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 equal artistic value 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 disciplines enables students working in those areas to apply their knowledge of film to creative projects. And within the film-history 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 2024-2025 Courses

New Hollywood Cinema

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

FLMH 2057

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

Catching Emotion: Trauma and Struggle in Auteur Animation

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

FLMH 2045

This course will take the form of a screening and discussion seminar designed to provide an overview of alternative and experimental animations derived from the creative practice of transforming stories of trauma and struggle into films of artistic merit. We will examine various forms of animated work produced between 1960 and the present, asking ourselves: Can animations about serious subjects lighten sad, macabre, depressing, and even horrific moments with a sense of playfulness and controlled distance? The class will survey a wide range of work from a diverse selection of artists operating in cinematic film forms alternative to commercial animation. These will include, but not be limited to, hand-drawn, cell-painted, cutout, stop-motion, pixilated, puppet, digital, and, more recently, CGI independents. In most cases, auteur artists working with stories of trauma, memory, language, and struggle—whether personal, social, or political—are attempting to put their subjects in perspective. Using the core of these sources to pose difficult and personal questions, artist-animators tackle tough issues that ultimately serve as a reflection and reframing of experience. In response to the films we watch, the class group will discuss how personal and cultural struggles have been used as resonating topics large enough to act as a central conflict for animated films. Through screenings, readings, panels of visitors, and discussions, we will investigate both the reasoning for and success of animation's ability to confront the problems that challenge us. Students in this class will be expected to participate in discussions during conference meetings. Animation production will not be taught; however, a creative conference project in studio arts, writing, media, or performing arts will be required. In addition, students will be expected to complete weekly readings and entries in a research/creative practice notebook.

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Celebrity Studies

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

FLMH 2031

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama wrote this about himself: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them.” In this rare moment of critical self-evaluation, Obama revealed a key to understanding celebrity culture—that our thoughts about celebrities have far less to do with the celebrity themselves and much more to do with how we project our own anxieties, joys, cultural condition, and economic position in society onto those we admire. In short, we often use celebrities to help us understand our own views on the world and how we’d prefer to move through that world. In examining the increasingly self-aware culture associated with celebrity, mass media, and Web 2.0, we will discuss the ways in which celebrity is conceived, constructed, performed, and discussed—as well as how it shapes notions of identity and has reconfigured concepts of work, class, consumption, intimacy, authenticity, and the “American dream.” A critical analysis of celebrity encompasses many aspects of culture, and we will draw connections between celebrity and a number of issues, including: scandals and yellow journalism; the erosion of privacy; aspirational fantasies of social mobility; notions of health, beauty, and success; celebrities as memes; how celebrities are used to advance political causes; and the ways in which individuals become commodities. With an emphasis on media’s relationship to celebrity, we cover a broad range of topics and modes of analysis. We will conduct a brief history of celebrity culture, from the heroes of the precinematic era and the cultivation of the larger-than-life Hollywood star to the intimate television personality and the even more personal social media microcelebrity. We will discuss the ways in which celebrity exceeds the boundaries of a given text; for example, how the viewer’s insights into a particular star may shape their interpretation or enjoyment of a text. We will analyze the ways in which social media such as X (formerly known as Twitter), YouTube, and Instagram foster new relationships between celebrities and fans and blur the boundaries between production and consumption. We will consider the social and cultural roles of gossip and scandal, as they often provide focal points around which cultures establish behavioral norms. Celebrity is also a “product” that is produced, regulated, and monetized; as such, we will address the ways in which people as images are owned and circulated in “the celebrity industry.”

Faculty

A Film Historian, a Psychologist, and an Artist Walk Into a Class: Laughter Across Disciplines

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

FLMH 2162

Why is the topic of laughter so often siloed or scorned in discussions of high art, literature, and the sciences? Why don’t we take laughter seriously as a society? How many professors does it take to teach a course on laughter? (Two more than usual!) In this lecture-seminar, students will develop a highly interdisciplinary understanding of laughter as a human behavior, cultural practice, and wide-ranging tool for creative expression. Based on the expertise of the three professors, lectures will primarily investigate laughter through the lens of psychology, film history, and visual arts. The goal of the course is to think and play across many disciplines. For class assignments, students may be asked to conduct scientific studies of audience laughter patterns, create works of art with punchlines, or write close analyses of classic cinematic gags. Over the course of the semester, we will examine the building blocks of laughter; classic devices of modern comedy; and laughter as a force of resilience, resistance, and regeneration. Topics to be discussed include the evolutionary roots of laughter as a behavior; the psychological substrates of laughter as a mode of emotional and self-regulation; humor in Dada, surrealism, performance art, and stand-up comedy; jokes and the unconscious; comic entanglements of modern bodies and machines; hysterical audiences of early cinema; and how to read funny faces, word play, spit takes, toilet humor, and sound gags.

Faculty

Arcades, Trains, Hysterics: 19th-Century Foundations of Film

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

FLMH 3133

This seminar will examine film history and analysis through a proto-cinematic lens inspired by The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s montage-style compendium of Parisian modernization. With this canonical academic experiment as catalyst, we will excavate the 19th-century technocultural foundations of film, placing a particular emphasis on the train, department store, factory, metropolis, and mental life. How did these modern developments shape the materiality and content of early films? And what do they have to tell us about film today? Alongside weekly screenings, we will read classic texts of critical theory (Marx, Freud, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer); modern/modernist fiction (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola, Pirandello, Keun, Du Bois) and new cultural history on hysterical performance, shell-shock cinema, human motors, spectacular realities, and slapstick modernism. We will also watch films directed by Charlie Chaplin, René Clair, Jacques Tati, Chantal Akerman, and Maya Deren. In this course, students will get an overview of European modernity studies and learn to read films media-archaeologically, tying them to the major industrial shifts, perceptual transformations, and hybrid forms from which cinema emerged as a dominant mass medium.

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Exploitation and Trash Cinema

Intermediate, Large seminar—Fall | 5 credits

FLMH 3410

Prerequisite: First-Year Studies: Hollywood From the Margins

The history of American cinema is often framed around films of great aesthetic merit, like Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, The Godfather, 12 Years a Slave. But what happens when we examine this history from the vantage point of its bottom rungs: the lowly, the disreputable, the trashy, the ephemeral, and the sleazy? What do these films—less important as works of art, perhaps, but equally important as windows into various moments of cultural history—tell us about American society? This course utilizes exploitation films and various cinematic “trash” genres to interrogate this and related questions, situating these often forgotten or dismissed films in terms of historical conflicts over race, class, gender, sexuality, and more. Along the way, we will also contemplate matters of aesthetics, analyzing why these films are considered “trash.” And perhaps most importantly, exploitation cinema offers a unique opportunity for marginalized writers, directors, and actors who were historically shunned by the Hollywood studios to create a voice of their own via filmmaking. Marginal films give voice to marginalized races, genders, and sexualities that were excluded during a Hayes Code-dominated Hollywood “golden” era and remain excluded within the advertiser-friendly Hollywood of today. The only way to gain a complete understanding of Hollywood’s politics is to analyze the type of cinema and filmmakers that were actively excluded from the studio system. This class aims to give both a historical and cultural analysis of the crucial role that exploitation cinema has played in giving voices to the voiceless. Among the marginalized genres we will discuss are the “white slave” films of the 1910s, drug-panic films, social hygiene films, “sexploitation,” kung fu, gay/trans storylines, “Blaxploitation,” horror, and action films.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity, 1949–Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

FLMH 3059

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 to close analyses of individual films, the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema, the construction of “Chineseness” as an object for the Western gaze, and the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open super-seminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for 2.5 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, film screenings (one or two per week) will be required. For conferences, students will be divided evenly between the two professors, using the regular model of biweekly meetings.

Faculty

The Machine in the Garden: Cinema and Nature

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

FLMH 3066

How have films and other modern media shaped our ideas about nature, the planet, and the world around us? What do Technicolor images of the countryside, planetarium voyages to the moon, and experimental films made of moths and decaying nitrate teach us about the nature of cinema? This seminar explores film as a utopian medium for capturing, romanticizing, and recreating nature in an age of rising buildings and disappearing stars. At the same time, we will approach film as a machine that exploits and disrupts natural environments, turning the Earth into raw material to promote nationalist myths, advertise new technologies, and naturalize industrial transitions. Focusing primarily on US and European film, the course has three main themes: film technology and nature, modern imaginaries of outer space, and the country and the city. Alongside weekly screenings, we will read works of film history, media theory, science fiction, manifestos, and an interdisciplinary array of scholars who have influenced recent ideas in film studies about “media environments” and “cine-ecologies.” This seminar will participate in the collaborative interludes and other programs of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a blind person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular lived realities in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such realities in terms that more general social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology offers an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try their hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific social or subjective reality through a combination of ethnographic research, participant observation, and ethnographic writing.

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Histories of Modern Art

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course departs from hegemonic accounts of modernism to tell the story of modernism through the work of underrepresented artists—artists of the Black Atlantic, queer and trans artists, artists of color, women artists, and artists seen as “outside” the canon. Looking geographically to Europe, North America, South America, and East Asia, we will investigate how artists responded to fascism, colonization and anti-colonial protest, war and mass migration, the legacies of enslavement, and rationalized forms of labor. We will look to discourses of leftist politics and collectivity, feminist struggle, abolitionism and antiracist discourse. What representational strategies did artists use to respond to modernity, to remake the world anew? The emphasis of this course is on the global plurality of modernism, shifting our understanding of where modernism was produced, when, and by whom. This course serves as an introduction to art history in the sense that it will equip students with the basic tools of close, slow looking and of descriptive writing about art, art historical research, and practices of curatorial display while also introducing students to broad and diverse histories of modern art. The course will also include field trips to New York City museums. This course is a lecture-seminar hybrid: One lecture a week will introduce you to the broader movements; weekly group conferences will look at specific case studies and scholarly approaches to writing about contemporary art.

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Global Histories of Postwar and Contemporary Art

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

Taking a global approach, this course will look at how artists redefined the mediums, materials, and hierarchies of modernism in the postwar period. We will look closely at how artists embraced radicality by protesting for civil rights, Latinx, Black, and Indigenous rights, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and claiming an antiwar politics in the 1960s and 1970s. This radicality shifted in the 1990s with the rise of neoliberalism and the global art market, and we will investigate changes in contemporary art and its display after 1990. Movements that this course will explore include: Gutai, Neoconcretism, Happenings, Pop Art, Fluxus, Minimalism, Global Conceptualism, Site-Specificity, Earthworks, the Chicano Arts Movement, the Black Arts Movement, Feminism, Video Art, Institutional Critique, Installation, Activist Art, Participatory Art, Relational Aesthetics, Craft, New Media, Biennials, and the Global Art Museum. Throughout, we will focus on specific artworks and gain a vocabulary for close looking while also attending to primary sources (manifestos, letters, statements, poems) and secondary, art historical, and theoretical accounts. Assignments will include papers (based on works in New York City collections), peer-reviews, presentations, reading responses, a contextual research essay, and a curatorial assignment. This course is a lecture-seminar hybrid: One lecture a week will introduce you to the broader movements; weekly group conferences will look at specific case studies and scholarly approaches to writing about contemporary art.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity, 1949–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 to close analyses of individual films, the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema, the construction of “Chineseness” as an object for the Western gaze, and the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open super-seminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for 2.5 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, film screenings (one or two per week) will be required. For conferences, students will be divided evenly between the two professors, using the regular model of biweekly meetings.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity, 1949–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 to close analyses of individual films, the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema, the construction of “Chineseness” as an object for the Western gaze, and the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open super-seminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for 2.5 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, film screenings (one or two per week) will be required. For conferences, students will be divided evenly between the two professors, using the regular model of biweekly meetings.

Faculty

Catching Emotion: Trauma and Struggle in Auteur Animation

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course will take the form of a screening and discussion seminar designed to provide an overview of alternative and experimental animations derived from the creative practice of transforming stories of trauma and struggle into films of artistic merit. We will examine various forms of animated work produced between 1960 and the present, asking ourselves: Can animations about serious subjects lighten sad, macabre, depressing, and even horrific moments with a sense of playfulness and controlled distance? The class will survey a wide range of work from a diverse selection of artists operating in cinematic film forms alternative to commercial animation. These will include, but not be limited to, hand-drawn, cell-painted, cutout, stop-motion, pixilated, puppet, digital, and, more recently, CGI independents. In most cases, auteur artists working with stories of trauma, memory, language, and struggle—whether personal, social, or political—are attempting to put their subjects in perspective. Using the core of these sources to pose difficult and personal questions, artist-animators tackle tough issues that ultimately serve as a reflection and reframing of experience. In response to the films we watch, the class group will discuss how personal and cultural struggles have been used as resonating topics large enough to act as a central conflict for animated films. Through screenings, readings, panels of visitors, and discussions, we will investigate both the reasoning for and success of animation's ability to confront the problems that challenge us. Students in this class will be expected to participate in discussions during conference meetings. Animation production will not be taught; however a creative conference project in studio arts, writing, media, or performing arts will be required. In addition, students will be expected to complete weekly readings and entries in a research/creative practice notebook.

Faculty

Documentary Filmmaking and Music as Liberation II

Open, Large seminar—Spring

This course is designed to enlighten our creative consciousness, using music and nonfiction filmmaking as tools for liberation. Music and other sonic experiences are intrinsically connected to how we witness, experience, and tell nonfiction stories. In this course, we will examine work where the score itself plays a character while creating films of our own inspired by the soundtrack as a living piece of our form. Broken into groups, students collectively create a five-minute film that invites the viewer into subjects that are engaging and new while challenging the binary and often Western notion of what storytelling can be. The role that music and sound can play as a form of protest, meditation, and transformation is at the heart of our visual experience. In the spirit of global movements toward a more just and sustainable world, this course infuses a cinematic quest for truth in storytelling with the undeniable power that music brings to our understanding of a moment in time a scene, a relationship, and ourselves. From American Utopia to Amazing Grace and Gimme Shelter, students will screen, discuss, and be inspired to create work that challenges all of the senses.

Faculty

Documentary Filmmaking and Music as Liberation I

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This is an open course designed to enlighten our creative consciousness, using music and nonfiction filmmaking as tools for liberation. Music and other sonic experiences are intrinsically connected to how we witness, experience, and tell nonfiction stories. In this course, we will examine work where the score itself plays a character while also creating films of our own inspired by the soundtrack as a living piece of our form. Broken into groups, students collectively will create a five-minute film that invites the viewer into subjects that are engaging and new, while also challenging the binary and often Western notion of what storytelling can be. The role that music and sound can play as a form of protest, meditation, and transformation are at the heart of our visual experience. In the spirit of global movements toward a more just and sustainable world, this course infuses a cinematic quest for truth in storytelling with the undeniable power that music brings to our understanding of a moment in time, a scene, a relationship, and ourselves. From American Utopia to Amazing Grace and Gimme Shelter, students will screen, discuss, and be inspired to create work that challenges all of the senses.

Faculty

Opening Scene: Filmmaking for First-Timers

Open, Seminar—Spring

Film has become one of the most dominant forms of visual media and creative expression. In this seminar/workshop for the budding director, we will first focus on the filmmaking fundamentals that every filmmaker needs to know in order to tell an effective story on screen: basic filmmaking terms, crew positions, camera operation, shot angles and composition, camera movement, basic lighting, sound recording, and editing. Students will also learn to how to create shot lists, floor plans, and other important tools necessary for a successful shoot. Initially, solo shooting assignments will be given, allowing students to begin to develop their own cinematic voice. Because collaboration is key in filmmaking, students will also be divided into small groups for several weekly assignments, giving them the opportunity to serve in various roles on the crew. The idea is for students to acquire the skills needed for creating compelling cinematic work on their own and with others.

Faculty

Opening Scene: Filmmaking for First-Timers

Open, Seminar—Fall

Film has become one of the most dominant forms of visual media and creative expression. In this seminar/workshop for the budding director, we will first focus on the filmmaking fundamentals that every filmmaker needs to know in order to tell an effective story on screen: basic filmmaking terms, crew positions, camera operation, shot angles and composition, camera movement, basic lighting, sound recording, and editing. Students will also learn to how to create shot lists, floor plans, and other important tools necessary for a successful shoot. Initially, solo shooting assignments will be given, allowing students to begin to develop their own cinematic voice. Because collaboration is key in filmmaking, students will also be divided into small groups for several weekly assignments, giving them the opportunity to serve in various roles on the crew. The idea is for students to acquire the skills needed for creating compelling cinematic work both on their own and with others.

Faculty

Music and Sound for Film

Open, Seminar—Spring

This class will explore the ways in which 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. Working in one of these areas now implies an understanding of the other. This class will cover: spotting music/sound with a director; choosing musical themes that correspond to the dramatic needs of a film; using sound design to highlight facets of the world and its characters; conceptualizing the soundworld of a film; and designing the music and sound so that they occupy different, complementary spaces. The marriage of sound and music has deep roots in the history of cinema, and special attention will be paid to great works of the past. There will be weekly listening assignments to survey the history of film music and to explore current trends. Technical topics covered will include: 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, management, and workflow. Students will work on sound design and/or scoring concepts using video clips that I provide or, better yet, using works from their fellow students in the film department.

Faculty

Postwar German Literature and Film

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

In this course, students will first get a brief historical overview of postwar German history by watching a YouTube video and reading an essay about Germany's defeat in 1945. Then, we will study several short stories about the war by Heinrich Böll, perhaps the most famous writer in postwar Germany; a play by Wolfgang Borchert about a German soldier coming home from the war and having no home anymore, in conjunction with the 1946 movie Murderers Among Us; Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play, The Visit, together with Fassbinder's movie, The Marriage of Maria Braun; Max Frisch’s parable about anti-Semitism; Jurek Becker’s novel, Jacob the Liar, about Jewish life and death in a ghetto; two narratives from Sebald’s The Emigrants, both of which are dealing with the aftereffects of traumatic experiences during World War II; Eugen Ruge’s In Times of Fading Light, a family novel covering East German history, in conjunction with movies about life in East Germany under constant surveillance by the secret police (The Lives of Others and Barbara); and Natascha Wodin’s novel about her family’s tragic history in both the Ukraine and postwar Germany. Thematically, all of these texts and movies are tied by one common theme: the question of how German writers and filmmakers were dealing with the legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism from 1945 to today. This lecture (three credits) is taught in English and open to all students; German language skills are not required. Advanced German students have the option of taking this lecture for five credits; during the extra meetings, we will work on all aspects of Advanced German—reading, speaking, and writing—by discussing (in German) the same and/or other postwar German texts not covered in this lecture, as well as reviewing grammar.

Faculty

Screening the City

Open, Lecture—Spring

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its first promise of all the mystery and the beauty of the world.” While poetic, this romantic rendering, however, eludes the social struggle that pervades New York City’s history. Conversely, the City seen on the silver screen can bring its contradictions into sharp focus. From this perspective, New York City appears as a complicated metropolis, replete with power dynamics along lines of race, gender, and sexuality. In this lecture, students will explore ways in which cinematic representations of New York City map onto distinct permutations and arcs in the City’s history. Each week, we will locate a specific film within a web of historical meaning. This is not a film-studies class, per se; rather, using cinema as a point of departure, we will explore the rich cultural history surrounding specific films. We will think about the connections between films and public policy, poetry, journalism, fine art, popular music, and more. Students will learn to derive historical insights through the analysis of film. Movies like Dog Day Afternoon (1975), for example, signal the rise of mass incarceration and the militarization of NYPD units; but the film also gives expression to the emerging LGBTQ movement and transgender subjectivity. Similarly, lesser-known gems, such as Baby Face (1933), can help illustrate the complex social and cultural terrain through which some women achieved power and independence in Depression-era New York.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949–Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and the 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 to close analyses of individual films, the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema, the construction of “Chineseness” as an object for the Western gaze, and the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open super-seminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for 2.5 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, film screenings (one or two per week) will be required. For conferences, students will be divided evenly between the two professors, using the regular model of biweekly meetings.

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Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at providing 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 the group conferences, 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 the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine firsthand 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.

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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.

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First-Year Studies: 19th- and 20th-Century Italian Women Writers: Rewriting Women’s Roles and the Literary Canon

FYS—Year

This course will examine literature written by late 19th- and 20th-century Italian women writers. In the newly unified Italy, middle-class women began in great numbers to access and contribute to literature as both readers and writers. The increasing presence of women writers caused great upheaval, as the male literary establishment viewed the potential for a disruption to the canon. The anxiety caused by their presence is visible in the manner in which they were dismissed as imitating male literary models, accused of excessive sentimentality and self-disclosure, or dubbed by critics il pericolo roseo, “the pink danger” (L. Zuccoli, Corriere della sera, March 24, 1911). Yet, many of these women writers reveal sophistication in their ability to experiment with genres and styles and engage with some of Italy’s literary movements (e.g., verismo, futurism, magic realism, neorealism) and intellectuals, as well as crucial historical events such as fascism and World War II. As we will see, they often question or reverse traditional depictions of femininity. They show an awareness of the social roles and expectations demanded of them and often interrogate such roles and some of the tropes present in the works of the time (e.g., the femme fatale, the self-sacrificing wife and mother). Many of them assert their own defiant voice and their own perspective as women writers, (re)claiming a place in the canon of Italian literature. In this course, we will explore how their works address social issues related to family, marriage, and women’s changing roles, as well as the place of women’s writing in the Italian literary canon. Our readings will include works by Marchesa Colombi (M. A. Torriani), Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Ada Negri, Rosa Rosà, Paola Masino, Renata Viganò, Joyce Lussu, Anna Banti, Anna Maria Ortese, Alba de Céspedes, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, and Dacia Maraini. These works will be examined in dialogue with the literary production and ideas of male or canonical authors. Primary sources will range from fiction (novels, short stories, and fictional diaries) to autobiographical texts, poems, plays, and newspaper articles; these sources will be supplemented by secondary readings on women’s literature and history and on occasion by films. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that is of interest to the student. As an FYS course, students will meet individually in conference with the instructor/don every week until October Study Days and every two weeks after that.

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Theatre and the City

Open, 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.

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Postwar German Literature and Film

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

In this course, students will first get a brief historical overview of postwar German history by watching a YouTube video and reading an essay about Germany’s defeat in 1945. Then, we will study several short stories about the war by Heinrich Böll, perhaps the most famous writer in postwar Germany; a play by Wolfgang Borchert about a German soldier coming home from the war and having no home anymore, in conjunction with the 1946 movie Murderers Among Us; Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play, The Visit, together with Fassbinder’s movie, The Marriage of Maria Braun; Max Frisch’s parable about anti-Semitism; Jurek Becker’s novel, Jacob the Liar, about Jewish life and death in a ghetto; two narratives from Sebald’s The Emigrants, both of which are dealing with the aftereffects of traumatic experiences during World War II; Eugen Ruge’s In Times of Fading Light, a family novel covering East German history, in conjunction with movies about life in East Germany under constant surveillance by the secret police (The Lives of Others and Barbara); and Natascha Wodin’s novel about her family’s tragic history in both the Ukraine and postwar Germany. Thematically, all of these texts and movies are tied by one common theme: the question of how German writers and filmmakers were dealing with the legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism from 1945 to today.

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Modernism and Media

Sophomore and Above, Small Lecture—Fall

Do new media fundamentally alter the way we produce and consume works of art? This seems like a 21st-century question, but it was also a central preoccupation for modernist writers in the first half of the 20th century. How, they asked, can literature reach the distracted modern reader? Writers we will read this semester, such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, rejected Victorian literary conventions, which they argued were no longer able to touch the modern reader’s senses directly; in doing so, however, they relied on techniques such as collage, allusion, stream of consciousness, and symbolism that often alienated the “common reader.” Other forms of entertainment were increasingly available to such readers: the cinema, the music hall, newspapers, radio, and (later) television. Literature was, for many, losing its audience to these other venues. Scholars have argued that modernism emerged as a reaction against the rise of mass culture; however, as we will see in this course, modernist reactions to media are, in fact, diverse and complicated. We will identify and explore a range of critical approaches and, in so doing, will detail the extent to which modernist aesthetics emerged alongside the rise of new forms of popular mass culture—whether as a negative, positive, or ambivalent response. We will also interrogate the enduring legacy of modernist approaches to media and question whether we have, in fact, moved beyond these concerns or whether they continue to define our literary and popular cultures. Working through a range of texts—including novels and stories, as well as radio plays, manifestos, and films—we will identify the intimate relationship between modernism and changing media.

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Acting Up: Performance and Performativity From Enlightenment Era London to Golden Age Hollywood

Open, Large seminar—Year

Powdered, ruffled, and bewigged, the ghosts of the 17th- and 18th-century playhouse still stalk the stages, screens, and red carpets of the global entertainment industry. After a period of suppression by a puritan government, London theatres came roaring back to life in the 1660s, thanks in part to England’s first professional female actors—by some accounts the original modern celebrities—and the reign of a king, Charles II, who was besotted with drama and the people who made it. Over the coming century, the practice and theory of the theatrical arts would be thoroughly and durably transformed, and a new dramatic canon would be consolidated through both print and repertory enactment. Theatre was not only big business in Enlightenment Europe but also, arguably, the representative art form of the age. Part of the public’s fascination with stagecraft lay in the unsettling questions it raised about the nature of performance itself, not only as a form of artistic practice but also as an element of social and political life: What if, for instance, our putatively God-given identities (king and subject, wife and husband) were merely factitious roles that could be adopted or discarded at will? This yearlong “large seminar” considers how authors and theatrical professionals from the 1660s to the 1790s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to major films, mostly from classical Hollywood, that inherited and adapted the legacy of Restoration and 18th-century entertainments. Our primary emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Enlightenment Era comedies (some of the funniest and most outrageous ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Elizabeth Inchbald. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, in addition to films by directors such as Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Oscar Micheaux, F. W. Murnau, Lois Weber, and Billy Wilder. Wigs are not required.

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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.

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Border-Crossing Japanese Media

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is the relationship between the language(s) we speak, the nation in which we live, and our understanding of ourselves? If language and place help shape our identity, what can we learn from those caught between borders and living in multiple tongues? This course examines transnational literary texts and films both to learn about the lived experiences and aesthetic experimentation of a variety of Japanese-language authors and directors and to explore how language, literature, and visual media are related more broadly to conceptions of “national belonging.” The works covered in this course highlight the destabilization of identity that accompanies both the act of border crossing and the geopolitical upheavals that cause those borders to shift and be redrawn, from the forced assimilation of colonial subjects during Japan’s imperial period, to the US military’s postwar occupation of Japan, to contemporary narratives of globalization, postmodern identity, and the internal borders that today demarcate Japan’s regional cultures and dialects. Through close readings of these texts and films, we will explore the ways that authors in Japan—who have historically been marginalized based on race and ethnicity, class, linguistic ability, and/or gender—have sought to challenge the Japanese national literary cannon and the very notion of “the nation” itself. Students are expected to develop a related research project over the course of the term through conference work that delves deeply into the production, circulation, and reception of some aspect of modern Japanese media.

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Music and Sound for Film

Open, Seminar—Spring

This class will explore the ways in which 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. Working in one of these areas now implies an understanding of the other. This class will cover: spotting music/sound with a director; choosing musical themes that correspond to the dramatic needs of a film; using sound design to highlight facets of the world and its characters; conceptualizing the soundworld of a film; and designing the music and sound so that they occupy different, complementary spaces. The marriage of sound and music has deep roots in the history of cinema, and special attention will be paid to great works of the past. There will be weekly listening assignments to survey the history of film music and to explore current trends. Technical topics covered will include: 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, management, and workflow. Students will work on sound design and/or scoring concepts using video clips that I provide or, better yet, using works from their fellow students in the film department.

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Technology and Human Development

Open, Lecture—Spring

All of us today live in a technology-rich environment, which is not only different from the one in which we grew up but also is still changing and evolving rapidly. The course examines the use and design of an array of educational technologies (computer programs, multimedia software, television, video games, websites, and so on) from the perspective of basic research and theory in the human cognitive system, development psychology, and social development areas. The course aims to provide a framework for reasoning about the most developmentally appropriate uses of technologies for children and young adults at different ages. Some of the significant questions that we will focus on include: How are their developmental experiences affected by these technologies? What are the advantages and disadvantages for children using technology, especially for learning? In this class, we will try to touch upon these issues by reading classic literature, researching articles, playing games, watching programs, using apps, and discussing our experiences. Projects and assignments will include weekly class discussions on peer-reviewed journal articles and media artifact critiques written by individual students and through group project work.

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A Film Historian, a Psychologist, and an Artist Walk Into a Class: Laughter Across Disciplines

Open, Lecture—Spring

Why is the topic of laughter so often siloed or scorned in discussions of high art, literature, and the sciences? Why don’t we take laughter seriously as a society? How many professors does it take to teach a course on laughter? (Two more than usual...) In this lecture-seminar, students will develop a highly interdisciplinary understanding of laughter as a human behavior, cultural practice, and wide-ranging tool for creative expression. Based on the expertise of the three professors, lectures will primarily investigate laughter through the lens of psychology, film history, and visual arts. The goal of the course is to think and play across many disciplines. For class assignments, students may be asked to conduct scientific studies of audience laughter patterns, create works of art with punchlines, or write close analyses of classic cinematic gags. Over the course of the semester, we will examine the building blocks of laughter; classic devices of modern comedy; and laughter as a force of resilience, resistance, and regeneration. Topics to be discussed include the evolutionary roots of laughter as a behavior; the psychological substrates of laughter as a mode of emotional and self-regulation; humor in Dada, surrealism, performance art, and stand-up comedy; jokes and the unconscious; comic entanglements of modern bodies and machines; hysterical audiences of early cinema; and how to read funny faces, word play, spit takes, toilet humor, and sound gags.

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A Film Historian, a Psychologist, and an Artist Walk Into a Class: Laughter Across Disciplines

Open, Lecture—Spring

Why is the topic of laughter so often siloed or scorned in discussions of high art, literature, and the sciences? Why don’t we take laughter seriously as a society? How many professors does it take to teach a course on laughter? (Two more than usual!) In this lecture-seminar, students will develop a highly interdisciplinary understanding of laughter as a human behavior, cultural practice, and wide-ranging tool for creative expression. Based on the expertise of the three professors, lectures will primarily investigate laughter through the lens of psychology, film history, and visual arts. The goal of the course is to think and play across many disciplines. For class assignments, students may be asked to conduct scientific studies of audience laughter patterns, create works of art with punchlines, or write close analyses of classic cinematic gags. Over the course of the semester, we will examine the building blocks of laughter; classic devices of modern comedy; and laughter as a force of resilience, resistance, and regeneration. Topics to be discussed include the evolutionary roots of laughter as a behavior; the psychological substrates of laughter as a mode of emotional and self-regulation; humor in Dada, surrealism, performance art, and stand-up comedy; jokes and the unconscious; comic entanglements of modern bodies and machines; hysterical audiences of early cinema; and how to read funny faces, word play, spit takes, toilet humor, and sound gags.

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New Genres: Abstract Video

Open, Seminar—Spring

Although amateurs often confuse the terms, abstract video is a new art form that is very different from the experimental film movement of the 1970s and ’80s. Often drawing from the digital worlds of games, signal processing, 3D modeling, and computational media, abstract video has become an important new aspect of art installation, site-specific sculpture, and gallery presentations. This small-project class is an introduction to the use of video as a material for the visual artists. Using open-source software and digital techniques, students will create several small works of video abstraction intended for gallery installation, ambient surrounds, and new media screens. Artists studied include Refik Anendol, Light Surgeons, Ryoji Ikeda, and more.

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