Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2023

  • The Craft of Writing – Film Focus – Animating the Shadow: Proto-Cinema, Early Film, and pre-Code Sexuality

    R1B 006 | CCN: 19926

    Tulasi Johnson

    Location: Dwinelle 189

    Date and Time: TU, TH 5:00pm - 6:29pm

    4 Units

    When we think of the advent of cinema, we might think of the dramatic, black-and-white, experimental silent films of the 1920s. If we’re looking even further back, we might recall Edweard Muybridge’s generative photographic “animal locomotion” studies, conducted at Stanford in the 1870s. This course invites us to explore the longer arc of experimental technologies that sought to animate the still image, and we will explore these technologies alongside the parallel history of public sexuality: how it was represented, forwarded, and constrained throughout the latter half of the long nineteenth century, in the United States and elsewhere. If we are to fully engage with the genesis of cinema, we must take into account a fuller range of representational conventions that were carried over from other mediums like photography and literature, advertising culture, and popular dramatic theatre. Specifically, in this class, we will explore the anxiety and delight that was prompted by the emergence of newly mobile young women (and others) as they stepped out into the ever-widening public sphere. Designed to entertain the masses, proto-cinema and early film simultaneously transmitted ideas about sexual mores and gender roles to this viewing public– eventually prompting the censorious regime of the 1932 Hays Code.

    Students will engage in a variety of reading and writing modalities throughout the course, with careful attention given to methods of visual and object analysis. We will explore a variety of themes, ranging from photography, stereography, proto-cinematic technologies like the kinetoscope, public spaces like the nickelodeon, and early films up to the 1932 Hays Code. Students should be prepared to engage deeply in film theory over the course of the semester, keep up with a range of diverse readings, and play active roles in verbal participation and discussion—all of which form the core parts of our class. From short-form reading responses to longer term papers, students will also be encouraged to develop a process-based writing practice that incorporates opportunities for revision and peer-review, with an emphasis on audience and genre, as we work towards research-driven, long-form writing projects that explore these fascinating histories of the moving image.