• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!



Page history last edited by Sean Desilets 14 years, 11 months ago



Film 110: Introduction to Film History and Aesthetics

Fall 2009                                                                                         TTh 2-3:50; Gore B25  

Professor Sean Desilets                                                     Office: Malouf 117 

sdesilets@westminstercollege.edu                             Phone: 832-2421 

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00 AM-12:00 PM, and by appointment






 In this course, you will learn to analyze films systematically and to participate in the discourse of academic film study. You will cultivate the ability to “read” a film, which includes understanding the components of a film shot, the relationships among shots, and the overall rhetorical strategies that endow films with meaning. You will also explore some important elements of film history, and will think about how films address and respond to their historical contexts. Finally, you will become familiar with some of the important concepts and controversies in film theory.


History and Nature of the Course

I’ve taught this class only once before, in the fall of last year. We used one of the standard film studies textbooks, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Film Art: An Introduction. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I myself had learned many of the basics of film study from that book, and Bordwell and Thompson are respected film scholars. In the event, though, everybody in the class found the book boring, and at the end of the semester everybody was whining about it. What do you do when students complain? Punish them! Unfortunately for you, none of these students had the guts to complain about the textbook until the semester was almost over, so I could not punish them directly. I will thus have to punish them vicariously through you.


Here’s your punishment: you’re going to write a textbook for this class. And actually, I think this might be a pretty cool experiment. You won’t be writing for publication in book form. Instead, you will write a wiki about film in general and about the particular films we will be studying. Your entire work for the class will be your work on the wiki. In the end, I think you will learn more when you generate the knowledge yourself instead of just reading it in a textbook, and I think you will probably create a more vital, pertinent, and exciting “textbook” than Bordwell and Thompson did (though you will no doubt use them as a source in developing the wiki).


You will be responsible for the content in this class, with some guidance from me. You will choose the films we study, and you will decide how the “textbook” looks, feels, and organizes its information. I have set up the very bare structure of the wiki, seized a small space on the front page for announcements, and set up a calendar that I will update with screening times.  Otherwise, I will not touch the wiki again except under your guidance (unless something really bad happens). This is your document.


A wiki, as you may know, is a collaboratively-generated on-line database about something (or, as in the case of Wikipedia, everything). Over the course of this semester, you are going to learn the basic skills and terms of film analysis. You will record and perform your learning on the wiki, refining and expanding your wiki pages as you learn more and using video clips and still images to illustrate your discoveries. If we decide to do so at the end of the semester, we may publish the wiki either to the Westminster community or to the entire world.


Building the Wiki

  • You will work in various “teams” as you put together the wiki. For the most part, you will form these teams as you determine the various tasks that will go into making the wiki. The initial two teams, though, will emerge from the title of the course. We will need a Film History Team and a Film Aesthetics Team.

    • The Film History Team will be responsible for generating the elements of the wiki that concern film history (duh). They will decide what movement and moments in film history to document, and they will maintain links in the wiki concerning film history. So, for example, the film history team would make sure that a wiki entry on The Jazz Singer included a link to the film sound entry, since The Jazz Singer was the first sound film. If you are interested in telling the story of how film has changed over time, you should consider joining the Film History Team.

    • The Film Aesthetics Team will be responsible for entries about the formal elements of film, like cinematography, editing, sound, acting, etc. They will define terms and provide illustrations to help clarify how film techniques function. They will be responsible for understanding and explaining the dynamics of film form. If you are interested in analyzing how particular images or scenes work, you should consider joining the Film Aesthetics Team.

    •  Team assignments need not be set in stone. We may set a time somewhere down the line when people can switch teams. And the members of these two primary teams will be mixed up in other teams that don’t fit under the “film history” or “film aesthetics” umbrella—like the teams that write entries on particular films or directors.

  •  Our first task, after we divide into these two primary teams, will be to begin the work of figuring out what films to study. We will be looking at approximately one film a week, and you will decide on the films. I do have a few requirements of the films we will study, though. We will work with one film from each of the decades during which feature-length films have been made, which will provide us with some historical diversity. I would also like us to have some regional/national diversity—films from several different countries. The films will have to have some claim on aesthetic or historical importance, so that we don’t end up trying to generate interesting ideas about films that are not very interesting. Finally, I think we should try to work with films that the college owns on video, though if we end up committed to some film that isn’t in the library I may be able to convince them to buy a copy.

    •  So you will be joining another team today: a team dedicated to proposing films for us to study. We will need teams to come up with possible films from: 

      • the 1910’s, 1920’s, and 1930’s

      • the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s

      • and the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s

        • In a  slight break from our usual procedure, these teams will write their pages collectively and will report back to us on Tuesday. They will have populated their pages with a list of six films in their time period. The list should contain two films from each decade, and at least three different countries should be represented. Each film should be accompanied with a brief description containing the film's director, year and country of origin, and an account of what makes the film important or interesting 

      •  We will decide collectively, today, on a film from the 2000's, or at least generate a list.

      • The semester will allow us to work with two films from one decade, so we will have to figure out which decade we want to double-represent as we work out the schedule.



 Each week (starting the week of 8/31), you will:


Author at least one new page as determined by your teams 

A new page need not be brilliant or final. In fact it shouldn’t be. The whole idea of a wiki is that everyone works together to improve, expand, and refine pages. A new page must contain 350 to 450 words. Every page in our wiki will have these three basic characteristics:

  1. A clear and comprehensive definition of the page’s topic
  2. Some discussion of the topic’s place in film history (so, in the example of film sound, the page should talk about when sound was developed and how)

  3. Some discussion of the topic’s place in film interpretation (to stick with the sound example, some discussion of how film gets used in films, with examples)


  •  We will talk a lot about what it means to author a page, but here are some basic ideas:

    •  Try to keep your focus as clearly as possible on the topic of that page. If you find yourself writing about things that wander too far from your topic, either establish a new page to cover the new material or figure out whether it is already covered, or could be covered, by some already-existing page. So if you are writing a page about Jaws and find yourself reviewing the history of monster movies, that new material probably belongs on a page dedicated to monster movies. You can always set up a new page as a placeholder for future work, proving just a sentence or two explaining why you created the page (if you’re familiar with Wikipedia, you probably know that it calls this kind of page a “stub”).

    • Stay alert to how your page could link to other pages.

    • Take it easy. You are only establishing a baseline in any new page. It will be incomplete, and you and others will be able to continue working on it for the whole semester if necessary. Also, there will be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to write wiki pages and how to use the technology. That's completely cool.

    • Use material other than words when appropriate. A wiki page on an actor should probably contain a picture of the actor (perhaps a still from a film we have studied), and you will probably need to use clips to illustrate certain formal techniques (a zoom, perhaps). When possible, we will use the films we are studying for examples. We will go over the procedure for capturing and embedding images and video clips (or whatever else you might want to use to improve your pages).

    •  If you’re committed to a page and feel you need more than 450 words to do it justice, you may request to work on the same page two (or more) weeks. You must secure permission from the class or from your group to stay on the same page, and you must add 350 to 450 new words to the page.

    • The Original Page Rubric gives an outline of what we will expect from each page in our wiki.


Intervene meaningfully in at least one other’s person’s page

  • To “intervene meaningfully” is to make a substantive, constructive edit to the page. It might involve adding some new information, changing something that is factually or conceptually inaccurate, re-organizing the page for easier reading, or even removing something from the page and putting it in some other, more appropriate page (but you should never absolutely eliminate anything someone else has written before discussing it with him or her). You might initially feel a bit touchy about getting involved in someone else’s page. But the idea of a wiki is that it is collaborative. Remember: a new entry is supposed to be uncertain and incomplete. And because new entries cannot be longer than 450 words, some of them will certainly need expansion in order to be anything like complete (the Wikipedia entry on Nicole Kidman, to give you a sense of things, is over 2,000 words long). A major edit must add at least 250 new words to the wiki.
  • These new words need not be located on the same page, but they must clarify or expand on the idea articulated by a single page. So you might add 100 words to the Jaws page and 150 to the page on monster movies. Depending on how well I can find your major edits on my own, I may ask you to indicate what they are each week.
  • The Major Edit Rubric gives an outline of what we will expect from major edits.


Conduct everyday wiki maintenance

  •  Monitor new pages for possible links to your pages. For example, if you have authored the Stephen Spielberg page and someone mentions Jaws on a page dedicated to monster movies, you would make sure the page contained a link to your Spielberg page. Of course, the author of the monster movie page will also be looking for possible links, so she may have already made that link. If not, you should.

  •  Carry out other more mundane maintenance on the wiki, including minor improvements in wording, spelling, precision, and layout.

  • The Wiki Maintenance Rubric provides a sense of how I will evaluate your weekly wiki maintenance performance.




  •  40% of your final grade will come from the pages you originate.

    • Every week, I will assess your original page using the Original Page Rubric. The page will not be graded at that point. The assessment will just give you a sense of what I think the page's initial strengths and weaknesses are. One of the categories on the rubric, as you can see, is “original effort.” That category will carry over to the page’s final grade in the following way:


      Original Effort Score

       Effect on Final Page Grade


       +3 grade steps (B becomes A)


       +1 grade step (B becomes B+)




       Below Average

       -1 grade step (B becomes B-)


       -3 grade steps (B becomes C)

    •  At two points during the semester (the middle and end), we will “freeze” the wiki and I will assign final grades to the existing pages, using the second part of the Original Page Rubric. Because the wiki is such a collaborative process, it is quite likely that you will not have written the majority of your page by the time it is finished. That’s a strange idea, I know. Once you’ve authored it, your page is no longer “yours.” You cannot prevent people from changing it. But you can take special responsibility for it in order to make it is good as possible. And of course you can assert considerable power over the final assessment of the page by way of your initial effort.

    • Your final originated-page grade will be an average of the originated-page grades determined at the two freeze-points.

  •  40% of your grade will come from the quality of your major edits

    • Every week, I will assess your major edit using the Major Edit Rubric, and your final major edit grade will consist of an average of your weekly major edit grades.

  •  20% of your final grade will come from the quality of your wiki maintenance performance.

    • Every week, I will assess your performance as in the general upkeep of the wiki using the Wiki Maintenance Rubric, and your final wiki maintenance grade will consist of an average of your weekly maintenance grades.

    •  Maintenance essentially involved two kinds of tasks: minor edits (spelling, syntax, and grammar fixes, the addition of headings, etc.) and link work (establishing links, fixing broken ones, etc.).

    •  Unlike the other two categories of grade, the maintenance grade depends to a considerable degree on the quantity of your interventions. Someone who makes lots of useful changes will tend to get a higher maintenance grade. I italicized useful in that last sentence, though, to emphasize that quality counts, too (replacing one misspelling with another will not be good for your maintenance grade).



Weekly Operations

Pretty much each Tuesday, we will be dealing with a new film. We will balance our time between discussion of the film, figuring out what wiki entries we need to generate in response to it, and discussion of the previous week’s work on the wiki. Here’s the way I envision it:

  •  Tuesday

    • Tuesday will be the day on which we have initial conversations about the films and assign tasks for the coming week.

    • We will spend a little over half of class on Tuesdays talking about the film. I’ll probably have a few things to say, and of course I will ask you your impressions.

    • After an introductory conversation, we will systematize our study of the film in two ways:

      • We will generate a list of wiki pages and major edits that we think the film calls for. In every case, we will need a page dedicated to the film itself (ie a Jaws page), but the film may give rise to other observations or questions that will call for pages. We will actually record these tasks on a weekly task page, so that we have a lasting list of things we want to accomplish in reference to this film. We will assign those pages to teams, and the assignments will be distributed in the team meetings later in the day.

      • We will conduct a database search for articles about the film (or I will suggest articles or book chapters that I know about). Depending on what we find and on the demands of the pages for the week, we will assign one or more articles to teams. One member of the team will read the article and write a wiki page summarizing and critiquing it. Obviously, groups will want to distribute this reading evenly, but you can decide how to do that in your groups. All pages assigned on Tuesday will be due the following Tuesday.
    • You will hold meetings of the two major groups and distribute assignments. In some cases, our initial conversations will not generate enough new page assignments for everyone in a group to be assigned one. In that case, the group will generate page ideas based on their ongoing efforts to build knowledge about film history or film aesthetics. At the end of these meetings, everyone should have a new page assignment.
    • We will reconvene to set up major edit assignments. Some people will have already received those assignments in their group meetings. Still others will have major edit assignments from the previous Thursday (see below). Everyone else will propose new major edits, which will be subject to some extent to discussion by the group (I’ll say something like, “does everybody think that major edit proposal is a good idea?”).
    •  We will record all these assignments on the weekly tasks page, so that by the end of the day we should have a record of each person’s new page and major edit assignments for the week.
    • So, before most Tuesday classes, you should do following preliminary work:
      • Watch the week's film critically, taking notes, and take some time to reflect on it seriously. You want to walk in to class Tuesday ready to contribute to a smart discussion on the film.
      •  As part of your reflection, brainstorm a bit about what wiki pages the film might require. You may not have a clear idea about this, but think about what seems to be distinctive or pathbreaking about the film.
      •  Have an idea of what major edit you want to do for the week.
  •  Thursday

    • Thursday will be dominated by presentations of the work that was due Tuesday.

    • We will start with the new original pages. The author of each page will present it, reading the material aloud or summarizing it. She will also give us a sense of work that she thinks still needs to be done on the page. If we think the remaining work amounts to need for a major edit, we will assign that edit (perhaps to the author of the original page, perhaps to someone else). On rare occasions, we may make new page assignments that are actual super-major revisions to an existing original page. 

    • We will look at the major edits in pretty much the same way.

    • So, before Thursday's class, you should:

      • Get prepared to present your original page and final edit to the group

      • Get prepared to contribute to the discussion of other people's pages and edits


Information Sources

Because we won’t have a textbook to work from, you will be gathering a lot of information on your own. That information will come from a variety of sources, including existing reference texts like Wikipedia, textbooks, scholarly articles, and book chapters. We will need a robust mechanism for documenting our uses of these sources. As you probably know, most academic essays have a bibliography or sources cited list. Our wiki will have a sources page too: the Works Consulted page. I’ve actually started it already, so that you have some sources to check out initially. Whenever you use a source in the wiki, you should link to it as it appears on the works consulted page, and whenever you find a new source you should add it to the list (using MLA source formatting). In this way, we will generate a big list of sources to consult as we continue to build the wiki. we will use the MLA system for documenting sources. Guidance on the MLA format can be found at Diana Hacker's web site.



Attendance and Other Issues


You are allowed two unexcused absences over the course of the semester. Every subsequent unexcused absence will hurt your final grade.


You also have the right to a limited number of excused absences due to serious and unavoidable life circumstances. These absences will be excused if you can provide a doctor's note or prescription or other similar written evidence. If you know you will be absent on a particular day, please let me know ahead of time. A missed class, excused or not, does not exempt you from the work for that day. No matter what the circumstances, it is not possible to pass this class with more than five absences.


If you regularly come late to class meetings, I may begin to count each late arrival as an unexcused absence.


Please turn off cell phones before class begins and leave them off until it ends (except for breaks). 


If you have a disability for which you will need accommodationsin this class, please let me know as soon as possible. You will be required to provide documentation of your disability to the Disabilities Services program at the START center in Carleson Hall at 832-2280 (TDD 832-2286).


Please refer to the College’s statement on academic honesty. This class presents a significant risk of unintentional plagiarism. It does so in part because the whole idea of wikis runs somewhat counter to the idea that individuals "own" their thoughts. Be that as it may, we  will combat the risk by documenting our sources assiduously. Link to the Works Consulted Page every time you use any outside source, and make sure you have a complete reference entry for that source on the page. The other risk, of course, is that if we publish this wiki outside of Westminster and you have plagiarized any of it, what would have been an internal college matter may become a legal matter.  So we'll actually go to some extremes in this regard.


Note: I wrote this page in Word and then imported it to the wiki. I recommend against that. The page was a bear to edit in this html editor, and lots of things just ended up looking wrong. You're better off writing in the page editor itself. But remember to save often.


This syllabus is subject to change.



 Top of page

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.