Category Archives: AMST310

Film Project (310/485)

For this project you’ll choose your own film.

Your task is to very thoughtfully choose a scene from your film that not only lends itself to a thorough formal analysis, but that relates in undeniably meaningful ways to the film as a whole. Your scene should also resonate with some of the major themes of the course.

The scene you pick should not be longer than 3 or 4 minutes.

Here’s how to begin:

1. Review the Yale Film Analysis Guide and Villarejo’s “The Language of Film”. These readings constitute the theoretical foundation of your response to the assignment.

2. Turn off your phone and put it away, then screen the film. Take notes.

3. Pick a scene.

4. Watch your film again.

5. Now write a formal analysis (3-4 pages). In other words, deconstruct the scene using the key concepts of film studies. Remember the four major categories: mise-en-scène, camera work, editing, sound.  While you don’t necessarily need to undertake a shot-by-shot analysis (though you’re welcome to do so) you should absolutely note the time signature of the shots you do discuss. How do the scene’s formal choices emphasize its dramatic content? What and how does the scene signify?

6. Minimum length: 1000 words.

Film Project (310/485)

Choose one of the following films for your film project:

American Psycho (Harron 2000) FREEVEE

Dark comedy about a yuppie serial killer.

There Will Be Blood (Anderson 2007) HOOPLA

A film about extractive capitalism and the entrepreneur as psychopath based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!

RoboCop (Verhoeven 1987) HOOPLA

A sci-fi satire about a near-future, neoliberalized Detroit.

Norma Rae (Ritt 1979) HBO MAX

Drama about efforts to unionize a factory in the American South. Based on real events.

American Gangster (Scott 2007) NETFLIX

A ficitionalized account of Harlem kingpin Frank Lucas’s rise and fall.

Sorry to Bother You (Riley 2018) RENT ON AMAZON

Dark satire by Boots Riley.

Joker (Phillips 2019) HBO MAX

Not really a superhero movie.

The Florida Project (Baker 2017)


The Angel of History or, Progress (AMST310/HUM485)

From “Theses on History” by Walter Benjamin:

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin 1941, 257–8)

Lecture 6 Notes (310/485)

Pinkowitz on Two Thousand Maniacs!

economics of regional exploitation film production

narrow profit margins/ low overhead including non-pro actors, etc.

drive-in theater venues as a marginal space/audience– note less segregated than other venues, not an “ideal” audience (the “classy” or normie-type audiences Hollywood studios were after)

other aspects of viewership: audience identification with the grotesque caricatures of Lewis’s film. an ironic identification as “redneck” “cracker” etc.

narratives often include characters who function as stand-ins for readers/viewers

ex. Lottie Mae and Beeder in the final image of Feast. the non-pro extras, residents of St. Cloud, who watch the dunking machine/boulder dropping atrocity

social content of Maniacs: a non-Southern version of the South but also references to CRM and “Massive Resistance” campaigns against it. racist violence of lynching (the atrocities against the Yankee tourists but also the toy nooses, off-camera torture/killing of black cat

note absence of Black  people in Pleasant Valley


Strap them kids in, give ’em a little bit of vodka
In a cherry coke, we’re goin’ to Oklahoma
To the family reunion for the first time in years
It’s up at uncle Slaton’s ’cause he’s getting’ on in years.

No longer travels but he’s still pretty spry
Not much on talk and he’s too mean to die
And they’ll be comin’ down from Kansas and from west Arkansas
It’ll be one big old party like you’ve never saw.

Uncle Slaton’s got his texan pride
Back in the thickets with his asian bride
He’s got an airstream trailer and a Holstein cow
Still makes whiskey ’cause he still knows how.

Plays that Chocktaw bingo every Friday night
You know he had to leave Texas but he won’t say why
He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala
Caught a great big old bluecat on a driftin’ jugline.

Sells his hardwood timber to the chippin’ mill
Cooks that crystal meth because his shine don’t sell
He cooks that crystal meth because his shine don’t sell
You know he likes that money, he don’t mind the smell.

Continue reading

Rough AAC SPR21

Focusing on the lurid, the coarse — even the monstrous— Arts in American Culture (HUM485/AMST310) explores three facets of US culture and society— the South, Manifest Destiny, and capitalism– in literature, film, visual art, and music.

Unit One, the Dark Romance of Manifest Destiny, examines dime novel renderings of the earliest phase of US Empire, the Mexican-American War, including Ned Buntline’s wildly successful Magdalena, a cross-border love story set against that epic conflict. We’ll analyze two movies as a means of learning about US imperialism and film form: Antonia Bird’s Wendigo myth-inspired slasher Ravenous and Rod Lurie’s Afghan war actioner The Outpost. Finally, we’ll listen to music from and about the era such as “The Ballad of Joaquin Murrieta” and “El Paso.”

Unit Two, Weird South, begins with Harry Crews’s outré account of Bible Belt degeneracy, A Feast of Snakes, an over the top examplar of the Southern Gothic genre. From there we’ll dip into the haunted soundscape of Murder Ballads and Delta Blues, the surrealist photography of Clarence John Laughlin, and grindhouse flicks such as Two Thousand Maniacs! and Mandingo. Examining American Culture War‘s continuing caricaturization of underclass White Southerners as buffoonish, Confederate battle flag-waving rednecks we’ll attempt to come to terms with the ways the popular imagination stories national history and fights contemporary partisan politics.

Unit Three, Vampire Capital, takes William Attaway’s unjustly neglected late-Naturalist novel Blood on the Forge as an occasion to consider an old Lefty conceit, that capitalism feeds on the living. That socio-economic system/logic also unavoidably puts people in motion, a fact dramatized by Attaway’s pulp-proletarian depiction of three brothers from an impoverished rural community swept into the steel mills. Pairing this text with Jacob Lawrence’s painting series The Great Migration will afford us the chance to discuss the cultural movement of Modernism and industrial capitalism‘s racial character. Linking this prior moment of economic development to the present, we’ll think about the cultural consequences of the Uberization of work and chronic precarity.