Film and Media Studies
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Amherst College Film and Media Studies for 2015-16

110 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.  Fall semester:  Professor Hastie.  Spring semester:  Visiting Professor Guilford.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015

210 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.  Visiting Professor Guilford.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015

213 Knowing Cinema

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 2015-16.  Professor Van Compernolle.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

215 Knowing Television

(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 30 students.  Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Hastie.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Spring 2013, Fall 2013

220 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 2016 will be “The Essay.”

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.  Spring semester.  Professor Levine.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

221 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 exercises, a collaborative project and a final video assignment. There will be one 3-hour class and one film screening each week.

Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Levine.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

228 Introduction to Super 8 Film and Digital Video

(Offered as FAMS 228 and ENGL 287.)  This course will introduce students to basic Super 8 film and digital video techniques.  The course will include workshops in shooting for film and video, Super 8 film editing, Final Cut Pro video editing, lighting, stop motion animation, sound recording and mixing.  Students will learn to think about and look critically at the moving and still image.  Students will complete three moving image projects, including one Super 8 film, one video project, and one mixed media project.  Weekly screenings will introduce students to a wide range of approaches to editing, writing, and directing in experimental, documentary, narrative, and hybrid cinematic forms.  Screenings include works by Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, the Yes Men, Jennifer Reeves, Mona Hatoum, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Dziga Vertov, D.A. Pennebaker, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Cécile Fontaine, and Johanna Vaude.

Admission with consent of the instructor.  Please complete the questionnaire at  Limited to 13 students.  Omitted 2015-16.  Five College Professor Hillman.


2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015

240 Screenwriting

(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  Fall semester.  Visiting Lecturer Johnson.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

312 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 2015-16.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014

313 The Soviet Experience

(Offered as RUSS 234 and FAMS 313.)  With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great utopian experiment of the 20th century–a radical attempt to reorganize society in accordance with rational principles–came to an end.  This course explores the dramatic history of that experiment from the perspective of those whose lives were deeply affected by the social upheavals it brought about.  We begin by examining the early visions of the new social order and attempts to restructure the living practices of the Soviet citizens by reshaping the concepts of time, space, family, and, ultimately, redefining the meaning of being human.  We then look at how “the new human being” of the 1920s is transformed into the “new Soviet person” of the Stalinist society, focusing on the central cultural and ideological myths of Stalinism and their place in everyday life, especially as they relate to the experience of state terror and war.  Finally, we investigate the notion of “life after Stalin,” and consider the role of already familiar utopian motifs in the development of post-Stalinist and post-Soviet ways of imagining self, culture, and society.  The course uses a variety of materials–from primary documents, public or official (architectural and theatrical designs, political propaganda, transcripts of trials, government meetings, and interrogations) and intimate (diaries and letters), to works of art (novels, films, stage productions, paintings), documentary accounts (on film and in print), and contemporary scholarship (from the fields of literary and cultural studies, history and anthropology).  No previous knowledge of Soviet or Russian history or culture is required; course conducted in English, and all readings are in translation.  Students who read Russian will be given special assignments.

Limited to 20 students.  Omitted 2015-16.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Fall 2013

316 Performance

(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 be also screened.  Conducted in English, with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Gilpin.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2014

320 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.

Spring semester.  Professor Van Compernolle.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

321 European Film

(Offered as FAMS 321 and FREN 361) 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.

Spring semester. Professor Caplan.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2013

322 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.  Fall semester.  Professor Shandilya.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2014

323 Weimar Cinema: The "Golden Age" of German Film

(Offered as GERM 347 and FAMS 323.)  This course examines the German contribution to the emergence of film as both a distinctly modern art form and as a product of mass culture. The international success of Robert Wiene’s Expressionist phantasmagoria, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), heralded the beginning of a period of unparalleled artistic exploration, prior to the advent of Hitler, during which the ground was laid for many of the filmic genres familiar today: horror film (F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu), detective thriller (Fritz Lang’s M), satirical comedy (Ernst Lubitsch’s The Oyster Princess), psychological drama (G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box), science fiction (Lang’s Metropolis), social melodrama  (Pabst’s The Joyless Street), historical costume film (Lubitsch’s Passion), political propaganda (Slatan Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe), anti-war epic (Pabst’s Westfront 1918), a documentary montage (Walther Ruttmann’s Berlin – Symphony of a Big City), and the distinctly German genre of the “mountain film” (Leni Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light). Readings, including Siegried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Lotte H. Eisner, Béla Balázs, and Rudolf Arnheim, will address questions of technology and modernity, gender relations after World War I, the intersection of politics and film, and the impact of German and Austrian exiles on Hollywood. Conducted in English, with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Rogowski.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2015

325 Nazi Cinema

(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.

Spring semester. Professor Rogowski.


2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016

327 Toward the New Wave

(Offered as FREN  365 and FAMS 327.)  The class will study films from the French New Wave (1959-63), as well as earlier French films that influenced many New Wave directors.  These films will include:  Jean-Luc Godard's A bout de souffle, Vivre sa vie, and Le Mépris; Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour and L'annee dernière à Marienbad; Les 400 Coups by François Truffaut and Agnès Varda's  Cléo de 5 à 7, as well as Zero de conduite and L'Atalante by Jean Vigo; Boudu sauvé des eaux, la Grande Illusion and La Règle du jeu by Jean Renoir; Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur; and Robert Bresson's Un Condamné à mort s'est echappé.  This course will also provide basic training in the analysis of films.  Conducted in French.

Requisite:  One of the following--FREN 207, 208, 311, or equivalent.  Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Caplan.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2014

333 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.

Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Parham.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015

335 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 asignments on film and one final project on either film or video, each of which is to be presented for class critique.  One 3-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. Spring semester. Professor Levine.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016

341 Video Production: Bodies in Motion

(Offered as THDA 250 and FAMS 341.)  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 2015-16. Professor Woodson.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2012, Spring 2014

342 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.

Class meetings TTh 1-2:20; 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. Spring semester.  Professor Woodson.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

345 Performance Studio

(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. Visiting Resident Artist Schmitz.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014

350 Experimental Narrative Cinema in a Global Context

(Offered as FAMS 350 and ENGL 376).  This course will introduce students to a diverse range of experimental approaches to narrative filmmaking. Students will gain skills in filmmaking and criticism through project assignments, readings and analysis of language, performance and visual structure within selected films. Workshops in cinematography, sound recording and editing will be offered. The course will concentrate on filmmakers who are working in a context of multiple languages, hybrid forms and transnational histories. Screenings will include works by Jia Zhangke, Mati Diop, Abderrahmane Sissako, Pedro Costa, Claire Denis, and Nagisa Oshima. Students will complete three film and video projects. Lab fee required. Course meetings include one three hour consecutive meeting per week and one screening time per week.

Recommended prior coursework:  ENGL 287/FAMS 228, Introduction to Super 8 Film and Digital Video, or other introductory course in film and video, photography, or painting. Admission with consent of instructor. Please complete the questionnaire at and submit to Prof. Hillman. Limited to 13 students. Fall semester. Five College Professor Hillman.


2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015

351 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.  Fall semester.  Professor Hastie.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

353 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 2015-16.  Professor Hastie.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2014

358 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.

Spring semester.  Professors Parham and Drabinski.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

359 The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez

(Offered as SPAN 391 and FAMS 359.)  In this seminar we will explore how Robert Rodriguez’s films—from his earliest short “Bedhead” in 1990 to the Machete in 2010—creatively texture three decades of social and historical change that inform the U.S. Latino experience. We will explore issues of content (race, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, and class) as well as how Rodriguez uses formal devices (lighting, camera angle and lens, sound, editing, and mise-en-scène) to give various shapes to his many filmic stories. We will consider, for instance, how his comic-book approach to filmmaking allows him to create films that push at the boundaries of social and natural norms. We will also explore questions of production and consumption, including how his films trigger different thoughts of and feelings toward Latinos in new and innovative ways.  Finally, by analyzing his film repertoire, we will identify a coherence and consistency in Rodriguez’s approach and worldview that opens audience eyes to new ways of seeing Latinos in the world. Students will acquire the tools developed in film theory and concepts from Latino Studies to analyze the films of Robert Rodriguez within the broader perspectives of the study of U.S. popular culture. We will learn a variety of approaches and methods for studying Rodriguez’s films—as well as develop our own approach and method in response to critically consuming his films.  In our analysis of Rodriguez’s films we will learn of the social, historical, and cultural significance of Latinos in the U.S.  Primary viewing materials will include “Bedhead” (1991); El Mariachi (1992); Roadracers (1994); Desperado (1995); “The Misbehavers” (in Four Rooms) (1995); From Dusk Till Dawn (1996); The Faculty (1998); Spy Kids (2001); Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003); Sin City (2005); Planet Terror (2007); Machete (2010); Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D (2011); Machete Kills(2013); Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). For secondary readings students will study chapters from Aldama’s The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez along with the work of Chon Noriega, Charles Ramírez Berg, and Rosa Linda Fregoso. Conducted in English.

Fall semester. Professor Aldama.


2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015


(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.

Limited to 15 students. Enrollment requires attendance at the first class meeting. Omitted 2015-16. Professor Gilpin.

Part of the Global Classroom Project. The Global Classroom Project uses videoconferencing technology to connect Amherst classes with courses/students outside the United States.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

370 Traumatic Events

(Offered as ARCH 363, GERM 363, EUST 363, and FAMS 370.) How is memory constructed and represented? How is it possible to bear witness, and what exactly is involved? Who is authorized to testify, to whom, when? Whose story is it? Is it possible to tell "the story" of a traumatic event? What are the disorders of testimony, and how and where do they emerge? This course will observe the workings of trauma (the enactment and working-through of collective and individual symptoms of trauma), memory, and witnessing in various modes of everyday life. We will examine notions of catastrophe, disaster, accident, and violence, and explore the possibilities and impossibilities of bearing witness in many forms of cultural production: in fiction, poetry, architecture, critical theory, oral and written testimonies, visual art, monuments, memorials, philosophy, science, cartoons, film, video, theater, television reportage, newspaper documentation, performance, online, and in our public and domestic spaces. We will study various representations of trauma, paying particular attention to events in Germany and Europe from the twentieth century, as well as to 9/11 and other recent international events. Material to be examined will be drawn from the work of Pina Bausch, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Cathy Caruth, Paul Celan, Marguerite Duras, Peter Eisenman, Shoshana Felman, Florian Freund, Jochen Gerz, Geoffrey Hartman, Rebecca Horn, Marion Kant, Anselm Kiefer, Ruth Klüger, Dominick LaCapra, Claude Lanzmann, Dori Laub, Daniel Libeskind, W.G. Sebald, Art Spiegelman, Paul Virilio, Peter Weiss, Wim Wenders, Elie Wiesel, Christa Wolf, and others. Conducted in English with German majors required to do a substantial portion of the reading in German.

Omitted 2015-16. Professor Gilpin.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2014

371 Film, Myth, and the Law

(Offered as LJST 225 and FAMS 371.)  The proliferation of law in film and on television has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images that today saturate our culture and have a power all their own, and the moving image provides a domain in which legal power operates independently of law’s formal institutions. This course will consider what happens when legal events are re-narrated in film and examine film’s treatment of legal officials, events, and institutions (e.g., police, lawyers, judges, trials, executions, prisons). Does film open up new possibilities of judgment, model new modes of interpretation, and provide new insights into law’s violence? We will discuss ways in which myths about law are reproduced and contested in film. Moreover, attending to the visual dimensions of law’s imagined lives, we ask whether law provides a template for film spectatorship, positioning viewers as detectives and as jurors, and whether film, in turn, sponsors a distinctive visual aesthetics of law. Among the films we may consider are Inherit the Wind, Call Northside 777, Judgment at Nuremberg, Rear Window, Silence of the Lambs, A Question of Silence, The Sweet Hereafter, Dead Man Walking, Basic Instinct, and Unforgiven. Throughout we will draw upon film theory and criticism as well as the scholarly literature on law, myth, and film.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2015-16.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2015

374 Reading Popular Culture:  Girl Power

(Offered as ENGL 271, BLST 332 [US], FAMS 374, and SWAG 271.)  Girl Power is the pop-culture term for what some commentators have also dubbed “postfeminism.”  The 1990s saw a dramatic transformation in cultural representations of women’s relationships to their own sense of power.  But did this still rising phenomenon of “women who kick ass” come at a cost?  Might such representations signify genuine reassessments of some of the intersections between gender, power, and the individual?  Or are they, at best, superficial appropriations of what had otherwise been historically construed as male power?  With such questions in mind, this class will teach students to use theoretical and primary texts to research, assess, and critique contemporary popular culture.  Each student will also be trained to produce a critical multimedia project.  One class meeting per week, which includes a 135-minute seminar and a 60-minute workshop and lab.

Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor.  Limited to 30 students.  Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Parham.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013

376 Introduction to Music and Film

(Offered as MUSI 122 and FAMS 376) Introduction to Music and Film acquaints students with the primary concepts and methods used in contemporary scholarship on film music. Through a combination of readings, in-class discussion, and outside film screenings, students will gain skill in the analysis and interpretation of films with special focus on the contributions of sound to the cinematic experience. In addition, the selection of films for study will familiarize students with a broad range of film genres and styles. The course is designed to be welcoming to non-majors, and knowledge of musical notation and technical vocabulary in music or film is not required to enroll.

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2015-16.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013

378 Visual Anthropology

(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. Spring semester. Professor Gewertz.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Spring 2011, Spring 2013

379 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. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.

2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014

381 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. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Guilford.


2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015

383 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.  Fall semester.  Professor Rangan.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015

441 Documentary Production

(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 2015 will be “Ecstatic Truth: Fact versus Fiction.”  One 3-hour class 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. Fall semester. Professor Levine.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015

444 Films That Try: Essay Film Production

(Offered as ARHA 444 and FAMS 444) Essay filmmaking is a dynamic form with many commonly cited attributes—the presence of an authorial voice, an emphasis on broad themes, an eclectic approach to genre, and the tendency to digress or draw unexpected connections. Yet, true to its nature, the precise definition of the essay film is in constant flux. It can be both personal and political, individual and collective, noble and mischievous. Essay filmmakers themselves are equally diverse, ranging from established film auteurs to Third Cinema activists and contemporary video artists.

If we entertain the notion that the processes of cinema closely resemble the mechanics of human thought, then the essay film may be the medium’s purest expression. To watch or make such a film, we must give ourselves over to a compulsive, restless energy that delights in chasing a subject down any number of rabbit holes and blind alleys, often stopping to admire the scenery on the way. As with thought, there is no end product, no clear boundaries, no goal but the activity itself.

The term "essay" finds its origins in the French essayer, meaning “to attempt” or to try.” In this advanced production workshop, we will read, screen and discuss examples of the essayistic mode in literature and cinema while making several such attempts of our own. Students will complete a series of writing assignments and video projects informed by class materials and group discussion.

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 2015-16. Professor Levine.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014

451 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.  Fall semester.  Professor Parham.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013

455 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.  Fall semester.  Professor Rangan.


2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015

462 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.  Spring semester.  Visiting Professor Guilford.


2015-16: Offered in Spring 2016

475 Serial Fictions: The Victorian Novel and Contemporary Television

(Offered as ENGL 475 and FAMS 475.)  This course examines the similarities in form and content between the Victorian novel and the modern television series.  While contemporary TV and fiction from over a century ago might seem like a surprising pairing, the two forms have a great deal in common. Indeed, serial television finds its foundation in nineteenth-century publication practices:  the Victorian novels we now read as massive single-volume books were originally published in small weekly or monthly parts.  Focusing on case studies in which we place a Victorian novel and a television series side by side, this course interrogates questions of genre, form, medium, and the dubious division of popular entertainment and high art. Through experiments with our own reading, writing, and viewing habits, we will ask how the serial forms of the Victorian novel and TV illuminate each other, what habits of consumption they promote, and what they have to teach us about seriality itself.

Open to juniors and seniors.  Limited to 16 students.  Omitted 2015-16.  Professors Christoff and Hastie.

2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014

490 Special Topics

Independent Reading Courses.

Fall and spring semester.  The Department.


2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015

498, 499 Senior Honors

Admission with consent of the instructor.  Fall semester.

2015-16: Offered in Fall 2015
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014