MW 10:20-11:20; F 2:30-4, and other times by appointment
This course explores some recurring texts and topics in feminist
film criticism. We will be viewing feature-length American films and
reading critical and theoretical works on images of women,
psychoanalytic theories of the gaze, formal studies of mise-en-scene
and montage, cultural studies of voice and narrative, and studies of
viewer response and genre (road movie, mystery, melodrama, horror). We
will be examining questions of race, class, and sexuality as well as
gender, and we will also be writing feminist film criticism. By the end
of the term, students will be able to employ various critical
perspectives in order to analyze how a film represents gender, race,
class, and sexuality, will be able to critique and evaluate an author's
thesis about the relations between feminism and film, and will have
improved writing skills.
Assigned readings are due on the day scheduled. Readings will be available online or on reserve. Please print out or photocopy the readings, both so that you can make notes on the texts as you read, and so that we will all have the text to refer to during our class discussions. You should come to class having read the assigned material, having thought about it, and having questions or ideas about it.
This is a writing-centered class. There will be frequent (nearly daily) brief assignments: summaries, discussion questions, and other short assignments. The more you write, the easier it will get. There will also be in-class writing assignments, which will be collected sporadically. There will be four formal papers, and drafts of these due in advance. You will revise two of these essays. You'll also write a preface to these revisions, assessing your writing this term. See below for more information about writing assignments.
I expect students to attend all classes, to prepare for discussion by viewing and reading assigned materials and by completing all written work. I expect you to participate actively and responsibly in discussion, peer editing, and in-class writing. See below for more about participation.
Final grades will be determined as follows:
4 essays: 10% each
revisions of essays 2 & 3: 20%
drafts, blog, and other short writings: 20%
attendance, editing, presentation of scene analysis, participation in discussion: 20%
If you have a documented disability for which I can make accommodation, please speak with me individually.
Each film will be shown in Eaton 209, and will be on reserve in Hatfield library. If you cannot attend a scheduled screening, you are responsible for screening the film on your own. Eaton 209 is available every Monday and Wednesday evening this term. If you wish to schedule additional screenings there, please let me know. Please note that the copy on reserve is the copy we will be watching during the scheduled screenings; please do not take the movie out during these times.
Jan 21 Thelma &
Louise (1991) dir. Ridley Scott
Jan 28 & Feb 4 Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Feb 11 Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) dir. Dorothy Arzner
Feb 25 Imitation of Life (1959) dir. Douglas Sirk
Mar 4 Alien (1979) dir. Ridley Scott
Mar 11 & Mar 18 Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) dir. Trinh T. Minh-ha
Apr 1 & Apr 8 Daughters of the Dust (1991) dir. Julie Dash
Apr 27 in-class viewing: The Watermelon Woman (1996) dir. Cheryl Dunye
The Internet Movie Database
Women in Cinema Reference Guide
Alliance of Women Film Journalists
Writing About Film
Basic Glossary of Film Terms
More information about writing
On Plagiarism and how to avoid it
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|M Jan 19||Introductions|
|W Jan 21||Rich, "In the Name of Feminist Film Criticism" (e-reserves)|
|Merin, "Women Film Critics: An Endangered Species?" (online)|
|6:45 pm||Screening: Thelma and Louise|
|By Saturday, 1/24 post to the class blog a question about Thelma and Louise—something you’d like to discuss about the film.|
|Before Monday 1/26, post a response to someone else’s question about the film|
|M Jan 26||Manohla Dargis, "Thelma and Louise and the Tradition of the Male Road Movie"(e-reserve)|
|Essays from Cineaste 18.4 (Dec 1991) available through Academic Search Premier:|
|Pat Dowell, “The Impotence of women”|
|Elayne Rapping, “Feminism Gets the Hollywood Treatment”|
|Alice Cross, “The Bimbo and the Mystery Woman”|
|Sarah Schulman, “The Movie Management of Rape”|
|Roy Grundmann, “Hollywood Sets the Terms of the Debate”|
|Briefly summarize and contrast two of these reviews (about 2 pages).|
|W Jan 28||Peer editing of your review of Thelma and Louise (about 3 pages) Bring 4 copies of your draft.|
|By Saturday, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Vertigo.|
|Before Monday 2/2, respond to someone else’s question about the film.|
|M Feb 2||James Monaco, "The Language of Film" (e-reserve)|
|Your review of Thelma and Louise due (3 pages)|
|W Feb 4||Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (& e-reserve)|
|Write a 1-2 page summary of Mulvey's essay|
|6:45pm||Screening: Vertigo again|
|Feel free to post to the blog this weekend more questions and responses about Vertigo, Mulvey, and Modleski.|
|M Feb 9||Claire Johnston, "Women's Cinema as Counter Cinema" (e-reserve) and Tania Modleski, "Femininity by Design: Vertigo" (& e-reserve)|
|W Feb 11||Write a brief description of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief scene or sequence from Vertigo. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|6:45pm||Screening: Dance, Girl, Dance|
|By Saturday, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Dance, Girl, Dance|
|Before Monday 2/16, respond to someone else’s question about the film|
|M Feb 16||Claire Johnston, "Dorothy Arzner: Critical Strategies"|
|Judith Mayne, "Lesbian Looks: Dorothy Arzner and Female Authorship" (e-reserve)|
|W Feb 18||Write an analysis of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief sequence from Dance, Girl, Dance. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|M Feb 23||Draft due: your analysis of Vertigo in light of the work of Mulvey and Modleski, OR of Dance, Girl, Dance, in light of the work of Johnston and Mayne (3-4 pages, 4 copies)|
|W Feb 25||bell hooks, "The Oppositional Gaze"(e-reserve); Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess”(e-reserve)|
|6:45pm||Screening: Imitation of Life|
|By Saturday 2/28, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Imitation of Life.|
|Before Monday 3/2, respond to someone else’s question about the film.|
|M Mar 2||Mary Ann Doane, "Dark Continents: Epistemologies of Racial and Sexual Difference in Psychoanalysis and the Cinema" (e-reserve)|
|Essay on Vertigo or Dance, Girl, Dance due .|
|W Mar 4||Write an analysis of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief sequence from Imitation of Life. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|By Saturday, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Alien.|
|Before Monday 3/9, respond to someone else’s question about the film.|
|M Mar 9||Judith Newton, "Feminism and Anxiety in Alien" (e-reserve)|
|Amy Taubin, "The Alien Trilogy: From Feminism to AIDS" (e-reserve)|
|Carol Clover, “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” (JSTOR)|
|W Mar 11||Write an analysis of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief sequence from Alien. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|6:45pm||Screening: Surname Viet Given Name Nam|
|By Saturday 3/14, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Surname Viet Given Name Nam.|
|Before Monday 3/16, respond to someone else’s question about the film.|
|M Mar 16||Surname Viet Given Name Nam screenplay (e-reserve)|
|W Mar 18||Draft due: bring to class 4 copies of a draft of your 4-5 page essay on gender and genre in either Imitation of Life or Alien.|
|6:45pm||Screening: Surname Viet Given Name Nam again|
|Feel free to post to the blog more questions and responses about Surname Viet Given Name Nam, the movie and the screenplay.|
|M Mar 23- |
F Mar 27
|M Mar 30||Sumiko Higashi, Review of Surname Viet Given Name Nam, in American Historical Review 95.4 (Oct 1990) (available through Academic Search Premier)|
|Amy Lawrence, “Women’s Voices in Third World Cinema” (e-reserve)|
|Essay on Imitation of Life or Alien due .|
|W Apr 1||Write an analysis of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief sequence from Surname Viet Given Name Nam. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|6:45pm||Screening: Daughters of the Dust|
|By Saturday 4/4, post to the class blog a question you’d like to discuss about Daughters of the Dust.|
|Before Monday 4/6, respond to someone else’s question about the film.|
|M Apr 6||Daughters of the Dust screenplay (reserve)|
|W Apr 8||Jacqueline Bobo, “Daughters of the Dust” and “Black Women Reading Daughters of the Dust” (e-reserve)|
|6:45pm||Screening: Daughters of the Dust again|
|Feel free to post to the blog this weekend more questions and responses about Daughters of the Dust, Bobo, and Cucinella & Curry.|
|M Apr 13||
Catherine Cucinella and Renee Curry, “Exiled at Home: Daughters of the Dust and the Many Post-Colonial Conditions” MELUS 26.4 (Winter 2001). Available through Academic Search Premier.
Recommended: Nancy Wright, "Property Rights and Possession in Daughters of the Dust" MELUS 33.3 (Fall 2008). Available through Academic Search Premier.
W Apr 15
Th Apr 16, 7:30pm
B. Ruby Rich will screen and discuss Itty Bitty Titty Committee (Dir. Jamie Babbit, 2007), Paulus Lecture Hall, Willamette School of Law (on Winter St, directly across from Lausanne Hall) Recommended!
|M Apr 20||Write an analysis of the mise-en-scene and montage of an important, brief sequence from Daughters of the Dust. Be prepared to present your analysis to the class.|
|W Apr 22||Draft due: bring to class 4 copies of a draft of your 4-5 page essay analyzing either Surname Viet Given Name Nam OR Daughters of the Dust.|
|M Apr 27||In-class viewing: The Watermelon Woman|
|W Apr 29||Eve Oishi, "Visual Perversions: Race, Sex, and Cinematic Pleasure" (e-reserve)|
|Essay on Surname Viet Given Name Nam or Daughters of the Dust due .|
|M May 4||Continued discussion; Last day of class|
|F May 8 2pm||Revisions of essays 2 & 3 due (on Vertigo or Dance, Girl, Dance and on Imitation of Life or Alien) with revision preface.|
Policies & Participation Guidelines
Keep cell phones turned off or silenced during class.
Please do not use laptop computers in class.
Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the scheduled date. You should bring to class any assignments, the assigned text (print out or photocopy readings on reserve or online), and appropriate notetaking material (notebook, pen). You should be prepared to discuss the reading and share your responses. Read actively, mark your texts, and take notes.
Try to contribute at least once to each general class discussion and at least once to each small-group discussion. Quality of response is more important than quantity, but you cannot offer thoughtful comments unless you speak up! Expect to be asked to support your observations with specific textual references. Stay on topic, avoid repetition. Ask questions.
Be respectful of your classmates. Listen attentively. Avoid side conversations. Don't interrupt others; if you wish to speak next, raise your hand. If you tend to speak a lot, keep yourself in check; make space for others to speak. Avoid personal attacks; challenge the idea not the person.
Writing assignments: discussion questions -- blog -- summary -- scene analysis -- essays -- revision preface
Some weeks, after viewing a film, you will post to the class blog a question about the film and a response to a question posted by another student.
A discussion question is one that cannot be answered simply by looking the answer up somewhere, one that does not have an obvious answer, but that must be explored and argued. It is not completely open-ended, but specifically grounded in the film. It arises from careful consideration of what the film text says, and how it says it. In about 150 words, explain what prompted the question, what thinking went into arriving at the question, what possible answers (if any) have been considered, and why those answers are unsatisfactory. Try to frame the question itself in one brief interrogative sentence.
Responses need not be definitive answers, but may be speculative, and may point to relevant parts of the film text or to readings for the course.
Discussion questions are due 1/24, 1/31, 2/14, 2/28, 3/7, 3/14, 4/4.
Point your web browser to http://blog.willamette.edu
Login using your WU username & password
On the "My Weblogs" list you should see "Feminist Criticism: Film"
Click on one of the "Create new entry" buttons to do just that.
You need to select the "Publish" option for Post Status for your entry to appear on the formal blog site page.
To comment on someone else's entry, you have to be viewing the actual site, which you can get to via the "view site" links or this link: http://blog.willamette.edu/people/fmichel/femfilmcrit/
You might want to compose your posts in a word-processing program and paste them into the blog.
In addition to the required discussion questions and responses, feel free to post to the blog questions for clarification, interesting links, or other comments related to the course.
Summary & Contrast
Writing summaries, also known as abstracts or précis, is an important skill for your classwork and in many professions. A summary should condense the essential points of an argument using your words (paraphrase); be objective (no explicit or implicit judgment about the argument’s strengths and weaknesses); and avoid quotation. Begin by locating what you think is the article’s thesis or main point.
Summary and contrast assignments should devote about a paragraph to summarizing each essay, and then 1-2 paragraphs to juxtaposing the works, highlighting the significant differences between their arguments.
Summaries are due 1/26, 2/4, 2/9. Please submit papers to your WISE folder for this course.
In analyzing the mise-en-scene and montage of a brief, important sequence of a film, you will want to note the formal features described by Monaco. Note, for instance, if and when cuts occur, as well as whether and how the camera moves. Consider how the shot is framed (near/far, high/low angle, color, shadow & light, foreground/background, focus) and edited (cuts/dissolves/fades/blurs, fast or slow pace). Ideally, you will want to consider the relation between these formal features and what they convey: the choice of subject, positioning of the spectator, or development of the narrative. But be very specific and concrete about the formal features of the sequence. I expect everyone to present a sequence analysis in class at least once.
Scene/Sequence analyses are due 2/11, 2/18, 3/ 4, 3/11, 4/1, 4/20. Please submit papers to your WISE folder for this course.
Feminist critical essays often start with discussion of an issue of feminist concern, such as family, sexuality, race, violence. This frames the discussion of the film, tells us why we should care. Similarly, feminist film critics often consider the apparatus of the film, the role of the gaze, the look, identification, spectatorship. They examine the conversation so far about an issue, about feminist film theory and criticism, &/or about a particular film. A brief summary of the film, the critical debate about it, and the issues at stake can prepare the reader for what follows.
The thesis of the essay articulates an argument, analysis, or interpretation of the film, typically addressing both form and content, and the relation between the two. Though feminist theorists may either emphasize the social content of representations, seeking positive images of women, or emphasize the formal innovations of a film text, feminist film critics most often explore how form creates, supports, or subverts content, or how the film positions the viewer and what that positioning implies.
A critical essay on a film will often develop the critic's ideas by analyzing a couple of scenes in some detail as illustrations of points within the discussion. How do the film's mise-en-scene and montage affect or position the spectator? How is the narrative conveyed or encapsulated within a shot, scene, or sequence? What's the effect of the choice of subject, framing of the shot (near/far, high/low angle, color, shadow & light, foreground/background, focus), editing (cuts/dissolves/fades/blurs, fast or slow pace)? The critic might explore questions of authorship/auteurship, genre, allusions to other films or texts, and conditions of production and distribution.
Drafts will be due at the beginning of class on 1/28, 2/23, 3/16, 4/22. Bring four copies.
Essays will be due on 2/2, 3/2, 3/30, 4/29. Please submit papers to your WISE folder for this course
Use MLA format.
This should explain how you have revised these essays and what you see as their strengths and weaknesses. More generally, you should discuss and assess the development of your writing and thinking in this class. It should be about 2-3 pages long.
I strongly encourage you to visit the writing center for a consultation.
See also my guidelines on writing and suggestions for revision.
My office hours are listed at the beginning of this syllabus. Some weeks, I may need to reschedule some hours. I will post temporary changes on my office door. Most weeks, I will have a sign-up sheet on my office door for scheduling appointments. I will be happy to meet with you individually to go over drafts or discuss your ideas for a paper. If you cannot meet with me at any of the scheduled times, contact me after class or by phone or email to set up an appointment at another time.
When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class-others may have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I can answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of suggestions only if I know about them.
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