sequence, with its images of a film projector, silent film footage, Christ's passion, the young boy and the morphing faces, etc.? Why do references the film's materiality play such an important role in the film, returning at several key moments?
Explore the relationship between Elisabet and Alma in Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966). How does this relationship change over the course of the film? Who exploits whom? Who "becomes" whom? Why are their faces juxtaposed at one point near the end of the film?
Explain how Gothic motifs inform Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966)? Why might Bergman have elected to include such conceits in the film? With what larger theme (or themes) or idea might these images intersect.
Discuss the motif of hands in Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966). How does this motif function in relation to the film's larger themes or ideas?
Discuss Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966) as a meta-cinematic work that aims to deconstruct the art of narrative.
Why might Ingmar Bergman have elected to title this film Persona? How does it relate to the film's narrative and thematic content? What does this film suggest about identity, the roles we play, and self we imagine ourselves to be? What does the film suggest about the function of art?
Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) examines oppression and emotional violence. From what social and cultural spaces does this oppression towards Ali and Emmi originate? Are all of the oppressions external to the film's central couple? How might we understand Ali and Emmi as inflicting their own internal oppression and emotional violence upon one another? Discuss Fassbinder's strategic use of mise-en-scene/cinematic staging in Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). How, and to what ultimate purpose, does Fassbinder frame the action through the use vertical and horizontal forms (like columns, pipes, windows, door frames, etc.) to divide the characters and visually establish power relations? Select a specific scene (or two) that stand out in this regard and discuss how the shots are intended to impact the audience. Discuss Fassbinder's strategic use of wide shots to amplify the central couple's isolation from their immediate society in Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). Select a specific scene (or two) that stand out in this regard and discuss how the shots are intended to impact the audience. In Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974), Fassbinder's consideration of racism is, like racism itself, far more complicated than it initially appears. Does Fassbinder's film offer any avenues for hope? What social or cultural dynamics allow for/facilitate the emergence or perpetuation of racist attitudes? Charulata (Ray, 1964) Discuss how Charulata (Ray, 1964) explores the role of women in modern society. To what extent is Charulata, as an educated Indian woman, expected to conform to a restricted domestic role? How are her intellectual and creative independence variably encouraged or discouraged throughout the course of the narrative? Discuss how Charulata (Ray, 1964) investigates the limits of language as a mode of discourse/communication between humans. How might Ray's film suggest that language betrays us, ultimately limiting the potential of interpersonal communication? What ideas and/or emotions get expressed or fail to be conveyed, and why? Select one of Charulata's (Ray, 1964) central characters and explain how Ray's cinematic style impacts what we learn about them. In the process, consider Ray's strategic use of mise-en-scene, including how and when he moves his camera, how he aligns the spectator's perspective with that of the characters', and how his editing impacts the action's flow and rhythm. Select one brief sequence from Charulata (Ray, 1964) and analyze how shot composition, camera movement, and editing come together to create a particularly cinematic moment. Discuss the Charulata's (Ray, 1964) closing scene, explaining in detail how Ray's directorial choices inform your understanding of the film's culminating action/encounter. Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954) Kenji Mizoguchi is often described as a filmmaker with a profound empathy for his victimized female characters. Discuss the depiction of Zushio's mother and of Anju, Zushio's sister. in Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954). How does Mizoguchi's filmmaking style guide us as we respond to the dimensions of their plight? In other words, how do we come to identify with them (or not)? Explain how Mizoguchi uses sound in the form of either the soundtrack, or in the form of score music and/or specific musical cues in Sansho the Bailiff (1954). Carefully and critically dissect particular scene or sequences in detail as you illustrate your point. Discuss how Kenji Mizoguchi lenses natural landscapes in Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954). How does he position his characters (figures) in relation to these landscapes to create moments of emotional expression? Explain the significance of the film's mise-en-scene in these moments, using a close reading of a specific scene or sequence to illustrate your point(s). Discuss how Kenji Mizoguchi's long take aesthetic, coupled with a very mobile camera, functions as both a dominant formal strategy, as well as a means of engaging thematic or emotional depths, in Sansho the Bailiff (1954). Black Girl (Sembene, 1966) Compare Diouana's life before and after she moves to France. What is she like at the beginning of the film? What does she hope for? What is her life like in Dakar and how does it change when she moves to France? How, and why, does Diouana's personality change during her time in France? Describe the French family who employ Diouana. Are they a happy family? Why or why not? How do the parents treat one another? How do they treat Diouana? What is the family's relationship to Senegal and Senegalese culture? How does their connection to Senegal inform their relationship with Diouana? Where do you see children in this film? What kind of children do you see? What lessons do you think these children are learning from the adults around them? Describe the professional and personal relationships between Diouana and her employers. What does the family expect from Diouana? What does Diouana expect from the family? Is this a fair relationship? What role do race, class, and nationality play in enforcing the power dynamics between Diouana and her employers? Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl was made in 1966, but in many ways it remains relevant today. What do you think has changed since the 1960s in the experience of African immigrants to France? What has remained the same?Are there parallels with the experience of immigrants to the United States? Describe the sound in the film. What kind of dialogue do you hear? What is the effect of hearing Diouana’s thoughts? What does her voice sound like, compared with the other voices in the film? When do you hear music and what does it sound like? What role do you think music plays in telling this story?
What is the symbolism of the mask that Diouana gives to her employers and that the boy wears in the final scene? What symbols and images of African culture appear in the film? What role do you think these symbols play in telling the film’s story? In what sense might one go so far as to argue that the mask is the central character in Black Girl? What do you think are fillmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s views on postcolonial Senegalese politics? How does he express his views in the film? Do you think this lm has an underlying message, or is it simply telling a story?
Killer of Sheep (Burnett, 1978)
Discuss Killer of Sheep's visual and narrative style. How do the images and plot points inform each other? Around what major events does Burnett's film develop, and in what ways does this strategy adhere to or violate the dominant paradigm of Hollywood cinema?
Killer of Sheep is frequently described as having a "Blues aesthetic."mWhat do you make of this description? How does music function in this film?
What role do children play in Killer of Sheep?
Burnett saw Killer of Sheep as a corrective of sorts to the way African Americans were depicted in US cinema, especially Hollywood and Blaxploitation films. How does Burnett depict his characters' daily lives? To what extent do they forge (or fail to maintain) meaningful connections with one another?
In his review of Killer of Sheep, the critic Dave Kehr described Stan as both an "executioner" and a "victim." What do you make of this assessment? How do the scenes in the slaughterhouse relate to the rest of the film?
Discuss the use of non-professional actors and the impact on the realism of Killer of Sheep.
Compare and contrast the representation of masculinity in Killer of Sheep to the typical Hollywood portrayal of men.
Discuss the role of the main character of Stan and his relationship with his wife and children in Killer of Sheep.
Assess the influence of Killer of Sheep on the development of independent cinema and its impact on the representation of marginalized communities in film.
Analyze the themes of family and community in Killer of Sheep and its impact on the film's overall message.
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
Discuss the relationship of sound and image in this film. For instance, consider the opening (credit) sequence. How does the combination of images and music (Hitchcock composer Bernard Herman [Vertigo and Psycho] did the score) prepare us for the film to come? How does Bickle’s voice over narration accompany the images of New York City? What kind of portrait does this paint of the city? Of Travis Bickle?
Travis Bickle is one of the most memorable characters to appear in 1970s film. Discuss his character in terms of complexity and development. What does he want? What motivates him? Of all the jobs Travis could have had, why did he choose driving a cab? Why does this work well for this film? To a 1976 audience, there would be no doubt that Travis is a Vietnam Vet. What clues are there to make us come to that conclusion? How does his vet status fit in with the film's overall themes of alienation and despair? In what way(s) do your feelings towards Travis change as the film progresses?
Travis is drawn to two women, Betsy and Iris. What does each represent for him? Discuss them and their appeal for Travis and what they reveal about him?
Discuss the image of politics and politicians that we get in the film.
Discuss the scene involving the Martin Scorsese character and his wife's silhouette. Why is this scene important to the film as a whole? What other scenes stand out to you the most? What do you notice about the visuals--lighting, camerawork, imagery?
What do you make of the ending? What are we to think of Travis Bickle at the end of the film?
In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000) Discuss Wong Kar-Wai's visual style in In the Mood for Love (2000). In the process, explain the relationship between his visual approach and the film's narrative form and content. How does Won Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) depict time and its passage, both perceived and actual. Why does he employ the particular strategies (e.g. cinematic staging, wardrobe, the manipulation of film speed) when he does? In what sense do the characters occupy a "timeless" realm, and in what sense are they part of a specific historical moment? Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) is as much about what we don't see (or barely see) as it is about what we are overtly shown. Indeed, as Ms. Su states: "You can see a lot if you pay attention." What elements does Wong Kar-Wai purposefully elide, and why might he have chosen to present his narrative in this fashion. In classical Hollywood cinema, editing is largely valued if it remains "invisible." How does Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) relate to this practice? Select one or two key moments from the film during which you became particularly aware of the film's editing style and explain how it/they impact the film's overall meaning(s). Explain how Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) integrates sound and image. Choose one or two key scenes/sequences and demonstrate how these two tracks work together to convey meaning or emotion. Discuss the relationship between physical spaces (the film's representation of 1960s Hong Kong) and the characters' psychic and inter-personal spaces in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000)? In other words, how does geography impact behavior? How might this tension inform the film's theme of intimacy and alienation? How does the film's visual and aural tapestry assist in this theme's development? Discuss the motifs of repetition and rehearsal in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000). How do these pre-occupations contribute to the film on a thematic level?
Breaking the Waves (von Trier, 1996)
How does the motif of sacrifice play out in the characters of Bess and Jan in Breaking the Waves?
How does the film explore themes of faith, morality, and love?
In what ways does the setting of a remote Scottish island community contribute to the film's thematic explorations?
How does the film challenge traditional gender roles and expectations through the character of Bess?
Discuss the role of the oil rig workers in the film and how they function thematically and metaphorically.
In what ways does Breaking the Waves ultimately question the nature of God and the meaning of faith?
How does the film depict the power dynamics between Bess and the men in her life, and what does it say about patriarchal society?
How does the film utilize symbolism and imagery to convey its themes and motifs?
Discuss the role of sexuality in the film and how it relates to the characters' struggles with faith, morality, and love?
This is Not a Film (Panahi, 2012) Explain how Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film (2011) engages the intersection between fiction and non-fiction/documentary filmmaking. How does Panahi's particular representation of reality explore themes like isolation, community, perseverance, and "place"? The title of Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film (2011) establishes an important question: what constitutes a "film," a "filmmaker," an "author," and a "director"? How does Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film (2011) address these ideas? What does this work suggest about the relationship between an artist and her art? How does Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film (2011) operate as a mode of aesthetic and social resistance?
In what ways does the film explore the relationship between art and politics?
How does the film use the concept of confinement to convey its themes?
What role does the director's self-reflection play in the film and what themes does it represent?
How does the film use the concept of rebellion to convey its themes?
Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1975)
How does Tarkovsky use the concept of memory in Mirror?
In what ways does the film explore the relationship between the past and present?
How does the film use imagery and symbolism to convey its themes?
In what ways can we understand the film's structure as "poetic"? In what ways does the film convey poetic language (both written/spoken and visual)?
What role does the mother character play in the film and what themes does she represent?
How does Tarkovsky use the concept of time in Mirror?
In what ways does the film explore the relationship between the individual and society?
Hw does the film use the motif of the mirror to convey its themes?
How does the film use the motif of water to convey its themes?
In what ways does the film exlore the relationship between reality and illusion?
Post Tenebras Lux (Reygadas, 2013) Discuss the possible meaning(s) of the title, Post Tenebras Lux (Reygadas, 2012). As you do, explain how specific scenes (or series of scenes) contribute to, or perhaps illustrate, this/these meaning(s). Discuss Post Tenebras Lux's unconventional narrative structure. Why might Reygadas have elected to tell this story in such a fashion? Of what other kinds of "storytelling" (think of "storytelling" in its most expansive sense) does this narrative remind you? Explore the family at the center of Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux (2012). What do you make of the complex dynamics between members of similar, and different, generations. What tensions or conflicts are present? What continuities do you notice? What motifs and themes emerge throughout the course of this strange, lyrical narrative? How might we understand Reygadas' film as a work concerned with sensation, memory, dreams, vision, imagination? Select and analyze a single scene or sequence that stands out to you as especially striking, unusual, troubling, or memorable. How does the scene relate to the central family's story? How does the scene work thematically? Despite Post Tenebras Lux (2012) being booed at the Cannes Film Festival (a fate that has strangely befallen many works now considered masterpieces), Carlos Reygadas walked away with the award for best director. How does Reygadas direct his audience to view specific scenes or sequences from a very deliberate/particular perspective? Discuss Post Tenebras Lux's (Reygadas, 2012) visual style. How do the film's optical effects impact our understanding (emotional or otherwise) of the film's action?