Current Semester

Spring Semester 2010

Spring office hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 1 to 3 p.m., or by appointment.
Please be sure to confirm your plans to meet with me via email.
Here’s a link to the syllabus, calendar, etc.
Here’s a link to the syllabus, calendar, etc.


Introduction to Cinematography

Course Description
Cinematography is an alchemy of art and technology, and this course will offer students an introduction to the variety of aesthetic and practical considerations that come into play when a moving image is recorded. Some of the questions we will explore include the following:
  • What possibilities for expression are afforded by the use of camera and lighting equipment?
  • How do parameters of composition and exposure figure in to the effort to present compelling moving images?
  • What traditions exist in the practice of cinematography?
  • What values does the image assume in various cinematic traditions?
Our efforts to come up with responses to these questions will be aided by assigned readings, discussions, and student projects.

Genre Films: The Musical

Course Description

Many consider film musicals somewhat peculiar—unusual spectacles best relegated to the dustbin of Hollywood history. Others think of musicals more generously as the kind of movies aimed at children or other fanatical viewers in search of simple-minded pleasures. Still others consider their enjoyment of movie musicals a guilty pleasure, steeped in nostalgia or escapist fantasy. Indeed, spectacular performances pulled off by talented singers and dancers without breaking a sweat discourage audiences from dwelling seriously on the structure, style, and cultural substance of movie musicals. After all, it’s only a show.

But as they say, there’s no business like show business. This course is designed to shine a light on Hollywood’s most extravagant generic product. Film musicals were designed for mass consumption, and remnants of the most successful live with us in the form of show tunes and fondly remembered movie idols. There is much to learn about the intersection of aesthetic, cultural, and ideological values in American society through the careful analysis of musical “entertainments” and their appeal.

The course will begin with a look at the logic and utility of genre as an analytical tool: what does a genre look like and how is genre related to wider cultural concerns? Elements of this theoretical framework will then be tested throughout the semester as we examine a variety of film musicals from the 1930s through today: which generic characteristics fluctuate over time and why?

Along the way, course readings will support our critical engagement with film musicals in two primary ways. First, the readings will help us better appreciate the historical trajectory of film musicals by providing important background information on the impact of industrial, technological, and social forces on the genre. Second, the readings will sharpen our analytical skills by providing examples of the many ways in which film musicals can be thoughtfully investigated.


Preliminary Screening List:

  • Colma, Wong (2006)
  • 42nd Street, Bacon & Berkeley (1933)
  • Top Hat, Sandrich (1935)
  • Singin’ in the Rain, Donen & Kelly (1952)
  • On the Town, Donen & Kelly (1949)
  • Jailhouse Rock, Thorpe (1957)
  • Carmen Jones, Preminger (1954)
  • Victor/Victoria, Edwards (1982)
  • Camelot, Logan (1967)
  • Cabaret, Fosse (1972)
  • Nashville, Altman (1975)
  • All That Jazz, Fosse (1979)
  • Idlewild, Barber (2006)
  • Hairspray, Shankman (2007)

American Independent Film

Course Description
The term “independent film” is more complicated than it first appears, especially when you try to unpack each component of the term separately:
  • Is independence measured in terms of industrial practice and financing? Or in terms of formal and aesthetic experimentation? To what extent should we consider films that fall outside the tradition of narrative filmmaking? What about subcultures and texts that challenge social hegemony? How do these factors and others (in a variety of combinations) offer useful perspectives on films that do not usually enjoy the kind of exposure afforded Hollywood films? What purpose(s) do these kinds of films play in our culture?
  • Do technological developments render the category of “film” obsolete? Should we consider instead a broader category of moving images that includes traditional film, video installation art, online distribution and other alternative forms? What are some of the ramifications of broadening our perspective in this way?
These are just some of the questions we will explore during the semester. We’ll also consider the historical trajectory of independent filmmaking from the 1950s through today: how did independent filmmakers take advantage of changes in industrial and cultural practices?

Course readings will provide important historical, cultural and critical background for our careful viewing of selected films. Screenings will challenge students as they make sense of alternative, out of the mainstream media storytelling, style, and practice.


Preliminary Screening List:

  • Shadows, Cassavetes (1958)
  • Wanda, Loden (1970)
  • Killer of Sheep, Burnett (1977)
  • The Scenic Route, Rappaport (1978)
  • Return of the Seacaucus Seven, Sayles (1980)
  • She’s Gotta Have It, Lee (1986)
  • Down By Law, Jarmusch (1986)
  • Dazed and Confused, Linklater (1993)
  • Gas, Food, Lodging, Anders (1992)
  • The Bed You Sleep In, Jost (1993)
  • Safe, Haynes (1995)