Film History

Sarah Lawrence students approach film, first and foremost, as an art. The College’s film history courses take social, cultural, and historical contexts into account; but films themselves are the focus of study and discussion. Students seek artistic value equally in Hollywood films, art films, avant-garde films, and documentaries, with emphasis on understanding the intentions of filmmakers and appreciating their creativity. As a valuable part of a larger humanistic education in the arts, the study of film often includes exploration of connections to the other arts, such as painting and literature. Close association with the filmmaking and visual arts departments enables students working in these areas to apply their knowledge of film to creative projects. And within the discipline, the study of film gives students insight into stylistic techniques and how they shape meaning. Advanced courses in specific national genres, forms, movements, and filmmakers—both Western and non-Western—provide a superb background in the history of film and a basis for sound critical judgment. Students benefit from New York City’s enormously rich film environment, in which film series, lectures, and festivals run on a nearly continuous basis.

Courses

Film History

Independent Cinema and Film Activism in Asia

Open—Fall

The course will examine independent cinema and film activism in Asia, particularly in East and Southeast Asia, which have transformed film cultures in the region since the late 1990s. We will situate independent film production in relation to a wide range of cultural initiatives, including film festivals, community formations, archives and restoration, engagement with film policies, and informal film education through public discussions and workshops. Financially dependent on private donors, crowdfunding, and global funds for culture, independent film practices make the most of alternative venues, small budget, low-wage (or free) labor, and, overall, the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos in production, exhibition, and circulation. We will explore the following questions: What are the roles of independent cinema and film activism in shaping and redefining the public(s) in Asia? How do national and transnational forces, including state policies and the capital flows from the Global North, structure the experiences of the filmmakers as artists and activists, as well as their ideas of being “independent”? Is the term “independent” sufficient to conceptualize diverse practices of art and activism in Asia? What keywords and concepts are useful to complicate the term and help us reconsider pre-existing notions such as “Asian cinema,” or “(Trans)national cinema”?

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Related Disciplines

Travel and Gender in Cinema

Open—Fall

The course situates the roles of cinema in shaping the global discourses of travel and gender. The relation between travel and gender is characterized not only in terms of how practices and ideas of travel construct men and women but also how notions such as journey, exploration, frontier, mobility, migration, and dislocation are defined by gender metaphors. Through cinematic representations, we will examine both voluntary and forced movements of individuals as being shaped by the historical processes of imperialism, decolonization, and globalization. The course will use travel as a broad concept to discuss how gender ideology frames the practices of diverse traveling identities, from the privileged to the displaced and the dispossessed, from tourists, ethnographers, and the flaneurs to migrant workers and refugees. We will analyze international cinema from the 20th and 21st century, including American “road movies” such as The Wizard of Oz, Easy Rider, and Thelma and Louise, as well as European, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cinema. In relation to films, we will also explore various visual modes of representation, including photography, paintings, performance, music video, and images circulated in tourist guidebooks and mass media.

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Related Disciplines

Contemporary European Cinema

Intermediate—Spring

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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New Hollywood Cinema

Open—Fall

This course will examine the so-called "New Hollywood": 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 Watergate affair and the rise of conspiracy narratives; the decline of long-standing forms of self-censorship; and dramatic liberalization of attitudes towards depictions of sex and violence. The major “auteur” figures of the era will also be studied, with an eye to both their individual stylistic approaches and the diverse ways that they attempt to redefine the status of the director and negotiate with the commercial imperatives of an embattled and rapidly-changing Hollywood. Directors to be covered include Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, and Robert Altman.

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History and Aesthetics of Film

Open—Year

This class will provide both a detailed survey of the history of moving-image arts and 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 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 film art 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 as we proceed the vocabulary and viewing skills necessary to identify and analyze the key components of film texts; 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 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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