The Craft of Writing – Film Focus – Film and the Art of the Con
R1A 003 | CCN: 32143
James Stephan Boman
Location: Evans 31
Date and Time: TU, TH 11:00am - 12:29pm
Filmmakers have always depended on sleights of hand. Perhaps for this reason, film narratives have often centered on characters who are themselves skilled deceivers. This course will explore cinema's long-standing affinity for trickster figures of all stripes, including magicians, imposters, thieves, forgers, hustlers, and hoaxers. Central among these criminal types, though, will be the “con artist” or “confidence man” – that is, men and women who employ elaborate schemes to gain and exploit the confidence of their victim, thereby separating the “mark” from his or her money. The films we will consider exemplify diverse genres and span several decades of cinematic history. They also often display conflicting attitudes toward their central, criminal characters, sometimes depicting them as treacherous (if charismatic) villains, and other times portraying them as sympathetic folk heroes. And yet, these films are consistent in drawing the audience's attention to the sophistication, the artistry, of the games of confidence they present. Over the course of the semester, we will pay close attention to how these other deceptive arts are presented in film, and explore some ways to interpret the cultural and political meanings of these trickster figures and their exploits.
This course fulfills the first part of the Reading and Composition requirement. Students will learn to engage critically with visual and textual sources, and to write analytical, original papers with arguments supported by those sources. Students will base their writings on close readings of media objects. Because learning to write cannot be done outside of a context of reading, the developing of critical reading and re-reading skills is also a key objective that will be emphasized throughout the semester. To that end, students will read a variety of sources from a range of disciplines – from film criticism and cultural history to linguistics and criminology. They will gain experience contextualizing these sources and using them to form deeper understandings of narrative film texts, and to explore the course's central theme.