Senior Syn. ’09 — Film & Philosophy

August 20, 2009

LBTS 499:013 Film & Philosophy

Fall 2009

Tom Slater


Required Text:

Wartenberg, Thomas E.  Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy.  New York: Routledge, 2007.


Course Goals:  As a film scholar, I believe that all films are worthy of study, and not simply to discover previously unknown acting gems, excellence in cinematography, or other “hidden” qualities.  Rather, I believe that films are valuable for study because they are the most visible and still one of the most popular forms through which cultures communicate.  In a film, we can find ideas about what a culture during a certain time and place (e.g.:  the Soviet Union in the 1920s; the United States during any period; Italy in the 1950s) considered important.  What issues did they feel had to be addressed and how were they doing so?  What beliefs and values guided their search for answers?  What conceptions of race, class, gender, justice, responsibility are evident in these texts as a result? 

These questions represent just a starting point.   Films also present questions about the nature of reality, spirituality, political concerns, balancing individual and social values, beauty, and social engineering.  In this class, I hope that the films, reading, and assignments I’ve chosen will help you explore these questions for yourself and share your opinions with the rest of us.  While there is no right or wrong to your statements, your written work must show that you have paid attention to the readings, films, and discussions, that you have a fairly logical and accurate understanding of these materials, and that you have presented these ideas in a logical way.  You should also be open to revising your opinions as we work because none of us have the answers to these questions and all of us are hopefully open to continue growing.  Without that ability, we simply stagnate.  So, I hope you enjoy this class very much and that it somehow might contribute to your personal growth for the rest of your lives.


Assignments & Grades:  Attendance, in-class writings, class participation, two-page informal writings, 30%.  The most important aspect of this course is that you need to be involved and show me that you are focused on learning what you can from the texts and discussions.  These assignments are designed to do that.  Through them, you need to show that you have paid attention to the films, done the readings, and worked to develop your own answers to the questions posed.  You should have paper and pen available for all in-class writings and taking notes during discussions.  Your two-page writings done outside of class should be done on computer, printed, and ready at the start of class.  You should also be ready to have your material shared with everyone.  I will use the document projector to do this.


Cell phones and other electronic devices:  Make sure you turn these off, put them away, and do not take them out again during class.  If I discover you texting or using any other communications or recreational device in class during a film or at any other time, I will give you an unexcused absence for the class period.  This will hurt your participation grade.  With a second time, I will give you an F for this 20% of your grade, which will definitely hurt.  A third time will give you a zero for this 20%, which will guarantee your failure.


Attendance:  Excused absences will not hurt your grade as much as unexcused ones.  So, if you must miss a class, make sure you let me know either in advance or as soon as possible afterwards why you had to miss class.  This should be done by the end of the class session at which you return at the latest.  Even with an excused absence, however, you are still responsible for completing your work and getting it to me as soon as possible.  Send it with a classmate or friend or by email attachment.  You are also responsible for knowing what needs to be completed for the class period when you return and having that work ready to hand in when you arrive.  If you need to miss several class sessions for unavoidable reasons, please come explain the situation to me so we can make arrangements for you to make up the work.


Short essays:  #s 1 & 2, 10% each; #3, 20%.  These essays should be approximately four pages long, typed, and double-spaced.  These should also be ready to hand in at the start of the class session on the days they are due.  Each assignment will give you a choice of topics and films to work with.  All the material you will need will be presented in class or available to you in our text book.  So, if you are taking good notes and asking questions about any material you are confused about, you should do fine.  If you don’t take notes about class discussions or material placed on the board, you will have a harder time.  I will be happy to respond to any rough drafts you wish to show me before the essay is due.  This will not guarantee that you receive a good grade.  But it is the best help I can offer.


Major essay, 30%.  This essay should be at least 10 typed double-spaced pages long.  You should choose a film that interests you or a philosophical issue we have discussed to explore in a film or in the work of a specific filmmaker.  Your essay should clearly state the theme and question(s) you are seeking to answer and provide a careful reading of at least one film, looking for the ways in which it relates to some of the issues we have discussed in class.  Therefore, you should use our class study, take note of the questions we address in relation to specific topics and films and how we define the ideas the film is communicating in relation to these as a guide for the study of your film.  You may use secondary sources to help you as long as you clearly document the material, indicating where all materials whether quoted, paraphrased, or briefly summarized come from.   Your essay should have a clear and significant argument supported by the important examples you find in the film.  You should not simply write a plot summary and tack on a conclusion.  You are not writing movie reviews, and movie reviews or trivia will not be useful sources for you.  The topic for your major paper is due on Nov. 11.  However, I will not allow any duplications.  So, if you want to make sure you get your first choice for a topic, feel free to let me know as soon as you wish.


Plagiarism:  In spring semester, I caught a student plagiarizing on an essay with one class session to go.  I gave him a zero on the assignment, which guaranteed his failure in the course.  I will give a zero on any assignment that I find plagiarized.  Depending on the assignment, you may not fail as a result.  But a second offense will earn you an F for the course, regardless of the percentage of the assignment to your grade.


How to Contact Me:  Office, SUT 345; Hrs. MWF, 11:15-1:15 or by appointment. Ph. X7-4879.  Email: tslater@iup.edu


Notice on Film Contents:  Some of the films we study may include contents that some people might find “offensive” in terms of either violence, sexuality, or language.  Such material is part of our culture, and our purpose as film students should be to neither simply praise it nor condemn it but to reach our own conclusions about how it is functioning within the film and how the film is functioning within our culture.  Therefore, I will expect every student to work with such material in a mature manner, and I will not allow students to either refuse to study films they find offensive or choose an alternative film for study.




Aug. 31:  Film: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrico, 1962).  In-class writing and discussion.


Sept. 2:  Reading:  pp. 1-31.  Two-page writing due.  Discussion.


Sept. 9:   Film:  Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936).  In-class writing.


Sept. 14:    Reading: pp. 32-54.  Two-page writing due.  Discussion.  Film:  Matewan (John Sayles, 1987)


Sept. 16:  Film: Matewan, pt. 2.  In-class work.  Two-page writing due.  Discussion.


Sept. 21:  Finish discussion as needed.  Film:  The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1999).


Sept. 23:  Film: The Matrix, pt. 2.  In-class writing.  Reading:  55-75.  Two-page writing due.  Discussion.


Sept. 28: Film:  Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 2003).


Sept. 30:  Film: Red, pt. 2.  In-class work.  Two-page writing due.  Discussion.


Oct. 5:  Finish discussion if needed.  Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michael Gondrey, 2004).


Oct. 7:  Film: Sunshine, pt. 2.  In-class writing.  Reading:  76-93.  Two-page writings due.  Discussion.


Oct. 12:  Film:  A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971).


Oct. 14:  Film: Clockwork, pt. 2.  In-class writing.  Two-page writings due.  Discussion.


Oct. 19:  Finish discussion if needed.  Assign short essay #1.  Film:  The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1945).


Oct. 21:  Film:  Man, pt. 2.  In-class writing.  Reading:  94-116.  Two-page writings due.  Discussion.  Short essay #1 due.


Oct. 26:  Film:  The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2005). 


Oct 28:  Film:  Others, pt. 2.  In-class writing.  Two-page writings due.  In-class work.  Discussion.


Nov. 2:  Finish discussion if needed.  Reading:  117-32.  Two-page writing due.  Films:  Warhol, Brakhage, and other avant-garde.


Nov. 4:  Films:  Further avant-garde works.


Nov. 9:  Major paper topics due.  Films to be included in the course over the remainder of the semester will include Rashomon (Akira Kurasowa,1950); Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989), and Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001).


In-class writing assignments and discussions in relation to these films will be handled as they have been throughout the semester.


On Nov. 18, I will assign short essay #2.  These will be due on Wed., Dec. 2 along with a rough draft of your major essay.  The rough draft does not need to be complete.  But the more material you can provide, the better I will be able to respond.


For Dec. 14, you should read the final chapter of Wartenberg, pp. 133-42.  This material along with the final films viewed in class will provide the basis for our final exam, which could be an in-class essay.  If so, you will be allowed to use your textbook and notes taken during class during the period.  The time for our final is Wed., Dec. 16 at 3:35.


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