Michael Cramer

BA, Columbia University. MA, MPhil, PhD, Yale University. Author of several articles on European cinema and television and the book Utopian Television: Roberto Rossellini, Peter Watkins, and Jean-Luc Godard Beyond Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Special interests in film and media theory, European cinema of the 1960s and ’70s, contemporary world cinema, the relationship of cinema and television, documentary and nonfiction cinema, and the politics of aesthetics. SLC, 2015–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Film History

Cinema and the Digital Age

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

In the past 25 years, many of the elements that defined cinema for more than a century have begun to disappear. Films are almost never distributed and projected on celluloid film but, rather, projected digitally off of hard drives. Many are no longer even shot on film but, rather, on digital video. Perhaps even more importantly, much of what we see onscreen, especially in big-budget blockbusters, has not been photographed at all but, rather, generated by computers, narrowing the distinction between photographed cinema and animation. Films have also become more readily available to spectators than ever before through digital streaming services. Never before have so many people had access to so many films. All of these changes—spanning the fields of production, distribution, and exhibition—raise the question of whether we have, as many scholars have asked, moved “beyond” cinema as it existed for about a century into a different, new medium. This course will investigate this question through a series of films and readings that approach it from a variety of different directions. We will consider, for example, how film aesthetics have changed, how new viewing environments change our experience as spectators, and whether the use of new technologies for film production necessitates, as some theorists have argued, the abandonment of many of classical film theory’s assumptions about film’s relationship to the real. Screenings will include both mainstream Hollywood films (Spielberg, Lucas, the Wachowskis, Michael Mann) and art cinema that makes prominent use of digital tools (Alexander Sokurov, Eric Rohmer, Jia Zhangke, Peter Greenaway). Course readings will largely be theoretical texts on both film and digital media, so students should have some familiarity with film theory.

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African American Cinema

Open , Seminar—Spring

Upon its inception in the late 1800s, African Americans were almost entirely excluded from the mainstream American film industry. By the 1910s, however, several successful independent African American film companies had been founded. This course will examine how African American filmmakers and performers have used a range of strategies to work within, on the peripheries, or outside of “Hollywood” ever since. While our emphasis will be on films produced and directed by African Americans, we will also cover major African American performers, particularly those who achieved success in the white-dominated Hollywood film industry, as well as Hollywood’s relationship to African American spectators. In addition to historical studies and theoretical texts, course readings will include polemical debates about many of the films we are watching, written at the time of their original release. Additional topics to be covered include the politics of representation and counter-representation in film and other forms of media, filmmaking as political practice, queer and feminist approaches to theory and practice, and activism through television and new media. Directors to be studied include Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Gordon Parks, Ivan Dixon, Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Marlon Riggs, Spike Lee, Cheryl Dunye, Kasi Lemmons, and Barry Jenkins.

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Italian Cinema

Open , Seminar—Fall

From the big-budget silent epics of the 1910s to the stylish art films of the 1960s, Italian cinema has long been a major player in world cinema. While it has on the one hand, particularly with the neorealist films of the 1940s, had an enormous influence internationally, it has also consistently adhered to specifically “national” themes, directly engaging with Italian political and social issues. The course will examine the relationship between these two seemingly contradictory facets, inquiring as to how Italian cinema has managed to balance worldwide popularity with decidedly local subject matter. We will watch films from throughout the history of Italian cinema, albeit with an emphasis on its years of greatest achievement and popularity from the 1940s to the 1970s. Given the course’s concern with Italian cinema’s close relationship to Italian politics and society, course readings will include a substantial amount of historical background material, as well as analyses of Italy’s self-representation as a nation. Other topics to be covered include the role of documentary in Italian cinema, the historical period piece, genre filmmaking, and the effects of television on the Italian film industry. Directors to be studied include Giovanni Pastrone, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Wertmüller, and Marco Bellocchio.

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New Hollywood Cinema

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course will examine the so-called “New Hollywood Cinema”: the films and filmmakers who reinvigorated the Hollywood studio system in the late 1960s, only to be displaced by the blockbuster and "high-concept" films that followed. Films of the period will be examined within the context of industrial and cultural history, with special attention paid to the changing dynamics within the American film industry and to the cultural shifts that these films both responded to and expressed. These issues will be approached through a study of the form and style of the films of the era, with attention to how they revise or respond to more classical Hollywood approaches, how they appropriate and repurpose techniques derived from European “art cinema,” and how they develop their own genres or “cycles.” Other topics to be covered include youth and counterculture; changing representations of gender, class, and race; the decline of long-standing forms of self-censorship; and dramatic liberalization of attitudes towards depictions of sex and violence. Directors to be covered include Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, Elaine May, and Robert Altman.

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Previous Courses

History and Aesthetics of Film

Open , Lecture—Year

This class will provide a detailed survey of the history of moving-image art, as well as an introduction to key aesthetic and theoretical concepts in the study of film. We will study the major elements of film form—editing, photography, shot composition, sound, mise-en-scene—as phenomena emerging from specific historical contexts and chart their development both over time and as they travel around the world. While the emphasis of the earlier part of the course will be on film art’s European and American origins, we will approach it as a truly global phenomenon, with considerable attention devoted to East and South Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cinemas. While the basic structure of the course will be chronological, we will develop the vocabulary and viewing skills necessary to identify and analyze the key components of film texts as we proceed; for example, our examination of editing will be situated within our discussion of 1920s Soviet cinema, while possible uses and aesthetic implications of sound will be examined alongside a number of diverse early experiments with sound. Other key moments to be studied will include the development of the “classical” Hollywood cinema (and challenges to it), the emergence of new national art cinemas in the post-World War II era, the radical cinema traditions of the 1960s and ’70s, and developments in film aesthetics since the introduction of digital filmmaking techniques in the 1990s. Key theoretical approaches in film studies will also be situated in their historical context, including early debates around film’s status as art from the 1910s and ’20s, inquiries into the relationship between photography and reality from the post-World War II period, and Marxist and feminist analyses of the ideological implications of film form and its relationship to the spectator from the 1960s and ’70s.

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Contemporary European Cinema

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Permission of the instructor is required.

This course provides an overview of major directors and trends in European filmmaking over the past 20 years. While the course strives for geographical diversity and also to highlight the most significant filmmakers working today, it is organized thematically rather than as a survey of directors or national cinemas. The major themes to be considered—borders and circulation, national and European identities, European (including colonial) history and its representation, and trends in film aesthetics (“slow cinema,” new forms of cinematic realism)—guide the course’s structure but, in many cases, films will treat several (or all) of these themes. Particular attention will also be devoted to the effects of the formal establishment of the European Union in 1993 on both the production/financing of films and their content and form (two areas that, as we will see, are inextricably linked). Other topics to be discussed include the role of European film festivals, European cinema’s attempts to define itself in relation to Hollywood cinema, and the history or “heritage” of European cinema as a central topic in recent films. Directors to be studied include Claire Denis, Leos Carax, Aki Kaurismaki, Pedro Costa, Bela Tarr, and Fatih Akin.

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