Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Film Studies Program
2013–2014
Home > Academics > Course Descriptions > 2013–2014


Fall 2013

ENG 230 | Introduction to Film | Professor David Bering-Porter
ENG 233 | Documentary Technologies | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
ENG 330 | Classical Film and Media Theory | Professor Joshua Yumibe 
ENG 332 | Historical Approaches to Film | Professor Bill Vincent
ENG 333 | Studies in Film Genres; The Gangster Film | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
ENG 334 | Screenwriting | Professor Bill Vincent
ENG 335 | Film Directing | Professor Jeff Wray
ENG 430 | Seminar in Film & Media Theory; Undead Media: Beyond Living in Modern Culture| Professor David Bering-Porter
ENG 435A | Creating the Fiction Film I | Professors Jeff Wray and Bob Albers
ENG 490 | Film Collective | Professor Joshua Yumibe 

Spring 2014

ENG 230 | Introduction to Film | Professor Joshua Yumibe 
ENG 331 | Contemporary Film and Media Theory | Professor David Bering-Porter
ENG 332 | Historical Approaches to Film
ENG 333 | Studies in Film Genres; What does a Genre Look Like (North and South)? | Professor Kenneth Harrow
ENG 334 | Screenwriting | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
ENG 431C | Studies in Film and Gender | Professor Ellen McCallum
ENG 432 | Seminar in the History of Film: Color Cinema | Professor Joshua Yumibe
ENG 434 | Advanced Screenwriting | Professor Bill Vincent
ENG 435B | Creating the Fiction Film II | Professor Bob Albers and Peter Johnston
ENG 490 | Independent Study: Film Collective | Professor Joshua Yumibe
ENG 491 Section 3 | Short Film: Writing and Directing | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
LL 250 D | Russian and Soviet Cinema | Professor Jason Merrill

 


 

 

Fall 2013 | ENG 230 | Introduction to Film | Professor David Bering-Porter
 
This course introduces students to the basic tools of film analysis, and the impact of movies on modern culture and vice versa. We will begin by studying “classical” Hollywood films, exploring how these mainstream feature films create and convey meaning through a variety of formal and stylistic strategies. Students will learn to identify and interpret the specific components of the moving image, from visual language to aural presentation, engaging in topics such as narrative, mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound. We will examine the role of the spectator, realism, stardom, genre, and other concerns that are central to film scholarship. With a foundation for understanding Hollywood style, we will shift gears to engage in different types of cinema. We will watch films outside of the mainstream that will both compliment and challenge the primacy of classical Hollywood style; we will watch examples from documentary, the avant-garde, indie-films, animation, and various world cinemas. This course will attend to cinema as an articulation of historical, formal, industrial, and political cultures. As such, success in the course demands rigorous attention to both the films and the readings and requires students to watch, think about, and write about film in new ways. Throughout the semester, student will learn different methods of viewing, analysis, exposition, and criticism and will have the opportunity to write extensively about the films we see in class. This course will give students the necessary tools to watch films critically, but also write about them in different styles and contexts.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 233 | Documentary Technologies | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
 
This course offers an exploration of the documentary film as a category on its own, with an implicit opposition between nonfiction and fiction films. Starting with the early silent films (actualities) we will study the opposition between “fiction” and “document.” Through the different theories of the documentary form, and by studying various forms of the documentary film, we will explore how a filmmaker mediates between the viewer and the subject as he tries to represent or reconstruct reality. We will analyze the different styles of the documentary films and their content to discuss the fundamental issues concerning the documentary form: What is the “voice” of documentary? Is it possible to film an event objectively? How does persuasion inflect a documentary? How does a documentary persuade its viewers? What is the role of narration in documentaries?
This course has an equally significant production component to it, and it will introduce the students to the basics of production like shooting with a camcorder or a DSLR still/video camera. The semester will be divided equally between learning history, theory, and production, and the students are encouraged to shoot with easily accessible technology like the cell phone or the DSLR cameras and edit their footage with the basic editing software installed in their computer or in our editing lab. The focus will be on informed narration and creativity.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 330 | Classical Film and Media Theory | Professor Joshua Yumibe
 
This course examines the rich tradition of classical film theory from the inception of cinema in the late nineteenth century to the 1960s. Over this period, two foundational questions often poised to the medium pertained to its nature and function: what is cinema, and relatedly what does it do? What makes something cinematic, and how might this relate to—and be distinguished from—the work of the other arts? Further, in what ways does cinema affect the spectator—sensually, psychologically, ideologically, and politically? In exploring these questions throughout the semester, we will also devote special attention to the emergence of related issues that continue to be of major importance today, such as the film/language analogy, notions of realism, varying approaches to montage, the modernism/mass culture debate, and the relationship between film history and film style. We will concentrate on the theoretical writings of Hugo Münsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim, Jean Epstein, Sergei Eisenstein, Siegfried Kracauer, Bela Balázs, André Bazin, as well as the theories of Walter Benjamin, Germaine Dulac, Maya Deren, Theodor Adorno, and others. A range of films, both historical and contemporary, will be used to test and challenge these various approaches.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 332 | Historical Approaches to Film | Professor Bill Vincent
 
The history of cinema is the history of an apparatus, constantly improving; of an art form experimenting with and expanding its possibilities; of a business amalgamating and splintering; of a product tailored to reach an audience; of an audience determining what it sees and determined by what it sees; of creative people—directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, editors, actors, and all the others without whom cinema as either art or entertainment would not exist. We begin with the Lumière brothers and Méliès . . .
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 333 | Studies in Film Genres; The Gangster Film | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai

The gangster film is one of the most perennially popular genres in American, and even world, cinema. Some critics would have it that the genre, like many of its protagonists, enjoyed only a brief and violent moment of glory limited to the early 1930s. Others argue that the gangster film is merely a subcategory of the much larger crime-film genre. For this class we will assume that there is such a genre as the gangster film, although we will consider its definition an unsettled question. We will explore how the genre’s characteristics changed in response to historical events and changes within the American film industry, especially censorship. While watching a more-or-less chronological sequence of films produced from 1912 onwards, we will be attempting not only to define what constitutes the boundaries (iconographic, thematic, spatial and historical) of the genre but also to determine why Hollywood filmmakers and the public alike have so continuously turned to gangster dramas as a vehicle for representing their contemporary social reality, and this despite (or perhaps because of?) the unprecedented speed with which American society changed over the course of the period in question. We will also look at the global gangster films in the context of the reinvention of the gangster genre and its cultural specificity.

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Fall 2013 | ENG 334 | Screenwriting | Professor Bill Vincent
 
Screenwriting. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well, it can be, but mostly it’s learning proper formatting, plot structure, characterization, good dialogue. Weekly workshops, ten to fifteen pages per week. Yes, hard work. But by December you will have a full-length script and you will know that you can do it.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 335 | Film Directing | Professor Jeff Wray
 
Part of the Fiction Film Specialization, Film Directing immerses students in the job of the director through a combination of film screenings and production projects. By studying the works of great directors, and working through a series of filmmaking projects which culminates in the creation of a 3-minute short, students learn first hand the challenges and triumphs of Film Directing. See examples of previous student work.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 430 | Seminar in Film and Media Theory; Undead Media: Beyond Living in Modern Culture | Professor David Bering-Porter
 
With the rise of the zombies, vampires, and other monsters in the popular imagination comes the question: what does it mean to be undead? What is death and, for that matter, what does it even mean to be alive? This course looks at undeadness and the post-vital turn modern culture through the lens of popular media in order to better understand the implications of the undead in contexts ranging from the personal utopia of eternal life and the political dystopias of the zombie apocalypse and beyond. We will be making connections between mediated living and undead fantasy by examining representations of undeadness in a variety of media including literature, cinema, television, and video games in order to ask: what can representations of undeadness tell us about the status of our own lives since the advent of the media age? Evaluating objects ranging from Shelley’s Frankenstein and gothic literature; cinematic representations of the undead such as Nosferatu and I Walked With a Zombie; and contemporary incarnations such as the video games like Resident Evil, The Walking Dead on television, and World War Z; this course will conclude by considering the style, politics, and science of the undead and its importance as a contemporary concept that helps us understand what it means to be alive. Critical readings will include Barthes, Bazin, Kittler, Derrida, Foucault, as well as relevant texts specific to the media under investigation.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 435A | Creating the Fiction Film I | Professors Jeff Wray and Bob Albers
 
The capstone class of the Fiction Film Specialization tasks students with writing, producing, finishing and distributing a short film over two semesters. In the first semester, students must form a production team, create and polish a short script, and move through the processes of pre-production and principle photography--no small feat. The professors are there to act as guidance and councel, but make no mistake: students are truly thrust into the independent filmmaking world. Past productions have gone on to screen and win awards at film festivals in Michigan and beyond.
 
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Fall 2013 | ENG 490 | Film Collective | Professor Joshua Yumibe
 
This one-credit screening course is available to Film Studies students. Regular attendance and participation is required throughout the semester. For details and enrollment requests, contact Professor Yumibe.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 230 | Introduction to Film | Professor Joshua Yumibe
 
This course introduces core concepts of film analysis, which are discussed through examples from different national cinemas, genres, and directorial œuvres. The coursework covers a wide range of styles and historical periods in order to assess the multitude of possible film techniques (camera techniques, editing, shot selection, etc.) and principles of narrative structuring. Along with questions of film technique and style, we consider the notion of the cinema as an institution that comprises an industrial system of production, social and aesthetic norms and codes, and particular modes of reception. Success in the course demands rigorous attention to both the films and the readings and requires students to watch, analyze, and write about film in new ways. Throughout the semester, students will learn different methods of viewing, analysis, exposition, and criticism and will have the opportunity to write extensively about the films seen in class. Films discussed include works by Brakhage, Burnett, Deren, Griffith, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Sembene, Sternberg, and Welles.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 331 | Contemporary Film and Media Theory | Professor David Bering-Porter
 
This course draws on the debates in film and media theory from the 1970s into the 2000s. Our primary focus will be on film theory, although the role of other media—particularly digital media and photography—will come into consideration. We begin the course by reflecting on the remarkably fertile and influential moment in the 1970s when film theorists turned from ontological questions about what film is—questions which had dominated film theory in its classical phases—to consider questions about how film conveys meaning and how cinema operates as a system of meaning-making within a larger culture. In this moment, forms of critique developed outside of film studies--ranging from psychoanalysis to marxism to feminism to semiotics and linguistics--gave scholars important tools of analysis to hone their thinking about film and to investigate how cinema works as a system that has social, political, and cultural significance. We then turn from theory of the cinematic apparatus to the disputation of that model and the revision of film theory in terms of spectatorship, narrative, movement, and temporality. We next consider how different modes of cinema define or challenge national, regional, or subcultural styles, with particular attention to questions about the stakes for realism and the role of aesthetics.  We end by returning to the question of medium, to examine the impact of digital media on cinema and deliberate future directions in film studies. Although our emphasis will be on the written texts, the films we see engage the theoretical issues in a different way than the essays or books, but both kinds of texts aim to illuminate questions of cinema.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 332 | Historical Approaches to Film | TBA
 
This course surveys the history of cinema from its emergence at the end of the nineteenth century through the variety of transformations it has undergone across the twentieth and into the twentieth-first centuries. Moving chronologically, we will track a variety of national schools and international trends of filmmaking in order to analyze the global development of film exhibition practices, the emergence of film audiences, and more broadly cinema’s role within the public sphere. The course is broadly divided into three parts. In the first, we will examine the formal, industrial, and cultural changes of the medium from cinema’s beginnings through the conversion to sound in the late 1920s. The second part will explore a variety of national and international movements form the 1930s to the 1950s—including German and French cinemas, classical Hollywood cinema, and Japanese studio productions pre- and postwar. The final section proceeds from 1960s European new wave experiments through postcolonial movements to contemporary art cinemas. Through taking a broad and comparative approach to the history of cinema, we will gain critical perspective on the forces that shape the medium’s profoundly transnational character. To assist in this process, we will engage with a variety of primary and secondary textual sources in order to assess and cultivate theoretical methods for researching and writing film history.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 333 | Studies in Film Genres; What does a Genre Look Like (North and South)? | Professor Kenneth Harrow

Genres are basically conventional structures that have developed with the growth of cinema into recognizable types or movements. Within mainstream cinema, dominated by Hollywood, we might expect to see crime or detective films, like film noir, or musicals on a grand scale, or intimate social dramas. Each epoch develops its own dominant forms, and we might expect films dealing with terrorism to evolve into a genre for our times. But we can also see how films from other regions might work within “established” genres, accented in their own ways. Or they might develop new genres, such as Third Cinema that accompanied the revolutionary movements of the 1960s, or child soldier films for our times. This course will look at a series of genres, often with counterparts in the Global North and Global South, and compare them with the view of understand how genre is inflected by the regions in which they have developed, and how they might reflect something of the perspectives of the different “worlds” to which they belong.

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Spring 2014 | ENG 334 | Screenwriting | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
 
This course introduces students to significant discourses surrounding ‘acts’ in a screenplay. Starting with the foundational “three-act” screenplay, it interrogates the strengths and weaknesses of formulating rigid structures. Students in this class will learn conventional as well as alternative ways of thinking about the structure of screenplay through analysis of mainstream, art as well as independent categories of films. The aim is to enable students to look critically at the screenplay of seminal and significant films so that they can work out a structure for the story they want to tell. The students in this course are expected to engage with the creative process of writing a screenplay by watching, analyzing, and discussing films, while at the same time pitch their ideas, and observe the transformation these ideas undergo as they work toward the final goal of writing 1/3rd of their story in a chosen screenplay format—in the conventional sense it could be the act-1 and the beginning of act-2, or the end of act-2, and the act-3, but one could opt for an episodic, or a short film, or other unconventional format as well.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 431C | Studies in Film and Gender | Professor Ellen McCallum
 
This course will focus on the films of four of the foremost female francophone filmmakers: Agnès Varda, Chantal Ackerman, Catherine Breillat, and Claire Denis. Spanning the decades from the rise of the New Wave (La Pointe Courte, 1955) to the current moment (Almayer's Folly, 2012), films by these directors contribute to ongoing debates about feminism, desire, class, race, nation, and the distribution of power in society. Their works have been influential in the formation and evolution of feminist film theory on this side of the Atlantic, important as much for their aesthetic vision as for their political critique or captivating story. We will consider these directors' films in relation to questions of aesthetics and politics at the intersection of film and feminist theory.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 432 | Seminar in the History of Film: Color Cinema | Professor Joshua Yumibe
 
This course surveys the aesthetic and technological history of color in the cinema and its impact on film style in international cinema. Particular attention will be paid to cinema’s relation to other color media (photography, mass advertising, painting, stage design) and to aesthetic debates in philosophy, art history, and literature over the perceptual effects and ideologies of color. In charting this history globally, the module explores the ways in which technologies and media circulate transnationally yet are received and interpreted in locally specific ways. Works to be covered include films from early cinema (Annabelle Dances, The Red Spectre), narrative cinema of the 1920s (The Toll of the Sea, The Black Pirate), Technicolor of the 1930s (Becky Sharp), melodrama and musicals (All that Heaven Allows, The Bandwagon), global art cinemas (Black Narcissus, Daisies, Touki Bouki), experimental film (Harry Smith, Oskar Fischinger, Stan Brakhage), and contemporary cinema (Days of Heaven, Hero).
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 434 | Advanced Screenwriting | Professor Bill Vincent
 
Okay, you’ve written a script, now what? Revision, tightening, polishing. Workshopping. Another full- length script, better than the first one. Pitching. Treatments. Log lines. Tag lines. After all, you want to know how to sell it..
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 435B | Creating the Fiction Film II | Professors Bob Albers and Peter Johnston
 
The capstone class of the Fiction Film Specialization tasks students with writing, producing, finishing and distributing a short film over two semesters. In the second semester, students pick up right where they left off by moving the film into post-production and distribution. Over the course of 16 weeks they must form a post-production team and complete picture editing, sound sweetening, visual FX and color grading, then take the film into distribution and organize and execute premiere and additional screenings. Past productions have gone on to sell-out screenings at Celebration Cinemas's Studio C and win awards at film festivals in Michigan and beyond.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 490 | Film Collective | Professor Joshua Yumibe
 
This one-credit screening course is available to Film Studies students. Regular attendance and participation is required throughout the semester. For details and enrollment requests, contact Professor Yumibe.
 
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Spring 2014 | ENG 491 Section 3 | Short Film: Writing and Directing | Professor Swarnavel E. Pillai
 
A short film is often defined only as a binary of the feature length film. The duration of the short film, too, has been changing over time and according to the context. For instance, each film festival has its own criteria. Nonetheless, a short film is generally perceived to be as short as few seconds in duration or as long as forty minutes or even more. For the purposes of this class, however, let us think of the short film as a fiction/ nonfiction/ experimental film that is 10 to 15 minutes long. This class is unique in the sense that we will write a short screenplay and also produce it during the semester. During the first half of the course we will focus on writing, and the second half, starting from March, we will concentrate on production. We will privilege ideas and concepts, and use DSLR cameras to make short films, which could then be uploaded and exhibited through new media. Toward this end students will start pitching their ideas and hone their skills at screenwriting before embarking on production based on their screenplays. The latter half of the course, therefore, will involve screening and discussion of the works-in-progress and revisions of the scripts and the film. While the students are encouraged to work on any idea of their choice, they are advised to be practical in terms of the feasibility and the deadlines for the completion of the project in its various stages during the writing as well as production modules of the semester. The aim of this class is to empower students with the required skills in the writing and production of short films, which are now in greater demand due to the possibilities of distribution offered by new media and social networking sites.
 
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Spring 2014 | LL 250 D | Russian and Soviet Cinema | Professor Jason Merrill
 
This course is a survey of the major trends in Russian and Soviet cinema from its pre-revolutionary roots to post- Soviet films. The course is organized around the major themes of the last 100 years and how they are developed in Russian cinema, including “Women, Men, and Families,” “Stalin and the Legacy of Stalinism,” “The Great Patriotic War,” “Russia and the West,” and “Putin’s Russia.”
In this class we will: view and discuss the key films of Russian and Soviet cinema; place these films in their historical and political context; learn about the Russian and Soviet film production systems; work with various film theories and approaches to interpreting films.
All films shown with subtitles, no knowledge of Russian required.
 
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