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07. Integrating film analysis in lecture courses


Integrating film analysis in lecture courses (heterogeneous student body, HUM to STEM)

The goal of this contribution to the pedagogy project is both to get feedback on my attempt integrating film analysis in the classroom and to learn how others would approach this task. 

In the past year, I have been a TA for large lecture courses in my home department (Germanics). One course was called "Freud and the Literary Imagination" which included writings by Freud, Kafka, Schnitzler and Thomas Mann - and one movie: Luchino Visconti's "Death in Venice."

The class had about 40-50 students from diverse backgrounds (German, English, CompLit, Business and STEM, students at various levels in their undergrad careers). The students were required to write a midterm paper on a text the professor chose. However, for their 7-page final papers the students were allowed to make their own choices. The majority of students decided to write on a film.

In addition to the 3 lectures a week, there were 4 discussion/quiz sections, each led by a graduate student. The discussion sections met once a week to talk about the readings and the weekly short writing assignments. In addition, each week one TA offered a writing workshop, which covered the essential mechanics of writing an essay, such as close reading, topic sentences, paragraphing, etc. Each graduate student was allowed to lecture on one topic, covering 2-3 lectures. When I lectured, I spent two 50-minute lectures on Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and the last section on the film adaptation by Visconti. This last section, I mainly tried to model for the students close readings of certain scenes and sequences. However, I picked too many scenes and assumed that more students would have knowledge on how to work with films which was not the case.

Now I am wondering, if it even was possible to both equip the students with enough knowledge of film terminology and sequence analysis before or within class so that my modeled sequence analysis would have found a more prepared and responsive audience? Then again, I think I have to keep in mind, that the main focus of the class are Freudian readings of literary works.

Eventually, both in my own discussion section and in the writing workshop, I prepared a handout that contained film terminology and still images to visualize the terms. During the 50-minute workshop, I used for the first 25 minutes two students as “actors” in a “café scene”, while I was the cinematographer/director shooting these scene with my Ipad. The students appreciated this “hands-on” approach to learn how camera angle, lighting and sound etc. influence the images they see on the screen. The second half of the workshop, I spent on modeling a scene analysis for them, before having the students work with a partner to analyze another scene. I kept mostly emphasizing that they only can really see a film when they write down what they see.

Nonetheless, only a few final papers actually showed some sort of film or scene analysis. While I am aware that I cannot expect thorough readings of films after only a crash course in film analysis, I am wondering if there is a solution to this? (Besides the obvious ones, which would be to not allow students to analyze a film in the final paper (in a course that is mostly comprised of written works) or to simply exclude film from the syllabus to begin with.) Would here a “Blended Learning” approach be useful, i.e. the professor/ the TA pre-records explanations and sample scene and sequence analyses using capturing software such as Tegrity? This, then, could be used by other classes that do not have film as a focus, as well. 


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