Saturday, November 29, 2014

Draft Syllabus on Spring 2015 Seminar Offering, "The Automobile and Film"

Hi folks - here is where we are right now in organizing this course for the spring term. Changes will follow.  any suggestions from those out there in the digital ether?

The Automobile and Film
Class Meeting: Wednesday, 3:00-5:50 p.m.
HM 468

Instructors: Dr. John A. Heitmann, Dr. James Todd Uhlman
Office: HM 435
Telephone: x92803
Office Hours:
MW10-10:50 a.m., W 2-2:50 p.m., or by appointment.

It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this seminar we will explore together the place of the automobile in film, and how the two technologies developed together from their early 20th century origins. This story is most complex, demanding insights and expertise from a host of disciplines, including cultural social history and the history of technology and business. From the late 18th century to the present, the automobile influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe, and in this offering as we shall learn about, the movies we watch..

Required Texts:

John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life (McFarland, 2009).

My book The Automobile and American Life is our key common reading in this class and the touchstone for our discussions. While you will not be tested on this reading, you will be responsible for reading this book and critically commenting on it in class.
Grades: Course work will consist of seminar lectures, discussions, presentations, films. Grades will be based on class discussion, an assigned article class presentation (15%) and a research paper (40%).

            In this class we will define the seminar as a shared learning experience in which one of its purposes is to create new knowledge. Therefore, the research paper is the most significant assignment of this course. It should critically explore an area of knowledge related to the automobile and American life, and ideally should be 10 pages double spaced in length, with additional footnotes and bibliography, and furthermore draw on minimally 15 sources, primary and secondary. I plan to meet with you individually and collectively during the semester to ensure that your topic has a proper focus and that sources are readily available for your project. A late paper will be penalized one-half letter grade per day.


Among the term paper topics are the following suggestions:

Film                                                                                 Automobile

American Graffiti                               1932 Ford Roadster
The Love Bug                                     1962 Volkswagen
Back to the Future                               1981 DeLorean
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off                     1961 Ferarri 250 GT California
Risky Business                                    1981 Porsche 928
National Lampoon’s Vacation             1983 Wagon Queen Truckster
Smokey and the Bandit                       1977 Pontiac Trans-Am
The Blues Brothers                              1974 Dodge Monaco
Iron Man                                              2008 Audi R8
Lemans                                                1970 Porsche 917K
Christine                                             1958 Plymouth Fury
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang                    Zborowski Race Car
Rebel Without a Cause                       1949 Mercury Eight
Ghostbusters                                      1959 Cadillac Ecto-1
Goldfinger                                           1963 Aston Martin DB 5
Bullit                                                   1968 Ford Mustang GT
Mad Max                                            1973 Ford XB Falcon GT 351
The Fast and Furious                          1970 Dodge Charger
The Lively Set                                    1964 Chrysler Turbine Car
The Yellow Rolls Royce                     1930 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud

The most important thing to remember when watching a film critically is that every single frame and moment has been specifically crafted to have an effect on the viewer. In theory, nothing is an accident — whether it’s the way in which an actor is saying a line, the method in which the shot is setup for that moment, or even the specific type of lamp that might be sitting in the background. Altogether, the construction of a film can be incredibly complicated, but the reasoning behind every decision nearly always comes down to how it is working with the story and how it is affecting the viewer. With that in mind, here are seven essential ways to break down a film in order to begin thinking about it from a critical viewpoint.
1. Directing
It’s best to think of the director like a general. He or she hires all the key creative department heads and pushes them to fulfill his vision, but can’t possibly be in full control of every technical aspect that goes on the film set. Instead, the director must keep a keen eye on the overall vision and make sure that it is being realized to the fullest extent at every moment.  A good example of a director’s role might be in a key, dramatic turning point in a film. Depending on how he or she imagined the scene, maybe the scene doesn’t seem to have the energy that was originally envisioned. The director would then go into problem solving mode: if it’s something performance-related, a discussion with the actors would be had; if the scene could be lit or shot a little differently, a discussion with the cinematographer will follow; or maybe a line needs to be changed because the script isn’t working as intended. Even though the areas that follow are critical to a film’s success, it’s important to note that it is ultimately the director’s responsibility to communicate what he or she wants. It is the reason why the director is the first person to be praised for a film’s success and also the first person to take the heat if it is a failure. While a director could have the most talented actors and crew available, it is still the director’s job to make sure those pieces fall into place and to know when to make any necessary changes.
2. Writing
When it comes to looking at a film’s story from a structural viewpoint, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of films fall into the three-act structure: a beginning, middle, and end. This isn’t because screenwriters are lazy, but because the structure simply works for telling stories and it’s difficult, but not impossible, to tell a story that falls outside of this structure. In screenplays, the first major moment you should be on the lookout for is the inciting incident. Generally, around the ten-minute mark there will be a moment that drives the protagonist toward the story that will dominate the remainder of the film. Around the thirty-minute mark, there is usually a major turning point — the moment in which there is no going back for the protagonist — that signals the beginning of the second act where the majority of the film will take place. Finally, around the ninety-minute mark, the second turning point will signal the film’s drive towards both its conclusion and resolution. Now, there are absolutely films that don’t fit perfectly into the three-act structure, but the vast majority of films do and you can start to get a sense of when important moments or changes will occur when you know the general format. For films that don’t follow the three-act structure, knowing when they are breaking the rules can help a viewer to analyze how they are eschewing the three-act structure and why.
3. Cinematography
The cinematographer, or director of photography, is the key creative head tasked with translating the director’s vision to the actual film or digital recording. This may include picking the camera, choosing lenses, lighting the scene, or any other photographic choice that can best produce the vision of the director. The relationship between the cinematographer and director varies widely depending on how much technical knowledge the director possesses — Stanley Kubrick famously knew what he wanted out of his cinematographer down to the smallest details — but cinematographers are generally given creative reign to fulfill their role: putting the image to film.  Next time you’re watching a film, pick out a scene and think about what the intended tone of that scene is. Is it a romantic scene? Dramatic? From there, then take a look at how the lighting and the way in which the scene is shot emphasizes that tone or the story. If it doesn’t match, think about why that decision was made and what the effect is as a viewer
4. Editing
An editor is often the unsung hero of a film production; he or she can fix continuity problems, modify the story in helpful ways, and even fix bad performances. At its basic level, editing is the actual cuts — back in the days of film it was literally physical cuts in the film — that exist in the film, both within scenes and from scene to scene.  Under the watchful eye of the director, the editor is tasked with creating a visual rhythm in the film that fulfills the director’s vision. An example in a film might be a scene in which a protagonist reveals something to another character. The editor might begin the scene from further away and slowly cut to closer and closer shots as the protagonist reveals his secret. Alternatively, the editor might decide just the opposite, or something in-between — this is ultimately the director’s decision.  Editing can have a huge impact on viewer experience, but its hidden qualities (if the editor is good) can also make watching for it a tough task. In many ways, watching for editing relies very much on keeping in tune with your physical experience watching a film. A scene like the one outlined above might slowly change the way a scene feels to you, but the opposite is also true. A hard cut might make you feel a slight jolt or the combination of two shots following one another may result in an experience different than either shot by itself. To start getting a feel of what the editing is doing to the viewer’s experience, it’s important to start with your gut.

5. Acting
Beyond the script, the actors might be the most important piece of the film puzzle. Just like a great script can produce great performances from mediocre actors, great actors have the ability to push a mediocre script to new heights. But it’s the job of the actor, under the direction of the director, to make sure that the performance is consistent with whatever the goal of the film is.  Acting is probably the easiest thing to be on the lookout for when watching a film critically, simply because the actors take front-and-center in the viewer’s experience of the film. Many of the things to consider when it comes to acting are similar to what you can watch for in the screenplay. What is the character’s goal? What is his or her character development? Is the character’s filmic journey satisfying? From there, you might start to think about whether the actor achieved these goals successfully and why or why not.  Acting is notoriously hard to quantify; some actors just seem to “have it.” But the believability factor can go a long way in starting to break down a performance when it is compared to what his or her goal was as an actor in the film. As a viewer, do you completely believe the existence of a character no matter how normal or insane that character is? From there, you can start to break down aspects of the performances that worked or didn’t work, but the biggest thing is always believability.

6. Production Design
Another unsung hero of film production, the production designer or art director is the person tasked with building up the world where the characters exist. He or she collaborates with both the director and director of photography to achieve the aesthetic demands of the project while guiding the costume designer, make-up stylists, and other similar departments in order to achieve the director’s overall vision.  If a character lives in a shabby apartment in 1960s New York City, the production designer is the person who will painstakingly recreate what that apartment may have looked like, setting up the apartment to reflect the look and era, guiding the costume designer toward a style that feels consistent, and doing anything else that’s necessary to make the viewer feel as though this is taking place in the 1960s and not in the present day.  Along with the director and director of photography, the production designer is also an essential creative force in driving the film’s visual consistency. This can mean choosing a color palette to stick with throughout the film or choosing locations that best reflect the tone of the film. Many directors of photography will admit that no matter how good their work is, it always comes down to what the production designer puts in front of their lens.

7. Sound
Film might be a visual medium, but there’s no doubt that sound is one of the most important aspects of a film and has been ever since 1927′s The Jazz Singer heralded the onset of the “talkies.” Sound can be used in a variety of ways for dramatic effect. A director can employ music, sound effects, or even the lack of sound altogether to produce an effect on the viewer. The use of music in a film is more or less straightforward, although music can sometimes be used in ways that clash with the visuals rather than go along with it. But sound starts to get interesting when the director employs it in ways that emphasizes a character’s subjective state.  Some great examples of stylized sound are found in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. As soon as the American soldiers arrive at Omaha Beach, Spielberg follows them as they dive off the boat and underwater, with the sounds becoming muted and distant to reflect the physical sensation of going underwater. Spielberg also uses subjective sound to emphasize dramatic moments. When Tom Hanks’ character first arrives at the beach in a daze, the sound of the battle around him grow distant and hollow to show his personal experience to the events unfolding around him

Schedule of Assignments and Class Meetings

Week 1 — January 14
Introduction; The History Documentary
            Film:  “Horatio’s Drive.”
Week 2 — January 21
What our cars tell us about ourselves. The automobile and its inherent contradictions.  The automobile in art and as art;            the Pioneers
Reading: Heitmann, Introduction; Heitmann, Chapter 1.
            Film: “Wild Wheels;” Edison, “Automobile Parade (1900); Thomas Mack Sennet, “Gussle’s Day of Rest (1915);” D.W. Griffith, “Intolerance (1916).” 
Article Report(s): James J. Flink, "Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness," American Quarterly, 24 (October, 1972), 451-473; Julian Smith, “A Runaway Match: the Automobile in American Film, 1900-1920,” in Lewis and Goldstein, eds., The Automobile and American Culture (Ann Arbor, 1983).

Week 3 — January 28
            Henry Ford, Fordism, and the Model T.
            Reading:  Heitmann, Chapter 2
            Article report(s): Christopher Wells, "The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road                
            Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age," Technology           
            & Culture, 48 (July, 2007), 497-523.

Week 4 — February 4
            The Rise of General Motors and Sloanism    
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
            Film:  "Master Hands (1936);" “Turnabout Man (1936);” “The Crowd Roars (1932);” “Burn Em Up Barnes (1933).”
Article report(s):  Brian Oakes, “Building Films for Business: Jamison Handy and the Industrial Animation of the Jam Handy Organization,” Film History, 22 (March 2010), 95-107.
Week 5 — February 11
            America on the Road: The Highway and the City;
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4
Article Reports: David Laderman, “What a Trip: The Road Film and American Culture,” Journal of Film and Video, 48 (Spring-Summer, 1996). 41-57.
            Film: “Grapes of Wrath (1940);” "Route 66;" “Detour (1946).”

Week 6 -- February 18
             Women behind the Wheel; Religion, Sex, and the Automobile
            Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 5
Article reports: Harvey R. Greenberg, Carol J. Clover, etal., “The Many Faces of ‘Thelma and Louise’”, Film Quarterly 45 ((Winter 1991-19992), 20-31; Cathy Griggers, “Thelma and Louise and the Cultural Generation of the New Butch-Femme,” in Jim Collins, etal., Film Theory goes to the Movies (New York, 1993), 129-141; Jennifer Parchesky, “Women in the Driver’s Seat: The Auto-Erotics of Early Women’s Films,” Film History, 18(2006), 174-184.
            Films: “Thelma and Louise;”

Week 7 — February 25
The Chase Movie
                        Article Reports: Donald W. McCaffery, “The Evolution of the Chase in Silent Screen Comedy,’ Journal of the Society of Cinematologists 4 (1964-65), 1-8.
                        Films: “Bullit;” “Ronin;” ”The Bourne Identity;” “The Road Warrior;” ”The Blues Brothers;” ”Vanishing Point;” ”The French Connection.”

Week 8 -- March 4
            The Interwar Years; The Great Depression
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
            Article report: Peter Norton, "Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street, Technology and Culture, 2007, 331-359.
Films: “It Happened One Night (1934);” “They Drive by Night (1938).”
Week 9 – Emeriti Lecture – a visit from a Hollywood Director and Actor
Week 9 — March 18
             WWII and the Reconversion Economy
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 7.
Article report(s): Cotton Seiler, "Statist means to Individualist Ends: Subjectivity, Automobility, and the Cold War State," American Studies, 44 (Fall, 2003), 5-36.
            Film: “Tucker (1988).”

Week 10 — March 25
             Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 8
Article report: Karal Ann Marling, "America's Love Affair with the Automobile in the Television Age," Design Quarterly, 46 (1989), 5-20.
            Film:   “Rebel without a Cause.”
            Week 11 — April 1
Muscle Cars of the 1960s; Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys
            Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 9
            Article report:  John Heitmann and Todd Uhlman, " Stealing Freedom:  Auto-Theft    and the Rebellious Revitalization of the Masculine American Self in Visual Culture"
 Journal of Popular Culture, forthcoming.
            Film: “American Graffiti;” ”Gran Torino.”

Week 12 —  April 8 --  The 1970s: Truckers and Science Fiction
                        Readings: David Laderman, Driving Visions, Chapter 4; Uhlman, “Delivering Manhood.”
                        Films: “Smokey and the Bandit;” “The Great Smokey Roadblock.”
Article Report: Andrew Horton, “Hot Car Films & Cool Individualism,” Cineaste
 8 (Summer, 1978), 12-15.
Week 13 -- April 15 – No Class – Stander Symposium
Week 14 —April  22 -- Term -Papers Due

            Research Paper Discussion and Closing Statements

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