Reading Film (Fall 2011)

a qwriting blog for ENG 110

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Here is a link to a PDF of the syllabus you can download and print.



Reading Film

Dr. Kevin L. Ferguson ENGL 110: Fall 2011

M/W, 10:15-12:05, Powdermaker 302

Office Hours: M/W, 3:00-4:00 Klapper 711

Course Description: English 110 examines the arts and practices of effective writing and reading in college, especially the use of language to discover ideas. Because Queens College believes that the ability to write and communicate effectively is essential to its students’ success both in college and after, this course will introduce students to the components of writing that they will continue to practice and master during their college career. Students should expect to be both challenged and excited by the ambitious goal of taking ownership of language. In general terms, this means students will learn and develop fluency with:

1) elements of academic writing (such as identifying a thesis, offering analysis, using evidence)

2) seeing writing as a process (including pre-drafting, drafting, outlines, editing and revision)

3) some rhetorical strategies (such as persuasion, metaphor, comparison and contrast)

4) the grammar and mechanics of English (like sentence structure, punctuation, voice)

5) considering disciplinary conventions (how different disciplines create different writing)

About “Reading Film”: This section of English 110 takes “reading film” as its central theme. Film production shares much of the vocabulary of writing: filmmakers “compose” shots, learn the “grammar” of film, make transitions between scenes using “film punctuation,” use “leitmotifs” and repetition to convey “characterization,” and deal with similar narrative concerns as writers. Film audiences also use language one uses when responding to literature, like when comparing an adapted film with its source novel or skimming through a DVD’s “chapters.” Thus, we will use the concept of “reading film” to hold a lens up to our understanding of the English language and what it means to write and read “texts.” While our focus will be on developing an understanding of the fundamentals of college writing, we will use film studies as a helpful model to compare and contrast just what it is we do when we read and write.

Learning Objectives for students will include:

–to gain a familiarity with a range of modes of communication, including informal writing, formal academic essays, MLA-style bibliography entries, and letters to peers and professors.

–to develop and use strategies for improving writing and critical thinking through recursive practice, self-reflection, and the process of revision.

–to demonstrate a link between writing and critical thinking by showing how the analysis of ideas is dependent on the ability to communicate them successfully.

–to demonstrate a mastery over basic methods of research and documentation, including how to identify and evaluate appropriate secondary sources for an academic essay, to select quotation for use as evidence, to integrate quotation, and to properly cite quotation using MLA style.

–to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in the process of composition, and to describe methods to achieve future success.

Assignments: Assignments are sequenced to stress the recursive practice of writing. Of the 10 required writing assignments, students select 6 to revise thoroughly for inclusion in a final portfolio which is assessed for a final grade. This portfolio is introduced by a cover letter to me that explains the process students went through to create their portfolio, describing the strengths they have gained by producing the pieces of writing and the challenges they still face as writers.

a) Diagramming Difference: Thinking about the metaphor built into the class topic, students will create a graphic organization of 7 ways the medium of film is and is not like the medium of writing. This might take the form of a list, Venn diagram, bar graph, pie chart, Carroll diagram, semiotic square, etc. In visually comparing and contrasting the two media, students should consider differences in rhetorical address, mechanics, and argumentation. An accompanying 3-4 page essay discusses the advantages and problems of a comparative approach.

b) Reviewing the Reviewer: Students will be assigned a sampling of reviews of a popular film. Students should also read reviews by these same critics of other films. Drawing on social science disciplines like sociology and anthropology, students prepare a 3-4 page “field report” on the range of beliefs about quality cinema expressed in these reviews. The focus should be less on agreeing or disagreeing with these critics, and more on identifying, organizing, and communicating in written form the 3-4 central concerns of each reviewer and their primary mode of rhetorical address.

c) Investigative Proposal: Students will submit a formal proposal for a final essay. In four paragraphs, students should present a specific theme and investigative question to pursue, should examine the purpose of the investigation and how it will contribute to the study of literacy and film, should consider a method for approaching the subject, and should identify possible resources that will be useful for exploring the topic. One approach is to select a particular film to pose a question about. Another approach is to reflect on a student’s own interaction with cinema.

d) Annotated Bibliography: Students will find three secondary sources to inform their investigation, at least one of which is in print form (i.e., journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, author interviews). Students will learn to use electronic databases like JSTOR, EBSCOHost, and the CUNY+ catalog. Using MLA style, students will create an annotated Works Cited page with citations and one-paragraph evaluative summaries of each article.

e) Mock Interview: Students will prepare the transcript of an imagined, mock debate-interview between two filmmakers or critics studied during the semester. Students should position themselves as interviewer between two figures, pose a problem or question, elicit responses and dialogue, and analyze and respond to these claims. This might include issues that arise in a course on “reading film”; for instance, students may take a position on whether and how film is really “like” literature, or why one is “better” than the other. 4-5 pages.

f) Final Paper: Before writing their final papers, students will complete a Messy First Draft, where they make an initial, experimental exploration of their proposed idea in 8 informal and unfinished pages; a Formal Outline, where students examine their first draft and experiment with ways of organizing their material to create an appropriate overall structure; and a Second Draft, where students take a more informed, analytical, and critical approach to the topic they have chosen to investigate. This process will be discussed in the Cover Letter described above.

READINGS: All texts are here: [password: readingfilm]

You must bring a printed copy of the readings to class.

PARTICIPATION: This is a linked course, so the themes and discussions in this course intersect with and compliment the issues in your Media Studies class. If you drop this course, you must also drop MDST 144. Since participation is crucial to your success, you should not miss more than three classes. I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. If you come unprepared to class, you are not present; “coming unprepared” includes such things as not doing the reading, not bringing the text to class, sleeping during class, not making an effort to participate, arriving late or leaving early. If you know you cannot attend, contact me before to ask about homework; I do not accept late assignments.

If you have a learning, sensory, or physical reason for special accommodation in this class, contact the Office of Special Services at 718-997-5895 and please inform me.

Evaluation / Grading:

Students will be evaluated in three broad areas:

1) their ability and diligence in completing all writing assignments on time, reading and reflecting on assigned readings before class, and participating in class discussions.

2) their competence in meeting the learning objectives identified above.

3) their ability to demonstrate, through the pieces in their final portfolio and their meta-reflective cover letter, that they have made thoughtful and careful revision from earlier drafts.

In practice, the final grade will be more of a “negotiation” than a reward. Sometime during the final third of the semester, students should meet with me one-on-one. During this time we will discuss their current strengths and weaknesses and establish a set of expectations for the remainder of the semester. The student and I will agree on what is an appropriate final grade, dependent upon their completing a list of expectations. This list might include specific revision of certain assignments, good faith effort to participate more, or mastery of certain recurring problem areas. Students will submit a short memo outlining our conversation, to serve as a grading contract.

CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity

Violations of academic integrity include: cheating, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty, plagiarism, and denying others access to information or material. It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of what constitutes academic dishonesty; students who are unsure of whether their work meets criteria for academic integrity should consult with their instructor. Students should look at the full policy, which provides further examples and possible consequences for incidences of academic dishonesty.

In short:  I have a zero-tolerance policy towards plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

The minimum punishment for any plagiarism in this course is receiving an F as a final grade and being reported to the appropriate campus officer.


8/29: Introduction to “Reading Film”
8/31: Adaptation and Meaning
Read: André Bazin, “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest”

9/5: NO CLASSES: Labor Day
9/7: Read: “The Three Little Pigs”
Due: 4¶ blog response to Bazin. Reply to 3 peers.

9/12: What Does It Mean to “Read”?
Read: Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram” (first half)
9/14: Read: Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram” (second half)
Due: 4¶ on blog comparing one aspect of Eisenstein to the writing process. Reply to 3 peers.


9/19: The “Language” Metaphor
Read: James Monaco, “The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax”
Due: Diagramming Difference assignment
9/21: Read: Monaco, “The Language of Film”

9/26: Semiotics: the Study of Signs
Read: Roland Barthes on the Panzani Ad
Due: 4¶ response analysis of a commercial. Reply to 3 peers.
10/3: The Specificity of Media
Read: Roland Barthes, “The Romans in Films”
10/5: Read: Roland Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater”
Due: Reviewing the Reviewers Assignment


10/12: Media Studies Class Day
Read: Sample Scene Analysis
Due: 1 page list of possible topics for a research paper in “Reading Film”

10/17: Considering Genre and Form
Read: Virginia Woolf, “The Movies and Reality”
10/19: Read: Susan Sontag, “The Decay of Cinema”
Due: Investigative Proposal assignment

10/24: Investigative Proposals
Read: [distributed in class]
10/26: Read: Maxine Hairston, “What Happens When People Write”
Due: 4¶ description of your research “strategy”
10/31: Library Strategies
Read: all of the tutorials here:
11/2: CLASS CANCELLED – Visit the Library


11/7: Citation / MLA
11/9: Read: Paul McHenry Roberts, “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words”?
Due: Annotated Bibliography assignment

11/14: Cutting / Editing / Omitting
Read: Walter Murch “Cut Out the Bad Bits” and “Why Do Cuts Work?”
11/16: Read: William Zinsser, “Simplicity” and “Simplicity (Draft)”
Due: Mock Interview assignment

11/21: Drafting
Read: Jack Rawlins, “Five Principles for Getting Good Ideas”
11/23: Read: Anne Lamott, “Shitty First Drafts”
Due: Messy Draft assignment

11/28: Style and Substance
Read: Mark Gaipa, “Engaging Sources”
11/30: CLASS CANCELLED – Revise two pieces for Portfolio Workshops
Due: Formal Outline assignment

12/5: Portfolio Workshops
Read: Lewis Thomas, “Notes on Punctuation”
12/7: Read: Peer workshop on portfolio pieces
Due: Second Draft assignment

12/12: Portfolio Workshops
Read: Peer workshop on portfolio pieces

Due Monday 12/19:
Portfolio with Final Draft, Cover Letter, and two revised formal assignments

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