Wednesday, December 19, 2012

End-of-semester assignment

As I said, you're to write a paper of at least two pages on the film of your choice (a choice you'll confirm with me) and prepare to give a talk about at most ten minutes (three minutes of that can be a movie clip, showing us a scene that's indicative of what you like or is distinctive about the movie). I expect the talk to largely contain the contents of the paper, though you might need to shorten it somewhat for the presentation. We'll have these presentations over the final two or three days of the class. Prior to that, we'll watch The Station Agent, and I'll give you an example of what I'm after.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing Assignment: The Shining

This should be 1-2 pages, double-spaced, of reaction to the film. (NOT less than a page.)

To consider:

Had you seen the movie previously? If so, has your reaction changed and in what ways?

What were your initial reactions to the film? What parts did you find particularly disturbing, scary, interesting, or what-have-you? What films might you compare it to, either favorably or unfavorably?

What did you think of our discussion of the movie?

What outstanding questions do you have about the film?

That's due on Monday, Dec. 17.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Long-term assignment

Due: Nov. 27, your first class after Thanksgiving.

The object is to keep a log about a film, tracking what you notice and your responses as you move through the film. You may choose from among these films (do not choose one you've already seen):

Bonnie and Clyde
Bride of Frankenstein
Do the Right Thing
Dr. Strangelove
On the Waterfront
Pulp Fiction
Raging Bull
The Shawshank Redemption

(There will be other chances to write about a film entirely of your own choosing.)

The way the log should work is like so:

A. Opening scene.
Stop after the first scene and describe what you noticed: Opening titles; introduced characters; what is shown and discussed to start the film in motion; what questions do you have; does the movie tell you at the outset what the trajectory will be.

B. Approximately half an hour in.
Is the film following the trajectory you thought it would? What do you like so far? What's well done? What questions do you still have? What are you noticing about the visual style? The writing? The acting?

C. Approximately another half hour.
Same as above.

D. Conclusion.
When the film is finished: What's your initial reaction? Did the film go where you expected? Is the climax satisfactory? Do you still have outstanding questions?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More on film noir (and plurals!)

If you enjoyed our foray in film noir with Double Indemnity, perhaps you'd be interested in the Film Noir Foundation:

And just so you know: Although we might describe a film as "film noir," and we call the whole genre "film noir," if you want to refer to several individual films, you say you've seen several "films noir." As in passerby/passersby or attorney general/attorneys general, the "s" doesn't go where you might think.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scary movie assignment

For next time (10/31), write at least 300 words (more would be good) about:

What has frightened you in TV and film? Is there a particular film or TV show that frightened you? Detail that. What disturbed you about it? What types of things frighten you typically in film? Is there anything you like being scared by?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Double Indemnity assignment

Hey there, film fans!

As I said in class, I'm changing the structure of the Double Indemnity assignment to allow more variety in the responses. Note that, in my links (to the right), I've put a PDF of the Hays Code for reference.

Please do one of the following for next Tuesday; the piece should be approximately 250-300 words:

a. Write a response to seeing Double Indemnity as if you were a reviewer of the time (1944). In this case, you will need to look over the Hays Code, because you'll either be complaining about how the film violates the letter or spirit of the code or how you think the film masterfully avoids crossing the line.

b. Write a personal response to the film, keeping in mind that it's a black-and-white film from another era. What did you like or especially appreciate? What surprised you? How did it compare to modern films? What seemed better than a modern film?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Three, three, three reviews!

As we discussed in class, I'm expecting you to read three reviews of current or recent films from the New York Times site, which is here. As I warned, clicking on the site more than 10 times will get you locked out (unless you have a subscription). Let me know if that happens to you. There's a way around the block.

Your task is to efficiently paraphrase those reviews, turning them into "capsule reviews" such as this and this.

The title for each review should tell me whose review you read. You're free to use the language of the review, though, of course, you'll need to severely edit the original text. Think about what needs to be in the review: some sense of whether or not the movie is good or enjoyable; basic information about the plot; a feel for the kind of film it is; actors, writer, and the most prominent actors.

Length for each review: 150-200 words.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Film review assignment

The idea is for you to interact with the reviews of others. I often (just 15 minutes ago, in fact) read movie reviews of films I haven't seen and may not ever see; I enjoy the act of critical examination, even if ultimately it's not a movie I'll see or that even interests me. (I also like reading book reviews, of course, but additionally I get a kick out of critical reviews of new buildings or painting exhibitions. I have no ability paint or design architecture, but the kind of craft that goes into any of these forms is analogous to the craft that goes into writing, which is my own specialty.)

I want you to "interact with" two reviews by professional reviewers; we can try this, later, with movies you've never seen, but I think it's easier and more useful at this stage of things to have you reflect on a movie you've viewed. Pick something you've seen recently, so you can comment more thoroughly. I want to hear your thoughts on the movie, but I want to read them as a kind of argument or discussion you're having with these other reviewers. (It is to be written in essay form, however—not in dialogue form or some sort of free form.) Ebert does this in some of his essays, mentioning other reviewers and how they perceive something.

On the lower right of this page is a link to the Internet Movie Database ( Any movie may be found there; from any movie's site, you can, lower down on the page, link to "External reviews." You should be reading reviews from major newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times [those are available at]) or magazines (Salon, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker (available at, not from unaffiliated reviewers.

This assignment, of 500-750 words, is due next Friday, Sept. 21.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lesson plans

This is something of an experiment, but I'm posting class lesson plans (as they actually played out, not as I originally planned them) over to the right. There you'll find the terms and concepts we went over on a particular day. You will be expected to know those terms; the definitions are in the glossary I've provided, also to your right.

Friday, August 31, 2012

For those of you who just joined us . . .

If you signed up only recently for The Language of Film and haven't had time to order the assigned book (though there may be copies available at our local Barnes & Noble, and certainly Amazon can get it to you in two days if you want to pay for the rapid shipping), I will have copies on-hand in class for you. Though that's a problem for the first day, as I expect to discuss at least a few things from the book right away, you should have no problem completing the writing assignment by the due date; look at that immediately.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The reading

Make sure you read all of the Roman-numeraled pages in the introductory sections! (As well as the other assigned essays, of course.)

See you soon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Framed by the camera's lens, I see . . . the summer assignment!

Follow the link to the right to a PDF of your summer assignment. 

Enjoy, and I'll see you in the fall (well, technically, it'll be late summer, but let's not dwell on that).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Rise of the" Language of Film

If we've learned anything in the last few years, it's that "Rise of the" attached to a film's title . . . achieves absolutely nothing.

Welcome. After a two-year hiatus, "The Language of Film" is now being offered again at MPH. Intended for seniors only, the class will have one section available each semester; the classes will be pretty much the same each semester, though the shortened senior schedule in the second semester means I'll have to move more quickly through certain topics.

Seating is limited. If you're interested, contact the Upper School office.

See you at the movies.