Original version: http://aesthetics-online.org/teaching/haskins.html
Other syllabi on aesthetics can be found at: http://aesthetics-online.org/teaching/index.html
Purchase College SUNY
Aestheticians and critics have long maintained that arts like painting, literature, music, dance, and architecture are interesting not just "aesthetically" (however one defines that) but also because they engage our deepest questions about reality, knowledge, and human values. This course explores how that is also true of film. Film is a peculiar phenomenon in many ways . It's the most powerful illusionistic medium yet invented, possessing the ability to mold our beliefs, desires, and fears, in some ways even our very identities, in accordance with its images. It possesses a distinctive (and still rapidly evolving) technology, yet it is also a hybrid, incorporating stylistic features and techniques from various other arts alluded to above. And its social status is interestingly ambiguous. (Is film essentially "entertainment", "fine art", both, or neither? ).
Against the backdrop of such facts, our questions will include the following: What is the relationship of film to reality? In particular, should we think of it as an essentially passive mirror of a pre-existing reality--or, alternatively, should we think of it as possessing the power, through its internal formal operations, to actively construct a reality of its own? Do films have a peculiar way (as modernist critics have claimed is the case with painting, literature, music, and other arts ) of continually referring back to themselves, or to other films, or to film in general--a kind of cinematic version of "art for art's sake"? Does film embody, or encourage, a special kind of knowledge of human experience and the world generally? If it's a truism that people enjoy, and can even become addicted to, movies because they fuel our deepest fantasies, can , movies ever, beyond this, affect or intervene in our experience in morally or socially beneficial ways? And can they also affect us in ways that are (as Plato worried about poetry) psychologically, morally or socially dangerous? Readings for the course will feature a variety of film theorists and philosophers; in addition, there will be weekly screenings of selected films, some old and some more recent .
1. Cynthia A. Freeland and Thomas E Wartenberg, eds., Philosophy and Film
2. Irving Singer, Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique
3. Xerox packets which will be available at different points in the semester.
Written work will consist of (i) a short philosophical film review ( two full pages minimum) on Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful , due the second week of class; (ii) a midterm exam on the theoretical issues covered in the first half of the semester; (iii) a midterm paper (5 pages minimum) on a selected topic; (iv) a final exam on theoretical issues covered in the second half of the semester; and (v) a final paper (7 pages minimum) on a topic of your choice, approved by me. How easy will the class be for someone who hasn't had philosophy courses? There are no special philosophy prerequisites. But philosophy isn't an "easy" subject. This course will require anyone who takes it for credit to do some real philosophy, which involves lots of careful reading and rereading, serious preparation for the exams, and a willingness to think and write analytically about some very large and difficult subjects. So this won't quite be a let's-watch-some-fun-movies course, even though we will be talking about (what I hope you'll agree are) some good films, something that is hard for anyone in our culture not to enjoy. Regular Attendance is necessary to do well in the course. Four or more unexcused absences (i.e., absences without a documented medical excuse) are grounds for failing the course. It's basic courtesy to show up on time, and to refrain from eating, non-emergency bathroom visits, etc., during the class period. If you have to arrive a few minutes late, it's your responsibility to let me know after class in case I called the roll. Makeups, etc. I don't give makeups on exams, extensions on papers, or incompletes except in cases of documented medical emergency. Two practices which are not permitted: submitting a paper done for another class in this class, and plagiarism in any form. Doing either can result in failure of the course. Please take these policies seriously.
All readings listed below are required unless indicated otherwise. There are endless further books, articles, websites, etc. which you may find useful as background resources for this course. Of these, I'll mention four : (i) David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, 5th ed. (An authoritative and very readable overview of general film aesthetics ) ; (ii) Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy, eds., Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ( classic readings in film theory from a variety of authors; it's updated every few years) ; (iii) John Hill and Patricia Church Gibson, eds., The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (A recent collection of introductory articles by noted film scholars on a spectrum of topics in film studies, including the history of cinema, film and gender studies, the international cinema, film genres, etc. It usefully complements the more philosophy-oriented readings on our syllabus.); (iv) There is a website of various links relevant to philosophy-of-film subjects, including an internet discussion group, at www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/film-philosophy/files/ (If you join the discussion group, be prepared for a deluge of postings on a spectrum of sublime-to-ridiculous topics. They also include instructions about how to get off the list.)
25 Read introduction to Wartenberg & Freeland, Philosophy and Film (hereafter, "W&F"). First short paper on Life is Beautiful due in class.
28 Nietzsche, "Our Ultimate Reason for Gratitude Towards Art" (from The Gay Science); Plato, "Allegory of the Cave" (from the Republic); Siegfried Kracauer, "Basic Concepts"
1 Rudolph Arnheim, "The Complete Film" and "Film and Reality"
1 First screening on Monday Feb 1. Featuring: selected short early (c. 1895) films by the Lumiere brothers (inc. Workers Leaving Lumiere Factory and The Falling Wall); selected short films by George Melies (including A Trip to the Moon and In the Palace of the Arabian Nights); also, Chaplin's Modern Times.
4 Arnheim, cont.; Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Recommended (besides any films from 1895-1935 or so you get a chance to watch): the first few chapters of John Updike's novel In the Beauty of the Lilies, which suggestively evokes the impact of motion pictures on everyday life (even on religious life) in early 20th century America.
8 Benjamin,"The Work of Art...." (cont.) Parker Tyler, preface to Magic and Myth of the Movies. Recommended in connection with the Benjamin film: Beineix's Diva (A great film; I leave it to you to figure out its relevance to Benjamin's essay)
Feb. 8 screening: It Happened One Night.
11 Stanley Cavell, "The Thought of Movies" (in F&W; read from middle of p. 18 to top of p. 24; skim rest); Cavell, Introduction and chapter two (on It Happened One Night) of his book Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage." Recommended: the rest of Pursuits of Happiness; Naomi Scheman, "Missing Mothers, Desiring Daughters: framing the Sight of Women" (in Freeland and Wartenberg, Philosophy and Film, hereafter abbreviated as "F&W')
15 Further discussion of Cavell readings
Feb. 15 screening: Casablanca
18 Selected reviews of Casablanca; Robert Gooding-Williams, "Black Cupids, White Desires: Reading the Representation of Racial Difference in Casablanca and Ghost" (in F&W)
22 Readings on Hitchcock TBA, plus excerpt from Laura Mulvey's classic paper "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"; Warren Buckland, "Film Aesthetics: Formalism and Realism"
Feb. 22 screening: Vertigo
25 Continue to discuss Mulvey. Recommended: Mary Devereaux, "Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The 'New' Aesthetics" (reserve; this essay is helpful in clarifying Mulvey's argument ) Pick up horror xerox packets, midterm study sheet, and midterm paper topic sheet.
1 Excerpt from Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror: or, Paradoxes of the Heart; Cynthia Freeland, "Realist Horror", in F&W; Recommended: Cynthia Freeland, "Feminist Frameworks for Horror Films"
March 1 screening: Frankenstein. After the screening there will be on reserve, besides Frankenstein, TheSilence of the Lambs, which is discussed by Freeland and Edmundson. Two further current cinematic recommendations: Gods and Monsters (based on the life of Frankenstein's director, James Whale; a very interesting film in its own right) and Steven Spielberg's The Last Days (a real-life horror film)
4 Excerpt from Mark Edmundson, Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism and the Culture of Gothic.
March 8 screening: Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
11 Harvey Cormier, "2001: Modern Art, and Modern Philosophy"
22 Murray Smith, "Modernism and the avant-gardes" ( handout from The Oxford Guide to Film Studies)
March 22 screening: The Crying Game
Midterm papers due in my office by end of the day on Tuesday, March 23.
25 Discussion of midterm papers (Cavell and Mulvey on cinematic romance; Carroll on horror)
29 Bertolt Brecht, "Epic Theater"
March 29 screening: Do the Right Thing
1, 5 Douglas Kellner, "Spike Lee's Morality Tales" (in F&W)
Optional Extra Credit Papers on Beineix's Diva or Jordan's The Crying Game due April 5.
April 5 screening: Persona
8 Introduction to Ingmar Bergman and to Hegel's idea of the "master-slave dialectic"
12, 15 Kelly Oliver, "The Politics of Interpretation: The Case of Bergman's Persona " (in F&W)
19 Irving Singer, Introduction to Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique ("Realism and Formalism"). Partial screening of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo
22, 26 Singer, Chapter One ( "Appearance and Reality")
Final exam study sheet and extra credit paper topic questions (on Singer's Reality Transformed; due May 6 ) distributed April 26. You should be working on final papers now.
April 26 screening: Death in Venice
29 Singer, Chapter Two (Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo")