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 the 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 those 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.

Film History 2021-2022 Courses

American Feminist Film History

Open, Large Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

This course explores the history of American cinema by examining the contributions of female directors, producers, actresses, and behind-the-scenes workers from the silent era to the end of the 1990s. In surveying this history, the class will ask what it means to be a feminist filmmaker and woman worker, as well as a feminist-oriented media historian. This course will investigate a range of interrelated questions: What types of work have women performed within the film industry? In what ways have opportunities for women evolved over time? How have social, cultural, political, and industrial factors shaped opportunities available to women and the types of work that they create? How have women addressed racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities both on screen and in the workplace? Are there distinctive stylistic or narrative preoccupations that characterize films directed and produced by women? In what ways has “difference” affected opportunities available to diverse women and the stories that get to be told? What does it mean to practice “feminist” filmmaking, criticism, and history? And, finally, how might highlighting the experiences of women directors and other participants in the film world cause us to rewrite dominant film histories? To address these questions, we will study a diverse body of feature films, shorts, documentaries, and avant-garde films created by the labor of both the renowned and the unsung.

Faculty

Body, Gesture, Cinema

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

Almost all films contain persons, bodies; they have filled up the frame since the medium’s inception. But the human figure on film is always a variable object of inquiry, changing in accord with its investigator’s purpose. This course offers a survey of approaches to the conception, analysis, and measurement of the filmed human figure. The course consists of four units broken down by key concepts: natural history, picture composition, social institutions, and fictionality. In doing so, we will also view a diverse set of films: scientific research films, avant-garde films, ethnographic films, and mainstream feature films. By a combination of weekly reading, viewing, and independent research, students will become attuned to new aspects of the human figure—to styles of performance, styles of making films, and the different ways of “reading” both. Previous familiarity with formal film analysis is useful but not required.

Faculty

New Hollywood Cinema

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

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 the dramatic liberalization of attitudes toward depictions of sex and violence. Directors to be covered include Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, Elaine May, and Robert Altman.

Faculty

The Action Genre

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

Often derided as formulaic, politically conservative, overly macho, or just downright “dumb,” action films are often considered of low cultural value. But, increasingly, scholars have shown that action movies are a fruitful site for investigating the politics of race, gender, and sexuality. This course will begin by historicizing the roots of cinema as a spectacular form, briefly surveying early generic constructs such as chase films, female-driven silent serials, swashbuckling adventures, westerns, and sword-and-sandal epics. We will then turn our main focus to contemporary examples of action cinema from the 1980s to the present and consider the evolution of formal style and special effects, the popularity of global film franchises, stardom, and transcultural exchange. Through close readings of depictions of tropes such as the ’80s “hard-bodied” action hero, strong female leads, superheroes, buddy cops, and villainous “others,” we will consider how the action genre defines and deconstructs notions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and the corporeal—and, in turn, how their representations reflect historical, political, social, and cultural anxieties. In-class screenings will include recent action films, such as Fate of the Furious, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Terminator: Dark Fate, and works by directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Bay, and John Woo, among others.

Faculty

Experimental Documentary

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This seminar explores the intersection between documentary and experimental film. While these two practices may initially seem at odds, artists have long combined cinema’s ability to capture nonfiction footage with the capacity to retrain perception and present “reality” in visually and aurally inventive ways. In this course, “experimental documentary” suggests ways in which the documentary form has evolved over time and the different ways that we might reinterpret creative film traditions and movements through the lens of the “documentary impulse.” How does reading experimental films that make use of nonfictive footage cause us to rethink the experimental media and documentary genres and their histories? The course will explore this question by considering city symphonies, compilation films, educational films, essay films, nature films, and more. Screenings will include works by Santiago Alvarez, Stan Brakhage, Su Friedrich, Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, Jonas Mekas, and Dziga Vertov, as well as many contemporary artists working today.

Faculty

Decolonizing Cinema: Insurgent Forms and Revolutionary Storytelling

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This seminar explores the notion of a decolonized cinema as it has emerged from anticolonial contexts, revolutionary nation-building, as well as the struggles of nations within nations. How has cinema wrestled with and deconstructed settler-colonial ideologies and tropes that both outwardly and internally oppress (previously) colonized peoples? We will look to the experience of late 1960s–early 1980s Third Cinema in Central and South America—both in revolutionary cinematic manifestos (Solanas and Gettino; Julio García Espinosa, et al) and in remarkable bodies of work from Brazil, West Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, and Palestine. Further, we will seek to link these approaches to what Barry Barclay has called Fourth Cinema, or politically engaged work produced by indigenous filmmakers. We will consider the benefits and pitfalls of making revolutionary cinema within a state-funded context; for example, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) or Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF). Finally, we will examine the emerging links between such movements and radical Black and brown filmmaking today—from the inspirations of the “L.A. Rebellion,” made on Hollywood’s doorstep, to attempts at finding a wider audience for such filmmaking through what some might consider Faustian pacts with platforms like Netflix, to ultimately exploring the notion of a global cinema of resistance.

Faculty

Cinema and Antifascist Aesthetics: From World War II to the Present

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

How can film’s unique ability to picture history illuminate the fight against the resurgence of white supremacist ideals? This seminar approaches the idea of antifascist film aesthetics through an examination of filmmaking about fascism and World War II following the 75th anniversary of the war’s end. We will look at wartime propaganda docs and landmark features about anti/fascism from luminaries like Lang, Welles, Resnais, and Oshima, connecting these with the fight against white supremacy and colonialism explored by writers such as Aimé Césaire and filmmakers like Djibril Diop Mambéty. From the use of violent genre cinema in attempting to discuss fascist violence to the recent reemergence in Hollywood of the World War II film genre, we will examine how narrative decisions and questions of film form play an ongoing role in shaping global cultural memory of the most significant event of the 20th century—the struggle to defeat Hitler and fascism—and their implications for our current historical situation.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

Virtual Voyages: Travel Cinemas From Silent Film to Social Media

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This course surveys the history of cinema as a mode of travel from the 1890s to the present. The movie camera, by its very nature, is a device that represents time and space. The exploration of the world through images (and later sound) has always been one of cinema’s primary features. While genres of early cinema, such as travelogues and scenics, were eclipsed in popularity by narrative features by 1910, travel cinema lives on in documentaries, ethnographic films, home movies, wildlife television shows, IMAX productions, and, more recently, social media feeds. As COVID-19 abruptly restricted global travel, the lure of viewing distant places on a screen from one’s home allows us to approach film anew as a surrogate for physical travel and the experiential economy. This course takes a broad view of travel film, studying both media texts and historical context. The course will examine an eclectic body of filmed content to analyze how filmmakers, companies, and other groups have used moving images to represent desirable destinations and impressions of spectacular and distant lands for artistic, commercial, and noncommercial purposes. We will also investigate the history of travel cinema by examining the colonial ideologies and other power relations embedded within a representational mode that reflects the worldview of those privileged enough to travel and record their experiences. All the while, we will also attend to the rise and evolution of travel films amidst historical developments in media technology, transportation, the tourism industry, leisure, and more. Screenings will span the classic and the contemporary, from documentaries Grass (1927) and Baraka (1992) to recent television shows Planet Earth and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, among many, many others.

Faculty

Home/Nation: 20th-Century Asian Art–via New York

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The course takes its title from Indian artist Rummana Hussain’s “Home/Nation” (1996), a multimedia installation reflecting on rising political violence in India at the end of the century—especially against minority groups. In 1998, Hussain completed a residency at Art in General in New York and was one of numerous artists from across Asia showing in the City during the “global” and “multicultural” 1990s. This seminar elaborates on this global turn by tracing prior histories of Asian art in the City; however, our discussion and reading will also spend equal time in Asian and New York-based histories of modern and contemporary art, looking across continents to consider parallels, inversions, connections, and disconnections between and among them. We will, therefore, examine artists like Hussain, who might have visited New York only briefly, along with those who have lived in the City for all or most of their lives. Artists examined will include Toshi Shumizu, Rabindranath Tagore, Chao Chung-hsiang, F. N. Souza, Isamu Noguchi, Zainul Abedin, Yoko Ono, Tehching Hsieh, Zarina Hashmi, and Shahzia Sikander. We will consider how artists grappled with splits between “home” and “nation,” both in Asia and in the United States, during the 20th century, taking into account major events in Asian history that include decolonization, the Cold War, and neoliberal globalization. We will also explore the impact of World War I and World War II on Asian minorities in the United States, the civil rights movement and related passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Vietnam War, and, more recently, the aftermaths of 9/11 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Artistically, we will examine diverse trajectories of realism and abstraction, photography and performance, and new media and avant-garde strategies. Students will have the opportunity to visit New York-based museums, galleries, and archival collections, including the Asia Art Archive, as part of in-class and individual assignments. Seminar discussion and final papers will focus on primary documents: institutional correspondences and historical newspaper and magazine reviews, artist writings and interviews, and archival photographs, among other documentary forms. These records will be used to build on existing histories of Asian art in/via New York and, if possible, to rediscover new or forgotten ones.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Media Sketchbooks

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, students will develop work that aims to challenge audience perceptions of traditional filmmaking while retaining “audience reading” of a film’s message, intention, and meaning. This is a production and research class, where the development of experimental fiction and nonfiction film is covered from the conception of an idea to the finished product. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with nonconventional techniques for image creation, either individually or in collaboration with their peers. We will explore technical, conceptual, and aesthetic approaches to constructing art films with directed shots, cinéma vérité, animation, performance art, and free-media montage. Emphasis will be placed on producing innovative and creative films in the experimental genre. This is a solid introductory course for students who are interested in film and want to get their “feet wet” in film during their first year at the College. Students will participate in technical production modules and exercises in which an exploration of modes of experimental film and video will be covered. Focus will be on an exploration of structure and format, as well as film’s relationship to story, poetry, and experimental text. We will review the work of professional artists’ films and read theoretical texts as they apply to artist film production. The class will also function as an editing workshop with critique and feedback. Visiting experimental filmmaker labs will be an important part of this year’s class.

Faculty

Worldbuilding

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

A world is an artificial living thing, but a living thing nonetheless. —Ian Cheng (2018)

The concept of “worldbuilding” has been around for hundreds of years in the development of science fiction and is often used to describe art direction for commercial video game and film studios. Recently, this term has begun to be used by individual artists to describe a method for developing personal work presented online, in cinemas, and as museum installations. In this class, we will look at the history of this concept as it pertains to narrative art. While the focus of the course is on noncommercial moving-image work, we will also explore the history of worldbuilding in philosophy (Martin Heideggar), literature (Octavia Butler), and comics (Moebius). Additionally, we will discuss the role of “internal coherence,” style, and narrative structure as they pertain to dozens of artworks, including work by Ian Cheng, Jacolby Satterwhite, Mati Diop, and Porpentine.

Faculty

Advanced Collective in Animation or Experimental Media

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Fall

This collective for advanced animation and experimental media is for students seeking to work on independent-study projects or to acquire credit for fieldwork in those disciplines. The group will first meet weekly to establish guidelines and schedules for projects; then, the class will serve as a gathering place to report on project development and/or the progress of an internship. Weekly meetings provide a framework for research, development, and collaborative assistance toward an advanced project that may take the shape of a short film or professional experience in an internship. Led by a team of filmmaking and moving-image arts faculty, students will be interviewed during registration to evaluate their proposed projects or research. The week-to-week structure of the collective will be tailored to meet the needs of individual projects/groups as the semester progresses. The collective is open to experienced animation and experimental media students; both individuals and group projects are invited to apply to the class. Interested students should come to the interview prepared to present a project proposal or an internship already secured.

Faculty

Music and Sound for Film

Open, Seminar—Spring

This class will explore how music and sound serve the dramatic intent of a film. As co-inhabitants of the aural spectrum, a film’s score and sound design are increasingly called upon to interact and work together. Working in one of those areas usually implies a working understanding of the other. The class will cover: working with a director on spotting both music and sound, choosing musical themes that correspond to the dramatic needs of a film, using sound design to highlight environmental and psychological facets of the world and its characters, conceptualizing the sonic space of a film, and designing the music and sound so they occupy different frequency areas and remain distinct. The marriage of sound and music has deep roots in the history of cinema, and special attention will be paid to the masters of sound in film such as Walter Murch/Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa (note: list is subject to change). Technical topics to be covered: intro to ProTools and an overview of basic mixing, concepts in music editing, use of effects such as compression, eq, reverb and filters, file organization, and management and workflow. While this course will be a historical overview of important work and concepts, time will also be given to developing student work with the hope that students gain experience through collaboration—both during class and independently.

Faculty

Intermediate French I: France Through Film

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen the student’s mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Through a variety of French films, we will combine the study of language with the investigation of aspects of French history and culture while exploring current social, political, and economic issues. We will also draw on other media—including online videos and blogs, newspapers, and literary texts—to enable students to build and increase their language proficiency, cultural awareness, and appreciation of 20th- and 21st-century France. The first semester will be dedicated to a survey of French cinema, from the Lumière brothers through the Nouvelle Vague. The second semester will address the complexities of French identities through contemporary (post-World War II) movies. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

Theories at Heart

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course takes political aesthetics, from the Zapatistas to Amazonian autonomy projects, as a point of departure to ground historical understandings of interculturality from an indigenous perspective. The course seeks to develop students’ critical skills as they acquire tools to talk about transcontinental political aesthetics. While engaging this aesthetics of resistance, students will be exposed to a series of critical theories that convey the depths of cultural memory—which is necessarily tied to a local indigenous history remembered in the community by heart. Students will read historical and literary texts from the 16th century onward, as well as secondary readings from recognized scholars interested on indigenous historiography. Thus, students can compare various indigenous perspectives—from the Amazon to the Andes and Chiapas and the people of Turtle Island—contextualized in each nation’s colonial long-durée.

Faculty

Environmental Politics, Informality, and Democracy in Brazilian History

Open, Seminar—Fall

When wildfires spread across the Brazilian Amazon in the summer of 2019, international concern spread rapidly. Containing more than one-third of the world’s primary rain forest, Brazil has featured prominently in hopes for a carbon-neutral future. Yet, Brazil is also home to a complicated past. Since the colonial era, inequality and authoritarianism have competed with democratic reforms and populist social movements. From the occupation of urban favelas by poor families to the development practices of wealthy corporations, legal reforms have often given way to the politics of informality—gray areas beyond the law. How have these politics enabled democracy, and how have they subverted it? And what have they meant for environmental conservation efforts? This course seeks to peel back the layers of informal politics in Brazilian history, with specific attention to the intersection of informal practices, democracy, and environmental politics in the present. We will begin by examining indigenous environmental practices before 1492 and continue with the Iberian glorifications of the walled city as a site of order and the social implications of sugar production and slave society. We will continue by examining the rise of populism in the 1930s; slum clearance in the 1940s and ’50s; contemporary indigenous social movements; and the explosion of drug traffic, gentrification, and deforestation in a neoliberal age. Along the way, we will trace the destruction of Brazil’s once vast Atlantic Forest near Rio de Janeiro, the rise of the Green Party in Brazilian politics, and future prospects for the Amazon. The course makes use of a variety of sources, including scholarship, films, and novels, with a critical analysis of urban popular music..

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

Nazis on Screen: The Third Reich in Film, From The Great Dictator to Inglorious Basterds

Open, Seminar—Spring

Movies shape the way we see the world. They also shape the way we think about history. Holocaust, the miniseries of 1978, did more to sensitize the American public, as well as the German public, toward the mass murder of European Jews—and also popularized the term—than most books written about The Holocaust until then. Fifteen years later, Schindler’s List once more confronted audiences with the very personal histories of Jewish victims during The Holocaust while, at the same time, introducing the figure of the “good German.” While films about the Third Reich and The Holocaust continue to be reliable box-office hits, both as blockbusters and as art-house movies (Alone in Berlin, Operation Valkyrie, The Fall, and Inglorious Basterds are just a few examples from the 2000s), attempts to visualize the Third Reich from outside began during its existence. This course seeks to investigate the changing representations of the Third Reich. The films literally put changing views about its history on the screen and shaped the public’s idea about the Third Reich. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze the range of genres and approaches to the topic in their historical and national context. Most of the movies will be from the United States and Germany, with forays into Eastern European and Israeli representations of the Third Reich. This is not a film-studies course but, rather, one that explores the legacy and memory of the Third Reich through film. The movie screenings will be accompanied by weekly readings. By the end of the semester, students will have familiarized themselves with the different and historically contingent ways in which the Third Reich was and is viewed. Students will be introduced to the use of films as historical sources, the influence of movies on public history, as well as the legacy of the Third Reich in postwar politics.

Faculty

Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conferences (held once a week) aim at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate. This will be achieved by readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conference, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia: a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and relevant exhibits in New York City, as well as offering the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine first-hand as a group. The course is for a full year, by the end of which students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

Faculty

Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on myslc. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York City area, centered on Italian language and culture.

Faculty

Theatre and the City

Open, Large Lecture—Year

Athens, London, Paris, Berlin, New York...the history of Western theatre has always been associated with cities, their politics, their customs, their geography, their audiences. This course will track the story of theatre as it originates in the Athens of the fifth-century BCE and evolves into its different expressions and practices in cities of later periods, all of them seen as "capitals" of civilization. Does theatre civilize, or is it merely a reflection of any given civilization whose cultural assumptions inform its values and shape its styles? Given that ancient Greek democracy gave birth to tragedy and comedy in civic praise of the god Dionysos—from a special coupling of the worldly and the sacred—what happens when these genres recrudesce in the unsavory precincts of Elizabethan London, the polished court of Louis XIV, the beer halls of Weimar Berlin, and the neon “palaces” of Broadway? Sometimes the genres themselves are challenged by experiments in new forms or by performances deliberately situated in unaccustomed places. By tinkering with what audiences have come to expect or where they have come to assemble, do playwrights like Euripides, Brecht, and Sarah Kane destabilize civilized norms? Grounding our work in Greek theatre, we will address such questions in a series of chronological investigations of the theatre produced in each city: Athens and London in the first semester; Paris, Berlin, and New York in the second.

Faculty

The Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open, Small Lecture—Year

Comedy is a startlingly various form, and it operates with a variety of logics; it can be politically conservative or starkly radical, savage or gentle, optimistic or despairing. In this course, we’ll explore some comic modes—from philosophical comedy to modern film—and examine a few theories of comedy. A tentative reading list for the first semester includes a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras) and moves on to Aristophanes’ Old Comedy (The Clouds), Plautus’ New Comedy, Roman satire, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, Molière, some Restoration and later stage comedy, and Fielding. In the second semester, we will read Byron, Stendhal, Dickens, Wilde, P. G. Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard and also look at some cartoons and some film comedy. Both semesters’ reading lists are subject to revision.

Faculty

Toward a Theatre of Identity: Ibsen, Chekhov, and Wilson

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

Theatre emerges from social rituals; and as a communal exercise, theatre requires people to work together toward a common purpose in shared and demarcated physical space. Yet, the very notion of “character,” first expressed in the indelibly defining mask of the ancient Greek protagonist, points paradoxically toward the spirit, attraction, and trial of individuation. And so we have been given Medea, Hamlet, and Tartuffe, among the many dramatic characters whose unique faces we recognize and who speak to us not only of their own conflicts but also of something universal and timeless. In the 19th century, however, the Industrial Revolution, aggressive capitalism, imperialism, Darwinism, socialist revolution, feminism, the new science of psychology, and the decline of religious clarity about the nature of the human soul—all of these, among other social factors—force the question as to whether individual identity has point or meaning, even existence. Henrik Ibsen, a fiercely “objective” Norwegian self-exile, and Anton Chekhov, an agnostic Russian doctor, used theatre—that most social of arts—to challenge their time, examining assumptions about identity, its troubling reliance on social construction, and the mysteries of self-consciousness that elude resolution. The test will be to see how what we learn from them equips us—or fails to do so—in a study of August Wilson, an African-American autodidact of the 20th century, whose plays represent the impact, both outrageous and insidious, of American racism on “characters” denied identity by definition.

Faculty

Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events—such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the Republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo”—until the recent contribution of migration literature to the Italian literary canon. Among the authors and intellectuals, we will explore Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of The Holocaust; and women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

Faculty

Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

Faculty

Hitchcock in 2022 Vision: The Long Shadow of Gothic Style

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Our present decade, with its global ambience of claustrophobia and dread, is on its way to becoming the most Hitchcockian on record. More than 40 years after his death, prolific British and American filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) remains one of the world’s most recognizable, most imitated, most studied, most parodied, and most divisive entertainers in the history of media. Known during his heyday in Hollywood as the “master of suspense,” Hitchcock developed a distinctive visual and narrative style that became synonymous with a set of unnerving affects and experiences (paranoia, guilt, abject terror, mistaken identity, transgressive desire, watching, and being watched), as well as with the director’s own personality—made famous through his iconic cameos on film and television, where he appeared as a droll and dapper provocateur. At the same time as Hitchcock became a shaping influence on several generations of filmmakers, including several who repudiated that influence, and the basis for scores of biopics and spinoffs (Bates Motel is one recent example), he has attracted intense interest from a diverse range of scholars—including historians of popular culture and specialists in queer theory, gender studies, narratology, and psychoanalysis—in some cases through work that has defined its disciplinary field and introduced analytic concepts, such as the “male gaze,” into the mainstream. Now, even as well-substantiated accusations of sexual misconduct against Hitchcock by the actor Tippi Hedren have encouraged debates over his legacy, the fascination he exerts over his worldwide audience has seemingly only deepened. Neither a celebration nor an exposé, this large seminar turns a critical eye toward several of Hitchcock’s major works from both his British and American periods, including landmark achievements such as Blackmail, Rope, Rear Window, and The Birds. We will approach these films both as singular cultural artifacts and as parts of the long and still robust tradition of uncanny storytelling that we call Gothic, which we will trace from its origins in the British Enlightenment to its later incarnations on both sides of the Atlantic in the work of authors such as Edgar Allen Poe (a favorite of Hitchcock’s), Henry James, Daphne Du Maurier, and Shirley Jackson and through its elucidation by theorists from Freud to Toni Morrison. We will end by considering a few key figures in contemporary cinema—such as Jordan Peele, Pedro Almódovar, and Bong-Joon Ho—who have engaged in complex dialogue with Hitchcock’s films and have helped to guarantee, for better or worse, that his stylistic fingerprints will remain evident across the culture of the coming century.

Faculty

The Music of Russia

Open, Large Lecture—Spring

This course will survey the great contributions of Russian composers to Western music from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. No prior music courses or knowledge of music theory is required.

Faculty

Art and Visual Perception

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. In this large seminar, you will meet weekly in small groups (five-to-seven students) to design a collaborative conference work that curates an in-depth perceptual museum tour. Individual conference meetings will be held only twice over the course of the semester.

Faculty

The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

Faculty

Beginning Spanish: A Glimpse Into the Hispanic World through its Language and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

This course aims to introduce students to the language and culture of the Spanish-speaking world and to promote the development of students’ communicative competence in Spanish. Additionally, the objective is to improve students’ intercultural understanding of—and social conscience about—problems that affect this cultural complex. From the beginning, students will be in touch with authentic Spanish-language films, TV shows, comics, and poems, as well as short literary and nonliterary texts. Throughout the semester, we will actively implement a wide range of techniques aimed at creating an atmosphere of dynamic oral exchanges. Grammatical structures will be taught by resorting to everyday situations and by the incorporation of a wide set of functional-contextual activities. Group conferences will help hone conversational skills, focusing on individual needs. Watching films, documentaries, and episodes of popular TV shows, as well as listening to podcasts and reading blogs and digital publications, will take place outside the seminar meetings and serve as material for class discussions and debates. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are an integral part of the course, since the emphasis of the course is on the communicative approach.

Faculty

Intermediate Spanish I: Latin American and Spanish Visual Culture

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for students who have had at least one year of college-level Spanish or the equivalent and who wish to review and expand the fundamentals of the Spanish language. With this, Latin American and Spanish comics, films, and TV shows—such as La casa de las Flores from Mexico, Paco Roca’s Los surcos del Azar, or Luis Ortega’s El Ángel—will provide the cultural and historical background for discussion in class. Films and TV shows work especially well for teaching language, because they can be used to quickly introduce or reinforce vocabulary or a grammatical point and also show their use, in context, by native speakers. Besides, space restrictions force comic-strip writers to get to the point, making comics a perfect source of useful vocabulary. The goal that most comic writers have of appealing to as many readers as possible also means that comics are a perfect source of basic, everyday terms and expressions. Students will gain key vocabulary for discussing cultural objects, write descriptive profiles, and even make their own comic book or record a podcast in Spanish. In addition, students will watch films, TV shows, and read comics outside the seminar meetings in order to reinforce the work that we do in class. Individual conference meetings will offer students an opportunity to complete independent research projects and to address individual language-acquisition needs. Weekly conversation sessions with a language assistant are also an integral part of the course.

Faculty

Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways in which individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through the literature, film, music, and visual art of Miguel Ángel Asturias, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Rebecca Lane, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia Garcia La Sirena, and many more. We will also learn about the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation state; an important aspect of this course will be engaging with activist efforts in real time. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

Faculty

To Hold the Unsayable: A Poetry Workshop

Open, Seminar—Spring

A true poem can’t be paraphrased. In bright and interesting language, a poem seems to hold the unsayable. That’s the miracle of it. How do we do that? In this course, we will immerse ourselves in the practice of the art of poetry, focusing on a specific aspect of the art each week: image, metaphor, diction, syntax, musicality, tone, etc. We will write a poem every week and read poems that will instruct and inspire us. (Poet Spencer Reece calls books of poems “Sacred Suitcases”—you can take them anywhere.) We will read each other’s poems. We will read essays written by poets. We will write observations in our journals. We will look at visual art, listen to music, watch films. If you have never taken a poetry class before, this class is for you. If you have taken poetry classes before, this workshop is for you. I ask for generosity of spirit, curiosity, respect, and commitment. We form a community of artists and, within that community, find support and strength. We will have a wonderful time.

Faculty