HISTORY & CRITICISM
Aesthetics of Gaming
An analysis of videogames as an art form, through philosophy, history, and cultural theory. Topics include the nature of games and their function in society, the relationship of gaming to cinema and other arts, the depiction of gender, race, national identity and war, theories of game design, ludology versus narratology in game studies, “serious games,” game worlds and virtual reality, videogame modification, machinima , 8-bit and artist-made games. Readings include Wittgenstein, Winnicott, Huizinga, Callois, McLuhan, Jenkins, Nakamura, Dibbell, Aarseth, Juul, Frasca, Poole, Atkins, Manovich, Bogost, Flangan and Galloway.
American Film Comedy 1920-45
The course will devote itself to an in-depth study of a remarkable period when American narrative cinema produced a number of enduring comic films, many of which still serve as models for contemporary practitioners. The works to be screened bridge the medium’s transition from silence to sound. We will investigate the two undisputed masters of silent comedy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and take a look at a number of worthwhile secondary figures of the same era, including Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon and Marion Davies. We will begin our study of sound era films by looking at the works of Mae West, W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, and then trace the development of the so-called screwball comedy throughout the thirties, culminating in the forties films of director Preston Sturges. Recurrent themes of the course will be a theoretical investigation into the nature of comedy itself, as well as the powerful role that classic theatrical form plays in shaping a cinematic counterpart. With respect to the former we will turn to Sigmund Freud among other writers; with respect to the latter, we will read a few pertinent comic plays by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Moliere, et al. Two required essays. Open to juniors and seniors, preferably with a background in film or theater.
Auteur Studies: Hitchcock, von Sternberg, Powell
In this seminar, we will undertake a comparative study of major directors, with the focus and theme changing each time the course is offered. This time, the course will be oriented around three European-born directors who began in the silent era: Alfred Hitchcock, Josef von Sternberg, and Michael Powell. Each filmmaker returned to the same genres and forms repeatedly over the course of careers lasting for several decades and each mobilized the unique resources and production conditions of the commercial film industries of their countries to make deeply personal statements. Special attention will be paid to questions of film style and to the relationship with Symbolism, Expressionism, and fin de siècle aestheticism. Key films by each director – and by related figures such as Luis Buñuel, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol – will be studied using 35mm prints. We will read a range of relevant criticism, along with historical material and literary works by Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Pierre Louÿs. Upper-college students who have taken relevant courses in film or art history will have priority.
Auteur Studies: Hou Hsiao-hsien and East Asian Cinema
Cross-listed: Asian Studies In this seminar, we will look closely at the work of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, whose subtly nuanced films are remarkable for their formal sophistication and their precise observation of everyday experience. By fusing multiple forms of artistic tradition with a uniquely cinematic approach to space and time, Hou has produced a body of work that, through its stylistic originality and historical gravity, opens up new possibilities for the medium. Special attention will be paid to Hou’s treatment of history, to questions of film style, and to the relationship between his work and that of other filmmakers. The course is synchronized with an international retrospective coordinated through the Center for Moving Image Arts, and we will study all of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films as well as works by directors such as Edward Yang, Fei Mu, Zhang Yimou, Jia Zhangke, Yasujiro Ozu, Hirokazu Koreeda, Robert Bresson, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Olivier Assayas. Grades based on in-class discussion, short writing assignments, and a final research essay.
Auteur Studies: The Legacy of Robert Bresson
Cross-listed: French Studies In this seminar, we will undertake a comparative study of major directors, with the focus and theme changing each time the course is offered. This time, the primary subject is French filmmaker Robert Bresson, whose rich body of work has become a paradigm for international art cinema. Among other things, we will examine Bresson’s relationship to his contemporaries and his influence on subsequent generations, with a special focus on film style, film sound, cinematic adaptation, and artistic representations of gesture and the human figure. In addition to studying all thirteen of Bresson’s features, we will watch films by such wide-ranging directors as Carl Theodor Dreyer, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, Chantal Akerman, Martin Scorsese, Michael Haneke, the Dardenne brothers, Kumar Shahani, and Mani Kaul. We will read a range of relevant criticism, along with historical material and literary works by Georges Bernanos, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy. Grades based on in-class discussion, short writing assignments, and a final research essay. Upper-college students who have taken courses in film criticism and history will have priority.
Cross-listed: Art History This course will offer an intensive exploration of the manifestations and permutations of Romanticism in cinema from the silent era to the present. Topics considered include the development of Romantic thought; the relationship between film and the other arts; the impact of nineteenth century aesthetic paradigms on twentieth and twenty-first century film practices; and the changing meanings of Romantic tropes and iconography in different historical moments. The course will be synchronized with a Center for Moving Image Arts program that will feature extensive retrospectives of work by Jean-Luc Godard and Werner Herzog. We will also carefully analyze films by directors such as F.W. Murnau, Abel Gance, Frank Borzage, King Vidor, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopoulos, Jacques Rivette, Andrei Tarkovsky, Manoel de Oliveira, Terrence Malick, and Lars von Trier. Grades based on in-class discussion, short writing assignments, and a final research essay.
Contemporary Narrative Film
An open-ended, investigative seminar into a select group of prominent, narrative filmmakers who are still active and whose international reputation has emerged within the last twenty-five or so years. A special emphasis will be placed on those artists whose work presents a particular challenge to or innovation in narrative form per se, to the extent that as they approach a kind of visual poetry, they place difficult demands upon the viewer to be a creative collaborator. The list of film screenings may be augmented or altered by current releases in the fall, or student interest as the course progresses, but it will certainly include films by the following: Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Abbas Kiarostami,Aleksandr Sokurov, Peggy Ahwesh, Claire Denis, Guy Maddin, Hou Hsaio-hsien, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Peter Greenaway and Chantal Akerman. Two written projects: one short and one long. Limited course enrollment: Juniors and Seniors only; preference will be given to those students with background in film criticism and history.
This seminar explores the history, theory and practical concerns of film curating, both in and out of the context of the art world. As a way of investigating the range of possibilities for modes of exhibition, the course will look at pre-cinematic technologies of the projected image; various models employed in the silent era; early alternatives to the Hollywood system, including cine-clubs, “small cinemas,” road shows, and exploitation; later examples such as cinematheques, film festivals, and microcinemas; expanded cinema and projection performance; different attempts to introduce film and video into spaces traditionally devoted to visual art; and the role of collections and archives. Individual case studies will include the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Library, Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16, Anthology Film Archives, the Collective for Living Cinema, the Whitney’s New American Filmmakers series and the exhibition Into the Light, and contemporary developments. Coursework will include a research and analysis paper on one example of 20th century film exhibition, a detailed technical evaluation of a screening or exhibition, and a final curatorial project.
Mass Media and Its Discontents
Cross-listed: Science, Technology & Society. Beginning with the advent of the printing press and continuing through the development of radio, cinema, television and the internet, artists have worked in a culture increasingly dominated by mass media. This course will investigate how the reality of mass media has informed the ways we think about art, particularly the art of the moving image, from the early 20th century to today. Topics under consideration: popular culture, folk culture and mass culture; the aesthetic and political consequences of mechanical and electronic reproduction; the relationship of the avant-garde to kitsch, camp and trash; lowbrow, highbrow and middlebrow culture; fame and celebrity; appropriation; the artisinal and handmade as a reaction to the mass reproduction of images. Writers will include Walter Benjamin, Sigfried Kracauer, T.W. Adorno, Clement Greenberg, Dwight Macdonald, Susan Sontag, Raymond Williams, Marshall McLuhan, Andy Warhol, Guy Debord, Stuart Hall, Richard Dyer, PierreBourdieu, Martha Rosler, Nol Carroll, Cintra Wilson, Olia Lialina and Hito Steyerl.
Propaganda in Film
Cross-listed: Human Rights This course will be about the use of cinema in political propaganda. The idea is not only to introduce such landmark films as Casablanca (1942), or Ivan the Terrible (1944), but also to explore the nature of propaganda, how it differs in various political systems and periods, how it relates to literature, and how our perceptions change over time; the propaganda of one place and time can become pure art in another. Students should acquire some knowledge of cinema through this course, but also of history and politics. Questions will be raised about the confusion of entertainment and information in our own time, assumptions about the role of cinema in democracies, and about our definitions of propaganda in art. The list of filmmakers will range from W.H. Griffiths to Oliver Stone, and Asian films will be shown as well as Western ones.
Cross-listed: Science, Technology and Society. A critical examination of science fiction film from the silent era to today, with a special focus on the relationship between science fiction and the avant-garde. Readings include essays by Susan Sontag, Parker Tyler, Annette Michelson, Vivian Sobchak, Jean Baudrillard, and Scott Bukatman, as well as representative fiction by J. G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Hugo Gernsback, Bruce Sterling, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and others. Topics include: visualizing technology, gender and sexuality; alien and robot as human countertype; futurism, utopia and dystopia; Cold War and post-Cold War politics as seen through science fiction; camp and parody; the depiction of consciousness and interior states; abstraction, special effects, and the sublime; counterfactuals and alternative history; the poetics of science fiction language. Past coursework in film is required.
Women in Japanese Cinema: Mothers and Courtisanes
Cross-listed: Asian Studies. Many famous Japanese film directors, from Mizoguchi Kenji to Imamura Shohei, have focussed their work on women. Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956) called himself a feminist. His feminism was not so much political, as almost religious in tone: a worship of women usually sacrificing themselves for the sake of men. Heroines from self-sacrificing mothers and wives to self-sacrificing courtesans have been an essential part of popular drama in Japan for many centuries, perhaps going back to ancient fertility cults. The idea of this course is to introduce some of the great Japanese masterpieces, featuring the lives of women. We will discuss not just the cinematic aspects, however, but concentrate on the role of women in Japanese society, on the changes in women’s rights, sexual roles, and family relations, in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The idea is to give students a sense of history and sociology in a non-Western society through women in the cinema.