Updated: Nov 8
Course Description: This course examines the development of film techniques, visual qualities, genre, theory, and cinematic art from the origins of the medium to around 1950.
Name: Professor Jay McRoy
Office: RITA 228
Office Hours: R 12:00 pm -2:00 pm
Course Guidelines and Expectations: 1) Come to class. 2) Come to class on time. 3) Turn your work in on time. 4) Respect your fellow students.
· Class Attendance & Participation (10%)
· 3 Critical Microthemes (Approximately 700 words - 30% each for 90%)
A successful microtheme presents an argument on a specific topic or question as clearly, precisely, and concisely as possible. Do not worry about elaborate introductions or conclusions. Successful microthemes resemble detailed abstracts or, perhaps more accurately, detailed outlines created in sentence and paragraph form with transition statements linking the main and supporting points of your argument. A successful microtheme includes the following: 1) A brief, 1-2 sentence introduction that includes a thesis statement; 2) Clear supporting paragraphs that provide textual evidence to support your claims; 3) Clear, concise, and thoughtful prose; 4) Double-spacing 5) An argument free of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. Given the rigid word limit, narrowing your microtheme to around 700 words may prove challenging. If you are new to writing critically about film, or if you simply wish to further refine your skills, I can think of few better texts than Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing About Film; this book is a fantastic resource and is readily available on-line in both new and used editions. Plagiarism Statement: The English Department has a very clear statement regarding Plagiarism. It can be found HERE. If you have any questions as to whether something you have written constitutes plagiarism, please see me before submitting it.
Semester Breakdown (In-Class Meetings):
Week One (9/6): Introduction/Cinema's Pioneers
Week Four (9/27): German Expressionism II In-Class Viewing: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (Murnau, 1922)
Week Five (10/4): Soviet Montage I Microtheme #1 Due In-Class Viewing: The Great Train Robbery (Porter, 1903); A Girl and Her Trust, (Griffith, 1912)
Week Six (10/11): Soviet Montage II In-Class Viewing: The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)
Week Seven (10/18): Surrealist Cinema Read: "Surrealism and the Omnipotence of Cinema" by James M. Margin In-Class Viewing: Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929)
Week Ten (11/8): French Poetic Realism/Jean Renoir Microtheme #2 Due
Week Eleven (11/15): Orson Welles Read: "Orson Welles" by Jaime M. Christly In-Class Viewing: Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) Week Twelve (11/22): Alfred Hitchcock Read: "Alfred Hitchcock" by Ken Mogg In-Class Viewing: Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943)
Week Thirteen (11/29): Italian Neorealism
In-Class Viewing: Rome, Open City (1945)
***The final papers are due in my office (RITA 228) by 5:00 pm on 12/13*** ________________________
City Lights (Chaplin, 1931) According to film critic James Berardinelli, Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931) is "the quintessential silent film - sound would have ruined it." What do you make of this claim? How do Chaplin and Cherrill deploy body language and facial expression to craft their performances and convey emotion?
Discuss the significance of the film's title (City Lights ) and it's subtitle (A Comedy Romance in Pantomime). In Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931), how is the Tramp different after serving his sentence in jail and how is this obvious?
How, and to what ultimate effect, does Charles Chaplin use sound (sound effects, the score) in City Lights (1931)? Discuss the motif of blindness in Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931).
Discuss the role of "the city" in Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931); how does it function?
Discuss the theme of class prejudice in Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931).
How does the Tramp act as a savior character in Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931)? Who does he save and why?
Discuss how Charles Chaplin use flowers symbolically in City Lights (1931).
Discuss City Light's (1931) opening sequence. How does Charles Chaplin establish some of the film's major thematic concerns?
Explore the theme of "misguided senses" in Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931). What do you make of City Light's (1931) closing sequence? Why might Charles Chaplin have elected to end the film as he does?
What makes Charles Chaplin's homeless Tramp such an appealing character? What do you make of his appearance (i.e. the combination of costume and characterization)?
Compare and contrast the comedic stylings of Charles "Charlie" Chaplin with those of Buster Keaton. Use examples from Charles Chaplin's City Lights (1931) and Buster Keaton's "Cops" to illustrate your points. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919) Discuss The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's (Weine, 1919) set design. How does it function as an example of German Expressionist aesthetics? Discuss the character of Dr. Caligari in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919). Is his character static or dynamic? What makes him so compelling? Discuss The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919) as an early contribution to the horror genre. What genre conventions do you recognize? How does the character of Dr. Caligari in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919) function? What larger cultural concerns might this figure reveal? How does the character of Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919) function? What larger cultural concerns might this figure reveal?
Explore how gender roles are challenged and/or reinforced in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919).
Discuss the influence of Gothic art on German Expressionism and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919). What do you make of the title: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919)? What possible meanings might it evoke, and how might these reveal one of the film's major themes? Discuss the use of tinting in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919). In what specific scenes do these early uses of color appear most illustrative of an impactful fusion of film form (tinting) and narrative content (the "action"). Discuss the use of irising in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919). In what specific scenes do these transitions (Irisis are very often "wipes") most impactful and why? Discuss The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's (Weine, 1919) closing sequence. What are the implications - both in terms of the narrative and the film's theme(s). How, and to what ultimate effects/purposes, does Robert Weine depict urban spaces and domestic spaces in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)? In what ways to you see influence of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Weine, 1919) in contemporary cinema? Why do you think German Expressionist aesthetics remain a part of Western cultural landscape?
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (Murnau, 1922) Discuss how F.W. Murnau uses mise-en-scene (i.e. cinematic staging), mechanical distortions (tinting, fast motion cinematography, stop motion cinematography), and cross-cutting (i.e. "creative geography) in Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922) to impact his audience. Discuss the theme of "the double" or doubling in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Which characters most obviously function as "doubles"? Discuss the theme of sex (or sexuality, or sexual repression, or sexual sublimation) and desire in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Discuss the theme of consumption (of goods, property, labor, food, blood, life, death) in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Discuss the theme of pestilence and contagion in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Why would F.W. Murnau describe Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922) as a symphony? In other words, how is Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922) structured like a symphony, with repeated visual motifs, narrative valleys and crescendos, thematic bridges, etc.? Explore the depiction of nature in n F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). How might these natural landscapes function expressionistically. Discuss the Gothic trappings in n F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Discuss the character of Ellen. How does she function as both a character within the film's narrative action? What might her behaviors suggest about some of the larger, thematic concerns in n F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922) Discuss the appearance of the vampire, Count Orlok, in n F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). Why might Murnau have elected to depict the vampire in this fashion? Discuss the use of intertitles in n F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (1922). What literary conventions might Murnau have been attempting to evoke? How to these texts inform our understanding of the narrative's action? "The Odessa Steps" from Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925) Discuss how Sergei Eisenstein orchestrates the famous scene of the massacre on the Odessa Steps with his complex editing. How, and to what ultimate effect, does Eisenstein use metric, rhythmic, tonal, over-tonal, and intellectual montage to create a sequence that uses deliberate contrasts/ collisions (frantic movement - near immobility; high angles and low angles; smaller dramas within a larger drama; traveling shots - fixed shots; patterns of light and dark) for maximum emotional and intellectual impact? The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928) Dziga Vertov's approach to documentary filmmaking, as demonstrated in The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928), seeks to portray everyday human activities as frequently profound and cinematic. Select a sequence from this film and explain how he attempts this. As you write, point out what you feel to be important ideas expressed through the film's editing. Discuss how The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928) investigates the work that goes into creating motion pictures? Cite specific examples to illustrate your points. What do you think Dziga Vertov was trying to say by filming the camera operator and editor? Discuss how The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928) explores the relationship between the spectator and the cinematic spectacle.
The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928) has been described as a kind of experiment in "visual training" designed to prompt reflection upon how we create and consume images. Where do you see this? Is this training surprising, entertaining,...etc.? Are there particularly "spectacular" moments in this film? What makes them "spectacular"? Were there any scenes that were shocking or surprising, overriding your preconceptions of 1920s Soviet Union? Why does Vertov open and close The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 1928) with images of an audience in a cinema? How does this frame relate to the film's content? Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929) Discuss Un Chien Andalou's (Bunuel, 1929) opening sequence. What is accomplished by this scene? What is its effect on the viewer? Is it just there to shock, or does it have additional significance? How do we make sense of Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929), which is composed primarily of irrational, dream-like images? Is there a pattern or a thematic consistency to its narrative? Discuss the various evocations of sexuality and death in Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929). What function do they serve? What might this reveal about human nature? What do you make of the various fetishistuc images (often depicted in close-up) that appear throughout the film, such as the severed hand, the hand with ants running around in it, the death's head moth, and the pianos with dead donkeys on top of them? Commenting on Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929), Luis Bunuel almost seems to be daring audiences to enjoy it when he writes scornfully of "this imbecilic crowd that has bound beautiful or poetic that which, at heart, is nothing more than a desperate, impassioned call to murder." What do you think Bunuel means by this? Is his film beautiful and poetic? Discuss how time and duration are handled in Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929). Cite specific examples to illustrate your point(s). The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
Discuss Carl Th. Dreyer's cinematography in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). When, and to what ultimate effect, does Dreyer use close ups, high angle and low angle shots, and variably balanced compositions? Discuss the radical camera work that punctuates the final sequences of Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)? To what ultimate end are these daring strategies used? Discuss the depiction of Joan of Arc in Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). How does Dreyer attempt to link Joan's passion with Christ's. What do you make of the continual references to Joan's predilection for dressing "male" attire? With which characters are we led to sympathize in Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and what cinematic techniques does Dreyer deploy to guide our emotional responses? What moment in Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) would you consider to be the plot's major turning point and why? What is the film's climactic moment and why? Discuss the set design in In Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). How does this formal element work in relation to the film's larger, thematic concerns? Discuss how Carl Th. Dreyer blends a commitment to Realism and visual experimentation in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Site specific scenes or sequences to illustrate your points. Discuss how Carl Th. Dreyer uses eye line matches (and/or mis-matches) to impact our comprehension of the spaces in which the action transpires, as well as the sentiments of the various characters. How might this kind of cutting prefigure later challenges to conventional cinematic depictions of time and space in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)? From what perspective do we view the film's action? Select a sequence from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and explore how the camera introduces us - as spectators - to the film's world. It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) Discuss the theme of class conflict in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934). Given the social climate in the United States during the 1930s, why might this film have resonated so powerfully with audiences? Discuss the screwball comedy convention of "Courtship by Ordeal" as it relates to Ellen and Peter's burgeoning relationship in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934). The film critic Andrew Sarris once described Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) as a "sex comedy without the sex." What do you make of this assessment? How does Capra work around Hays Code prohibitions regarding the display of physical intimacy on screen? Discuss Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) as a "road movie." What are the connotations of "the road" in US culture? Why might this setting work well for screwball comedies? Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) has been described as an inverted Cinderella narrative. What might such a description mean in the context of the film's action? Discuss Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) as a screwball comedy that, like many screwball comedies, capitalizes upon innovations in synchronized sound recording. Discuss the cinematography in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934). Select one specific sequence or shot and analyze how the mise-en-scene (composition, lighting, depth of field, etc.) contributes to our understanding of the film's action.
Grand Illusion (Renoir, 1937) Explain the significance of the film's title: Grand Illusion (1937). What is the "Grand Illusion"? Is there just one, or are there many "Illusions" that Jean Renoir asks us to consider in the film? Explore one or two of Jean Renoir's long takes in Grand Illusion (1937), analyzing how the camera's movement (and its perpetual reframing of the mise-en-scene). In the process, discuss what directorial decisions are the most impactful and why. Discuss Jean Renoir's use of deep space cinematography in Grand Illusion (1937). What shots or sequences most stand out in this regard, and how does Renoir use this compositional strategy as both a narrative/story-telling conceit and as a thematic device? Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) has been described as a war movie without any conventional battle sequences. Is Grand Illusion a war film? Upon what aspects of war does it focus? Consider how Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) moves between a focuses on individual characters, and a wider view that places these characters within larger webs of social relations based on nationality, ethnicity, class, prisoner of war hierarchies, etc. Choose one of the following relationships and explain how Renoir cinematically conveys the subtleties of these relations: de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein; de Boeldieu and his fellow imprisoned officers; Rosenthal and the other imprisoned men; the escapees Rosenthal and Marechal and the German peasant woman, Elsa; the imprisoned soldiers from different nations; the imprisoned soldiers of different races. Consider Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) in its historical context (it was made in 1937, when the Nazis ruled Germany and World War II was immanent). How might this film's evocation of World War I, its call for a human solidarity that transcends notions of nation and ethnicity, or its vision of the aristocracy giving way beneath an emerging middle class have been troubling for certain audiences of this time? In what way(s) is Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) a film that transcends its historical moment, delivering important ideas to audiences encountering this film in 2023? Discuss the motif of food and eating in Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937). How does food operate? How does it bond or divide characters along nationalist and class lines? How do specific actors in Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) use props to define their characters and suggest potential themes? Is Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) a "pacifist film," as it has so frequently labeled? Consider Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) as a film that wants to warn the world about the fascist threat but cannot do so explicitly because fascism was not a substantive component of World War I. Discuss the importance of the three most conspicuous "couplings" in Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937): de Boeldieu and Rauffenstein; Marechal and Rosenthal; Marechal and Elsa. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) Discuss Citizen Kane's complex narrative structure: a series of intricate flashbacks, not entirely in chronological order. How does the film's structure condition how we understand important narrative events and characters? How do the disparate perspectives ultimately cohere? Discuss Citizen Kane's visual style - the result of a close collaboration between Orson Welles and his cinematographer, Gregg Toland. How does the camera move in this film? What is noteworthy about Welles' use of light and shadow? Discuss Citizen Kane's sound design, specifically exploring the film's use of overlapping sound. Discuss the editing in Citizen Kane (1941). How - and for what ultimate purpose - does Orson Welles use quick cutting to punctuate a sequence? How - and for what ultimate purpose - does Welles use several long takes to convey a scene? Citizen Kane (1941) presents itself as an investigation into the life of its enigmatic main character. How well do we get to know Charles poster Kane? What point of view, or points of view, are presented? How do they work in relation to one another? What special techniques are used to convey particular bits of information tp the reporter and to us, the viewers? Who, or what, is Rosebud? How important is it to know this? Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943) What do you see as a key theme, motif, or idea in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943)? How does Hitchcock use film form to enhance this? How does Hitchcock introduce us to Shadow of a Doubt's Charlies? Why does he elect this particular manner of introducing us to the film's protagonist and antagonist? Why does young Charlie want her uncle to visit? What does this suggest about her character? How does her character transform over the course of Shadow of a Doubt's narrative? How well does Uncle Charlie "fit into" the social and cultural landscape of Santa Rosa? What remarks cause people the most consternation, confusion, or discomfort? Describe the relationship between Charlie and Jack Graham in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943). What function does this relationship play both literally and allegorically? Describe Uncle Charlie's world view in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943). How and why might his character have resonated with audiences? Discuss the two Charlies (Young Charlie and Uncle Charlie) in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943). In what ways are they complimentary? Discuss any Gothic tropes or themes you notice in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943). Compare the depiction of Philadelphia with Santa Rosa in Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943). Why is each environment depicted in the way that it is? Alfred Hitchcock describes Shadow of a Doubt (1943) as his favorite film. Why might he have felt this way? Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, 1950) Consider what this film tells us about Hollywood, about the star system, and about Hollywood's reflection on itself. How cynical or sardonic is the film's viewpoint? To what extent does it also buy into the myths it is criticizing? Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma Desmond, was herself really a star of silent film in the 20s. And Desmond's career is based in many ways upon Swanson's. Swanson in fact worked extensively with Cecil B DeMille, and also made a film with Erich von Stroheim, who appears here as her butler and ex-husband Max. (The von Stroheim film is the one we see a sequence from when Norma watches her old films in her living room). How do these correspondences affect our view of the film? What do you make of Joe Gillis? Why does he stay with Norma as long as he does? What are his stakes in the arrangement? What is the significance of his narrating the film, with extensive voiceovers, from after his own death? Why does Joe send Betty away just before Sunset Boulevard's climactic moments? How - and to what ultimate effect - does Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) combine Gothic and Film Noir motifs? Why might noir film's offer a particularly hospitable terrain for filmmakers looking to capitalize upon Gothic conceits.
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