A class about film directing, and film directors

TMA 498, FALL 2014


W, F-201 HFAC, 5-9 PM,

CLASS OBJECTIVE: to consider, take the measure of, and wrestle to the ground one of film’s most beguiling, confounding and potentially satisfying topics: the Director! We will consider this organism, this institution, this mythical beast in a number of its many guises and iterations. The Romance of auteurism has a place in our conversation, as does a ringing, enthusiastic critique thereof. It will be proper to genuflect—if only a little—before the altars of genius. It will then be even more proper to flee idolatry, not to mention ideological misrecognition, and cut those groves right down.

In learning about film directors and about film directing we will consider the place of the craftsman, the collaborator, and the collective. Alternatively—sort of alternatively—we will also have occasion to admire the mavericks, independents, and outright free men. We may also be annoyed by them. The dialectical discussion continues: equally, and with as much interest and even admiration, we will meet reliable employees, weary functionaries, even subjugated work beasts.

The Arts and Crafts movement will be lurking around back there, and the Bauhaus too, if only to snap those Victorians out of their morbidly nostalgic reverie. There will be Art, and Aesthetics, along with Product, and Commerce. We will be concerned not only with the director, but that which he directs, and how, as well as some of the ways that audiences can then respond to all of that. Intention. Reception. Semiotics. Phenomenology. The work of the hands, the simultaneous curse and blessing of industrialization, the most unapologetic product, and the most miraculously fashioned jewel: all fall within the confines of this semester’s searching study.

This subject is too big to cover properly. It is too big to cover improperly as well. At the same time, there are a number of accessible, comprehensible director-related ideas that we can quite easily get our heads around. Watch us do it!

We will look closely at seven quite distinct, quite multiple, quite exemplary film directors (two weeks per each). As we do so we will read up on each individual, at the same time that we avoid unhealthy imbalance by reading up on bigger issues as well. An individual comes from a community, even when she resists said community. Texts, however unique or shining, always have contexts. Forests. Trees. Hockey.

In addition to our Seven Great Men, and in addition to the Art Cinema and the infinite and glorious vulgarity of Hollywood/s, we will also take more than a gander at all the immeasurable rest of it. Docs, animation, avant-garde, activism—you name it, some one, or some couple, or some bunch, directed it.





 Week 1: The Vagabond (1916), A Dog’s Life (1918); The Circus (1929)

Week 2: Limelight (1952)

Read: Truffaut, Sarris



Week 3: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), The Parson’s Widow (1920); Master of the House (1925)

Week 4: H2O (1929), Misére au Borinage (1931), Vampyr (1932); Day of Wrath (1943)

Read: Perkins, Durgnat; “Allan Dwan”

Due: 1st supplemental essay and annotated bibliography (September 24).



Week 5: Gallopin’ Gaucho, The Terrible Toreador; I Was Born, but… (1932)

Week 6: Late Spring (1949)

Read: Bordwell; “Howard Hawks”



Week 7: Our Wife (1931), Helpmates (1932); Boudu, Saved from Drowning (1932)

Week 8: Grand Illusion (1937), Rules of the Game (1939); The Southerner (1946)

Read: Elsaesser, Wood

Due: 2nd supplemental essay and annotated bibliography; proposal for the director autobiography that you would like to read (October 22).



Week 9: Boogie Doodle (1948), Hen Hop (1942); Paisan (1946)

Week 10: Toute la Mémoire du Monde, (1956), Stromboli (1950), Voyage to Italy (1954); India: Matri Bhumi (1959)

Read: Eisenstein; Wollen


Week 11: Artists and Models (1955), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), Happy Anniversary (1962); The Bellboy (1960)

Week 12: The Ladies Man (1961), The Disorderly Orderly (1964); The Patsy (1965)

Read: Stam, Andrew

Due: 3rd supplemental essay and annotated bibliography (November 19).




Read: selected director autobiography


 Week 14: Pather Panchali (1955), The World of Apu (1958); The Master (1965)

Due: Final film journals due.

Week 15: Lines: Horizontal (1962), Pas de Deux (1968); Charulata (1964)



Much of our reading this semester comes from plain, encyclopedic sources. People are inclined to get all carried away with this subject. They even start thinking that they are, or are just on the brink of being, great artists themselves. Nothing like having to sit in the reference section of the library to cool those jets down a bit.

  1. For each of our seven directors, students will thoroughly read the pertinent and related entries in each of the following publications, both print and electronic:

 Bawden, Liz. The Oxford Companion to Film. 1976. HumRef PN 1993.45 .09.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 2008. HumRef PN 1993.45 .K34 2008.

Pendergast, Tom and Sara. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 2000. 4 vols. HumRef PN 1997.8 .I58 2000.

 Roud, Richard. Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. 1980. 2 vols. HumRef PN 1993.45 .C5.

Sadoul, Georges. Dictionary of Film Makers. 1972. HumRef PN 1993.45 .S313.

Thomson, David. The new biographical dictionary of film. 2010. HumRef PN 1998.A2 T55 1981.

Senses of Cinema: http://sensesofcinema.com/great-directors/

The most recent edition of these works is preferable. If, by any chance, the text is out, or in use, you may use an earlier edition.

With the exception of our first unit (Chaplin), these encyclopedic selections should be completed by the first of the two weeks we will be spending on each individual artist. An e-mail confirming same should go to our TA by the beginning of each class.

  1. Students will also read the essays that are listed on the class schedule. They can be found in the following books, which will either be on reserve or in the reference shelves at the HBLL. Many of these essays can also be found in several other places. Feel free to be resourceful by finding and reading them there.

“A Certain Tendency in the French Cinema,” by François Truffaut, “Towards a Theory of Film History,” by Andrew Sarris, “The Cinema of Nicholas Ray,” by V.F. Perkins, “Six Films of Josef von Sternberg,” by Raymond Durgnat, “Citizen Kane,” by David Bordwell, “Shock Corridor,” by Thomas Elsaesser and “To Have (written) and Have Not (directed),” by Robin Wood.

All of the foregoing essays are in Nichols, Bill (ed.), Movies and Methods. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1976. Two copies of Movies and Methods can be found in the reference section on the fifth floor of the HBLL.

“Allan Dwan” and “Howard Hawks” are in Bogdanovich, Peter, Who the Devil Made It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

“Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today,” by Sergei Eisenstein, is in Film Form. New York: Meridian Books, 1957.

“The Auteur Theory,” by Peter Wollen, and “How Howard Hawks Brought Baby Up: an Apologia for the Studio System,” by Richard Jewell, are in the 6th edition of Braudy, Leo and Marshall Cohen, Film Theory and Critcism. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

“Introduction,” (from part 1, The Author), by Robert Stam, and “The Unauthorized Auteur Today,” by Dudley Andrew, are in Stam, Robert, and Toby Miller, Film and Theory: an Anthology. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub., 2000.

All of these essays, which are distributed throughout the semester and clearly marked out in the class calendar, should be read by 4 PM on the afternoon of the second class session on each respective director. Again, an e-mail to confirm completion should go to our TA on that day.



  1. Attend, punctually, all sessions of class.  Attendance will be taken; non-attendance and habitual tardiness will have an impact on your grade.
  1. All readings, as described just above, as laid out in the class calendar, to be reported as requested.
  1. Prepare and submit ten journal entries in response to the films screened in class.  Talk about the film. Talk about the film’s director, and his film directing. Think about it. Do some research. Don’t just guess, though you can extrapolate, or posit educated hypotheses. What is happening with regard to text, performance, visualization, space, time? Is there a message, or theme, or philosophy? Is there a statement, a set of intertextual references, or maybe an expectation that the viewer provides some or most of the meaning herself? Feel free to use ideas from our readings. Be sure to cite them. Ideas from our class discussions are also welcome. You don’t have to cite those.  These journal responses should be about 600 words long.  Nearly weekly?  You will submit ten film journals in total.  These journals are due on the Wednesday after the pertinent film screening. Unless you want to write about our very last film, the last of these journals are due on the last day of class (Wednesday, December 10, 2014).
  1. I have compiled two big fat lists with the names of a ton of significant directors. They are from long ago and recent, and from all over the world. Almost every name has two titles attached to it. Students are to pick a name from the first list and two names from the second. They are see the two titles listed with each name. (One title? That’s either for a single-film filmmaker, or because only one title belonged on the list. You can write about those guys too.) That is three names, six titles in total. They are to write and submit a 1000 word paper on what these two films have taught them about the director, and the way that he or she directs. These papers are due in three installments: September 24, October 22, November 19.  Don’t ask me if you can see alternative titles. You can’t! You might think about why these two films were chosen out of what were sometimes a ton of options (Ford!). You might, you must definitely be sure to do a little research on the filmmakers and the films, before actually doing any work on them. Each of these is significant, and of merit. Still, some of you may find some of them to be offensive.
  1. Read a film director autobiography. Or, read a book length interview with a film director (Truffaut, on Hitchcock, Malle on Malle, etc.) Send your instructor a brief e-mail proposing the autobiography/interview you’d like to read, and why you’d like to read it, on October 22. You will account for this reading in an essay in our final exam. Lots of film director biographies are pretty long. Some of these long ones (Capra, Chaplin, Powell, etc.) are really good. Long though. If I were you I’d probably pick a shorter one (Buñuel, Renoir, etc.).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: