Monday, May 05, 2008

The Film History Survey

As one semester winds down, I'm getting ready my syllabus for a summer course, in this instance, a history of narrative film. It's tough of course to condense the history of all narrative film to 6 weeks. While every course requires some consideration of a disciplinary field, something about the history survey brings up the nature of the discipline most acutely. After all, the survey is predicated on selection and narrativization. I see at least a few principles at odds: canonical selection vs. counter-canons vs. the "typical"; cinema as a global enterprise vs. cinema as hegemonic enterprise; narrative as schematic vs. narrative as dispute; the emphasis on formal developments and movements vs. industrial and social factors explaining cinema's development; nationally-specific contextualization vs. wide sampling of national contexts. My answer, certainly one among many, has been to seek an 9imperfect) balance by giving some contour of an aesthetically defined canon while interrogating how the typical might be understood. In general, I tend to side wiith clear conceptual narratives that might be worth questioning on some levels of scholarly practice.

In that spirit, I've uploaded the draft of my syllabus for History of Narrative. Any suggestions or comments are welcome, especially now that I'm in the middle of nailing down a final syllabus for the course. The textbook I've chosen - and has been taught in the course here at Temple before - is Thompson and Bordwell's Film History. I hope to write more on film history textbooks soon.

2 comments:

J.J. Fiumara said...

Chris,

Thanks for this. I'm currently putting together a syllabus for a 6-week summer course on film noir which is difficult enough! I can't imagine History of Narrative Film in 6 weeks. Do you think your students will be able to keep up on the readings? You are giving them 2-3 chapters a day at some points. I'm still grappling with how much reading to require in such a condensed time frame.

At Penn, the Cinema Dept has decided to split the intro Film History course into two courses: one, origins to 1945 and the other 1945 to Present. This will start in the Fall, so we'll see how this works out.

Finally, I do like the Bordwell-Thompson Film History text. It is very detailed and thorough, technical but not jargony (as expected with those two!). They are currently working on the third edition.

Chris Cagle said...

Yes, I'm worried about the workload - from now, I'll have to start paring back the readings to make it more manageable. I may make many of the additional (non-textbook) readings elective, from which students can read a set number, plus more if they have time or are interested.

Indeed it makes sense to split the history survey. Alas, that's not the set up at Temple currently.