CTCS 402 Practicum in Film and Television Criticism: Movies and Morals Spring 2016
Thursday, 10:00am-1:50pm, SCA 316
Instructor: Dr. Ella Taylor, film critic and feature writer for NPR.ORG, Variety, and others
Office: SCA 318
Office Hours: Monday, Thursday 2-3 p.m. but please sign up first in the Critical Studies front office.
T.A.: Andy Myers
Office Hours: Tuesdays 9:30-10:30am, SCA 221
In this practicum, students will learn how to write film and television criticism, with special attention to the rapidly changing nature of the profession, the industry and the rise of film/television journalism and reviewing on the Internet. There will be weekly screenings of films and television shows based on a historical and genre approach, thematically linked by a consideration of how movies and TV Shows (for example, The Social Network, Mad Men) frame moral and philosophical dilemmas: good and evil, the meaning of life, and how shall we live. Students will learn the craft of writing and editing interviews and profiles of actors, directors, screenwriters and other creative personnel in film and television.
There are many ways to become a good writer. Three of the most important are:
a) reading (I know, but there’s no escape) the work of really good writers, and I will introduce you to some of them
c) careful reading of our edits on your work Course Requirements:
Class discussion and critique of your classmates’ written work are crucial to the success of this course. Attendance at screenings, even if you’ve seen the film before, is mandatory. If you miss a screening without a valid reason, you will be counted as absent. You should be prepared to take notes in screenings and discuss the films, your reviews and the reading. Every student will make copies of and present one piece of their work for constructive critique in class. Readings are listed below or, where indicated, posted on Blackboard. Each week the reading list will provide you with a sample of one great (and, occasionally, awful) piece of professional writing. Please print it, read it, and highlight what you think is good or problematic about it, for a brief in-class discussion.
We will need to communicate with you by e-mail during the semester. PLEASE CHECK YOUR E-MAIL REGULARLY. ALSO PLEASE ADDRESS ANY E-MAILS TO BOTH TA ANDY MYERS AND MYSELF EVEN IF YOU’RE ADDRESSING ONLY ONE OF US. We are here to help: come talk to us if you need it! You should also form a regular habit of reading film criticism and features on and off-line, based on your favorite sources and others provided by me.
There will be 10 writing assignments of varying lengths from 200-800-word reviews. All assignments will be due on hard copy (bring to class) and on Turnitin (AS WORD FILES NOT PDF PLEASE), unless indicated otherwise. No late assignments will be accepted without a VALID reason.If it is your week to present your work for class discussion (a sign-up sheet will be passed out in the first week), please bring hard copies for every student in the class. IF YOU WISH TO QUESTION YOUR GRADE PLEASE BRING YOUR ASSIGNMENT TO OFFICE HOURS, MARKED UP WITH A DETAILED ASSESSMENT OF WHERE YOU THINK WE WRONGED YOU.
Final Grade Breakdown:
30%: Class discussion and critique of others’ work and professional writing samples
70%: Weekly writing assignments
F (below 60)
Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words – is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standards (https://scampus.usc.edu/1100-behavior-violating-university-standards-and-appropriate-sanctions). Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct (http://policy.usc.edu/scientific-misconduct).
Discrimination, sexual assault, and harassment are not tolerated by the university. You are encouraged to report any incidents to the Office of Equity and Diversity (http://equity.usc.edu) or to the Department of Public Safety (http://capsnet.usc.edu/department/department-public-safety/online-forms/contact-us). This is important for the safety of the whole USC community. Another member of the university community – such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member – can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person. The Center for Women and Men (http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/cwm) provides 24/7 confidential support, and the sexual assault resource center webpage (http://sarc.usc.edu) describes reporting options and other resources.
A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute (http://dornsife.usc.edu/ali), which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students.
The Office of Disability Services and Programs (http://sait.usc.edu/academicsupport/centerprograms/dsp/home_index.html) provides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations. If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information (http://emergency.usc.edu/) will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.
Course Exam, Project and Paper Retention Policy
It is the responsibility of all students in Critical Studies courses to retrieve all papers, projects, assignments and/or exams within one academic year of completion of a course. These records may be essential in resolving grade disputes and incompletes as well as assist in verifying that course requirements have been met. The Critical Studies Division will dispose of all records from the previous academic year in May of the current academic year. No exceptions. Please be in contact with your TA about collecting these documents while you are taking the course.
Overview. Writing well; writing well about film and television; the moral universe of popular culture and its audiences.
Screening: The Social Network
Reading: Professional writing sample: Matt Zoller Seitz, “Advice to Young Critics,” http://www.rogerebert.com/mzs/advice-to-young-critics Review of The Social Network by Leah Rozen: http://www.thewrap.com/social-network-truth-justice-american-way-and-oh-yeah-mark-zuckerberg-21186
Seven philosophical movies:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/14/force-majeure-films-philosophy-memento-ida-its-a-wonderful-life Assignment 1:Write a 600-word review of The Social Network for publication in print and online. We’ll talk more about how to do this in class.
Week 2. 1/21
History: A Watershed Moment in American Film
Screening: Bonnie and Clyde
Reading: Professional writing sample: Jay Rosen on blogging: http://pressthink.org/2015/10/blogging-is-doing-your-work-in-public/
Review of Mark Harris’s book, Pictures at a Revolution, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/books/review/Shepard-t.html
Assignment 2: Write a 400-word blog entry, as if it were part of a regular film blog that you write for a general audience, about the experience of watching Bonnie and Clydelast night at a retrospective of EITHER director Arthur Penn OR actor Warren Beatty films. You don't need to adhere to the following suggestions, but you might tell your readers why you are a fan of the film or the director, the movie’s significance in its time, how the movie and the genre holds up in 2013, whether or not they should see it. You may need to do a little research, but remember this is a blog, so make it conversational.
History: A Watershed Moment in American Television
Screening: Clips from 1970s TV Shows: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, Hill Street Blues
Reading: Professional writing sample: http://www.avclub.com/article/how-ithe-mary-tyler-moore-showi-reinvented-the-sit-99172 No assignment this week, please catch up on assigned and recommended reading. Week 4.2/4
From Hollywood to Indiewood II: 1980s-Present
Reading: Professional writing sample: Mark Harris, “The Day the Movies Died,” http://www.gq.com/entertainment/movies-and-tv/201102/the-day-the-movies-died-mark-harris
Peter Bradshaw on Adaptation: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/feb/28/artsfeatures3
Assignment 3:Write a 500-word review of Adaptation, part of which should include some analysis of what the film says about Indiewood at the time the movie was made.
Week 5. 2/11
Genre: Film noir
Screening: Army of Shadows (Melville)
Reading: Professional writing sample: Paul Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir,” http://www.mtime.com/my/Noir/blog/1433838/
Amy Taubin on Army of Shadows: https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/483-army-of-shadows-out-of-the-shadows
Assignment 4:Write a 600-word review (not a blog) of Army of Shadows, paying attention to the interplay between genre, theme, style in the movie, as well as the connection between film noir and the movie’s socio-political context.
Week 6. 2/18
Playing with reality: Narrative and non-fiction film; docudrama; ethics and documentary.
Screening:The Hunting Ground
Reading: Professional writing samples, please read both:
Judith Shulevitz on discussing difficult ideas in college: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html?_r=0
Molly Eichel on The Hunting Ground:
http://articles.philly.com/2015-04-04/entertainment/60790690_1_amy-ziering-jameis-winston-invisible-war Ella Taylor on documentary ethics in The Hunting Ground:
https://www.fandor.com/keyframe/blow-up-agitprop-and-the-documentary-moment Assignment 5: The assigned readings for this week present differing assessments of The Hunting Ground. Use them and any others of your choice to blog for 600 words about EITHER the ethics regarding use of factual evidence in filmed documentaries OR the obligations of reviewing a documentary as opposed to a narrative feature. Note: You do not have to agree with my take on the movie.
Also next week’s reading on romantic comedy is quite long, you may want to get started on that this week.
Screening: Obvious Child
Professional Writing Sample: Linda Holmes on the “death” of romantic comedy, http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/03/06/173424536/are-romantic-comedies-dead
No assignment this week, catch up on reading. Week 8. 3/3
The art film/international film
Reading: Professional writing sample:
A dialogue on art film by New York Times film critics: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/movies/films-in-defense-of-slow-and-boring.html
Assignment 6: Write a 600-word review of Force Majeure. In addition to, or as part of your personal response to the movie, your review should include either a discussion of its status as an art film or a discussion of the way it frames moral choice and its outcomes.
Week 9. 3/10
POPULAR CULTURE AND CHANGE: IDENTITY
Screening:Transparent, Caitlyn Jenner, Orange is the New Black
Professional Writing Sample: Wesley Morris, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/magazine/the-year-we-obsessed-over-identity.html?_r=0 Assignment 7: Read Wesley Morris’s article and write a 700-word think piece analyzing our changing perceptions of identity in one television show/series and one movie of your choice. Give concrete examples to illustrate your argument.
3/17 Spring Recess — no class
Reading: Professional writing sample: Mark Harris on changes in television, http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2012/mark-harris-tv-2012-5/ No assignment, catch up on reading. Week 11. 3/31
Bad movies, bad TV, and how to write about them.
Screening: The Ugly Truth (Luketic)
Reading: Professional writing sample: Mark Harris on the future in bad movies, http://grantland.com/features/2014-hollywood-blockbusters-franchises-box-office/ Ella Taylor on The Ugly Truth: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106618352 Assignment 8: Write a 500-word blog on one of the worst movies you've ever seen. Be specific about HOW and WHY you think it's bad, on the basis of our class discussion and your reading. Feel free to use wit, but please keep in mind the difference between criticism and malice. Again, there is no need to agree with my assessment.
Week 12. 4/7
Short-form writing: tweeting, recapping episodes, the 100-word review
Screening:Homeland (Season 1, Episode 1)
Reading: Follow Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC), Farran Smith Nehme (@selfstyledsiren), and Scott Tobias(@scott_tobias) on Twitter.
Read Alison Willmore’s recaps at Indiewire:
http://www.indiewire.com/article/television/breaking-bad-season-5-episode-15-granite-state Assignment 9: Write a 250-word recap of an episode of Homeland, and also two tweets about that episode. (You don’t need to be a Twitter user, just bring them to class next week.) Remember that in recaps and tweets you are also writing criticism.
Week 13. 4/14Listicles:
Screening: The Fault in Our Stars
Reading: Professional writing sample: Hollywood.com on cancer movie:
http://www.hollywood.com/movies/film-s-most-powerful-cancer-dramas-57219192/ Ella Taylor, “25 films for Labor Day”: http://www.fandor.com/keyframe/the-essential-labor-films Assignment: Start working on assignment 10 below Week 14. 4/21
Guest speaker; Amy Nicholson, Film Critic, LA Weekly
Reading: Professional writing sample: Amy Nicholson on Tom Cruise and Internet journalism, http://www.laweekly.com/2014-05-22/news/the-last-movie-star/ Assignment 10: Write a 1000-word essay or think piece OR an annotated list (see last week) of films/TV shows about your choice of topic OR a profile of a person in film or television (actor, director, producer, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer) making a case for their significance in their field and analyzing some of your favorite pieces of their work.
Week 15: 4/28
Last class: Summing Up
Reading: Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, “Film is Dead?”, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/movies/how-digital-is-changing-the-nature-of-movies.html