RTF 313-2, Spring 2004, MW 1-3. Louis 119
TA: Shannon Gore
Permission of instructor. Prerequisite 313-1 (Doc. History) may be waived for some students.
The usual discussion of documentary stresses the social documentary tradition. But in recent years many new kinds of documentary have proliferated, and the documentary mode has been redefined. This course will look at a wide range of contemporary documentary forms, ranging from successful theatrical documentaries such as Bowling for Columbine and Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control to reality TV such as Court TV and the Food Network. Often PBS documentary has been eclipsed in topic, boldness. and quality by HBO. At the same time, the TV networks increasingly go for sensationalism over investigation. The World Wide Web is a new site of documentary activity, and a revival of radio and audio documentary (with This American Life and other shows) has redefined the mode.
We will look at examples of new forms such as HBO’s Real Sex series and Taxicab Confessions, sensational forms such as Cops, grassroots forms such as community work, personal and autobiographical documentaries, the revival of story telling forms, and comic and fake documentaries. Throughout we will be investigating how the traditional concerns of documentary theory such as realism, authenticity, and commitment to public discourse have been redefined in contemporary times.
An important issue will be considering the voice of documentary, that is the rhetoric and discourse of the mode and how it has changed. We will interrogate what contemporary documentary discourse is, what its basic assumptions and styles are, and what that says about our own times.
All students will participate in Course Management System (Blackboard) assignments. (Details below.) A longer project will be due for the final. In some (rare) cases, creative work such as a video may be submitted, usually with a written explanation or context. However, most people will write a research or critical paper based on a menu of topics. Grad students are expected to do a 12-20 page paper, which can be customized to their special interests or research area. For example, the economics of reality TV could be examined by looking at a TV show or channel, or the relation of specific films related to a social or political movement could be considered. There will be no late papers/projects. A final exam will be given during exam week to catch any stragglers; the highest grade that anyone taking the final in-class exam can get is a B (and that would be only if all other work in the course was an A). In other words, it’s a good idea to get your final paper/project in on time and not use the default exam.
Mon Mar 29
Who is speaking? 1. the personal story.
Documentary Time 1.
Wed Mar 31
Documentary Spectacle and Narration
Mon April 5
Wed April 7
CMS assignment--discussion of Bowling for Columbine due Saturday 5 pm.
Mon April 12
Michael Moore, 2--student panel
personal experimental/expository documentary
Wed April 14
An American Love Story (selection) (Jennifer Fox, 9hrs. 50 min. (?) PBS. 1999)
Mon April 19
Wed April 21
Mon April 26
COPS: Too Hot for TV (excerpt) Fox Television show, 1996
CMS assignment on documentary ethics
Wed April 28
Mon May 3
Wed May 5
Mon May 10
Wed May 12
Mon May 17
Wed May 19
Mon May 24
Wed May 26
Mon May 31
Wed June 2
Thursday June 10, 9 am.
all final papers and projects due...no incompletes, no extensions. If you do not have your paper ready at 9 am, you MUST take the final exam: 9 am Louis 119.
SHORT PAPER ASSIGNMENTS for CMS
1. due Sunday April 4, 5 pm. A short (500 word) report on a radio/audio documentary or an outside (off-campus) screening (undergrads must clear their choice with Shannon Gore beforehand). You can find various episodes of This American Life on their website; other choices can be found by the Third Coast Festival website. WBEZ’s home page can direct you to Chicago Matters programs on the web. Off campus screenings can include the Gene Siskel Film Center (downtown Chicago), Chicago Filmmakers (northside), the Chicago International Documentary Festival (various locations), IMAX theatres (Navy Pier, Museum of Science and Industry), etc.
2. due Saturday April 10, 5 pm. A short (500 word) discussion of some aspect of Bowling for Columbine.
People who participate in the Monday April 12 student panel on Michael Moore will have that count for two (2) short paper assignments.
3. due Tuesday April 27, 5 pm. A short discussion of documentary ethics, reflecting on Good Woman of Bangkok and Saddle Sores. Or an outside screening.
4. due Sunday May 9, 5 p.m. A short discussion of documentary ethics, reflecting on Capturing the Friedmans. Or an outside screening.
5. due Sunday May 24, 5 pm. A discussion of documentary and activism.
Student panel on Moore with an emphasis on Bowling for Columbine (one hour)
The panel will do its research by dividing things up into areas and assigning sections. A suggested division might be: Moore’s bio, his personality, controversies surrounding him, his writings, the critical reaction to Moore (pro and con). The other students will be contributing comments by Saturday April 10, 5 pm. The panelists should incorporate those ideas into their own presentations. Work on this panel counts for TWO CMS assignments.
resources for audio documentaries and outside screenings
Useful video/DVD rental
CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL
THIRD COAST FESTIVAL
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
LOST AND FOUND SOUND
This class is designed to give you the experience of looking at a wide variety of films/videos. Readings must be completed prior to lecture on the days indicated. My assumption is that you can understand the readings and their relation to the screenings, lecture and discussion on your own. Therefore, do not be deceived about their importance. They are essential background, even though we do not directly discuss them in class most of the time.. You should expect to read the material very closely and to outline its major points. This may involve reading the assignment more than once. It is crucial for success in the course to keep up with the reading and attend all of the lectures and screenings.
In all cases the screenings are “critical” screenings which may involve my making comments or pointing out details during the viewing. My assumption is that you are a media professional-in-training and are totally capable of thinking on several levels at once: experiential and critical.
You are allowed only two unexcused absences. On the third unexcused absence, you will receive an F on the attendance portion of y our grade, and the fourth unexcused absence will result in a further reduction of the final grade.
Undergrad grading is determined as follows:
1. attendance and participation (15 %)
Grad grading. Grad students are required to have a short meeting with the prof during the second week of class to set up an individual plan of additional screenings and readings (about one per week) and develop an essay or notes on a topic or specific film covered in the course. This essay is to be written as an informative piece for an undergraduate audience.
1. attendance and participation (10 %)
A note on grading
Your grade on the written exercises, class presentations, and final paper will be based on your ability to integrate many of the issues discussed in class and the readings and screenings into an effective, coherent, well-written, and well-organized essay. The purpose of the CMS assignments and final paper is to spur you to make connections between films and reading that t may not have been explicitly made during class discussions. Thus, a mere reiteration of what I or the writers have said will not by itself be an effective use of the essay exam or term paper format.
A An “A” paper or exam represents effort far beyond the basic requirements of the course and is characterized by a bold and original thesis which the student supports with a range of examples from the films and readings. The “A” essay is flawlessly, even elegantly written. These essays are quite rare.
B A “B” essay demonstrates an informed familiarity with all of the films and relevant readings and employs examples effectively to support the central thesis of the piece. The writing should be forceful and effective with many previously hidden connections between the films and readings brought to light.
C A “C” effort represents a coherent and effective reiteration of relevant material from the lectures and discussions accented by an effective use of reading where appropriate. The writing is functional and effective with minimal problems in diction, grammar and mechanics. The great majority of undergraduate essays usually fall within this range.
D A “D” is characterized by minimal engagement with the most important topics from lecture and some use of the most obvious material for the readings. Often, a “C” essay in terms of content is lowered to a “D” because of significant problems with effective writing. In terms of content, the “D” effort often results from a desperate last-minute effort to engage with readings and/or films that the student has not seen or read or from significant absence from class discussion.
F An “F” essay possesses none, or at least very few, of the redeeming characteristics listed above. Typically, these are even more rare than the “A’s.”
All provisions of the School of Communications and Northwestern University codes and procedures for academic honesty are enforced.
Student Conduct in School of Communications Courses
Statement for Students with Disabilities
Be aware: Some of the films shown in this course affront established mainstream values: aesthetic, social, political, moral, religious, etc. Some films contain (among other things) representations of nudity, violence, sexual activity (including prostitution and various perversions), illegal drug use, racial stereotyping, violence against children, reports of child sexual abuse, blasphemy, violence against birds, as well as mocking of political figures, official government policy, Christianity, normative heterosexuality, and patriarchal values.
A note on terms: “Reality TV” has become a very broadly used term recently covering just about anything which involves the possibility of unexpected outcomes, Thus game and contest shows such as Survivor, The Apprentice, and Fear Factor end up in the category. For efficiency in this course we will set those aside, along with journalistic news shows and talk shows. But we will include shows which include unscripted (but often foreseeable) events such as Real Life, Jackass, Cops, and dramatic reconstructions such as Cold Case Files, Unsolved Mysteries, and interview-heavy location reports such as Real Sex. Docudramas and drama-docs (UK term) are included as are mockumentaries.
(go to long and short paper assignments)