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Fall 2019

FSCP 81000/ The Biographical Film: Editing a Life, [3 credits], Thursdays, 4:15pm-7:15pm. Crosslisted with MALS 78500. 

Instructor: Marc Dolan 

This course will survey a range of examples of one of the most common film genres of the last century: the biographical film.  In our meetings, we will pay special attention to how the preparation and execution of film biographies resemble and depart from that of their print equivalents.  

In our introductory class we will watch a sampling of one-reel biographies from the first few decades of filmmaking, and then move swiftly in our second week to Abel Gance’s wide-screen tricolor epic Napoleon (1927).  (We will probably view the latter film in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick’s notes for his ultimately unproduced film on the same subject.)  Next, we will engage Alexander Korda’s pioneeringly satirical The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), two films that are oddly resonant with contemporary trends in midcentury print biography, the debunking and Annales strains respectively.  Our early twentieth-century unit will then conclude with Daniel Mann’s sincerely melodramatic I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), a popular biographical film of its time that had been almost instantly adapted from Lilian Roth’s bestselling 1954 memoir.  

By this point in film history, the biographical genre was so well-established that filmmakers could play with it more.  In the late twentieth-century, biographical film took more turns toward segmented or selective depictions of a subject’s life, as witnessed by David Lean’s grand slice of a life Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Andrei Tarkovsky’s six-piece, meditative Andrei Rublev (1966), and Spike Lee’s stylized and similarly segmented Malcolm X (1992).  Our survey will conclude with two special cases: Todd Haynes’ range of archetypal biography from Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988) to I’m Not There (2007); and Shkehar Kapur and Cate Blanchett’s decade-long collaboration on a single biographical subject in Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).  Our last weeks of meetings before student presentations will form a transhistorical coda for the course, with classes on parallel film biographies of Cleopatra (from DeMille/Colbert, Mankiewicz/Taylor, Roddam/Varela, and others) and Abraham Lincoln (from Griffith/Huston, Ford/Fonda, Spielberg/Day-Lewis, and others).  

Students will be expected to prepare an annotated bibliography, 15-to-20-minute presentation, and a 5000-word essay on a topic related to biographical film.  

Readings will be assigned from such works as George F. Custen‘s Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History, Dennis P. Bingham’s Whose Lives Are They Anyway?: Biopic as Contemporary Film, Ellen Cheshire’s Bio-Pics: A Life in Pictures, and at least chapter 3 of Rick Altman’s Film/Genre, as well as individually apposite biographical excerpts.    

FSCP 81000/African Film History and Theory, 1950-1990, [3 credits], Mondays, 4:15pm-8:15pm. Crosslisted with THEA 81600 and CL 80100. 

Instructor: Boukary Sawadogo 

The birth and development of African cinema in the 1950s started against the backdrop of the discourse of othering in colonial cinema. This is evident in the underlying civilizing mission of documentaries (education, health, agriculture) and travelogues. In addition, there is the quest for exoticism in Hollywood adventure/action film subgenre that prominently feature the three figures of the blonde, the safari hunter, and the native. African cinema started gaining international attention and recognition in the 1960s, with the works of pioneer filmmakers such as Ousmane Sembène, Med Hondo, and Moustapha Alassane. The historical development of African cinema until 1990 is marked with liberation struggle, appropriation of the gaze, and cultural nationalism. From a theoretical standpoint, African cinema can be regarded as a form of oppositional cinema in the vein of anti-establishment movements of the Italian neorealism, French New Wave, Cinema Novo, and Third Cinema.  


FSCP 81000/ Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí, Literature, Cinema, Image, [3 credits], Wednesdays, 4:15pm-6:15. Crosslisted with SPAN 85000

Instructor: Paul Julian Smith 

This course treats the drama of Federico García Lorca, the silent and Spanish-language films of Buñuel, and some fine art works by Dalí. It also involves close reading of literary, cinematic and fine art texts and analysis of the voluminous and contradictory body of criticism on those texts. It also addresses such questions as tradition and modernity; the city and the country; and the biopic in film and television. The question of intermediality, or the relation between different media, will be examined in its historical and theoretical dimensions. The course will graded by final paper (50%), midterm exam (25%), and final presentation, weekly postings to course website and oral contribution to class  (25%). 



FSCP 81000/Contemporary Spanish and Mexican Cinema and Television, [3 credits], Wednesdays, 6:30pm-8:30pm.  Crosslisted with SPAN 87100. 

Instructor: Paul Julian Smith 

This course, which is taught in English and requires no knowledge of Spanish, compares and contrasts Spanish and Mexican cinema and television of the last three decades. The course will address four topics in film: the replaying of history, nationality and transnationalism,gender and sexuality, and regionalism and urbanism; and will further study aspects of television fiction. Feature films will be viewed in subtitled versions. Methodology will embrace analysis of the audiovisual industry, film form, and theory. The course grade will be made up of final paper and related presentation (50%), class contribution and weekly postings (25%),and take home exam (25%). 



FSCP 81000/ The Essay Film, [3 credits], Wednesdays, 4:15pm-6:15pm.  Crosslisted with ENGL 87400. 
A 2 or 4 credit option will be offered through English (ENGL 87400)

Instructor: Wayne Koestenbaum 

This seminar offers a chance to delve into visual works that might be called “essay films.”  A perplexing category;  a fruitful category;  a pretext for flight, for immersion, and for an end to naysaying.  Critic Tim Corrigan argues that “although for many the notion of an essay film remains less than self-explanatory, this particular mode of filmmaking has become more and more recognized as not only a distinctive kind of filmmaking but also, I would insist, as the most vibrant and significant kind of filmmaking in the world today.” (Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film:  From Montaigne, after Marker, Oxford U. Press, 2011.)  Artists studied will include such unclassifiables as Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Agnès Varda, Werner Herzog, Marlon Riggs, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Isaac Julien, Jonas Mekas, and Ja’Tovia Gary, among many other possibilities.  We will read some theoretical texts about the literary essay and the essay film:  Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, André Bazin, Hito Steyerl, Laura Mulvey, Nora Alter, and others.  As an ancillary aim, the course will consider how essayistic modes of filmmaking cast light on the contemporary practice of the literary essay (Claudia Rankine, Anne Carson, and others).  Students will have the opportunity to write about essay films, and, if desired, to experiment with the making of an essay film.  No auditors. 

FSCP 81000/ Women and Film, [3 credits], Tuesdays, 4:15pm-8:15pm.  Crosslisted with MALS 78500.

Instructor: Elizabeth Alsop

This course will explore female filmmakers’ contributions to global cinema from the studio era to the present, with a particular focus on the ways women have navigated and responded to dominant modes of film production, distribution, and representation. Our primary goals will be to examine the history of women’s labor and creativity in the cinema, while also reckoning with the devalorization of that labor, both in film studies curricula—which has often deprecated the work of women in popular Hollywood genres—and in film history, which continues to minimize the role of female directors in epochal movements. We’ll analyze our weekly screenings in terms of aesthetics and ideology, and consider the ways female filmmakers have engaged with the discourses of feminism, as well as questions of race, class, and sexual identity. We’ll conclude by considering how recent developments, including the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, have affected women’s roles within the 21st-century media landscape. Screenings may include work by Ida Lupino, Agnès Varda, Věra Chytilová, Chantal Akerman, Barbara Loden, Claudia Weil, Elaine May, Lina Wertmüller, Susan Seidelman, Lizzie Borden, Jane Campion, Julie Dash, Cheryl Dunye, Andrea Arnold, Claire Denis, and Lucrecia Martel. Students will be asked to read essays by scholars such as Laura Mulvey, bell hooks, Claire Johnston, Judith Mayne, Teresa de Lauretis, Tania Modleski, Lúcia Nagib, and Patricia White, among others.  

Among the questions we might ask: What have been the prevailing structural constraints faced by female directors in various national contexts? How have industry expectations and cultural biases—regarding gender, genre, and audience—shaped the careers of female filmmakers, and in turn, existing canons? How might film history better account for the work of female editors, producers, and writers, and what is the feminist potential of less auteurist accounts? What should feminist viewers do with the “bad” objects of popular culture? Finally, what “progress,” if any, has been made when it comes to women’s representation behind the camera? How and to what extent might the rise of streaming television platforms be changing the game? 

Students will be asked to produce weekly 1-page response papers and a final, 15-20 page paper or creative project. Members of the class would be responsible for facilitating one class session, which includes generating questions and curating additional resources about our screening using a class blog on the CUNY Academic Commons.