Hist 250: World History Through Film

Class Schedule:

  • Week 1: Jan. 12-18
    • Course Explanation
    • Lesson 1: Film History and "History Films"
    • Read: Rosenstone, Ch. 1 & 2
    • Discussion post 1 due Wednesday, Jan. 14 by 11:00 PM. Discussion 2 due Sunday, Jan. 18, at 11:00 PM
      • Discussion 1: Introduce yourself, including a list of two or three favorite history movies.
      • Discussion 2: Reply to another student with some questions or ideas about her or his list of movies.
    • Assignment #1: Paper #1: What is a "history film?" due Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 by 8:00 AM.
  • Week 2: Jan. 19-25 Film Vocabulary and Technique
    • Lesson 2: The Language of Films
    • Read: Corrigan, Ch. 3
    • Discussion post 1 due on Wed., Jan 21 @11:00 PM. Discussion 2 due Sunday, Jan. 25 @11:00 PM.
      • Discussion 1: Choose a single fram (not scene) from one of the history films on your list of favorites. Describe it using the terms we have learned. What kind of shot is it? What does that indicate in this frame? Describe the mise en scene, the lighting, the costumes, the clarity of the picture.
      • Discussion 2: Help another student with their interpretation of the frame they describe. From your point of view, what do the details they provided about the frame indicate in terms of meaning?
  • Week 3: Jan. 26- Feb. 2
    • The difference between "mainstream history" and "costume drama." Online lecture & quizzes.
    • Read Rosenstone Ch. 3; Corrigan Ch. 2
    • Watch one film from each of the following lists:
      • Mainstream History
        • Glory (1989 - Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman & Matthew Broderick)
        • Elizabeth (1998 - Cate Blanchett)
        • The Patriot (2000 - mel Gibson)
        • The Sorceress (1987)
      • Costume Drama
        • The Name of the Rose (1986 - Sean Connery)
        • Dangerous Liaisons (1988 - Glenn Close & John Malkovich)
        • Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012)
        • The Seventh Seal (1957 - Ingmar Bergman)
        • Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977 - George Lucas)
    • Read Corrigan, Ch. 1 & 2
    • Discussion post 1 due on Wednesday, Jan 28, by 11:00 PM. Post 2 due by Monday, Feb. 3 at 8:00 am.
      • Post 1: before seeing your film, choose any of the films in the list that you HAVE seen. Write three things that a viewer should expect from that film: what do you think are the most important features of the film? Who are the most important characters? The best characters? How are the sound and the production values.
      • Post 2: reply to the post of a another student regarding any of the films.
    • Due: Paper #1 (Due Monday, Jan. 26, by 8:00 AM); Discussion post #1, evaluating a single frame
    • Paper #2 Assignment: Compare mainstream history and Costume drama. Due Monday, Feb. 9.
  • Week 4: Feb. 2-8
    • Mainstream Drama: Evaluating a single film
    • Watch and take notes on one of the following films (this must not be one of he films you watched last week):
      • Glory (1989) starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, & Morgan Freeman
      • The Patriot (2000) starring Mel Gibson
      • The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) Dir. Luc Besson
      • Spartacus (1960) Dir. Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas
      • Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) starring Marlon Brando
      • Argo (2012) dir. Ben Affleck, Starring Ben Affleck
      • Asoka (2001) dir. Santosh Sivan
      • The Lion in Winter (1968) dir. Anthony Harvey
      • The Mission (1986) dir. Roland Joffe, starring Robert DeNiro
      • Lilly Marlene (1980)
      • The Return of Martine Guerre (19820
      • Gandhi (1982) starring Ben Kingsley
      • The Night of the Shooting Stars (1983)
      • Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
      • Schindler's List (1993)
      • Underground (1998)
      • Frida (2002)
      • Kinsey (2004)
      • Good Night and Good Luck (2005) dir. George Clooney
    • Lecture & quizzes on mainstream drama, character, and film technique
    • Discussion post #1 due on Wednesday 2/4 at 11:00 PM. Discussion post #2 due on Sunday, 2/8 11:00 PM.
      • post the rough draft of paper #2 here, then, for discussion #2, give a fellow student a critique of their draft based on the criterial provided by the instructor.
  • Week 5: Feb. 9-15

Film List & notes

The Name of the Rose
The Name of the Rose is essentially a mystery that could be set in any particular period of the Middle Ages. It can’t fit anywhere in time or place - it requires a monastery, a library, and Christianity to work. Still, in many ways it is a costume drama - it is not intended specifically to educate viewers about the Middle Ages, or about Catholic Monasteries in the Middle Ages, but one learns some about them in viewing the film. However, the opposite is true - the more one knows about these things before viewing the film, the better one understands and enjoys the film.

This is an excellent example of a successful historical film. While it does take liberties with “the truth,” these are taken in the spirit of showing the period of the American Civil War “as it was” - None of the characters are accurate representations of real people - though the Lieutenant around whom the film revolves is based on a real person. The key soldiers are archetypes, not even loosely based on real people. This film succeeds in giving a sense of “how it must have felt” to live in the period. It does so through the classic Hollywood vernacular of film - it tells a story as a narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end; the story is about individuals we get to know deeply (as opposed to the actual historical actors, who are, as Umberto Eco has said, ghosts we can never know in a complete or even satisfactory way); it is a story of a closed and completed past - the movie only weakly tries to suggest any continuing impact of the war on American society, culture, or race relations; it personalizes and dramatizes, and emotionalizes the past (the scene in which the white lieutenant and his most troubled black soldier are tossed into a mass grave together, ending up literally in each other’s arms, is moving, without making a historical commentary on the meaning of the war for our own times); the movie works hard to give the look of the past; finally, in the film, history occurs as a process, particularly a process of development of views on race and American values as all of the characters deal with their assumptions in the face of their existence in this war together, and come to find meaning in that.

Battleship Potemkin

Pan’s Labyrinth
This film can be best categorized as an “Innovative Drama” (Rosenstone, Ch. 4). The film takes place in a specific place and time - Spain during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. The protagonist is a young girl who is said to belong to the fairy kingdom, but to have gotten lost in the human world (a reference to childhood innocence?). The protagonist’s mother has married a commander in the fascist army of Franco - a brutal man who behaves patriarchally and expects his wife and new step daughter to behave submissively. The girl, though, is precocious and energetic. The film seems to be an exploration of the way in which a totalitarian ideology brutalizes the human spirit. There are few specific references to history, and the film does not follow the Hollywood codes: The film is told as a story, but it is a combination of two stories intertwining, with a beginning that is not clear; the only real individual in the story is the protagonist herself, and we are not sure about her - she also seems to be an archetype - a synechdochal reference to some condition of innocence or spirit that we can all access; the story is not a closed, completed past, but a kind of fantasy world that may or may not continue, but crosses into our world in this particular nexus; the film does personalize and dramatize, and emotionalize the experience of the girl, but as a more generalized human experience; There is very little look of the past - all looks new and contemporary; history is really not the main character, but a bit player - as subtext of the universalized experiences of the protagonist.

Film as opera. This movie takes the elements of a costume drama, and places within them some rather fictionalized elements of the life of Mozart. The conceit is that Mozart was, in a sort of psychologically thrilling way, murdered by the Italian Court Composer to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph. There is no historical evidence that this is the case, nor is there any clear evidence that Salieri even saw Mozart as a rival. The costume drama, though, provides a great stage to ask questions about genius and its recognition throughout human history. We are encouraged to empathize with the trials and successes of Mozart, to think of him by his first name, even his wife’s pet moniker for him - “Wolfie” - which we do not know for a fact that she used. Still, this drama does several things for us historically. It emphasizes the life of Mozart, and attempts to place him in some historical context. As far as the Hollywood Codes, it followes them all: It is a story, and it is the story of individuals (not the ghost Mozart, but the character Amadeus, his arch rival Salieri, and his put-upon but much loved wife Constanza - Stanzi); Mozart’s death and Salieri’s incarceration in an insane asylum close this chapter of history with finality, but with a personal note of great emotion and drama. The film is a costume drama par-excellence, accurately giving the look and feel of the past through sets, costumes, customs, and music; and finally, the film shows the story of Mozart’s genius as a kind of archetypal story of the un-appreciated genius - the god-child within all of us - and suggests that this is part of the human condition (this is really the historical part).

Grave of the Fireflies
**The Last Emperor**

List of Possible Films for “Whats In A Name?” Hist 250/Phil 100 LC
Costume Drama Historical Text Postmodern Historical Text
Name of the Rose Last Emperor Last Samurai?
Elizabeth Birth of A Nation The Little Buddha
Last Samurai Joan of Arc Battleship Potempkin
The Queen Kundun Big Fish
Birth of A Nation The Truman Show
The Legend of Ah Q Rashomon
Modern Times