Malcolm Turvey

BA, MA, University of Kent, UK. PhD, New York University. Author of Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2008) and The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s (MIT Press, 2011). Co-editor of Wittgenstein, Theory, and the Arts (Routledge, 2001) and Camera Obscura/Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson (University of Amsterdam Press, 2003). Editor and writer for October. Author of numerous articles on film theory, the philosophy of film, avant-garde film, and film and modernism. Currently working on a book about Jacques Tati, modernism, and comedy. Winner of a residential fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center (2011-2012). SLC, 2000–

Previous courses

Comedian Comedy

Fall

According to some, most famously Walter Kerr and René Clair, the film genre of comedian comedy—with its roots in physical, visual comedy, or slapstick—reached its artistic peak in the late silent era and declined with the coming of sound and the verbal comedy enabled by synchronized dialogue. Others argue that comedian comedy remains a vibrant, vital genre to this day and that slapstick is alive and well. In this course, we will examine the history of the genre, beginning with its emergence in cinema’s earliest period (1894-1904) and its development in the 1900s. We will closely analyze the individual styles of the great silent comedians who became stars in the 1910s (Linder, Chaplin, Keaton) and 1920s (Lloyd, Langdon, Laurel and Hardy) and see how they developed sophisticated sight gags and negotiated the transition from short one- or two-reelers (10-20 minutes) to feature-length films. We will consider the extent to which they survived the coming of sound in the late 1920s and the genre was changed by synchronized dialogue. Finally, we will look at comedians of the sound era (the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Jacques Tati, Peter Sellers) and, if there is time, more recent comedians such as Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Jim Carrey in order to determine the degree to which synchronized sound diminished, if not destroyed, the artistic excellence that the genre had attained by the late 1920s.

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Film and Modernism

Year

Central to modernism—that vast, diverse movement that transformed the arts in the late 19th and 20th centuries—was the desire to modernize art, to break with tradition and cultivate new artistic forms and styles more suited to the modern world, even though, paradoxically, modernists often did this by mining “the greatest works of the tradition for irreducible structures which can be made to support new works” (P. Adams Sitney). But how did modernism impact the cinema given that, as a new medium, it initially lacked traditions to break with? In the first semester of this course, we will consider what modernism was in general and how it initially took root in film. Beginning with German Expressionism of the 1920s, arguably the first modernist movement in cinema, we will examine how European filmmakers sought to create equivalents of modernist and avant-garde movements in the fine arts, theatre, and literature while simultaneously attempting to purify film of these arts. We will see how modernist and avant-garde filmmakers negotiated the transition to sound in the late 1920s, as well as the re-emergence of varieties of realism in the politically charged 1930s and war-torn 1940s. In the second semester, after considering whether Italian Neo-Realism is a form of modernism, we will turn our attention to European filmmakers—such as Bresson, Tati, Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, and Godard—who cultivated innovative forms and styles in the postwar period, often in dialogue with Hollywood genre filmmaking. Beginning with Hitchcock and continuing with Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, and others, we will also look at the extent to which modernism influenced filmmakers working in the studio system in the United States. Finally, we will return to Europe to witness the politicization of modernism in the late 1960s and 1970s in the work of filmmakers such as Godard, Jansco, Straub and Huillet, and Akerman; and we will ask whether modernist cinema, as many have argued, came to an end in the 1980s.

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History of Film Art

Spring

This class will introduce students to the art of film through a survey of its rich history. We will begin with the emergence of the technologies for making and exhibiting films around 1894 and the major genres of early cinema (1895-1904), most of which were non-narrative. We will then turn our attention to the development of "classical" narrative film in the United States in the 1900s and 1910s; the creation of alternatives to classical cinematic storytelling in the 1920s in France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere; the rise of documentary and experimental film; and the coming of sound in the late 1920s. We will see how European filmmakers on both the Left and Right responded to the increasing political turmoil in the lead-up to World War II in the 1930s, while filmmakers in Japan created popular traditions of filmmaking. We will consider the impact of World War II on film history; the emergence of Italian Neo-Realism and “modernist” art cinema in the late 1940s and 1950s; the New Waves of the late 1950s; and political modernist, postcolonial, feminist, and other radical forms of filmmaking that arose in response to the political crises of the 1960s. Finally, we will survey world cinema since the 1970s, focusing on the changes that have occurred in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking and the contributions to film art of filmmakers in Hong Kong and in other non-Western countries.

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Introduction to Film Art

Fall

This lecture is designed to introduce students to the rich art of film. We will begin by studying cinema’s basic aesthetic features: its stylistic techniques such as editing, cinematography, and sound, as well as its major narrative and non-narrative forms. We will then consider aesthetic concepts relevant to film art such as genre and auteur. Throughout, we will watch a variety of films from the United States and abroad that exemplify cinema’s myriad forms and styles: mainstream and avant-garde, fiction and nonfiction, narrative and non-narrative, black-and-white and color, silent and sound. The class will heighten students’ aesthetic appreciation of any film by enabling them to notice and evaluate the creative choices made by filmmakers of all kinds. We will meet twice a week; in addition, there will be two separate mandatory screenings per week.

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Storytelling in Film and Television

Spring

What is a story? How do films and other audiovisual mediums tell stories, and what kinds of stories do they tell? Are audiovisual and verbal storytelling the same; for example, do films and TV shows, like novels, have narrators and single authors? And are there significant differences between storytelling in film and television? These are the major theoretical questions that we will address in this comprehensive survey of narrative and narration in television and film. We will begin by considering how filmmakers in the early part of the 20th century developed a “classical” mode of storytelling that proved enormously popular and profitable. We will examine the reasons for its appeal, such as the opportunity it affords viewers to “identify” strongly with characters. We will then look at experiments with alternative modes of cinematic storytelling that first arose in the 1920s and reemerged in the great flowering of “art cinema” in the post-World War II era. We will see how these alternatives have influenced studio and “independent” American filmmakers since the late 1960s and will then turn our attention to contemporary Hollywood to determine the extent to which popular cinematic storytelling has or has not changed since the 1910s. The second half of the semester will be devoted to television. We will consider how the “classical” mode of cinematic storytelling was adapted to television beginning in the 1940s and examine the characteristic genres that arose as a result, such as the police procedural and the sitcom. We will spend the last part of the semester on the emergence of more complex and challenging storytelling in television since the 1990s, considering the narrative and stylistic innovations in shows such as Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead.

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The Horror Film

Spring

Frankenstein, Dracula, The Thing from Another World, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Alien, Videodrome, The Silence of the Lambs...these are just some of the influential films we will be watching in order to study the ways in which American horror films and their monsters have been designed to make their audiences feel horrified. We will pay equal attention to the creative innovations of individual filmmakers and the conventions of the genre within which they work. We will examine whether the genre reflects, if not promotes, the fears of American society and address some of the larger philosophical questions it raises: What, precisely, is horror? Why do we enjoy watching films that make us feel ostensibly undesirable emotions such as fear and disgust—emotions which, in our ordinary lives, we tend to avoid? Finally, we will compare and contrast American and Japanese horror films, a number of which have recently been remade in the United States.

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The Major Film Theories

Spring

What is cinema? Is it a mass entertainment medium or an art? And if it is an art, how does it differ from other artistic mediums to which it bears a resemblance, such as theatre and literature? Is it a tool of enlightenment that reveals reality as it is, or is it a tool of deception offering merely an “illusion” of reality? How does it effect viewers, both cognitively and emotionally? Can it change society for the better, or does it merely reproduce relations of power? These, and many other fascinating questions, have been debated widely by film theorists—many of them also filmmakers—almost since cinema’s inception in the 1890s. Due to cinema’s enormous popularity in the 20th century, they have also attracted the attention of intellectuals more generally, such as Rudolf Arnheim, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Gilles Deleuze. Film theory has, moreover, tended to be an interdisciplinary affair, drawing on the latest developments in psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, the natural sciences, and philosophy. This course will survey the major film theories, beginning with debates about cinema’s nature and functions that emerged in the 1920s; the widespread utopian belief in its potential to change both human beings and society for the better prevalent before WWII; the countervailing view, often held by Marxists, that the cinema is a tool of domination and control; the turn since WWII to theoretical paradigms such as linguistics, psychoanalysis, and cognitivism to answer questions about the cinema; feminist interventions into film theory in the 1970s; and the wholesale critique of film theory undertaken by theorists and philosophers trained in Anglo-American analytical philosophy since the 1980s. The only prerequisite for this course is a commitment to analytical thinking, in-depth reading, and rational debate.

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The New Waves

Year

The New Wave is often assumed to be a uniquely French development in which, around 1960, a group of young film critics modernized filmmaking in their innovative first feature films that appealed to the tastes of young people as never before. In fact, the years 1958-67 saw a host of new cinemas emerge throughout Europe and beyond, as young filmmakers entered the film industry in unprecedented numbers and pioneered new film forms and styles. This course will consider The New Wave as an international phenomenon. Hence, although we will begin in France with the films of Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais, and Varda, we will quickly shift focus to young filmmakers working in other countries in Europe in the 1960s, such as Bertolucci and Pasolini in Italy, Reisz and Anderson in Great Britain, and Kluge and Straub/Huillet in Germany. We will then turn our attention to the Young Cinema in Poland, the Czech New Wave, and the New Cinemas in Yugoslavia and Hungary; we will end the first semester with the work of Tarkovsky and Paradzhanov in the Soviet Union. We will begin the second semester with the extraordinary films of Oshima, Teshigahara, Yoshida, Shinoda, Imamura, Suzuki, and other members of the Japanese New Wave before moving on to the New Hollywood of the late 1960s, in which filmmakers such as Kubrick, Scorsese, and Altman combined classical Hollywood genres with modernist innovations. Finally, we will consider the more politicized Cinema Novo in Brazil. Throughout, we will pay attention to the innovations of individual filmmakers, what they shared in common, the extent to which they transformed their film industries, and the social and economic conditions that made their innovations possible.

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