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Final Project: Teaching Critical Thinking in Film Studies

Page history last edited by Jeff 9 years, 6 months ago

For my final project, I have decided to create a teaching unit about critical film analysis that is appropriate to the high school level.  I have purposefully decided not to organize the unit in a weekly or daily fashion, because of the inherent time limitations of such a setup.  The unit will be broken down into five sub-units, each of which builds off the previous one.  Students will generally watch at least one film per week, and will be asked questions similar to the ones below in order to stimulate the critical thinking process.


Unit #1: Reaction & Response (Weeks 1-2)

This sub-unit will deal with students' reactions and responses to various films, and will focus specifically on the techniques filmmakers use to achieve them.


Example #1: the shower scene from Psycho (1960)

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1. How does Alfred Hitchcock mix music, dialogue (or lack thereof), camera angles, and lighting create suspense in this scene?

2. Are his techniques effective (that is, were you, as a viewer, scared?), and why or why not?

3. Assume Hitchcock is still alive and plans on remaking this movie; how could he do things differently to get the proper reaction from today's jaded moviegoers?


Unit #2: Mise en Scène/Visual Aspects of Filmmaking (Weeks 3-5)

This sub-unit will ask students to pay special attention to the visual aspects of cinema, particularly in abstract films where mise en scène may not give a clear indication of the film's artistic intent.


Example #2: mise en scène in Suspiria (1977)

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1. How does director Dario Argento use mise en scène to create an atmosphere of foreboding?

2. What does Suspiria's mise en scène have to do with the rest of the movie as a whole?

3. Why do some film directors choose to juxtapose their plots with seemingly unrelated settings?


Unit #3: Symbolism (Weeks 6-9)

This sub-unit will deal with recurring symbols and motifs, and how filmmakers utilize them to enhance the story.


Example #3: the "Gutterballs" dream sequence from The Big Lebowski (1998)

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1. Which symbols that occur throughout the movie are most prominent in this sequence?

2. How do the Coen brothers utilize them to illustrate the Dude's predicament?

3. What do you, as a viewer, think these symbols mean, and what implications does your interpretation have for the movie? (Note: this question is highly subjective and the answers will no doubt span the whole spectrum of opinion)


Unit #4: Adaptations (Weeks 10-12)

This sub-unit will deal with film adaptations of literary works, and students will be asked to read the source material BEFORE watching the adapted version.


Example #4: Lady Macbeth's compulsive hand-washing in "Macbeth" vs. the burn ointment in Scotland, PA (2001)

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1. How accurate is director Billy Morrissette's adaptation of the scene of Lady Macbeth's compulsive hand-washing, and does Pat McBeth accurately reflect Lady Macbeth's character?

2. Why do you think Morrissette chose to make a black comedy out of a consummate tragedy like "Macbeth"? Does it work? Why or why not?

3. Get together in groups of three or four and pick a genre of film, to which you will adapt "Macbeth".  Which genre did you pick, why, and how will you accomplish such an adaptation? (NOTE: students should pay special attention to setting and conflict, rather than just dialogue)


Unit #5: Making Films About Films (Weeks 13-14)

This sub-unit will ask students to examine why people make documentaries about other movies and the techniques they use to do so, and, using that knowledge, will create their own short film about another film that they have watched in class.


Example #5: the opening of Overnight (2003)

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1. What does this documentary reveal about writer/director Troy Duffy's personality?

2. What biases do the makers of the documentary bring to the table?  Do they overcome them?

3. If you were to make a movie about another movie, which would you choose?  Why?  What point will you try to make?  And what techniques that we learned in class will you use to accomplish this?



Using the concepts we learned in class, choose one of the following two options:


1) storyboard, write, and film a contemporary adaptation or retelling of a classic novel/story, play, film, etc.

2) write and film a documentary about one of the films we watched in class.


For Option #1, students are encouraged to be creative with their interpretations, and should apply class concepts like different shot techniques, creative use of sound/music, mise en scène, etc. during the filming process.


For Option #2, students should take a stance on the film they chose, and should pay special attention to the class concepts listed above in order to back up their view.

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