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American Melodrama: Course Requirements and Information                                                    

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.

PLEASE read these requirements carefully. I know there's a lot of detail here; I'm trying to be as clear as possible, covering most contingencies, so we can get the requirements stuff out of the way and get on with the real reason for the course: viewing and discussing the films.

1. Attendance at all classes is required, from 6 PM to 9 PM inclusive. Attendance will be taken at varying times from week to week. School policy is that more than two absences result in a no credit for the entire course.

2. You are required to view the films seriously and in silence. Laughter is of course appropriate when the film is funny, and there will be some funny moments in some of these films, but none is primarily comic, and some are not comic at all. Laughing at an old film because of its odd or obnoxious social values or strange customs will prevent others from hearing the sound track, prevent you from really seeing the film as the historical object it is, and possibly short-circuit the real attention required for full appreciation.

3. Each week there will be some required reading related to the films screened. It is your option whether to do the reading before or after the class, but it should be completed within five days of the class that it applies to, and before any paper you may write on the relevant film. The first few weeks of this material has been given as handouts; the rest is available in the course packet, which can be purchased at the school bookstore on the second floor of the Champlain Building, except for a few films late in the course for which additional reading will be handed out.

4. Course work to be submitted consists entirely of six very short papers, each 200-300 words, to be submitted to the instructor by email, each on one of the films seen in the previous two weeks. (Occasionally Additional recommended films can be substituted as the subjects of papers.) Persons who are genuinely computer-phobic are welcome to request a special exemption by speaking with me individually, though I am also willing to spend a few moments to show you how to set up a Web-based email account and use a word processing program it's really not hard, and these are skills just about everyone should have. In any case, note that while papers are due by email by noon on Monday, anyone obtaining an exemption from emailed papers by speaking with me will be required to submit them by noon on Friday, to my mail box at 112 S. Michigan, Room 606.

I have placed comments and suggestions on paper writing based on those I have already received on the papers page. These papers should consist of your response to the film, and in particular to some visual or aural aspect (composition, camera movement, lighting, editing, or possibly use of sound though most of the Hollywood films don't make an especially creative use of sound, and for those you'd be well advised to stick to visual elements). You are encouraged to try to relate the technique chosen to the narrative or theme. This could be something very simple, such as rapid editing to indicate confusion, close-ups to express a character's isolation, an entrapping composition to suggest a character's present state, though the more interesting and original and well-argued your example, the better the paper. You should also try to relate your point to either the reading or lecture, if possible. A disagreement with a specific point made in the reading or lecture would be an excellent idea, if you can argue your disagreement carefully and well. Do not summarize the plot, or write about how you think such-and-such character should have acted differently in the film.

If you are basing your paper in part on someone else's writing, please cite the writing. Papers that are plagiarized will receive an "F."

You are required to keep a copy of your paper in some form until you receive it back from the instructor, just in case your email should go astray.

The idea behind these papers is to help you develop your ability to see films beyond the plot level. Thus simply repeating another's observations will not really be adequate.

Because these papers are short, and because there is only a small amount of required reading, I ask that the papers show genuine thought and effort. Try to produce well-written work, be sure to revise and proofread (and spell-check!) them. I will most certainly consider the quality of the writing in evaluating and grading the paper, as clear writing and clear thinking are, in my view, connected.

Each paper will be graded A, B, C, D, or F. I will calculate your final letter grade by averaging your grades on the papers (A=4, B=3, down to F=0). If you are taking the course on a credit/no credit basis, you will not receive a final letter grade, but school policy is that you have to do "C" or better work to get credit. A late paper will be bumped down one grade; a paper more than a week late, two grades; another grade will be deducted for each additional week late. . (For example, if you write 7 "A" papers but submit six of them two weeks late and one of them three weeks late you'll get no credit for the whole course, because your actual grades will be six Cs and one D, an average a little below C.) Further, no papers except the final one will be accepted after December 11, and no incompletes will be given. Important: No final papers can be accepted after noon on December 18, as the grades are due the text day. The only exceptions made to any of the above will be in cases of a genuine medical problem or very serious personal emergency, and those will be made at the instructor's discretion.

The papers should be submitted by email (as plain text, not attached files) to p@fredcamper.com. If you like, you can send a copy to fc@enteract.com. The "Submit Papers" tabs at the bottom of these course pages should be set up to address an email to both address when you click on them, at least with most computers. Any other communications about this course should be directed to m@fredcamper.com. I check my email often and would greatly prefer that you send any questions by email rather than attempting to phone me. he Teaching Assistant for the course is Cheryl Park.

Papers are due at on Mondays at noon. Here is the schedule according to which papers are due, beginning with the due date and followed by the films that you can write a paper on for that week (except note the outside-the-course films permitted as posted):
1. Monday, October 2: The Drunkard's Reformation or Sunrise or Man's Castle or Stella Dallas or The Mortal Storm.
2. Monday, October 16: The Women or Letter From an Unknown Woman.
3. Monday, October 30: Rebel Without a Cause or Bigger Than Life.
4. Monday, November 13: Some Came Running or All That Heaven Allows.
5. Monday, December 4: Written on the Wind or Clara's Heart.
6. Monday, December 18: Film About a Woman Who... or Sink or Swim or The End.


1. Additional readings on most of the films will be placed on reserve at the John Flaxman library.

2. The films in the class will be prescreened, usually on Monday mornings, unless the print has not arrived in time. Check the Recommended Additional Screenings page for information on these pre-screenings, including the planned date and time and whether the print has arrived. Wait until you see the information posted that the print has arrived before planning to come to the screening. To write the best possible paper, you should try to see the film twice. Seeing the film a second time on video is, in my view, not nearly as good, but it can help, and many of the films in this course can be found on video. Seeing it only on video (thereby missing the class) is completely inadequate for example, after 1953 video copies will chop the sides off of the image. I present my own views on the problem of viewing films on video in an article, "The Trouble With Video."

3. From time to time I'll be recommending other films playing in the Chicago area that are related to this course.

4. If there is sufficient interest, we will schedule occasional discussion sections scattered during the semester. I am willing to lead a few, and the Teaching Assistant for the course, Cheryl Park, is willing to lead a few. These will be entirely optional, but would allow for better interaction, for you to query us or respond to the course, than is possible in a large lecture.

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