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American Melodrama: Papers                                                                                            

UPDATE as of 9:40 PM, December 26, 2000: If you have not submitted all six papers yet, you received an incomplete; if you can do so soon, I will change your grade. Please write me with the proposed date when you will complete the work for the course.

UPDATE as of 6:00 PM, December 21, 2000: Oops, once again I had email problems! My new Web host, supposedly reliable, bounced back emails sent to anyting at fredcamper.com, including p@fredcamper.com, from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning. Email seems to be working now, and the alternative email address I've provided, fc@enteract.com, has always worked. To be safe, you could continue to mail to both.

A number of people submitted papers due early in the semester only at the very end. Plus, I've had other work to do. I didn't want to submit the grades late, so here's what I've done:

If you submitted the fifth paper on time, or not too late, as well as the first four, and also submitted the final paper, I read your final paper quickly to make sure it was a "pass," and you got credit for the course. All the fifth papers submitted on time should have been returned with comments. Within the next week I'll read the final papers more thoroughly and return them with comments and grades as usual.

If your fifth or earlier papers were very late, but you submitted all of them, you got an "Incomplete" for now but will have it changed to credit in a week or so, assuming your papers are OK, once I've read and returned them.

If there's a problem, such as that I don't have one or more of your papers, I have sent you an email letting you know what it is, or will be doing so in a few days. If you don't get an email from me, there's most likely no problem, but feel free to write if you're concerned.

My apologies once again, and best holiday wishes to all.

The Flaxman Library has videos of the last three films shown in the class, Film About a Woman Who..., Sink or Swim, and The End.

I want to add that in a lot of cases the papers have been improving, and that's nice to see. I hope people are also benefiting from working on them.

Here are some sites that should be helpful when you are writing future papers; they are also explained below; please use them, or use a library!
The Encyclopedia Britannica
Film Techniques
The Internet Movie Database
TV Guide
The Library of Congress

Here are the biggest problems with the first two sets of papers:

1. Getting the title of the film you are writing about wrong, or spelling the name of the director of the film you are writing about wrong. If you have done the reading, you should be familiar with the film title and director's name; in any case, the screening list for this class has them right. I find this level of sloppiness totally unacceptable. You are sending these papers by email; the screening list, complete with director names, is on the Internet, and I think that your learning to show some minimal degree of care in such matters will serve you well in the long run. Starting with the fourth paper, I am going to insist that every paper have the name of the film you are writing about written correctly, and the name of the film's director spelled correctly. This is good training anyway; do you want to issue an artist's statement for your first show in which you misspell the names of artists who you name as influences? I have seen this done, and the artist who does it certainly loses a bit of credibility in my mind.

2. Not sticking to the assignment to discuss a particular stylistic element of the film and relate it to story or theme.

3. Not being specific enough.

4. Repeating examples and interpretations from the lectures or reading.

5. Getting technical terms, such as "depth of field," wrong. I searched for that phrase on the Encyclopedia Britannica site; the search produced an article on photography terms that included a good explanation of "depth of field."

I know that in a way this is a very difficult assignment; I'm asking you to think and see in ways you might not be accustomed to. Thus I've tried to be reasonable in grading. Basically if the paper did try to deal with the film intelligently, I took one grade off for not discussing style, so that an excellent character analysis might have gotten a "B" rather than "A," a pretty good one a "C" rather than "B." But I'm hoping that you'll be able to use your future papers to develop your ability to see filmic elements and interpret them on your own, and I'll be expecting that the last four papers will stick more closely to the assignment.

Here are some additional paper-writing tips.

BE CONCISE. A general introduction about melodrama, melodrama in old films, melodrama today, is not necessary, unless it's crucial to your specific points. Try to pick particular technical or stylistic elements, describe them, and discuss their effects and possible meaning in the film. Don't feel you need to account for the whole film. Plot synopses and the like are not necessary.

COMMON LANGUAGE ERRORS: DO spell-check and proofread your paper. The most common mistakes I've found are confusion of "its" and "it's" and "effect" and "affect." The latter two words have several meanings each; please look them up and keep the differences in mind. "It's" is short for "it is," while "its" is the possessive form. Similarly, I've seen a lot of confusion about when to use apostrophes: except for "its," possessive forms of a word generally get an apostrophe ("Mary's," "the character's" for something belonging to one character and "the characters'" for something belonging to many characters). I have found the Web sites Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster to be reasonably accurate for spellings and word definitions.

FORMATTING. Also try to use the names of the characters actors play in the film, rather than actor names: write "Martin" instead of "Jimmy Stewart." If you can't find the character name, "the Jimmy Stewart character" is an acceptable substitute. For the spelling of character and actor names, you can use The Internet Movie Database as a source. (Please keep in mind that the information on this site is not always correct; I would never use it to check on something that I was writing for publication. But for the purposes of this course, it will be considered accurate, and it is accurate most of the time.) Other sites you can use include TV Guide, The Library of Congress, and The Encyclopedia Britannica; all of these are more accurate.

Please leave double spaces between each paragraph, which I believe is good practice in general in email. Be sure to sign your paper with your name as it appears on school records, preferably at the bottom, separated from the last paragraph by a blank line.

SUBMITTING PAPERS: Do not send your paper as an attached file. Do not send html email. Please send your paper pasted into a plain text email window. If you don't know how to copy and paste your paper from your word processor, email me. My new email provider appears to be reliable, so you can send your papers to just one address, p@fredcamper.com, if you like. If you prefer, you're welcome to continue to email your paper to two email addresses at once: p@fredcamper.com and fc@enteract.com. In either case, be certain to keep a copy of your paper yourself.

Finally, here's the paper that I received that most closely fulfilled the assignment, posted anonymously but with the student's permission, with my comments in red. Note that it's concise, precise, cites the reading, and makes an original observation. It's also well-written. I especially like that the writer makes a good case for disagreeing with me:

Now that we have watched two Borzage films so far it is easy to see an obvious visual style. The soft focus and small depth of field have been described as his way of putting his characters into a sort of spatial floating. As John Belton put it the article you gave us to read in Hollywood Professionals "In Borzage's films, as suggested above, the space between characters-even those in a single frame-has no deterministic reality." Well for most of the shots I completely agree and for many of the others I'm a bit unsure but willing to accept it. There is one shot though that I can not agree that this theory applies. The shot is found in The Mortal Storm and the shot is when Mrs.Roth goes to visit the Professor Roth in the Camp. The shot begins just after she enters the camp and follows her, a tracking shot, past some people working in the camp. The shot consists of three levels specially, the background is filled with workers of the camp, the middle ground her walking through and the foreground is where we the audience lay. A barbwire fence that is evidently tall and inescapable separates each of the levels. Why I reject the idea of Borzage not wanting to show "no deterministic reality" is because where the audience is placed as a viewer on an obvious horror. Your last phrase, "is because where the audience is placed as a viewer on an obvious horror," doesn't make much sense. Try something like: "the viewer is made a participant in an obvious horror" or "the viewer is placed at the center of an obvious horror." Since we are on the other side of the fence we can be either two types of viewers. The first point of view is either from that of worker in the camp watching a free woman walk through the camp. The other view is from the side of freedom, beyond the gates, as a bystander. Both though are highly emotional connections and definitely place her in that horrific spot with a very determinate reality all around her.

This is really really good: you've taken an excerpt shown in class, and come up with a disagreement with some of the class materials (in this case the reading, but you could try disagreeing with the lecturer too), and your point is a good one, well-defended. A.

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