Introduction to Film: Reception Studies (Rising 9th-12th Grades)

Love the movies? Become a film critic! In this class, we’ll study how film reviews through the years have influenced film and media studies. We’ll research film reviews in numerous Hollywood trade publications and national newspapers, along with advertising and marketing campaigns, to explore the reception of movies in the 1940s and 1960s. What was it like to go to the movies in another era? How does it compare to the ways we watch movies today? What kind of film critic will you be when you write your own movie reviews? Screenings include Double Indemnity (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1944), Meet Me in St. Louis (Dir. Vincent Minnelli, 1944), In the Heat of the Night (Dir. Norman Jewison, 1967), and a current release to be named later (excluding R-rated movies).   

 

Objectives:

  • To introduce students to reception studies as a component of cinema and media studies
  • To introduce students to Clemson’s World Cinema program
  • Students will learn about the Studio Era in Hollywood, especially the Production Code, and become familiar with industry publications during this time; students will learn about the end of that era, and the disintegration of the studio system
  • Students will reflect on their own moviegoing experiences as they relate to reception in 1944 and 1967
  • Students will strengthen skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking through in-class exercises and discussions

 

Monday

 

Introduction: Icebreakers, and discussion of movies we like, what we’ve seen lately, etc.

 

  • Overview of the Hollywood Studio Era, with emphasis on the Production Code; overview of film noir: historical contexts and reception. In-class reading and discussion of “The 1930 Production Code. Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures. Formulated by Association of Motion Picture Producers, Inc. and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc.” (excerpts)

 

  • Visit to Cooper Library: Introduction to the Media History Digital Library, and the digital collections of the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, as well as local newspapers (such as The Greenville News). Scavenger hunt for material related to Double Indemnity (film reviews, advertisements, box office, exhibitors’ reports, etc.). Begin discussion of material discovered. I will distribute selected reviews of the movie for us to examine, with an eye towards writing our own movie reviews during the week.

 

  • Screening of Double Indemnity (107 min.)

 

Tuesday

 

  • Discussion of Double Indemnity. During discussion, I will describe (but not assign for reading) James Naremore’s analysis of the movie’s ending as it relates to the original ending filmed by Wilder; and his discussion of the movie as it relates to censorship and the Production Code (More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. University of California Press, Updated and Expanded Edition, 2008).

 

  • Continue discussion of material discovered in Day One’s research, especially film reviews of the movie, exploitation campaigns and press books, etc.

 

  • In-class writing: review the movie; read reviews aloud, and discuss

 

  • Group Work: Write a pitch for a remake of Double Indemnity in 2019; e.g., Who would you cast? Who would direct? What updates would the movie need? How to market, advertise? etc.

Tuesday (cont’d.)

 

  • Closer look at the studios, with emphasis on Paramount (Double Indemnity) and MGM (Meet Me in St. Louis). Introduction to the MGM musical, and Meet Me in St. Louis. Scavenger hunt for material related to Meet Me in St. Louis.

 

  • Screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (113 min.)

 

Wednesday

 

  • Discussion of Meet Me in St. Louis

 

  • Introduction to In the Heat of the Night, including overview of the disintegration of the studio system, and the end of the Code. Scavenger hunt for material related to the movie (film reviews, advertisements, box office, exhibitors’ reports, etc.)

 

  • Discussion of material discovered. In-class reading and discussion of 1967 Hollywood Reporter review of the movie, and 2017 short essay by Aisha Harris (“How In the Heat of the Night’s Poitier Paved the Way for Get Out”).

 

  • Screening of In the Heat of the Night (110 min.)

 

  • Discussion of the film, with representative from a Clemson program joining us for screening and discussion, TBA

 

  • In-class writing: review the movie; read reviews aloud, and discuss

 

Thursday

 

  • Field Trip to Greenville: research on Greenville’s movie theaters, TBA, and walking or driving tour along Main Street: the sites of Greenville’s Studio Era movie theaters

 

  • Screening at Hollywood Twenty or Cherrydale of a current release (excluding R-rated movies)

 

Friday

 

  • Discussion of movie screened on Day Four, with emphasis on exhibition—the theater’s lobby and screening space, and ways we experienced spaces such as these. During discussion, I will describe (but not assign for reading) relevant insights from Juan Llamas-Rodriguez’s essay, “A Global Cinematic Experience: Cinépolis, Film Exhibition, and Luxury Branding” Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58(3) Spring, 2019: 49-71. Discussion will also compare and contrast theatrical exhibition with streaming services such as Netflix.

 

  • Read and discuss 2-3 current reviews by contemporary film critics (e.g., Anthony Lane, Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott) of Day Four’s screening

 

  • In-class writing: review the movie, read reviews out loud, and discuss

 

  • Group Work: Devise 1940s-style exploitation campaign for movie screened on Day Four

 

  • Debrief on the week

Course Leader: John Smith, Ph.D.