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COM* 154 - Film Study and Appreciation

Ken DiMaggio Ken DiMaggio, Instructor, 906-5109, Office 1106

Prerequisite
ENG 101, "Composition."

Course Description
An introductory study of cinema as a cultural force and artistic form. Students will view and discuss representative films from the early years of the industry to the present, and offer their own oral and written analysis of these films as applied to topics covered during the semester. This course can count towards your humanities or communication elective. Prerequisite: English Composition (ENG 101). For more information, visit Academic Media Technology (room 1031) or call 860-906-5030.

Learning Objectives

To demonstrate an understanding of:

Students will:

As measured by:

Film as a form of artistic expression and storytelling

View all assigned films in class and review outside of class time if needed (if the films are available on reserve in the Library or on-line via streaming media)

Participate in classroom and on-line discussions
 

Written or on-line quizzes, tests, and examinations; on-line discussions and chat; presentations to the class; written reports; class participation; homework assignments.

The powerful role film plays in political, social, and cultural dialogue.

Read all assigned material from textbooks, handouts, and on-line or Library resources

Participate in classroom and on-line discussions

Written or on-line quizzes, tests, and examinations; on-line discussions and chat; presentations to the class; written reports; class participation; homework assignments.

The interplay of film and personal and group identity

Participate in classroom and on-line discussions

Keep a written journal of their individual perspectives on each film

Lead one classroom discussion reacting to a film viewed in class.
 

Written examinations; on-line discussions and chat; presentations to the class; written reports; class participation; homework assignments.

Synthesizing textbook understandings with the personal film viewing experience

Identify common themes and elements in the films presented during the semester

Written reports; on-line discussions and chat; presentations to the class.

The four basic types of film criticism (review, analytical critique, comparative analysis, documented research paper)

Prepare written analyses of several films presented and discussed during the semester

Well-written and documented academic papers reflecting the four types of film criticism.

Tentative Film List
ALL FILMS HAVE BEEN RATED "R" BY THE MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA unless otherwise noted.
Motion pictures will be presented
from DVD videodisc on large-screen digital projection with stereo sound. Film reviews and still images on this page from amazon.com.

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921)

A milestone of the silent film era and one of the first "art films" to gain international acclaim, this eerie German classic remains the most prominent example of German expressionism in the emerging art of the cinema. Stylistically, the look of the film's painted sets--distorted perspectives, sharp angles, twisted architecture--was designed to reflect (or express) the splintered psychology of its title character, a sinister figure who uses a lanky somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) as a circus attraction. But when Caligari and his sleepwalker are suspected of murder, their novelty act is surrounded by more supernatural implications. With its mad-doctor scenario, striking visuals, and a haunting, zombie-like character at its center, Caligari was one of the first horror films to reach an international audience, sending shock waves through artistic circles and serving as a strong influence on the classic horror films of the 1920s, '30s, and beyond. It's a museum piece today, of interest more for its historical importance, but Caligari still casts a considerable spell. --Jeff Shannon

Not Rated
Directed by Robert Wiene – 71 minutes

     
 

Citizen Kane (1941)

Arguably the greatest of American films, Orson Welles's 1941 masterpiece, made when he was only 26, still unfurls like a dream and carries the viewer along the mysterious currents of time and memory to reach a mature (if ambiguous) conclusion: people are the sum of their contradictions, and can't be known easily. Welles plays newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, taken from his mother as a boy and made the ward of a rich industrialist. The result is that every well-meaning or tyrannical or self-destructive move he makes for the rest of his life appears in some way to be a reaction to that deeply wounding event. Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, and photographed by Gregg Toland, the film is the sum of Welles's awesome ambitions as an artist in Hollywood. He pushes the limits of then-available technology to create a true magic show, a visual and aural feast that almost seems to be rising up from a viewer's subconsciousness. As Kane, Welles even ushers in the influence of Bertolt Brecht on film acting. This is truly a one-of-a-kind work, and in many ways is still the most modern of modern films from the 20th century. --Tom Keogh

Rated PG
Directed, Produced, and Written by Orson Welles – 119 minutes

     
 

On The Waterfront (1956)

Marlon Brando's famous "I coulda been a contenda" speech is such a warhorse by now that a lot of people probably feel they've seen this picture already, even if they haven't. And many of those who have seen it may have forgotten how flat-out thrilling it is. For all its great dramatic and cinematic qualities, and its fiery social criticism, Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront is also one of the most gripping melodramas of political corruption and individual heroism ever made in the United States, a five-star gut-grabber. Shot on location around the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, in the mid-1950s, it tells the fact-based story of a longshoreman (Brando's Terry Malloy) who is blackballed and savagely beaten for informing against the mobsters who have taken over his union and sold it out to the bosses. (Karl Malden has a more conventional stalwart-hero role, as an idealistic priest who nurtures Terry's pangs of conscience.) Lee J. Cobb, who created the role of Willy Loman in Death of Salesman under Kazan's direction on Broadway, makes a formidable foe as a greedy union leader. --David Chute

Directed by Elia Kazan – 108 minutes

     
 

Easy Rider (1969)

This box-office hit from 1969 is an important pioneer of the American independent cinema movement, and a generational touchstone to boot. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper play hippie motorcyclists crossing the Southwest and encountering a crazy quilt of good and bad people. Jack Nicholson turns up in a significant role as an attorney who joins their quest for awhile and articulates society's problem with freedom as Fonda's and Hopper's characters embody it. Hopper directed, essentially bringing the no-frills filmmaking methods of legendary, drive-in movie producer Roger Corman (The Little Shop of Horrors) to a serious feature for the mainstream. The film can't help but look a bit dated now (a psychedelic sequence toward the end particularly doesn't hold up well), but it retains its original power, sense of daring, and epochal impact. --Tom Keogh

Directed by Dennis Hopper – 94 minutes

     
 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

One of the key movies of the 1970s, when exciting, groundbreaking, personal films were still being made in Hollywood, Milos Forman's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest emphasized the humanistic story at the heart of Ken Kesey's more hallucinogenic novel. Jack Nicholson was born to play the part of Randle Patrick McMurphy, the rebellious inmate of a psychiatric hospital who fights back against the authorities' cold attitudes of institutional superiority, as personified by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). It's the classic antiestablishment tale of one man asserting his individuality in the face of a repressive, conformist system--and it works on every level. Forman populates his film with memorably eccentric faces, and gets such freshly detailed and spontaneous work from his ensemble that the picture sometimes feels like a documentary. Unlike a lot of films pitched at the "youth culture" of the 1970s, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest really hasn't dated a bit, because the qualities of human nature that Forman captures--playfulness, courage, inspiration, pride, stubbornness--are universal and timeless. The film swept the Academy Awards for 1976, winning in all the major categories (picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay) for the first time since Frank Capra's It Happened One Night in 1931. --Jim Emerson

Directed by Milos Forman – 133 minutes

     
 

Do The Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee's incendiary look at contemporary race relations in America is so colorful and exuberant for its first three-quarters that you can almost forget the terrible confrontation that the movie inexorably builds toward. Do the Right Thing is a joyful, tumultuous masterpiece, maybe the best film ever made about race in America. It reveals racial prejudices and stereotypes in all their guises and demonstrates how a deadly riot can erupt out of a series of small misunderstandings. Set on one block in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the hottest day of the summer, the movie shows the whole spectrum of life in this neighborhood and then leaves it up to us to decide if, in the end, anybody actually does the "right thing." Featuring Danny Aiello as Sal, the pizza parlor owner; Lee himself as Mookie, the lazy pizza-delivery guy; John Turturro and Richard Edson as Sal's sons; Lee's sister Joie as Mookie's sister Jade; Rosie Perez as Mookie's girlfriend Tina; Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee as the block elders, Da Mayor and Mother Sister; Giancarlo Esposito as Mookie's hot-headed friend Buggin' Out; Bill Nunn as the boom-box toting Radio Raheem; and Samuel L. Jackson as deejay Mister Señor Love Daddy. A rich and nuanced film to watch, treasure, and learn from over and over again. --Jim Emerson

Directed, Produced, and Written by Spike Lee – 120 minutes

     
  Goodfellas (1990)

Martin Scorsese's 1990 masterpiece GoodFellas immortalizes the hilarious, horrifying life of actual gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his teen years on the streets of New York to his anonymous exile under the Witness Protection Program. The director's kinetic style is perfect for recounting Hill's ruthless rise to power in the 1950s as well as his drugged-out fall in the late 1970s; in fact, no one has ever rendered the mental dislocation of cocaine better than Scorsese. Scorsese uses period music perfectly, not just to summon a particular time but to set a precise mood. GoodFellas is at least as good as The Godfather without being in the least derivative of it. Joe Pesci's psycho improvisation of Mobster Tommy DeVito ignited Pesci as a star, Lorraine Bracco scores the performance of her life as the love of Hill's life, and every supporting role, from Paul Sorvino to Robert De Niro, is a miracle.

Directed by Martin Scorsese – 145 minutes

     
  El Mariachi (1993)

El Mariachi just wants to play his guitar and carry on the family tradition. Unfortunately, the town he tries to find work in has another visitor...a killer who carries his guns in a guitar case. The drug lord and his henchmen mistake El Mariachi for the killer, Azul, and chase him around town trying to kill him and get his guitar case. New film transfer from original negatives supervised by Robert Rodriguez! Featurette: "Sneak Peak: Once Upon A Time in Mexico." Audio Commentary with Director Robert Rodriguez. Featurette: 10 Minute Film School. Featurette: Robert Rodriguez's Student Film "Bed Head."

Directed by Robert Rodriguez – 81 minutes

 

     
  Boys Don't Cry (1999)

When Brandon Teena, a young man with an infectious, aw-shucks grin and an angelic face that's all angles, wanders into Falls City, Nebraska, he takes to the town like it's a second skin. In little time he's fallen in with a gang of goofy if temperamental redneck boys, found himself a girlfriend, and befriended enough people to form something of a small family. In fact, it's the best time Brandon's ever had. However, there are shadows looming over Brandon's life: a court date for grand theft auto, a checkered criminal record, and a seemingly innocuous speeding ticket that could prove to be his undoing. Why? Because as it turns out, Brandon Teena is actually Teena Brandon, a woman masquerading as a man.

This fascinating story was based on real-life events (as documented in The Brandon Teena Story) that occurred in 1993 and ended in tragedy: Brandon's rape and murder by two of his supposed friends. Despite this horrible outcome, however, in the hands of director Kimberly Peirce (who cowrote the unfettered screenplay with Andy Bienen), Brandon's story becomes not oppressive or preachy, but rather oddly and touchingly transcendent, anchored by Hilary Swank's phenomenal, unsentimental performance. Swank inhabits Brandon's contradictions and passions with a natural vitality most actresses would refuse to give themselves over to. Brandon's deception is doomed from the start, but Swank's enthusiasm is infectious, and when Brandon starts romancing the sloe-eyed Lana (a pitch-perfect Chloe Sevigny), he finds a soul mate who wants to transcend boundaries and fated identities as much as he does. The last part of the film, when Brandon's true identity is discovered, is truly painful to watch, but in between the agony there are touching moments of sweetness between Brandon and Lana, who wrestles with the truth of who Brandon actually is. You'll come away from Boys Don't Cry with affection and respect for Brandon, not pity. --Mark Englehart

Directed by Kimberly Peirce – 118 minutes

     
  Crash (2004)

Movie studios, by and large, avoid controversial subjects like race the way you might avoid a hive of angry bees. So it's remarkable that Crash even got made; that it's a rich, intelligent, and moving exploration of the interlocking lives of a dozen Los Angeles residents--black, white, latino, Asian, and Persian--is downright amazing. A politically nervous district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his high-strung wife (Sandra Bullock, biting into a welcome change of pace from Miss Congeniality) get car-jacked by an oddly sociological pair of young black men (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); a rich black T.V. director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) get pulled over by a white racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his reluctant partner (Ryan Phillipe); a detective (Don Cheadle) and his Latina partner and lover (Jennifer Esposito) investigate a white cop who shot a black cop--these are only three of the interlocking stories that reach up and down class lines. Writer/director Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby) spins every character in unpredictable directions, refusing to let anyone sink into a stereotype. The cast--ranging from the famous names above to lesser-known but just as capable actors like Michael Pena (Buffalo Soldiers) and Loretta Devine (Woman Thou Art Loosed)--meets the strong script head-on, delivering galvanizing performances in short vignettes, brief glimpses that build with gut-wrenching force. This sort of multi-character mosaic is hard to pull off; Crash rivals such classics as Nashville and Short Cuts. A knockout. --Bret Fetzer

Directed by Paul Haggis – 113 minutes

Updated 07/18/2012