Category Archives: Assignments

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)


FJ Revision (376)

As we discussed in class, the Fieldwork Journal instructions have been revised.

I. Go to the assigned neighborhood. Explore it for at least two hours.

II. Find a spot to sit. Now observe all that is happening around you. Note the built space, the sounds, the smells, the people. “Sketch” the space using vivid, descriptive language. You do not have to write in grammatical sentences. The purpose of this activity is to portray the enviroment in a creative, spontaneous and incisive manner. Perhaps you’ll focus on a particular person, a storefront, the flow of pedestrian traffic. You are painting, and your pigments consist of adjectives, verbs, and nouns. Try to capture the character of the space. The best way to do this is with a small notebook and pen or pencil. 

III. Go home. Type it up. Add comments that situate your sketching into a social-cultural context.  If Part II privileges spontaneity of perception, Part III emphasizes reflecting on those perceptions.

KW3 (376)

7. Pink juice

This phrase comes from Kerouac’s introduction to Rbt. Frank’s seminal photography book The Americans, a collection of images initially rejected by large numbers of conservative critics for its “anti-American” content, particularly representations of segregation as in the famous picture of a New Orleans trolley car. That photo seems to give direct form for the oppressive social regimentation of Jim Crow, as it shows whites in the front and Black people in the back. Particularly notable is the wounded expression of a Black man apparently looking directly at Frank’s camera. Kerouac marvels at Frank’s humane, searching eye, arguing that it visualizes the “pink juice of human kindness.” This phrase stands out among a slew of other verbal images, many of which pinball from line to line after the fashion of Kerouac’s idea of Spontaneous Prose. Using the photos from the book as “image-objects,” he allows his language and consciousness to flow over them like a river over a rock.

8. Fellaheen

This term is found in Kerouac’s short “story” October in the Railroad Earth, an exemplar of the Spontaneous Prose method in which the writer “blow[s] as deep as [they] want to blow” after the fashion of a jazz musician departing on an improvised solo. An Arabic word, fellaheen literally translates to “tiller of the earth”— i.e., a peasant. “The Negro” (in the accepted parlance of mid-century America) as well as the bum or the Beat are fellaheens— humbled by circumstance, beaten down, stripped of pretension, yet angelic and saintly. The Beat concern for those living at the margins of mainstream society indicates their antagonism toward the stultifying conformity of Cold War culture as well as a belief that the ordinary aspects of living— and ordinary people— have a beatific aspect. We can see these values expressed in Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra, where he takes the presence of a grime-encrusted sunflower as an occasion to marvel at the hallowedness of life. Other examples from Ginz include the Footnote to Howl with its anaphoristic use of “Holy, holy, holy” to claim that “everything’s holy” including “the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas”— an absurd phrase that brings these stolid, conservative figures down to an earthier level. 

5. No. 5

This is the title of an abstract expressionist painting by Jackson Pollock, one of the key figures of that art movement which also includes Willem de Kooning. At one time the most expensive painting in the world, No. 5 is non-representational. Its aesthetic value comes from its chaotic, aggressive use of color and line, which are produced using the techniques of Action Painting. No. 5 is the visual correlative of Jazz, taking its power from spontaneity rather than score (in this sense “score” in painting might be the model of the work, the object rendered, as in a still-life). There are a few things to consider here. One is that the financial value of No. 5 indicates the degree to which edgy, Modernist art has been commodified. As with Ginsberg’s poetry and Kerouac’s prose, paintings such as Pollock’s have fully entered the mainstream of American culture. Provocative in their immediate time, they now represent culture AS capital. The other thing to acknowledge is the notion that as with Ginsberg and Kerouac’s methods of composition, and the increasingly baroque and experimental shape of Jazz music, the question of form is not given in advance. Form will find itself in the act of expression. (And this is one of the things that makes art an approach to the expansion of consciousness.)

3. Hot vs. cool

We might call this phrase— drawn from lecture as well as Ginsberg’s remarks on Kerouac and the meaning of Beat— the primary dialectic of America’s first national subculture. Yet it also applies to different genres of Jazz and arguably Robert Frank’s strange short film “Pull My Daisy.” To be hot is to be open, expectant, goofy, ardent, and enthusiastic. Hot can be fast, as in the notes played by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in “Salt Peanuts”. It can be effusive to the point of innocence as in the speaker of Ginsberg’s poem “Supermarket in California”. It can be “ragged” in a sense, or unfinished, as in the editing and camerawork of Pull My Daisy. Cool on the other hand possesses a distance, a low-key quality. As a cultural style it seems more meditative and detached. Miles Davis’s trumpet work on Kind of Blue is decidedly Cool, as are Chet Baker’s vocals. As a way of being in the world, Cool indicates an unwillingness to engage completely. It’s a holding back of sentiment and judgement. Kerouac was clearly a Hot Beat, as evidenced by his penchant for “goofing” (mentioned in PMD)— i.e., playing with language and actively creating nonsense. Nonsense has the capacity to interrupt the rigidity of rationality. It’s an antidote to the regimentation of normative, conformist society. 

KW5 (220)

Moki’s shadow comes from Mabanckou’s post-colonial novel Blue White Red and refers to Massala-Massala, a young man from Congo-Brazzaville who hopes to emigrate to Paris in order to become a sapuer. A shadow motif is present throughout the text and it can be read as a doubling gesture which complicates the issue of identity as it is experienced by young African migrants who live in a globalized world where the aftereffects of colonialism linger. Notably, a shadow is an insubstantial and thus inferior twin of the object which casts it. In this scenario, Moki is the object, someone who has ‘weight’ and occupies space, qualities M-M lacks. The fact that M-M also possesses additional false identities– Marcel, Georges– further undercuts his basic social being. Who is M-M really? What does it mean to be an African from the post-colony?

An obvious link between texts here would be the figure of Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Kurtz of Brussels, adored by his naive fiancee, the Intended, represents just one part of his schismatic identity. The Kurtz in Congo is a feverish and brutal colonizer, a dark twin symbolizing the inherent barbarism of Europes ‘civilizing mission.’ In this vein we could also consider Selver and Davidson from The Word for World is Forest as differing aspects of colonization. One seeks to destroy and consume while the other fights defensively to preserve Athshea.

KW4 (376)

  1. Spontaneous prose is the method of composition Kerouac elucidates in his short manifesto “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” It indicates a heavy emphasis on spontaneity and improvisation– 2 key characteristics of Bop– and tends to value language for its subjective and musical properties. The Subterraneans is a good example of such prose: passages in that novella often run on for pages and feature sudden pivots and digressions. The purpose of this method is to peel away the confining conventions of rational, predictable writing in favor of rhythm and sound in order to express the truth of our situated, partial perceptions of reality.

8. Heavenly Lane is where Mardou, Leo’s lover in The Subterraneans, lives. The name is significant b/c it implies that Mardou is another “angel”– a beatific and modern figure whose style and sensibilities elevate her above the conformist mass who remain caught in the web of official culture, with its deadening logic and shallow, consumerist dreams. Mardou is Beat– stripped to the basics, often animated by madness, “the child of Bop”– and in these senses she represents something transcendent. Those qualities also stem from her status as African-American. Linked to a marginalized community, she retains something rooted and authentic– or so Leo believes.

3. Mise-en-scène is a film term taken from Villarejo’s short chapter on film form. It encompasses any visual element within the frame such as setting (props, decor), lighting, costume, makeup, and figure behavior. The m-e-s of Robert Frank’s ‘jazz film’ Pull My Daisy offers us a Beat world. A low-rent apartment scattered with Milo’s “tortured socks” and the homely, dilapidated accoutrements of the kitchen form the backdrop of Kerouac’s drama about a visit by the Bishop. Ginsberg (The Subterranean’s Adam Moored), Corso (Yuri Gligoric), and. others– their frantic playfulness and naughty behavior– further elaborate the fundamental beatitude (Beatness) of this world.

7. “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” This line comes from Ginsberg’s poem “America.” It is the speaker’s final statement ( a promise or a threat?)– a very bold one as it amounts to a confession of the poet’s sexuality in an era of crushing heteronormativity. The poem itself constitutes a thorough critique of Cold War culture. Using a sprawling, free-form line and non-standard language “America” points out the absurdity and violence of the official culture of the US, its inability to understand utopian hopes, and its harsh efforts to bend people to its “insane demands.” Personal, subjective beliefs and attitudes thus become part of an anti-conformist arsenal. Asserting his gay identity, the speaker undertakes a cultural-political act. All of this can with profit be compared with the “naked,” often embarrassing confessional stance of Kerouac’s novel. Both texts– and the Beat movement in general– argue that the truth can be revealed only by manifesting the properties and vagaries of Individual Mind.

2. Pull My Daisy is a short film by photographer Robert Frank (The Americans) narrated by Jack Kerouac and ‘starring’ Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and David Amram (who also created the film’s score [extra-diegetic sound]). The title, taken from an early poem by Ginsberg, is an example of the Beats’ ‘free’ use of language as championed by Kerouac in his manifesto The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. It also closely resembles the irony and nonsense that can be found in Ginsberg’s poem “America”. One of the more salient aspects of PMD is the contentious relationship between Milo and his wife Evelyn. As Milo’s friends clamor downstairs, excited to embark on a boys-only evening of pleasures, Evelyn and Milo argue about the Bishop’s disastrous visit. His desires are inconsistent with hers– a major feature of Leo and Mardou’s fated love affair.

5. to blow. The term can be found in Pull My Daisy, The Subterraneans, Sterrit’s short chapter, and Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. Briefly, blowing is closely associated with Jazz performance, particularly an improvised solo. When the quasi-Beat figure in DOA yells “Blow up a storm, Fisherman” he is encouraging the musician to take his musical statement as far as it will possibly go– in other words to express himself (his thought, his sentiment) as completely as he can. This is what Kerouac meant when he told would-be writrs to “blow! now! your way is your way!” To blow is to give voice to individual consciousness and perception. This conceit is portrayed in a more homely and diminutive way when Kerouac, narrating PMD, tells little Pablo to “blow boy blow”. The Beat attitude or stance, then, values self-expression, oddly enough, as an avenue to community and self-transcendence.

SPR21 Filmographies

HUM220 Values and Culture


AMST310/HUM485 Arts and American Culture

Weird South: Two Thousand Maniacs, Mandingo, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Manifest Destiny: Ravenous, Jacob’s Ladder, Bone Tomahawk, Annihilation

Industrial Gothic: Robocop, Snowpiercer, Session 9

HUM415 Contemporary Culture

The Spectacle: Crash, Videodrome,

Body and Identity: Dead Ringers, The Skin I Live In, Possessor, Eyes of Laura Mars

Empire: Waiting for the Barbarians, Ravenous, Annihilation

True Detective Season One

485/310 SPR21


Manifest Destiny

Alemán and Streeby, eds. Empire and The Literature of Sensation: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007.

Note: online edition available through SFSU Library.

ISBN 9780813540757

Weird South

Crews, Harry. A Feast of Snakes. 1st ed. New York: Atheneum, 1976. 

ISBN 9780684842486

Vampire Capital

Attaway, William. Blood on the Forge. New York: NYRB, 2005. Originally published: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1941.

ISBN 9781590171349