Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2021

  • The Craft of Writing 2 – Film Focus / Whose Poor Taste? Creating and Contesting Values on Screen

    R1B - 002 | CCN: 31233 | 31240

    Lida Zeitlin-Wu, Caleb Murray-Bozeman

    4 Units

    *This course will be taught via Remote-Synchronous instruction.

    Lecture: TuTh 11-12:30pm; Screening: Th 5-8pm

    When Tommy Wiseau’s low-budget independent drama The Room debuted in 2003, critics lampooned it as “one of the worst movies ever made.” Since its release, The Room has been dubbed “so fantastically inept as to border on genius” and “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” drawing a cult following and screening nightly on the midnight movie circut. Yet, is a film whose perceived flaws are so revered really inferior? What accounts for our aesthetic judgements, and what are their cultural, political, and ideological implications? How have the notions of “good” and “bad” taste been used to uphold class, race, and gender-based hierarchies?

    In this course, we will consider the ways in which tastes shape–and are shaped by–the media we consume. We will look at different media forms ranging from silent film to cult television shows to digital media. In the 1930s, critics blamed cinema for its role in forming the tastes of a new consumer culture that contributed to the rise of fascism. Elsewhere, filmmakers have created movies whose “poor taste” was meant to subvert normative aesthetics, while fans appropriate movies and characters to reimagine the worlds on screen according to their own preferences. More recently, articles with titles like “Algorithms Have Taken our Personal Tastes Hostage” and “How Spotify, Netflix and Amazon control your online habits” have proliferated, indicating widespread anxieties about the power of mass-produced entertainment to shape our individual inclinations. 

    As a Reading and Composition course, this class asks you to reconsider the way you see and interpret moving images, and to then translate this interpretive process into writing. Throughout the semester, we will practice closely observing and noticing the ways in which films create meaning through style and form. By the end of the course, you should be able to identify various audio, visual, and other formal techniques and analyze their use; draw connections among our readings and case studies; conduct relevant research; create your own original arguments that address the larger questions of the course; and strengthen your writing by incorporating feedback from your classmates and instructors. This will help prepare you not only for writing across the humanities, but also for critically engaging with the media you encounter every day.