Affiliated Faculty: Professor Lembo†, Hastie, and Van Compernolle (Chair, fall semester); Assistant Professors Guilford, Levine*, and Rangan†.
Contributing Faculty: Professors Drabinski‡, Gewertz, Keller, Kimball, Parham†, Rogowski‡, Rosbottom, Sarat, and Woodson; Associate Professors Brenneis, Engelhardt, Gilpin, J. Robinson*, Shandilya*, and Wolfson.
* On leave 2017-18.
†On leave fall semester 2017-18.
‡On leave spring semester 2017-18.
The Film and Media Studies Program situates the study and practice of the moving image in its aesthetic, technical, and socio-cultural dimensions within a wider history of media. The program integrates formal, historical and theoretical analysis with various forms of creative and production experience in its required core courses. In courses in Critical Studies and Production, we explore the practice of constructing moving images through considerations of narrative, non-narrative and experimental structures, camera motion, editing techniques, music and sound design, mise-en-scène, and digital technologies. The dual emphasis on study and practice allows the historical, theoretical, compositional, and aesthetic issues to illuminate each other and thus to allow students to engage with both the depth and breadth of media production and analysis. The program interfaces with a variety of disciplines across the Liberal Arts spectrum, such as philosophy, social and literary theory, area studies, language study, visual culture, theater and dance, anthropology, computer science, and gender studies.
Major Program. The Film and Media Studies (FAMS) major requires four core courses, a minimum of five additional courses (electives) from a variety of related disciplines that reflect each student’s individual academic and creative interests, and a two-semester thesis project. The FAMS major is framed by three foundations courses: Foundations in Critical Media Studies (e.g. "Coming to Terms: Cinema" and "Knowing Television"), Foundations in Production (an introductory production workshop), and a Foundations in Integrated Media Practices. Foundations courses in Critical Media Studies and Production will serve as the prerequisites for the Foundations in Integrated Media Practices, which will be a team-taught course, and which FAMS majors should ideally complete by the end of their junior year. Majors will also be required to take at least one FAMS seminar in their junior or senior year. In addition, students will take at least five other courses as electives, including at least one course at one of the other Five Colleges. The FAMS program grants wide scope to students for creating an individualized program of study. When declaring the major, each student is required to make a contract for his or her program with the Faculty Committee on Film and Media Studies (which will function as a review board), as represented and coordinated by the Chair. Each student’s progress towards the completion of the contract will then be assessed, over the following semesters, by two faculty advisors from different departments appointed by the Committee. For the Capstone Requirement, students will either produce a two-semester thesis or will both submit a portfolio in the Fall semester of their senior year and will take at least one additional 400-level FAMS course.
Film and Writing
(Offered as ENGL 180 and FAMS 110) A first course in reading films and writing about them. A varied selection of films for study and criticism, partly to illustrate the main elements of film language and partly to pose challenging texts for reading and writing. Frequent short papers. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Coming to Terms: Cinema
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of a few critical and descriptive terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion will include, among others: mise-en-scène, montage, realism, visual pleasure, and the avant-garde. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.
Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov claimed that the movie camera is different from, even superior to, human vision and thus allows us to see in new ways. Many others have echoed this idea about cinema’s powerful impact on our ways of seeing and knowing the world. As an introduction to the study of cinema, this course cultivates in students what Vertov called “the Kino-eye.” Our emphasis will be on narrative film, but with some attention paid to experimental, documentary, and animated works as well. This course treats cinema as an international art form: we will examine a wide range of films from many countries over the past century and more. Through exposure to the great variety of filmmaking and writing about film around the world, from the silent era to the digital revolution, students will receive a comprehensive introduction to the key formal features of film and to the major debates that inform film studies.
Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 282 and FAMS 215) For better or worse, U.S. broadcast television is a cultural form that is not commonly associated with knowledge. This course will take what might seem a radical counter-position to such assumptions--looking at the ways television teaches us what it is and even trains us in potential critical practices for investigating it. By considering its formal structure, its textual definitions, and the means through which we see it, we will map out how it is that we come to know television.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended, but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 45 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
Coming to Terms: Media
(Offered as ENGL 284 and FAMS 216) Media are not just audiovisual texts but also technological infrastructures, economic enterprises, ideological apparatuses, and artistic practices. This course provides an introduction to the analysis of modern media forms through a consideration of significant critical and analytical terms, together with a selection of media texts (ranging across print, photography, cinema, television, and digital media) for illustration and discussion. The key terms for discussion will reflect the complexity of how we define “media.” Topics may include: mass reproduction, authenticity and aura; print, time, and national consciousness; advertising, glamor, and myth; photography, indifference, and atrocity; cinema, race, gender, and spectatorship; television, liveness, and celebrity; digital media, buffering, and virality. Classes will combine lecture and conversation, and assignments will include several short critical essays and a midterm and final exam.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2023
Foundations and Integrations: Film and Media Studies
(Offered as ENGL 281, FAMS 220, and ARHA 272) “Foundations and Integrations” will be an annual team-taught course between a Critical Studies scholar and moving-image artist. A requirement of the Film and Media Studies major, it will build on critical analysis of moving images and introductory production work to develop an integrated critical and creative practice. Focused in particular around themes and concepts, students will develop ideas in both written and visual form. The theme for spring 2017 was “The Voice.”
Requisites: A foundations course in Critical Studies of Film and Media (such as “Coming to Terms: Cinema”) and an introductory film/video production workshop. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professors Levine and Rangan.
Foundations in Video Production
(Offered as ARHA 221 and FAMS 221) This introductory course is designed for students with no prior experience in video production. The aim is both technical and creative. We will begin with the literal foundation of the moving image--the frame--before moving through shot and scene construction, lighting, sound-image concepts and final edit. In addition to instruction in production equipment and facilities, the course will also explore cinematic form and structure through weekly readings, screenings and discussion. Each student will work on a series of production exercises and a final video assignment.
Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor TBA.
Video Production: Bodies in Motion
(Offered as THDA 250 and FAMS 226) This studio production class will focus on multiple ways of tracking, viewing, and capturing bodies in motion. The course will emphasize working with the camera as an extension of the body to explore radically different points of view and senses of focus. We will experiment with different techniques and different kinds of bodies (human, animal, and object) to bring a heightened awareness of kinesthetic involvement, animation and emotional immediacy to the bodies on screen and behind the camera. In addition, we will interject and follow bodies into different perceptions of time, progression, place and relationship. In the process, we will express various experiences and theories of embodiment and question what constitutes a body. Depending on student interests, final projects can range from choreographies for the camera to fictional narratives to documentary studies. The class will alternate between camera sessions, both in the studio and on location, and sessions in the editing suite working with Final Cut Pro.
Requisite: Previous experience in composition. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Woodson.2023-24: Not offered
Latin American Cinema
(Offered as SPAN 238 and FAMS 238) How have Latin Americans represented themselves on the big screen? In this course we will explore this question through close readings of representative films from each of the following major periods: silent cinema (1890s-1930s), studio cinema (1930s-1950s), Neorealism/Art Cinema (1950s), the New Latin American Cinema (1960s-1980s), and contemporary cinema (1990s to today). Throughout the course we will examine evolving representations of modernity and pay special attention to how these representations are linked to different constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and nationality. We will conclude the course with a collective screening of video essays created by students in the course. The course is conducted in Spanish.
Requisite: SPAN 211 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18 Professor Schroeder Rodríguez.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240) A first workshop in narrative screenwriting. Through frequent exercises, readings and screenings we will explore the fundamentals of scene and story shape as they’re practiced in mainstream American commercial filmmaking while taking a broader look at what a screenplay might be outside of that world. We’ll look at two modes of writing that are often at odds with each other: the well-established craft of three-act screenwriting within the Hollywood tradition, on the one hand, and the more elastic possibilities of the audio-visual medium as exemplified by the so-called “art film,” on the other. One three-hour class meeting per week.
Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Preference will be given to English and FAMS majors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please complete the questionnaire at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/film/major/forms. Omitted 2017-18.2023-24: Not offered
Pioneer Valley Soundscapes
(Offered as MUSI 238 and FAMS 312) This course is about exploring, participating in, and documenting the musical communities and acoustic terrain of the Pioneer Valley. The first part of the course will focus on local histories and music scenes, ethnographic methods and technologies, and different techniques of representation. The second part of the course will involve intensive, sustained engagement with musicians and sounds in the Pioneer Valley. Course participants will give weekly updates about their fieldwork projects and are expected to become well-versed in the musics they are studying. There will be a significant amount of work and travel outside of class meetings. The course will culminate in contributions to a web-based documentary archive of Pioneer Valley soundscapes. We will also benefit from visits and interaction with local musicians. Two class meetings per week.
Requisite: MUSI 111, 112, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Engelhardt.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as GERM 360, ARCH 360, EUST 360 and FAMS 316) What is performance? What constitutes an event? How can we address a phenomenon that has disappeared the moment we apprehend it? How does memory operate in our critical perception of an event? How does a body make meaning? These are a few of the questions we will explore in this course, as we discuss critical, theoretical, and compositional approaches in a broad range of multidisciplinary performance phenomena emerging from European--primarily German--culture in the twentieth century. We will focus on issues of performativity, composition, conceptualization, dramaturgy, identity construction, representation, space, gender, and dynamism. Readings of performance theory, performance studies, gender studies, and critical/cultural studies, as well as literary, philosophical, and architectural texts, will accompany close examination of performance material. Students will develop performative projects in various media (video, performance, text, online) and deliver a number of critical oral and written presentations on various aspects of the course material and their own projects. Performance material will be experienced live when possible, and in text, video, audio, digital media and online form, drawn from selected works of Dada and Surrealism, Bauhaus, German Expressionism, the Theater of the Absurd, Tanztheater, and Contemporary Theater, Performance, Dance, Opera, New Media, and Performance Art. A number of films, including Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Oskar Schlemmer’s Das Triadische Ballett, Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique, and Kurt Jooss’ Der Grüne Tisch, will also be screened. Conducted in English, with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Gilpin.2023-24: Not offered
South Asian Feminist Cinema
(Offered as SWAG 469, ASLC 452 [SA], and FAMS 322) How do we define the word “feminism”? Can the term be used to define cinematic texts outside the Euro-American world? In this course we will study a range of issues that have been integral to feminist theory--the body, domesticity, same sex desire, gendered constructions of the nation, feminist utopias and dystopias--through a range of South Asian cinematic texts. Through our viewings and readings we will consider whether the term “feminist” can be applied to these texts, and we will experiment with new theoretical lenses for exploring these films. Films will range from Satyajit Ray’s classic masterpiece Charulata to Gurinder Chadha’s trendy diasporic film, Bend It Like Beckham. Attendance for screenings on Monday is compulsory.
Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Shandilya.2023-24: Not offered
New Latin American Documentary
Offered as SPAN 240 and FAMS 324) Latin American documentary filmmaking in the twenty-first century has been enjoying a renaissance marked by a shift away from the highly political social documentaries of the second half of the twentieth century towards more reflexive modes of representation that explore the relationship between filmmakers and their subjects in ways that profoundly alter both. In this course, we will first discuss several canonical social documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s, and then proceed to discuss documentaries of the twenty-first century from Argentina (Andrés di Tella, Albertina Carri, María Inés Roque, Mario Oesterheld, and Jorge Prelorán), Brazil (Eduardo Coutinho, João Moreira Salles, Eryk Rocha, and Gabriel Mascaro), Mexico (Roberto Hernández), Colombia (the collective Mujeres al borde), Chile (Patricio Guzmán), and Guatemala (Ana Lucía Cuevas). As part of the class students will have the opportunity to create their own reflexive documentaries using the techniques we will have studied and discussed in class. Conducted in Spanish.
Requisite: SPAN 211 or consent of instructor. Fall semester. Professor Schroeder Rodríguez.Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2023
(Offered as GERM 348 and FAMS 325) This course examines the vital role cinema played in sustaining the totalitarian Nazi system. From the visually stunning “documentaries” of Leni Riefenstahl to the tearful melodramas starring Swedish diva Zarah Leander, from the vicious anti-Semitic diatribes of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to the ostensibly apolitical “revue films” featuring Hungarian dancer-chanteuse Marika Rökk, the cinema of the Third Reich (1933-45) is fraught with contradiction and complexity. How did the German film industry cope with the exodus of Jewish (or politically suspect) talent after Hitler came to power? What tensions arose between a centralized bureaucracy pursuing an ideological agenda and an industry geared toward profit maximization? How do genre films of the period negotiate the conflict between official notions of a “racially homogeneous” body politic on the one hand and audiences’ pervasive fascination with the exotic on the other? What does the popularity of stars such as Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann, Lilian Harvey, and Kristina Söderbaum tell us about the private dreams and aspirations of German audiences at the time? Were there pockets of resistance to censorship? Can there be artistic freedom under a totalitarian regime? To answer questions such as these, we will examine films from a wide range of directors, including Willi Forst, Veit Harlan, Helmut Käutner, Wolfgang Liebeneiner, Leni Riefenstahl, Reinhold Schünzel, Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk, and Hans Steinhoff. Conducted in English, with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rogowski.
2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as GERM 344 and FAMS 326) From Fritz Lang’s thrilling detective mysteries to Tom Tykwer’s hip postmodern romp Run Lola Run, from Ernst Lubitsch’s satirical wit to the gender-bending comedies of Katja von Garnier, this course explores the rich legacy of popular and genre films in the German-speaking countries.
Topics to be covered include adventure films, comedies, and costume dramas of the silent period, including Fritz Lang’s Spiders (1919) and Joe May’s The Indian Tomb (1920); the musical comedies of the Weimar Republic and the “dream couple” Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch; Nazi movie stars and the “non-political” entertainment films of the Third Reich, such as Josef von Baky’s blockbuster Münchhausen (1943); the resurgence of genre films in the 1950s (“Heimatfilme,” romantic comedies, melodramas, etc.); the Cold War Westerns in the West (based on the novels by Karl May) and in the East (starring Gojko Mitic); the efforts to produce audience-oriented films in the politicized climate of the 1960s and 1970s; the big budget quasi-Hollywood productions by Wolfgang Petersen; and the recent spate of relationship comedies.
We will discuss the work of, among others, actors and performers Karl Valentin,Heinz Rühmann, Zarah Leander, Hans Albers, Heinz Erhardt, Romy Schneider, Loriot, and Otto,and directors including Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Joe May, Wilhelm Thiele, May Spils, Katja von Garnier, Detlev Buck, Tom Tykwer, and Doris Dörrie. Conducted in English, with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German. Two class meetings of 80 minutes plus screenings.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rogowski.2023-24: Not offered
Russian and Soviet Film
(Offered as RUSS 241 and FAMS 329) Lenin proclaimed, famously, that cinema was "the most important art of all" for the new Soviet republic. This course explores the dramatic rise of Russian film to state-sanctioned prominence and the complex role it came to play in modern Russia's cultural history. We examine the radical experiments of visionary filmmakers who invented the language of film art (Bauer, Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Vertov, Dovzhenko); the self-conscious masterpieces of auteurs who probed the limits of that language (Tarkovsky, Paradzhanov, Sokurov); and the surprising ways in which films ostensibly designed to enact cultural and social myths of power, history, and national identity in the end reshaped their makers, their audiences, and the myths themselves. No familiarity with of Russian history or culture expected.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Wolfson.2023-24: Not offered
Videogames and the Boundaries of Narrative
(Offered as ENGL 277 and FAMS 333) In this course we will engage in a comprehensive approach to narrative video gaming–-play, interpretation, and design–-to explore how video gaming helps us to conceptualize the boundaries between our experiences of the world and our representations thereof. We will ask how play and interactivity change how we think about the work of narrative. What would it mean to think about video games alongside texts focused on similar subjects but in different media? How, for instance, does Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry change how we understand C.L.R. James, Susan Buck-Morss, Isabel Allende, or others’ discussions of the Haitian Revolution? And how do video games help us to reconceptualize the limits of other media forms, particularly around questions of what it means to represent differences in race, gender, physical ability? Finally, how might we more self-consciously capitalize on gaming’s potential to transform the work of other fields, for instance education and community development?
In this course, students will play and analyze video games while engaging texts from a variety of other critical and creative disciplines. Assignments for this course will be scaled by experience-level. No experience with video games or familiarity with computer coding is required for this course, as the success of this method will require that students come from a wide variety of skill levels.
Spring semester. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
Experiments in 16mm Film
(Offered as ARHA 335 and FAMS 335) This intermediate production course surveys the outer limits of cinematic expression and provides an overview of creative 16mm film production. We will begin by making cameraless projects through drawing, painting and scratching directly onto the film strip before further exploring the fundamentals of 16mm technology, including cameras, editing and hand-processing. While remaining aware of our creative choices, we will invite chance into our process and risk failure, as every experiment inevitably must.
Through screenings of original film prints, assigned readings and discussion, the course will consider a number of experimental filmmakers and then conclude with a review of exhibition and distribution strategies for moving image art. All students will complete a number of short assignments on film and one final project on either film or video, each of which is to be presented for class critique. One three-hour class and one film screening per week.
Requisite: One 200-level production course or relevant experience (to be discussed with the instructor in advance of the first class). Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Levine.Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Fall 2023
Performance in Place: Site Specific
(Offered as THDA 352, FAMS 342 and MUSI 352) The focus of this studio course will be to create performances, installations and/or videos in multiple locations both on and off campus. This course is especially designed for students in dance, theater, film/video, art, music and creative writing who want to explore the challenges and potentials in creating performances and events outside of traditional "frames" or venues (e.g., the theater, the gallery, the concert hall). In the first part of the semester we will experiment with different techniques for working together as an ensemble and developing responses to different spaces. We will then select different sites--based on student interest and location access--and spend the rest of the semester creating events/performances on site. Interaction with communities at these sites will also be explored, connecting the artistic work to community engagement and raising awareness of the issues and ethics involved in site-specific performance. These projects will be performed in process and at the end of the semester in a three-day festival. Two 80-minute classes; outside rehearsal/lab sessions TBA.
Requisite: Previous experience in improvisation and/or composition in dance, theater, performance, film/video, music/sound, installation, creative writing, and/or design is required. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Woodson.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as THDA 353 and FAMS 345) In this advanced course in the techniques of creating performance, each student will create and rehearse a performance piece that develops and incorporates original choreography, text, music, sounds and / or video. Improvisational and collaborative structures and approaches among and within different media will be investigated. The final performance pieces will be presented in the Holden Theater.
Two ninety-minute class sessions per week. There will be weekly mandatory showings. These showings are a working document of the important and necessary vicissitudes within a creative process.
Requisite: THDA 252 or the equivalent and consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Woodson.2023-24: Not offered
Cinema and Everyday Life
(Offered as ENGL 381 and FAMS 351) Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer declared that some of the first films showed “life at its least controllable and most unconscious moments, a jumble of transient, forever dissolving patterns accessible only to the camera.” This course will explore the ways contemporary narrative films aesthetically represent everyday life–capturing both its transience and our everyday ruminations. We will further consider the ways we incorporate film into our everyday lives through various modes of viewings (the arthouse, the multiplex, the DVD, the mp3), our means of perception, and in the kinds of souvenirs we keep. We will look at films by Chantal Akerman, Robert Altman, Marleen Gorris, Hirokazu Koreeda, Marzieh Makhmalbaf, Terrence Malick, Lynne Ramsay, Tsai Ming-liang, Agnès Varda, Wong Kar-wai, and Andy Warhol. Readings will include work by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Marlene Dietrich, Sigmund Freud, and various works in film and media studies. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
Russia and the Representation of Race
(Offered as RUSS 252, BLST 292 [D] and FAMS 352) This course focuses on the modes by which race has been represented in Russian and Soviet culture. We approach this topic in two ways: first, we examine how Russian and Soviet culture grappled with questions of race, focusing on episodes in the representation of minority peoples throughout the empire and the Soviet Union; secondly, we consider how Russian and Soviet culture served as a mirror in which minorities from other countries saw their experiences partially reflected or as a source from which they found models to articulate their own experience of race. These two concerns guide us through the course as we study such works as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground as it enters into dialogue with Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden Baden; the representation of Central Asia by such figures as Langston Hughes and Andrei Platonov; the appeal of the Soviet Union to Western intellectuals, in particular African-American thinkers and writers, from W.E.B. Du Bois, Hughes, and Claude McKay; Alexander Pushkin and the question of his “blackness” and universality; the cinematic representation of minorities in the films of Dziga Vertov and Vsevolod Pudovkin. We will draw our critical theoretical models from Homi Bhabha, Dipesh Chakrabaty, Patricia Hall Collins, Johannes Fabian, Stuart Hall, and Mary Louise Pratt, among others.
Spring semester. Professor Kunichika.2023-24: Not offered
A Decade Under the Influence: U.S. Film of the 1970s
(Offered as ENGL 373 and FAMS 353) U.S. film in the 1970s was evident of tremendous aesthetic and economic innovation. Rife with but not limited to conspiracy, disaster, love and war, 1970s popular films range from the counter-cultural to the commercial, the independent to the industrial. Thus, while American cinema of the first half of the decade is known as the work of groundbreaking independent “auteurs,” the second half of the decade witnessed an industrial transformation through the emergence of the giant blockbuster hit. With a focus on cultural and historical factors shaping filmmaking and film-going practices and with close attention to film form, this course will explore thematic threads, directors, stars, and genres that emerged and developed during the decade. While the course will largely focus on mainstream film, we will set this work in some relation to other movements of the era: blaxploitation, comic parodies, documentary, and New American Cinema. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is recommended but not required. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
1917-2017: One Hundred Years in the Story of Labor
Spike Lee’s Joints
(Offered as ENGL 374, BLST 330 [US], and FAMS 358) In offering extended formal considerations of Spike Lee’s cinematic oeuvre–in particular his uses of light, sound, and color–this course is interested in how shifting through various modes of critical inquiry can enable or broaden different kinds of cultural, political, or historical engagement with a film. This semester we will also pay special attention to the question of what it means to encapsulate a particular cultural moment, particularly vis-à-vis the often differing demands of fictional and non-fictional representation.
Omitted 2017-18. Professors Parham and Drabinski.2023-24: Not offered
Intimate Film Cultures
(Offered as ENGL 383 and FAMS 360) What’s intimate about cinema? Since its invention, cinema has spurred pronouncements on the emotional, affective, and even spiritual impact of the filmic image, as well as deeper examinations of the specific devices through which films produce intimate experience (the close-up, the kiss, etc.). For classical film theorists, such devices were often invested with redemptive potential, though more recent cultural theorists have issued strong rejoinders to such claims. Isn’t intimacy crucial to the workings of modern power? Doesn’t cinema structure intimate relations in accordance with normative ideologies? Examining such issues, this course considers how matters of intimacy have organized critical discourse on a range of intimate film cultures, from surrealism to the melodrama, underground film, queer independent cinema, and contemporary diasporic cinema. Examining film theory alongside diverse contributions to the emerging field of intimacy studies, we will ask how recent inquiries into the politics of intimacy force us to rethink the problems and potential of cinema.
Requisite: One 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.
Women, Gender and Popular Culture
(Offered as SWAG 105 and FAMS 377) In this course, students will interrogate the precarious relationship between political and popular culture. As we study how politics has successfully deployed popular culture as an ideological tool, we will also consider how politics has overburdened popular culture as a vehicle of change. These broad issues will serve as our framework for analyzing black femininity, womanhood, and the efficacy of the word “feminism” in the post-Civil Rights era. We will think critically about the construction of gender, race, sexuality, and class identity as well as the historical and sociopolitical context for cultural icons and phenomena. Students will read cultural theory, essays, fiction as well as listen to, and watch various forms of media. Expectations include three writing/visual projects as well as a group presentation.
Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ANTH 241 and FAMS 378) This course will explore and evaluate various visual genres, including photography, ethnographic film and museum presentation as modes of anthropological analysis--as media of communication facilitating cross-cultural understanding. Among the topics to be examined are the ethics of observation, the politics of artifact collection and display, the dilemma of representing non-Western “others” through Western media, and the challenge of interpreting indigenously produced visual depictions of “self” and “other.”
Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Gewertz.2023-24: Not offered
Black Feminist Literary Traditions
(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor. Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.
Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Henderson.2023-24: Not offered
American Avant-Garde Cinema
(Offered as ENGL 382, ARHA 382, and FAMS 381) This course examines the history of American avant-garde film, paying special attention to the alternative cultural institutions that have facilitated experimental cinema’s emergence and longevity in the U.S. since the 1940s. Through critical readings and weekly film screenings, we will analyze some of the major tendencies that have defined the postwar American avant-garde, including the poetic and amateur filmmakers of the ’40s and ’50s, the underground film and political documentary movements of the ’60s, the structural film and women’s cinema formations of the ’70s, the turn toward small-gauge and found footage practices in the ’80s, and more contemporary engagements with hand-made film and expanded cinema. Special emphasis will be given to the broader institutional practices that have surrounded the production and maintenance of avant-garde film culture. Examining critical histories of radical filmmaking collectives, cooperative distribution centers, art film societies, critical journals, and experimental film archives, we will consider how the avant-garde’s interest in creating an alternative cinema necessitated a dramatic reorganization of existing modes of filmic production, distribution, exhibition, reception, and preservation. Screenings of films by Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Barbara Rubin, Newsreel, Michael Snow, Barbara Hammer, Saul Levine, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, and others will be included. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: One 100-level or 200-level FAMS or ENGL course, or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Guilford.
Television and Experience
(Offered as ENGL 384 and FAMS 382) As one of our most dominant, even omnipresent media forms, television is something most of us experience every day. But Television Studies scholarship does not always take on the question of “experience” as a central part of its analysis. This course will take experience as the central component of our study. The first unit of the course will consider phenomenological approaches to television criticism, centering on those elements of televisual form that delineate an experience different from other media. Our second unit will focus on historical experience, with an emphasis on Civil Rights era television, African-American productions and/or stars, and African-American audiences. Our third and final unit will consider the platforms and devices through which we experience television in order to query how “television experience” changes over time and what elements of it have remained constant. The course will blend lecture and discussion. Readings will be both theoretical and historical. Students will produce regular reading summaries, two formal essays, and a digital final project.
Some previous coursework in FAMS may be useful. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
The Documentary Impulse
(Offered as ENGL 377 and FAMS 383) This course focuses on the documentary impulse–that is, the desire for an encounter with the “real”–as a way of understanding the different philosophies and ideologies that have shaped the history and practice of documentary. We will approach canonical studies of the modes of documentary (e.g., expository, observational, poetic, reflexive), placing pressure on concepts whose resonance or antagonism has shaped the notion of documentary, such as spectacle, authenticity, reality, mimesis, art, fiction, and performance. In addition to encountering canonical documentary films and major debates, we will analyze documentary as a complex discourse that has been shaped by multiple media forms (such as photography, television, and new media) and exhibition contexts (the art gallery, the cinema, the smartphone). Assignments will include group presentations, analytical exercises, and a final research paper. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Recommended requisite: A prior introductory film course. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 35 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rangan.
2023-24: Not offered
Inventing Film Theory
(Offered as ENGL 486 and FAMS 421) As an upper-division seminar in film theory, this course will offer an in-depth examination of historically significant writings that analyze film form and its social functions and effects. Our particular focus will be on the production of film theory in a collective setting: the film/media journal. Thus, the course will consist of several units, each centering on a particular journal in generally chronological order (such as the Modernist Close Up; two phases of the French Cahiers du Cinéma, which has set foundations for both studies of authorship and semiotic-ideological analysis; the U.S. journal focusing on experimental and independent film, Film Culture; and the leading feminist journal of media studies, Camera Obscura). Through this structure, we will consider how ideas have developed and transformed, often in dialogue with one another and on an international stage. Our purpose will be threefold: to understand the context for the production and development of film theories; to comprehend a wide range of changing theoretical notions, writing styles, and critical methodologies; and to create our own dialogue with these works, considering especially their impact on their own contemporaneous film viewers and on viewing positions today. The final project, which we will develop through the semester, will be a web-based journal of film studies, which will put into practice the ideas and conversations of the course. One three-hour class meeting and one film screening per week.
Prior coursework in Film and Media Studies is strongly recommended. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Hastie.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ARHA 441 and FAMS 441) Intended for advanced film/video production students, this course will explore creative documentary practice through readings, weekly screenings and production assignments. Each student will complete a series of projects working both as a single maker and in collaboration with other members of the class. Topics may include: shooting the interview; scripting, performance and reenactment; history and narrativity; place and space; ethnography and the “embedded” filmmaker. We will also host visiting filmmakers and, where possible, visit a cultural institution which supports and screens cutting-edge documentary work.
The course will be taught annually but will focus on a set of revolving themes and issues that inform contemporary documentary filmmaking and the critical discourse that surrounds it. The theme for fall 2016 was “Places and Spaces.” One 3-hour class (some of which will include field shooting and research trips) and one evening screening each week.
Requisite: A prior 200-level production course or relevant experience (to be discussed with the instructor in advance of the first class). Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professor Montague.Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2023
Ghosts in Shells? Virtuality and Embodiment from Passing to the Posthuman
(Offered as ENGL 456, BLST 441 [US], and FAMS 451) This class begins with narratives about individuals who pass–that is, who come to be recognized as someone different from whom they were sexually or racially “born as.” Such stories suggest that one’s identity depends minimally on the body into which one is born, and is more attached to the supplementation and presentation of that body in support of whichever cultural story the body is desired to tell. Drawing on familiar liberal humanist claims, which centralize human identity in the mind, these narratives also respond to the growing sophistication of human experience with virtual worlds–from acts of reading to immersions in computer simulation. But what kinds of tensions emerge when bodies nonetheless signify beyond an individual’s self-imagination? As technology expands the possibilities of the virtual, for instance surrogacy, cloning, and cybernetics, what pressures are brought to bear on the physical human body and its processes to signify authentic humanness? Rather than ask whether identity is natural or cultural, our discussions will project these questions into a not-so-distant future: What would it mean to take “human” as only one identity, as a category amongst many others, each also acknowledged as equally subject to the same social and biological matrices of desire, creation, and recognition? We will approach these questions through works of literature, philosophy, media history, and contemporary science writing.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Parham.2023-24: Not offered
The Confession: Theory and Practice
(Offered as ENGL 477 and FAMS 455) Confession is arguably central to expressions of postmodern selfhood in TV talk shows, YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook updates. It also informs the evidentiary logic of our civil apparatuses (legal, medical, humanitarian) and infuses the fabric of our diplomatic, familial, and intimate relations. Indeed, we might say that the confession is the preeminent practice through which we understand the “truth” of our selves.This course investigates the many meanings and itineraries of the confession. We will focus on the various institutional sites that have shaped confessional regimes of truth (such as the church, the school, the clinic, the prison, the courtroom), as well as the role of media forms (from autobiographical video to cinematic melodrama and reality television) in consolidating and challenging these regimes. Readings and assignments emphasize a twinned engagement with media and cultural theory. Topics include: narratives on coming-out, truth and reconciliation, hysteria, torture, the female orgasm, insanity defenses, and racial passing. One two hour-and-forty-minute class meeting and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rangan.
2023-24: Not offered
Film and Video Curation
(Offered as ENGL 462, FAMS 462, and ARHA 462) In recent years, curating has taken on an increasingly central role in the production of contemporary media cultures. As the practice of selecting, organizing, and presenting cultural artifacts for public exhibition, curating often determines the sorts of media forms audiences have access to and the frameworks through which those media forms are interpreted. Curating requires a facility with a wide variety of skills, from historical research to critical analysis, communication, administration, and creative thinking. Yet it also entails an attentiveness to the complex socio-political issues that subtend all approaches to cultural representation.
This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of film and video curation, paying special attention to the curation of experimental media. Students will learn about curating in both theoretical and practical ways, analyzing a variety of conceptual issues and debates that have emerged from historical and contemporary approaches to experimental film and video exhibition, while also embarking on creative assignments designed to allow them to begin developing their own curatorial perspectives. Through weekly screenings, readings, and discussion seminars, as well as visits to off-campus arts venues and cultural institutions, we will examine the different registers of film and video exhibitions that are regularly shaped by curators (program, sequence, exhibition space, text, and formats, etc.), as well as the broader social and political stakes of media curation. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.
“Having a Voice”: Theories of Voice and Documentary
(Offered as ENGL 478 and FAMS 478) Documentary’s difference from fiction is frequently understood in terms of its emphasis on the spoken word. In documentary studies, voice, rather than point of view, is the standard parlance for describing the unique social perspective of a documentary film. Voice is also the metaphor of documentary’s social mission: some of the most influential histories of documentary are narrated as a history of giving--and having, or appropriating--the right to speak. Rather than approaching the voice as a pre-existing social fact or content, this course will ask how discourses of documentary mediate our understandings of voice. Readings will include classic texts on the cinematic voice alongside contemporary and historical theories and counter-histories of voice from a variety of critical and disciplinary contexts, including philosophy, sound, music, disability, race, gender, and sexuality studies. Screenings will draw widely from documentary and experimental film. We will ask: how are Western philosophical discourses of voice unacknowledged influences on the formal expressions of the spoken word in documentary? And conversely, how do the conventional documentary expressions of speech, such as voice-over, interview, testimony, conversation cultivate normative and counter-normative modes of listening?
This is an advanced discussion seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class. The course also includes a final research paper.
Requisite: ENGL 280/FAMS 210, or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Special consideration will be given to students who have taken a documentary course (whether theory or production). Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2023-24: Not offered
Conversations with Experimental Filmmakers
(Offered as ENGL 481, FAMS 481, and ARHA 481) This seminar explores different ways of entering into conversations with experimental filmmakers. Through weekly screenings, in-class visits by contemporary artists, and rigorous examinations of artists’ writings, interviews, and related theoretical texts, we will seek to develop critical and creative vocabularies through which to interact with an array of experimental films and videos. We will ask: What sorts of aesthetic, conceptual, and political keywords do contemporary filmmakers draw on to frame their artistic practices? How do these terms/frameworks challenge established approaches to film analysis? And how might we elaborate new ways of thinking and speaking about film in an effort to respond to this critical challenge? Topics examined in this course may include: expanded cinema, modularity, and performance; artist-run labs and the new materialism; experimental ethnography, locality, and cultural representation; landscape films and the Anthropocene; the politics of intimacy in the diary film; and abstraction, representation, and gender.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or ARHA, or consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Guilford.
Independent Reading Courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023
Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023
Japan on Screen
(Offered as ASLC 234 [J] and FAMS 320) Is the concept of national cinema useful in the age of globalization? Given the international nature of cinema at its inception, was it ever a valid concept? In this course, we will consider how the nation is represented on screen as we survey the history of film culture in Japan, from the very first film footage shot in the country in 1897, through the golden age of studio cinema in the 1950s, to important independent filmmakers working today. While testing different theories of national, local, and world cinema, we will investigate the Japanese film as a narrative art, as a formal construct, and as a participant in larger aesthetic and social contexts. This course includes the major genres of Japanese film and influential schools and movements. Students will also learn and get extensive practice using the vocabulary of the discipline of film studies. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Japan or Japanese, and all films have English subtitles.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ASLC 436 and FAMS 422) This course is an introduction to contemporary Japanese popular culture through focused study of a particular theme. This semester we will concentrate on the apocalypse, among the most prominent themes in postwar Japan. Many would trace its origins to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for Japan is the only country in history to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, but we will examine a broader cultural matrix in this course, which will allow us to address questions of technology, human agency, utopia, dystopia, and spectacle, among other topics. Through reading and discussion of theories of mediation, we will also seek connections between works of popular culture and larger issues, such as globalization, politics, and discourses on cultural uniqueness. Finally, because many contemporary works utilize the apocalyptic theme as a way to explore the replacement of older media by newer technologies—such as the replacement of VHS by DVD or the displacement of traditional film by digital technology—we will also pursue issues of media specificity. This will entail learning the disciplinary terminology of film, anime, and manga studies.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as GERM 368, ARCH 368, EUST 368, and FAMS 368) This research seminar will explore conceptions of space as they have informed and influenced thought and creativity in the fields of cultural studies, literature, architecture, urban studies, performance, and the visual, electronic, and time-based arts. Students will select and pursue a major semester-long research project early in the semester in consultation with the professor, and present their research in its various stages of development throughout the semester, in a variety of media formats (writing, performance, video, electronic art/interactive media, installation, online and networked events, architectural/design drawings/renderings), along with oral presentations of readings and other materials. Readings and visual materials will be drawn from the fields of literature and philosophy; from architectural, art, and film theory and history; from performance studies and performance theory; and from theories of technology and the natural and built environment. Emphasis on developing research, writing, and presentation skills is a core of this seminar.
Preference given to German majors and European Studies majors, as well as to students interested in architecture/design, performance, film/video, interactive installation, and/or the environment. Conducted in English. German majors will select a research project focused on a German Studies context, and will do a substantial portion of the readings in German. Part of the Global Classroom Project. The Global Classroom Project uses videoconferencing technology to connect Amherst classes with courses/students outside the United States.
Limited to 15 students. Enrollment requires attendance at the first class meeting. Spring semester. Professor Gilpin.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as FREN 361 and FAMS 321) A study of some of the greatest French New Wave (1959-1963) films, as well as earlier French films that influenced the New Wave. From the New Wave we shall view Truffaut’s The 400 Blows; Godard’s Breathless, My Life to Live, and Contempt; Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad by Resnais. We shall also study Zero for Conduct (1933) and L’Atalante (1934) by Jean Vigo; Boudu Saved From the Waters (1932) Grand Illusion (1937), and The Rules of the Game (1939) by Jean Renoir; Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956) and A Man Escaped (1956) by Robert Bresson. No previous training in film analysis is required. Conducted in English.
Omitted 2017-18. Professor Caplan.2023-24: Not offered