An Introduction to Film Genres by Lester Friedman, David Desser, Sarah Kozloff, Martha P. Nochimson and Stephen Prince. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014
PURPOSE AND LEARNING OBJECTIVE:
Introduction to Film qualifies as a course that partially fulfills a student’s LACC requirement. By the end of the course, students will:
1) be familiar with film as an art form that reflects the cultural context in which it was created, primarily in the United States
2) be familiar with different film genres and how each is distinct
3) have seen examples of different genres and filmmaking techniques through watching film clips and full length feature films.
This course cannot cover all genres in film. It simply would take too much time. For instance, full-length animated features (e.g., Minions, Frozen, Inside Out), documentaries and comic book action hero films are genres that will not be covered individually but may be discussed relative to their influence and continued growth.
Please keep in mind that the class is significantly longer than most other classes. You may need to take a break while the class is in progress. Please do so as quietly as possible so as to not disturb your classmates. Cell phones should be turned off or put in airplane mode at the beginning of class. Do not text in class. Do not take calls in class. You may use laptops or tablets for the purpose of taking notes. The class time extends into the dinner hour. Feel free to bring light snacks and drinks but please bring only those consumables that will not create a mess and properly dispose of containers at the end of class.
RESPECT AND ACCEPTANCE:
Western Oregon University is dedicated to providing an open learning and working environment for all of its citizens. WOU is strongly committed to Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity in both policy and in spirit. The University will not tolerate harassment against any member of the campus community.
You will be seeing films throughout the course. Some of the films have unsettling images that are violent or sexual and may contain language that is raw and uncensored. The films that contain such images or language will be treated seriously. No alternative films will be granted. You should consider another class if you feel films of this nature might disturb you.
CLASS OPERATION AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES:
• The work you do outside of class related to this course is meant to prepare you for discussion and lecture in-class.
• Films are an important art form, just like theatre, music, dance, painting, sculpture and other creative expressions.
• One can have an emotional response to a film. This course is meant to help you learn how to reflect on that response and develop an informed intellectual response.
• You have particular responsibilities related to the course:
1) Complete the reading assignments in the textbook.
2) Study the PowerPoint slides that are posted on Moodle. Much of that material is based in the textbook. Be sure to view the film clips linked in the PowerPoint slides.
3) Study and know the filmmaking terms that are included at the conclusion of each PowerPoint.
4) Each PowerPoint will include discussion questions that are taken from the end of each chapter. Review them and be ready to offer comments based on those questions during class.
5) Watch the films that are shown in class and be ready to offer comments and observations about them.
6) Take a quiz at the end of class. BRING A SCANTRON ANSWER SHEET TO EVERY CLASS BEGINNING MONDAY, JANUARY 11.
• You will write two response papers to films that you see outside of class. Those will be due January 25 and February 22.
QUIZZES AND THE FINAL EXAMINATION:
• A quiz will be given at the conclusion of each class beginning Monday, January 11.
• Each quiz is meant to test your knowledge and understanding of the topic for that week as presented in the text, the PowerPoint slides, the film clips linked in the PowerPoint slides, and in the film shown that night.
• There will be a total of eight quizzes. Each quiz is worth 6% of your course grade.
• The final examination will be cumulative and based on questions from the nine quizzes – but not exclusive to those quizzes. It will be worth 22% of your course grade. THE FINAL EXAMINATION WILL BE GIVEN MONDAY, MARCH 14, IN YOUR CLASSROOM, FROM 4:00 – 5:50 P.M.
• Missed quizzes can be only be made up for particular reasons:
1) Illness: Please present a signed note from a health professional.
2) An official university event: Such events include intercollegiate athletic competitions that are identified in advance by a coach.
3) The death of an immediate family member: You should provide a copy of a funeral notice or obituary.
4) An event of significant consequence that is beyond your control and prevents you from getting to campus: You should expect to provide proof.
• If you must miss class, contact the instructor via email as soon as possible, but no later than 24 hours after the scheduled class time.
Response papers for this course serve two purposes. First, they provide a means for you to demonstrate and improve your written communication skills. Like all 100 level LACC courses, you are learning how to express your ideas in written form and this class supports that purpose. Second, the response papers provide a means for you to demonstrate that you are able to assimilate ideas from class and use them in your analysis of a film.
You will write two response papers based on films you see outside of class (do not write about films shown in class). The two papers will be due on Monday, January 25, and Monday, February 22. Films are made, first and foremost, to be seen on a big screen in a theatre with an audience. Don’t write your papers based on films you watch at home on your television, computer, tablet or phone. Acceptable response papers will be based on films shown in movie theatres and that are currently playing (January – March). You may not use a film you saw before the class began. Choose films that are substantive and avoid those that are derivative (avoid sequels) or are based on simplistic plots. Neither should you choose animated features or nature films. The paper is meant to demonstrate what you have learned about filmmaking and how you responded to the work. The paper should be no shorter than one typewritten, double-spaced page and no longer than two typewritten, double-spaced pages. It should contain these elements:
1. What is the film about and what is the filmmaker trying to express with the film?
For example, The Imitation Game is a film about the mathematician Alan Turing during the Second World War. He worked with the British government to solve Nazi’s “Enigma Code.” The film is about finding a way to break the code but it is also about how Turing was treated once it was discovered that he was gay. An appropriate opening statement about this film might go something like this: “During WWII, Nazi Germany was winning the war, in part, because they had devised something called the “Enigma Code” to send plans to all their commanders. The British high command knew they could lose the war if the code was not broken. They found Alan Turing, a mathematical genius who declared that he could build a machine – the first computer – that would solve the code and allow the British to win the war. Turing was gay and, at the time, homosexuality was unlawful in Britain. The film tells the story of Turing being a hero in helping win the war but also how he was persecuted and, finally, took his own life because he was shunned rather than honored.”
2. What are unique features of the film and how did the filmmaker use those features?
Birdman won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015. This film told the story of an actor, Riggan, who had won great fame for portraying a super hero called “Birdman.” The story tells of his struggle to “re-invent” himself as a legitimate Broadway actor and his battle of conscience about breaking from his popularity as a comic book inspired super-hero to a respectable actor. The director puts virtually all the action inside a real Broadway theatre in New York and that requires a very different approach to how the film is shot. There are shots that follow actors or precede actors down long stairways or long hallways. There are shots that show the audience as the play is being performed. There are shots in very small spaces. To show the duality of Riggan’s identity, a number of scenes show Riggan walking with the “Birdman” character behind him. These shots are indicative of imaginative cinematography and produced a perspective of the story that is centered on Riggan but within the context of his own consciousness and his own experiences.
3. What reaction did you have to the film? Did you enjoy the film or not? You should avoid a simple “I didn’t like the film.” If you didn’t like the film, analyze why. Was it the storyline, the plot, the acting, the way that the film was photographed, the music or a combination of any of these?
A film that gained a great deal of attention in 2014-15 was Boyhood. It gained attention because the filmmaker, Richard Linklater, filmed the same actors playing a family over the course of 12 years. The film is centered on the family’s son, Mason, and we see him grow from 8 to 21 and watch him experience a number of events like his parent’s divorce, his mother struggling to raise him, his experience at entering a new school and him having relationships. But the play has no plot in the traditional sense. The story merely captures the different events in Mason’s life over 12 years. The film had significant interest because of the monumental challenges facing the director and the actors to sustain the story over such a long period of time. A number of people came away from the film with a lukewarm or a negative response. Those people said the film was boring because it had no real conflict that moved the action of the characters forward. The central characters were not motivated by a particular goal that drove them to do things in a certain fashion. Others who saw the film were fascinated by the sheer complexity of making a film over such a long period of time and argued that some performances, like Patricia Arquette’s as the Mother, were riveting. In fact, she won an Oscar for her performance. Either of these reactions is legitimate and would provide a good starting point for addressing this part of the response paper.
4. What do you think was the filmmaker’s goal and did s/he achieve it?
The Theory of Everything was billed as “The incredible story of Jane and Stephen Hawking.” The filmmaker, James Marsh, wanted to show the struggle these two people faced as Stephen Hawking became debilitated by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The filmmaker was adapting the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking. His intent was to show the real story of their life together and the terrible changes that occurred to Stephen’s body while his mind was unaffected and he remained a world-renowned astrophysicist. He was also showing that their relationship was affected by Stephen’s seeming agnosticism and Jane’s reliance upon her religious beliefs. The filmmaker was attempting also to show the irony of their relationship, that one may discover the theory of everything in one’s love for another. The filmmaker succeeded in achieving his goal through the remarkable performances he coaxed from the actors and from the photography of them on location in England. Further, he gained the audience’s sympathy by successfully creating an atmosphere that encouraged a willing suspension of disbelief and by closing the picture with a summary statement from Stephen Hawking, “While there’s life, there is hope.”
Your grade for the class will be based on the following:
• Eight quizzes, 6% each 48%
• Two response papers, 15% each 30%
• Final examination 22%
Grades are assigned using the standard plus/minus system as follows:
A 93 and above C 73-77
A- 90-92 C- 70-72
B+ 88-89 D+ 68-69
B 83-87 D 63-67
B- 80-82 D- 60-62
C+ 78-79 F 59 and below
January 4 Read Chapter: “Slapstick Comedy,” pages 3-79.
January 11 Read Chapters: “Melodrama,” pages 81-118, and “Romantic Comedy,” pages 121-158.
January 18 Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – NO CLASS
January 25 Read Chapter: “The Musical,” pages 201-241. First response paper due.
February 1 Read Chapter: “The Western,” pages 243-277.
February 8 Read Chapter: “The Combat Movie,” pages 279-322.
February 15 Read Chapter: “Science Fiction,” pages 325-366
February 22 Read Chapter: “The Horror Film,” pages 369-405.
Second response paper due.
February 29 Read Chapter: “The Gangster Movie,” pages 407-444 and “Film Noir,” pages 485-518.
March 7 Read Chapter: “The Social-Problem Film,” pages 447-482.
March 14 Final Examination, 4:00-5:50 p.m.