[Schedule and Course Outline] [Journal Assignments] [Exam] [Film Studies Resources]

Comm 150 (Course Information)

Texts & Course Description

Text: Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White's The Film Experience: An Introduction. I will also distribute and have you read a few supplemental essays and stories.

One of our main goals this semester is to examine attitudes and assumptions about film. For example, since film is so familiar to us, it is often labeled "entertainment." We often assume that it is easier to understand than literature (which is often regarded as "serious" or as "art"). In fact, film really is entertaining, and it really is complex. It employs two channels--sound and image--and it is culturally ambiguous, blurring distinctions between art, entertainment, and mass communication. It poses major problems for--but it offers new possibilities to--traditional categories of cultural criticism.

COMM 150 is an introduction to the "reading" and the comprehension of film as a language and to cinema as an institution. It satisfies a baccalaureate degree requirement in the Arts. This section of Comm 150 is not a special summer version of a "regular" Penn State course. It is a regular Penn State course offered during the summer. As such, it upholds University standards of academic quality. Your work load is the same as it would be during the fall or spring term. You have to work faster and, perhaps, harder. Do not expect early dismissals. The course schedule is divided into three broad units. These units are, in turn, divided into smaller sections. We will read Chapters 1-6 in order. I will guide the class through a quick tour of Chapter 7. In Unit One, we look at film as a medium: both what is specific to it (e.g., editing/montage) and what it shares with other media (such as theater and photography). In Unit Two, we direct our attention to the ways people organize filmic materials into formal systems (e.g., into arguments, explanations, and stories). We pay particular attention to story or narrative form. In Unit Three, we explore how cinema functions as an institution: how it reinforces and, occasionally, resists cultural values.

Since this is an introductory course and since I am well aware that certain movies--and types of movies-- are extremely popular, I assume that you have seen plenty of movies but that you lack a conceptual understanding of cinema. In other words, I assume that your awareness of films far exceeds your vocabulary for describing them. Hence, I hope that you will regard this course as (1) an opportunity to experience a broader range of movies than you are, perhaps, used to seeing, and (2) as an occasion to learn and practice a more analytical--precise and elaborated--language for thinking about, talking about, and writing about film.

Although we shall attend to historical issues associated with cinema, this course is not organized as a history of the movies (that's another Penn State course). Neither is it a production course: a guide to filmmaking (that too is another Penn State coures). For although we will not shy away from the technical aspects of film production or resist situating movies in their historical context, our ultimate goal is to learn something about the construction of movies and the role cinema--and, especially, narrative film--plays in relating individuals to the values and assumptions of their culture.


Note: Keep all materials returned to you. Points earned at semester's end divided by 500-points possible (X 100) yields your final grade as a percentage. Here is some important information on assignments:

Multiple-Choice Exams:
To demonstrate mastery of concepts examined in Unit I, students take two objective (primarily multiple-choice) exams. These are take-home exams. Students view clips snipped from several films (dubbed onto CD) and then they answer questions about techniques employed in these clips. Both tests use the same CD and film clips. Test One covers Chapters 1-3. Test Two covers Chapters 4-5. Students are encouraged to collaborate with classmates in the completion of these exams. 200 possible points (100 points for each exam).

Short-Answer Exams
To demonstrate mastery of narrative form (Chapter 7, plus supplements), students complete an exam composed of short-answer, matching, and true/false questions. All questions are based on a film (or a section of a film) assigned in class. This exam is traditional, to be completed during class. 150 possible points.

Journal Assignments:
Students submit seven journal entries in which they apply course materials (most often) to a film of their choosing. Two of these entries count double. A final journal score reflects on-time completion of the course's four exams (2.5 journal points per exam). 100 possible total points; each single entry earns a maximum score of 10 points. Late entries earn no more than 6 points. Entries submitted a week or more after a due date earn zero points. Although students are encouraged to talk with classmates about journal entries, these assignments are not collaborative projects.

Class Participation:
Responding to readings, film clips, and assignments is an explicit part of this course, crucial for making it successful and enjoyable. Class attendance and participation are very important. They are measured objectively by short quizzes. A quiz is administered toward the beginning of most classes; a second quiz is administered after the break. It is not possible to "make up" daily quizzes. 50 possible points.

House Keeping

I will show little to no toleration in dealing with late work. Late work is, by definition, below average; deadlines are a normal and necessary component of all scholarly and real-world production.

There are good reasons to miss class. But in this class there is no such thing as an “excused” or "unexcused" absence. A missed class means missed material. Any missed notes should be copied from another student. If you have to be absent, do not ask me, “What did I miss?” Ask a classmate. Do not email me about missed or late work. Do not email me telling me why you missed class. Speak to me, if you wish, after class. Do not present me with excuse slips written by physicians. Such slips may explain why you were absent; they cannot excuse an absence.

It is Penn State University’s policy and it is my policy not to discriminate against students with disabilities. If you have a documented disability that requires modifications of this course, contact me early in the semester. It is the student’s responsibility to obtain a University letter confirming the disability and suggesting appropriate accommodation. This letter can be requested from Dr. Cora Dzubak. Her office is located in the Learning Center (basement of the Library).

As part of a learning community, students need to share ideas—ideas documented in speech, in writing, or as a creative product—with their teacher and their classmates. Academic responsibility means that students labor to produce and to document ideas. They do their own work. Academic integrity means being clear—in institutionally defined and approved ways—about the origin and ownership of ideas. Taking credit for ideas that one did not generate—whether in the form of speech, writing, or a product—is academic dishonesty, and it will be dealt with in accordance with university policy. Typically, in this course the student who is caught cheating earns a failing grade for the course.

In the summer I do not have scheduled office hours, but if the need arises, I am happy to meet with students. I am in my office most Mondays from 9:00-6:00. Feel free to stop by (227 ISTC) or to give me a call (771-4157). No appointment is necessary. I regularly check my email. My address is jmj3@psu.edu.