Philosophy 446 Aesthetics and the Film Spring 2000

Professor Edwin McCann, MHP-107 and 205F, 213-740-5169, FAX 213-740-5174, mccann@usc.edu, http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~mccann

This course will survey some of the philosophical issues concerning film as an art form. We will focus on the work of Stanley Cavell, who is the pre-eminent philosopher to have written on film. We will also read a number of other important film theorists, including Benjamin, Bazin, Metz, Arnheim, Kracauer, and Panofsky, as well as more recent film theory. Central issues include: the ontology of film, film narration and narrative strategies, the basis of interpretation and criticism, film as language, and ethnic and gender issues.


Course requirements

1. Regular attendance and participation in discussion. (20% of grade).

2. One 10-12 page paper, which is either (1) a 'reading' of one or two films, in light of the central issues raised in the readings; or (2) an analytical and critical philosophical discussion of one of the central points in contention between two or more writers considered in the course. The first draft of this paper is DUE NO LATER THAN MARCH 21; the final draft is DUE NO LATER THAN APRIL 20. (50% of grade).

3. One take-home final exam, consisting of two essays: 1. a short reading of a film not covered in class in light of issues raised in the course; 2. a short critical analysis of a key argument given in one of the writings. (30% of grade).

Books for the course

1. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Fifth edition. Oxford University Press.

2. Cynthia A. Freeland and Thomas E. Wartenberg, eds. Philosophy and Film. Routledge.

3. Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, Enlarged edition. Harvard University Press.

4. Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Harvard University Press.

Schedule of Topics and Readings

(Please note: reading is to be completed by date indicated)


SECTION ONE: PROBLEMS AND METHODS


January 11
[1-1-1] Introduction and overview of course.

January 13 [1-2-2] Is film worth serious study? Reading: Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness, Appendix: 'Film in the University' pp.265-74; Karen Hanson, 'Provocations and Justifications of Film' in F&W, pp. 33-48.

Film for January 18: Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

January 18 [2-1-3] Is Film an art? Are films art? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chap. 1 (pp. 3-15).

January 20 [2-2-4] Is there thought in, about, or around films? What is it to 'read' a film? Reading: Stanley Cavell, 'The Thought of Movies' in F&W, pp. 13-32.

Film for January 25: Wiene, Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920)


SECTION TWO: ONTOLOGY; FILM AS MEDIUM

January 25 [3-1-5] Does film capture physical reality? - Yes. Reading: Siegfried Kracauer, 'Basic Concepts,' from Theory of Film, in B&C, pp. 171-82; Siegfried Kracauer, 'The Establishment of Physical Existence,' from Theory of Film, in B&C, pp. 293-303.

January 27 [3-2-6] Does film capture physical reality? - No. Reading: Rudolf Arnheim, 'The Complete Film,' from Film as Art, in B&C, pp. 212-15; Rudolf Arnheim, 'Film and Reality' and 'The Making of a Film,' from Film as Art, in B&C, pp. 312-21.

Film for February 1: Keaton, Sherlock Jr. (1924)

February 1 [4-1-7] Is film a distinctive medium? Reading: Erwin Panofsky, 'Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures' in B&C, pp. 279-92; André Bazin, 'The Ontology of the Photographic Image,' 'The Myth of Total Cinema,' and 'De Sica: Metteur-en-scène,' from What is Cinema?, in B&C, pp. 195-211.

February 3 [4-2-8] Does film have (or give) a unique ontological status? Reading: Noël Carroll, 'Towards an Ontology of the Moving Image,' in F&W, pp. 68-83; Noël Carroll, 'The Specificity Thesis,' from Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory, in B&C, pp. 322-8.

Films for February 8: Tati, Playtime (1967)

February 8 [5-1-9] Are questions of ontology also questions about the medium of film? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 2-3 (pp. 16-25).


SECTION THREE: NARRATION; FILM AS LANGUAGE


February 10
[5-2-10] Is film a language? - Yes. Reading: André Bazin, 'The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,' from What is Cinema?, in B&C, pp. 43-56; Christian Metz, 'Some Points in the Semiotics of the Cinema' and 'Problems of Denotation in the Fiction Film,' from Film Language, in B&C, pp. 68-89.

Film for February 15: Murnau, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922); Herzog, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

February 15 [6-1-11] Is film a language? - No. Reading: Gilbert Harman, 'Semiotics and the Cinema: Metz and Wollen,' in B&C, pp. 90-8; Stephen Prince, 'The Discourse of Pictures: Iconicity and Film Studies,' in B&C, pp. 99-117.

February 17 [6-2-12] Are films combinations of atomic units of meaning? Reading: George M. Wilson, 'Morals for Method,' from Narration in Light, in F&W, pp. 49-67.

Film for February 22: Ford, The Searchers (1956)

February 22 [7-1-13] Has film a different narrative structure from theater? Reading: André Bazin, 'Theater and Cinema,' from What is Cinema?, in B&C, pp. 408-18; Leo Braudy, 'Acting: Stage vs. Screen,' from The World in a Frame, in B&C, pp. 419-25; Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chap. 4 (pp. 25-9).


SECTION FOUR: FILM CONTENT: GENRE, TYPE AND MYTH


February 24 [7-2-14] Is genre an aesthetically disabling notion? Reading: Leo Braudy, 'Genre: The Conventions of Connection,' from The World in a Frame, in B&C, pp. 613-29; Thomas Schatz, 'Film Genre and the Genre Film,' from Hollywood Genres, in B&C, pp. 642-53.

Films for February 29: Kurosawa, Yojimbo (1961); Leone, A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

February 29 [8-1-15] Is genre a vehicle of ideology? Reading: Robert Warshow, 'Movie Chronicle: The Westerner,' in B&C, pp. 654-67; Robin Wood, 'Ideology, Genre, Auteur,' in B&C, pp.668-78.

March 2 [8-2-16] Are genre and type constitutive of film content? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 5-9 (pp. 29-60).

Film for March 7: Sturges, The Lady Eve (1941)

March 7 [9-1-17] How is a film genre constructed? Reading: Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness, Introduction: 'Words for a Conversation' (pp. 1-43)

March 9 [9-2-18] How is a film read into a genre? Reading: Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness, chap. 1: 'Cons and Pros: The Lady Eve' (pp. 45-70).

March 13-18: Spring Recess

Films for March 21: Cukor, The Philadelphia Story (1940); McCarey, The Awful Truth (1937)

March 21 [10-1-19] How is a film collected into a genre? Reading: Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness, chap.4: 'The Importance of Importance: The Philadelphia Story' (pp. 133-60).

FIRST DRAFT OF PAPER DUE MARCH 23

March 23 [10-2-20] How is a genre confirmed? Reading: Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness, chap. 7: 'The Same and Different: The Awful Truth' (pp. 229-63).


SECTION FIVE: MODERNISM IN ARTS, MODERNISM IN FILM


Film for March 28:
Vigo, L'Atalante (1934)

March 28 [11-1-21] What is to be made of the fact that film is a mechanical reproduction? Reading: Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,' in B&C, pp. 731-51.

March 30 [11-2-22] How is film implicated in the modernist turn in art? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 10-11 (pp. 60-73).

Film for April 4: Kubrick, 2001 (1968)

April 4 [12-1-23] Harvey Cormier, '2001: Modern Art, and Modern Philosophy' in F&W pp. 183-200.

April 6 [12-2-24] How does the modernist context of film interact with realism about its objects? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 12-14 (pp. 74-108)

Film for April 11: Stone, Natural Born Killers (Director's Cut)(1994)

April 11 [13-1-25] How does the modernist context of film provide direction for the exploration of the possibilities of the medium? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 15-16 (pp. 108-26)

NOTE: Syllabus has been revised (4/10/200) from this point on. Click on this link to go to revised syllabus. IMPORTANT: The due date for the final draft of the paper has been changed to 4/27, as reflected in the revised syllabus.

April 13 [13-2-26] What is the connection between camera, subjectivity, and self-knowledge? Reading: Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, chaps. 17-19 (pp. 126-60).



Film for April 18: Renoir, La règle du jeu (1938)

April 18 [14-1-27] How is Cavell's realist/modernist thesis to be tested? Reading: Stanley Cavell, 'More of the World Viewed,' in The World Viewed, pp. 162-95.

FINAL DRAFT OF PAPER DUE NO LATER THAN APRIL 20

April 20 [14-2-28] How does Cavell's realist/modernist thesis account for details of film technique, under close reading of films? Reading: Stanley Cavell, 'More of the World Viewed,' in The World Viewed, pp. 195-230.


SECTION SIX: GENDER AND ETHNICITY AS AESTHETIC ISSUES


Film for April 25:
Emmerich, Independence Day (1996)

April 25 [15-1-29] Does the male gaze inform film representation? Reading: Laura Mulvey, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,' in B&C, pp. 833-44; Naomi Scheman, 'Missing Mothers/Desiring Daughters: Framing the Sight of Women' in F&W pp. 89-108.

April 27 [15-2-30] Is racism or colonialism a matter of spectator point of view? Reading: Robert Stam and Louise Spence, 'Colonialism, Racism, and Representation: An Introduction,' in B&C, pp. 235-50; Manthia Diawara, 'Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance,' in B&C, pp. 845-53.

TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DUE TUESDAY MAY 2, NO LATER THAN 1:00 P.M.