Film Literature- Fall, 2014

Mrs. Maggie Clark

Welcome to Film Literature! The assumption underlying this course is that you are aware that there is an art to watching films.   Some of you may wonder why this class falls into the English curriculum; after all, films are not books. The ways in which we will approach the screening of films in class will resemble the ways in which you have learned to read and analyze literature in your “standard” English classes.  The ways in which we watch films in this class will differ from the way you may be used to watching films.  This is not a “popcorn viewing” class. The aim of this course is to help you, the student, become more aware of the complexity of film art, more sensitive to its nuances, textures, and rhythms, and more perceptive in “reading” its multilayered blend of image, sound, color and motion. The development of special skills and the use of certain techniques and technology can sharpen and enhance your film experience.  In addition to developing your critical thinking and writing skills, this course offers a rational framework that can support your future study of films and other subjects.  Outside reading and viewing may be required.

Central Course Questions

As we explore the world of Film Literature we will return to three guiding questions:

  1. 1.  How do we determine the quality and value of a film?  What film elements are used to make this a quality film?  Why is this film considered (or should be considered) one of the top 100 films of all times?
  2. 2.  What are the major themes in this film and do we agree with what the director is saying about the themes?
  3. 3.  How does film promote a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us?

Course Overview:  This class is organized with a focus for each term.  Since the subjects are mostly narrative film, we will first establish a foundation for understanding theme and story.   During the screening of selected films, you are expected to take notes, answer questions, and apply what you have learned in class to analyze the films to the best of your ability.  I look forward to interesting conversations and original (but supportable) interpretations.

The first term will focus on film history, film literature  and the dramatic and cinematic elements filmmakers use to tell a story.  You will be able to answer questions such as:  “How does lighting affect the mood of the film?”  “What symbols appear in the film, and what do they represent?” “How much does a single frame tell us?”  This term provides a framework for integrating knowledge of basic film elements into analysis of whole films.

The second term focuses on film genre.  By building on terms and elements learned in the first term, you will be able to analyze films from specific genres and explain the different ways these films address theme.

The third term focuses on film as social commentary.  We continue to build on elements learned in the first two terms, but our focus will shift to take a closer look at the ways in which film is used to critique, reflect, reinforce, transmit, change, or expose culture.

*Many of the films that we study in this course are adaptations of written stories.  It is important to note and consider that the medium in which a story is told has a definite impact on the story itself.

General Approach: As in any English course, you are asked to share your interpretations and ideas in a variety of ways including discussions, oral presentations, quizzes, projects, and yes, WRITING.  This course will also include lectures and note taking.  As the instructor of the course, I will provide you access to the tools necessary for successful completion of this course.  But, like with all courses, what you put into this course is directly related to what you will get out of this course.  Skimpy intellectual work will result in an appropriately skimpy grade.  Be responsible for your learning.

Class Expectations

I think my expectations are straightforward.  Attend class regularly, be on time, arrive prepared with materials (and empty bladders). Be open to learning new things and sharing your own thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  Give your best effort and support your classmates in their learning as well.  Respect yourself, each other, and this space

Important:  Late Work Policy

For Film Literature in particular, class participation and all that it entails are crucial to your success. You are expected to attend every class. If you are absent from class, you run the risk of missing the screening of the film, the discussion of the film, your homework, or sometimes all three.  If you miss a film, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR VIEWING IT ON YOUR OWN TIME WITHIN A WEEK OF YOUR EXCUSED ABSENCE.  You must see me to establish a due date upon your return to class.  Unfortunately, you may not borrow my copies of the films.  You may either rent the movie on your own or schedule a time to make up the viewing that you missed. Keep in mind that this may require several visits to room 611. Unless otherwise stated, homework is due the following class period.

Even More Important:  Academic Honesty

The difference between learning from others and letting them do your work for you is absolutely crucial in this class, and I will react very strongly against all forms of cheating and plagiarism, including but not limited to automatic failure on the assignment.  If you are unsure what counts as “prohibited sharing,” please review the Student Handbook or ask me beforehand.

The Most Important: Respect

I offer you my respect, and I expect you to do the same for your classmates and me.  This does not mean that everyone has to agree with one another (or even like one another- although I hope that will happen).  Instead, it means that we need to behave and express our opinions in ways that do not demean, embarrass, or belittle others.  The ability to respectfully disagree is a vital element of democratic citizenship, and a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.

Discipline Procedure

If a student violates a classroom or school-wide expectation, he or she will be given a warning.  After the third warning, the student will be referred to the office for disciplinary action.  Violations include:

Evaluation and Grading

I would like your motivation for this course to come from your desire to learn, but I realize that grades can play an important role in your life.  I will not be providing up-to-the-minute grades, but if you keep track of your own performance, you should have a reasonable idea of your current grade.  I regularly post grades to Skyward; it is your responsibility to memorize your username and password and monitor your grade online. I am available to discuss the quality of your work and show how it may translate into a grade.  You will receive written progress reports according to school policy.  I believe that all three categories listed below are important to the success of your learning and encourage you to do the best that you can most of the time.

Note that your semester grade is based on your total number of points accumulated over the three six week terms.  

Work Products:  This will involve mostly written work, including essays, journal writing, and quizzes.  We will also have oral presentations and multimedia projects.

Classroom Discourse:  This is more than the typical “class participation” grade that is determined simply by how many times

you open your mouth during large-group discussion.  Contributing to classroom discourse also involves being an active, respectful, and informed participant in small-group work, team projects, and other class time activities.

Habits of Learning:  This is what might be called the “effort and commitment” category, and it includes all the “little things” that make learning possible—attending class (and arriving on time), staying awake,  having all necessary materials, and otherwise being prepared to give your best effort.

Instructor contact information:  The best way to contact me is via email at My school telephone number is 812-330-7724 ext. 50164.

Special needs and extenuating circumstances:  If you have any special needs or extenuating circumstances, you’ll want me to know about any necessary accommodations as early as possible.  This will allow ample time to develop a plan to encourage your success in this class.

Helpful supplementary materials:

Boggs, Joseph M., The Art of Watching Films (1996, Mayfield Publishing Co.).

Online references: American Film Institute (, Internet Movie Database (, Chicago Reader Movie Review (, Rotten Tomatoes (