Courses

CMST 25303 The Threshold of the Visible: Modernism and Scientific Vision

By the turn of the last century, scientific imaging techniques like microphotography, astrophotography, x-rays, infrared vision, and time-lapse and slow-motion cinematography had already extended the threshold of the visible out to distant stars and into the cellular structure of the body. This interdisciplinary course investigates the place of such images in the history of art and film over the course of the twentieth-century. Drawing together objects and writings from cinema and media studies, art history, and the history of science, this course will move between the study of scientific images to their impact on artists and filmmakers associated with important modern movements like Expressionism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Pop Art, and more recent works by experimental filmmakers and media artists exploring the archive of instrumental images. Rather than consider scientific images as mere documents, we will view them as both aesthetic objects in their own right and as aesthetic provocations, which not only extended the horizon of perception, but also opened up new image-worlds and spawned speculations about what might still wait beyond the limits of perception.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 25522 The Revelationist Tradition in Cinema: Science, the Occult, and Modernity

This class sets out to complicate French sociologist Max Weber’s famous notion of modernity as the “disenchantment of the world” by reconstructing and re-evaluating what we will call the revelationist tradition in film theory and practice, which is predicated upon cinema’s alleged utopian potential for revealing the ineffable, irrational, invisible, and unrepresentable aspects of reality. As simultaneously art and technology, cinema seems to offer, to many filmmakers and theorists, the potential for the re-enchantment of modernity by transforming the way we sense, perceive, and understand the world. This course will offer a historical survey of this tradition, study the contexts of its emergence and development, and speculate on its implications for contemporary film theory. To do so, we will take up seriously theoretical concepts and aesthetic strategies such as revelationism, vibration, synaesthesia, abstraction, and ecstasy, which are the results of the interactions between the cinematic imagination, modern science, and various occult/esoteric/mystical traditions. Our inquiry will trace a trajectory from the formation of revelationist film theory during the silent period, to the American “visionary” avant-garde, to “transcendental” styles in modernist film, and to contemporary documentary and horror cinema. 

Readings will consist of historical film theory and criticism as well as secondary texts from other disciplines which will help illuminate their intellectual context. Films are not considered as mere illustrations of the readings but as equally important primary materials for the class’s discussion, and close formal analyses of films are integral to the objective of the course. No previous knowledge of film theory or film history is required, but students will find a preliminary acquaintance with the process and vocabulary of film analysis advantageous. 

Alex Zhang
2019-2020 Winter

CMST 26810 Agnès Varda

(FNDL 26506; FREN 26811; GNSE 26810)

This course examines the work of one of the most significant directors working in France today. From the 1960s to the present day, Varda's films have been crucial to the development of new film practices: both in the past—as with the birth of the French New Wave Cinema—and in the present by exploring new forms of visual narration and by working with moving images in gallery spaces.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 29200 Advanced Seminar

This seminar emphasizes disciplinary methodologies in the history and theory of cinema and media, and close film, image, and media analysis. The topics covered in the Advanced Seminar are intrinsic to BA-level training in Cinema and Media Studies, and are central to building the skills necessary for completing the B.A. thesis, as well as the written portion of the creative thesis option. The Advanced Seminar will be offered during both the fall and spring quarters (taught by James Lastra and Jacqueline Stewart, respectively). Students who wish to study abroad during spring quarter of their third year must meet with the Director Undergraduate Studies no later than the beginning of their third year to discuss possible alternatives.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 21082/CMST 31082 African-American Documentary

Though a "documentary impulse" can be traced in Black cinema from actualities of Black soldiers in the 1910s to the social realism of contemporary fiction films, documentary is a distinct form of persuasive media making that relies on evidence and invites performances of expertise and authenticity.  Documentary conventions and production contexts have emphasized giving voice to marginalized subjects, allowing little space for Black people to craft their own systems representation, distribution and exhibition. Watching films as varied as The Negro Soldier (1944), Still a Brother:  Inside the Negro Middle Class (1968), Eyes on the Prize (1987-1990), Four Little Girls (1997) and 13th(2016), we will consider how documentary film form and culture have been used, critiqued and transformed by Black artists, activists and intellectuals seeking to document Black lives, investigate Black subjectiities, and affect social change.  We will look at works and careers of prolific documentarians (William Greaves, Madeline Anderson, St. Clair Bourne, Henry Hampton, Marlon Riggs, Shola Lynch), filmmakers who move between fiction and documentary (Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, Yvonne Welbon, Ava DuVernay) and artists who work at provocative intersections of experimental and documentary film and video (Camille Billops and James V. Hatch, Barbara McCullough, Kevin Jerome Everson, Martine Syms). Class work includes developing a pitch for a documentary about Black documentary.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 21801/CMST 31801 Chicago Film History

This course will screen and discuss films made mostly by Chicagoans, concentrating on the period after WWII, until 1980 when Hollywood began using Chicago as a location. By examining various genres, including those not normally interrogated by academics, such as educational and industrial films, we will consider whether there is a Chicago style of filmmaking. Technological advances that enabled both film and video to escape the restrictions of the studio and go hand-held, into city streets and homes, will be discussed.  If there is a Chicago style of filmmaking, one must look at the landscape of the city—the design, the politics, the cultures and labor of its people and how they live their lives.  The protagonists and villains of Chicago stories are the politicians and community organizers, our locations are the neighborhoods, and the set designers are Mies Van Der Rohe and the Chicago Housing Authority.  

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 21806/CMST 31806 The New Latin American Cinema

This course will introduce students to Latin American film studies through an assessment of its most critically celebrated period of radical filmmaking. The New Latin American Cinema (NLAC) of the late 1950s–70s generated unprecedented international enthusiasm for Latin American film production. The filmmakers of this loosely designated movement were defining themselves in relation to global realist film traditions like Italian Neorealism and Griersonian documentary, in relation to—mostly failed—experiments in building Hollywood-style national film industries, and in relation to regional discourses of underdevelopment and mestizaje. Since the late 1990s, a reassessment of the legacy of the NLAC has been taking shape as scholars have begun to interrogate its canonical status in the face of a changed political climate. In the sphere of filmmaking, contemporary Latin American new wave cinemas are also grappling with that legacy—sometimes disavowing it, sometimes appropriating it. We will situate the NLAC in its historical context, survey its formal achievements and political aspirations, assess its legacy, and take stock of the ways and the reasons that it haunts contemporary production.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 23930/CMST 33930 Documentary Production I

Documentary Video Production focuses on the making of independent documentary video. Examples of direct cinema, cinéma vérité, the essay, ethnographic film, the diary, historical and biographical film, agitprop/activist forms, and guerilla television will be screened and discussed. Issues embedded in the documentary genre, such as the ethics and politics of representation and the shifting lines between documentary fact and fiction, will be explored. Pre-production strategies and production techniques will be taught, including the camera, interviews and sound recording, shooting in available light, working in crews, and post-production editing. Students will be expected to purchase a portable FireWire. A five-minute string-out/rough-cut will be screened at the end of the quarter. Students are encouraged to take Documentary Production II to complete their work.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 23931/CMST 33931 Documentary Production II

This course focuses on the shaping and crafting of a nonfiction video. Students are expected to write a treatment detailing their project. Production techniques focus on the handheld camera versus tripod, interviewing and microphone placement, and lighting for the interview. Postproduction covers editing techniques and distribution strategies. Students then screen final projects in a public space.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 27011/CMST 37011 Experimental Captures

This production-based class will explore the possibilities and limits of capturing the world with imaging approaches that go beyond the conventional camera. What new and experimental image-based artworks can be created with technologies such as laser scanning, structured light projection, time of flight cameras, photogrammetry, stereography, motion capture, sensor augmented cameras or light field photography? This hands-on course welcomes students with production experience while being designed to keep established tools and commercial practices off-kilter and constantly in question.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 27020/CMST 37020 Live Cinema

This production-oriented class will examine contemporary approaches to the performed digital moving image. Through studying the range of tools and conceptual frameworks that have sought to fuse live visuals in performance in contexts spanning theater, dance, music, installation and public art, students will complete a series of critical sketches leading towards a final project using custom software developed in and for the class. Film production, music composition, and computer programming experience are welcome (but none are prerequisites for the course). Students will be expected to ultimately use the techniques they learn in a final performance.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 27220/CMST 37220 Classical Film Theory

This seminar will present a critical survey of the principal authors, concepts, and films in the classical period of film theory.  The main though not exclusive emphasis will be the period of silent film and theorists writing in the context of French and German cinema. We will study the aesthetic debates of the period in their historical context, whose central questions include: Is film an art?  If so, what specific and autonomous means of expression define it as an aesthetic medium?  What defines the social force and function of cinema as a mass art? Weekly readings and discussion will examine major film movements of the classical period—for example, French impressionism and Surrealism—as well as the work of major figures such as Vachel Lindsay, Hugo Münsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim, Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac, Béla Balázs, Erwin Panofsky, Hans Richter, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, André Bazin, and others.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 27920/CMST 37920 Virtual Reality Production

Focusing on experimental moving-image approaches at a crucial moment in the emerging medium of virtual reality, this class will explore and interrogate each stage of production for VR. By hacking their way around the barriers and conventions of current software and hardware to create new optical experiences, students will design, construct and deploy new ways of capturing the world with cameras and develop new strategies and interactive logics for placing images into virtual spaces. Underpinning these explorations will be a careful discussion, dissection and reconstruction of techniques found in the emerging VR "canon" that spans new modes of journalism and documentary, computer games, and narrative "VR cinema." Film production and computer programming experience is welcome but not a prerequisite for the course. Students will be expected to complete short "sketches" of approaches in VR towards a final short VR experience.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 28006/CMST 38006 Minimalist Experiment in Film and Video

This multilevel studio will investigate minimalist strategies in artists’ film and video from the late 1960s to the present day.  Emphasis will be placed on works made with limited means and/or with “amateur” formats such as Super-8 and 16mm film, camcorders, Flip cameras, SLR video, and iPhone or iPad. Our aim is to imagine how to produce complex results from economical means. Important texts will be paired with in class discussion of works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Kurt Kren, Jack Goldstein, Larry Gottheim, Bruce Baillie, James Benning, John Baldessari, Morgan Fisher, Stan Douglas, Matthew Buckingham, Sam Taylor-Wood, and others.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 28202/CMST 38202 Contemporary Documentary

In our era of post-truth, this course proposes to investigate strategies developed by contemporary documentaries to present and/or question facts, truth, and objectivity. Among other topics, we will consider questions such as the following: What lines can be drawn between discourse, representation, and fiction? Do these documentaries aim to create truthfulness or skepticism? What kind of awareness--individual, social, or political--to they try to raise and promote?

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 28700/CMST 38700 History of International Cinema, Part III

This course will continue the study of cinema around the world from the late 1950s through the 1990s. We will focus on New Cinemas in France, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. We will pay special attention to experimental stylistic developments, women directors, and well-known auteurs. After the New Cinema era we will examine various developments in world cinema, including the rise of Bollywood, East Asian film cultures, and other movements.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 40000 Methods and Issues

This course offers an introduction to ways of reading, writing on, and teaching film. The focus of discussion will range from methods of close analysis and basic concepts of film form, technique and style; through industrial/critical categories of genre and authorship (studios, stars, directors); through aspects of the cinema as a social institution, psycho-sexual apparatus and cultural practice; to the relationship between filmic texts and the historical horizon of production and reception. Films discussed will include works by Griffith, Lang, Hitchcock, Deren, Godard.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 28500/CMST 48500 History of International Cinema, Part I: Silent Era

This course provides a survey of the history of cinema from its emergence in the mid-1890s to the transition to sound in the late 1920s. We will examine the cinema as a set of aesthetic, social, technological, national, cultural, and industrial practices as they were exercised and developed during this 30-year span. Especially important for our examination will be the exchange of film techniques, practices, and cultures in an international context. We will also pursue questions related to the historiography of the cinema, and examine early attempts to theorize and account for the cinema as an artistic and social phenomenon.

2019-2020 Autumn

CMST 28600/CMST 48600 History of International Cinema, Part II: Sound to 1960

The center of this course is film style, from the classical scene breakdown to the introduction of deep focus, stylistic experimentation, and technical innovation (sound, wide screen, location shooting). The development of a film culture is also discussed. Texts include Thompson and Bordwell's Film History: An Introduction; and works by Bazin, Belton, Sitney, and Godard. Screenings include films by Hitchcock, Welles, Rossellini, Bresson, Ozu, Antonioni, and Renoir.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 67103 The Camera and Other Creatures

Since the advent of photography, artists and commentators have likened the camera to an eye. Immediately, it became apparent that the eye in question was not quite human. The nature of the “creature” incorporating the camera eye has been the subject of speculation and disagreement ever since. In this class we will examine the relationship between human and machine perception, and the possibility of non-human filmic subjectivities. Epstein’s “the Bell and Howell is a metal brain,” Vertov’s “Kino-eye,” Benjamin’s optical unconscious, theories of the animistic camera, the possessed cameras of Jean Rouch and Maya Deren, Michael Snow’s mechanical landscape cinema will all be important points of reference. We will screen films by these filmmakers as well as surveillance, microscopic, and underwater films. This class is dedicated to interrogating and celebrating the manners in which the camera (and the microphone as well) allow us access to an expanded perception.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 67204 Cinema and Experience

This seminar will be devoted to close reading of Miriam Hansen’s path-breaking book, Cinema and Experience. As the most influential exponent of Critical Theory in cinema and media studies, we will discuss Hansen’s major contributions to the field, including her important reassessments of concepts of the public sphere and experience, modernity and mass culture, aesthetics and politics, the play-form of second nature, utopia and counter-utopia, and alternative accounts of spectatorship among others. We will also read in parallel and discuss the major texts of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer that are the basis of her unique reconstruction of Critical Theory as a philosophy of cinema, photography, and visual culture.

2019-2020 Spring

CMST 67404 Cinema/Labor

As recent dossiers, books, and essays devoted to labor in film studies and in literary studies suggest, contemporary anxiety over structural transformations in the sphere of work has prompted a renewed interest in the intersection between labor and aesthetic production. This seminar will explore-- through both historical and formal approaches--the encounter between the topic “labor/work” and the varieties of its poeticization in cultural expression across genres, media, and media platform—but particularly in cinema. Topics will include the aestheticization of labor; labor and gesture; automation and machine aesthetics; anti-work politics; commodity fetishism and industrial film; cultural evolutionism and ethnographic cinema; pictorial instructions and educational cinema; absorption and the process genre; craftsmanship and skill; affective and other forms of immaterial labor; the operational aesthetic; and leisure.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 67814 Cinema Without an Archive

This seminar takes a comparative approach to issues of archival precarity with particular attention to cinema, memory, and materiality. We will investigate the fraught and contested histories and problems of the archive and the limitations of archival thinking and practice in a comparative context, focusing on post-colonial and post-conflict sites in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, as well as the low rates of survival for minoritarian film practices in the United States. Some of these problems are about gaps: how do we attend to the absence and instability of the film artifact? How do these problems surface—and how are they mediated—in postcolonial sites that grapple with conflict, weak state structures, and contested commemorative practices and issues? Other questions concern definitive versions, remediation, degraded extant material, and barriers to archival access. Topics include the use of extrafilmic evidence and primary paracinematic evidence, fiction and speculative approaches to history, theories of evidence, archival theories and practices, commemorative practices, and the role of state and nongovernmental institutions in the formation of cultural memory.

Allyson Nadia Field, Ghenwa Hayek
2019-2020 Winter

CMST 67827 Politics of Media - From the Culture Industry to Google Brain

Media theory frequently focuses on issues of technology as opposed to, or at the cost of, politics and culture. This course reorients attention to the intersection of media and cultural theory. We begin by reviewing key media theories from the Frankfurt School and the Birmingham School. Following a historical introduction, we explore the contemporary field of cultural media theory as it has unfolded in both the humanities and the social sciences. Students will think through how the sites of race, class, gender, and sexuality might frame and always already influence the ways that we think of media — from the broadcast media of Adorno and Horkheimer’s culture industry that included radio, film, and television to contemporary pointcasting that is made up of digital and networked technologies. Alongside readings in an expanded media theory, we will engage artistic and cultural works, including literature, films, television serials, smart phone apps, video games, social media, and algorithms. We also explore methodological differences in media studies between the humanities and the social sciences.

2019-2020 Winter

CMST 67922 Data Driven Dystopias

This course will look at our current relationship with technologies of mass data collection from both the inside and the outside. From the inside: students will be given the opportunity to sharpen their understanding of the possibilities and limits of surveillance by testing contemporary algorithms against datasets of their own design and curation. From the outside: we’ll ask how cultural frameworks have driven these technological and social shifts, conditioned our responses to them, or directed us away from their inner mechanisms. In doing so, this experimental course seeks to close the critical and cultural distance between technical, industrial and commercial advances in artificial intelligence, the scientific writings behind this field, and conceptions and uses of data traditionally available to the arts and humanities. 

2019-2020 Autumn