AU’s English 373 ? Film and Literature was written by Monique Tschofen. Marie Well had a chance to talk to one of the courses? tutors, Dr. Vivian Zenari, about the course.
What is the name of the course you teach?
Vivian: English 373 Film and Literature
What is the course about?
Vivian: It’s a comparative course, I guess. It’s the examination of literature as it relates to film. Some of the assigned readings are films and some are like a novel or play or story and the discussion of the theory between film and literature.
Can you tell us a bit about the theory?
Vivian: It’s a combination of literary theory and film theory. So, in this course you learn a little of both. It’s actually quite theoretically oriented, so some of the terminology includes postmodernism, modernism, realism–that kind of thing.
When was this course created? When was the last update of the course? Of the learning materials?
Vivian: Well, the course was created as it stands now in 2000, so It’s quite an old course. It’s been moved to Moodle. There were some minor changes to it, but actually It’s pretty much the same as it was when it was created in 2000.
If It’s an e-text course, have they heard of any issues with the e-text that students might want to be prepared for?
Vivian: There aren’t any in this course. The closest thing to an e-text are PDF files to reproduce the student manual–the print materials. A student would get a box with a big stack of paper in it, so a big reading file. There’s a student manual and a study guide. Then there’s the primary texts: the films and the books.
You get a book and a stack of paper, really.
About how many students take this course, on average?
Vivan: Right now there’s 24, and That’s about the average size.
What kind of learning style is it? For instance, is it very open ended or does it give fairly detailed instructions?
Vivian: It’s pretty detailed. The study manual is broken down into chapters and there is a theoretical discussion at the beginning of each chapter and then assigned readings and questions that you can answer for each of the assigned readings. There are a lot of assigned readings. The theoretical materials… I counted: there’s 23. They are not easy. The text kind of guides you along. It tells you when and what to read. It’s pretty structured.
So why is the material hard? Is it very abstract?
What part or concept in the course have they seen students have the most trouble with?
Vivian: Some people are not prepared for the theoretical aspect. I think a lot of students take it because they think it is going to be fun and easy, and I think It’s fun, but It’s not easy.
What’s a good way for students to deal with the more troublesome parts?
Vivian: I think It’s really kind of an attitude more than anything. There’s a lot of people who’ve been writing on the subject for a long time. Part of what you have to do is try to understand these thinkers even if you don’t agree with them. Once you understand what they have to say, then to decide at that point whether you think what they have to say is worthwhile.
It’s a two stage process: understanding them and being willing to understand them. Some people are shocked at the assigned readings. If your attitude is that you are going to do welland you want to learn what these people have to say, then I think it’ll be okay. You have to kind of psyche yourself up for that.
How do you think students can manage the readings well?
Vivian: Sometimes students don’t do all the assigned readings. I can see why because there are so many of them, and they are not easy. There are study guide questions that kind of direct you towards what to focus on when you read them. So, the study guide questions are actually important to help you get through the readings.
Are the assignments fairly similar in the amount of work required, or are some of them much larger?
Vivian: There are two essays. One of them is slightly longer than the other. But, frankly I think It’s the same even though we write more for one of them. The overall work that goes into them is probably the same.
Is there a part of the course they’ve heard students really enjoy? What is it?
Vivian: I don’t know. People who are interested in film and literature for their own sake, I think they, like me, are intrigued about learning about some of the theories and even the history of film in particular. Those people I think will be satisfied with that.
If there’s exams, what are they like? Is it a couple of essays? Short answer questions? Multiple choice?
Vivian: It’s one final exam. Part one is short answer. Part two is an essay. It’s cumulative.
Is there some part of it they think might need to be looked at in the next update?
Vivian: All of it. It’s an old course. Things have changed especially with technology and film and that needs to be reflected in the course. Some of the texts have gone out of print. Publishers never tell us when they are taking texts out of print. I believe It’s underway.
What would you change to make the course even better if you could?
Vivian: Helping smooth over some students who are not used to this kind of theoretical reading and maybe aren’t aware of the breadth of materials that are out there in terms of film and literature. There’s no Seth Rogen movies here. Just kind of help students orient themselves to the theoretical orientation of the course.
Do you watch movies in the course? If so, which ones?
Vivian: We have a movie called Smoke, which is by Wayne Wang and Paul Auster… a film by MayaDeren who does short films. We’ve got a movie called Vanya on 42nd Street… a movie called Orlando. You are supposed to watch all of them.
What kind of things do you want to look out for when you watch the movies?
Vivian: You should probably watch them more than once. Since you are watching these for the course, you should then look at the study guide, look at what the study guide has to say about the texts. The study guide kind of controls the philosophy of how to look at the texts and the films.
It does help to have some knowledge of film. Frankly, I think most people do at this point in their lives… they’ve seen films and they kind of know what kinds of things can happen. Let the study guide help you.
When you say philosophy in films, what do you mean?
Vivian: The philosophy of the course with respect to the film, so the study guide is kind of its own creation, I guess. The writer of the course has a certain attitude toward the assigned readings and the kind of things the course asks you to think about. It reflects a kind of philosophy. I mentioned there is a theoretical orientation. So, That’s what I mean by philosophy.
In your opinion, do you think this course is a harder one or an easier one than the average at AU?
Vivian: I think It’s hard.
Can you name one of the theories?
Vivian: I guess for this course, there’s postmodernism. Some people are familiar with that theory. There are some texts that are postmodern, and some people aren’t used to those texts. They might be shocked by it.
So does the course talk about things like film angles?
Vivian: There is some of that in the course, yes.
What else? How film conveys meaning, I suppose?
Vivian: Yes, so postmodernism, for example, reflects kind of a world view that sees that it is difficult to come to terms with the world in a way that there is kind of a universal. Postmodernism says that there are no rules in the world, that people kind of invent them. Society is socially constructed. So, we make the world make sense to us. Some filmmakers, therefore, will try to remind you that the texts are invented by somebody. A lot of people, when they watch a film or read a book, they like the idea of being told that these things are natural or happened in the world. Postmodernists want to make sure that you are aware that somebody made the film, wrote the book, and they will draw your attention to that in kind of shocking ways.
Some films do that and some don’t?
So some films follow a theoretical framework. Do you look at films that don’t follow a theoretical framework?
Vivian: No. That’s why It’s hard. There aren’t very many kind of straight Hollywood films. I’m trying to think of an example that people would know. The film with Michael Keaton two years ago, Birdman, won the Oscar for best picture. A lot of people didn’t like that film because they thought it was really strange. Well, That’s kind of what you are looking at in this course. That’s the kind of thing you should expect to wrap your head around.
So, you are looking at theoretical art?
Vivian: Yes. It’s very much an art-centered course, so being aware of the theoretical nature of art, those kind of big questions, is kind of what you have to do in this course.
What kind of personality type or talent is required to succeed at this course?
Vivian: I think it kind of helps if you are sympathetic to creativity and imagination. If you want to learn about new things that are off the beaten track or are a little harder than what you are used to in life… So, curiosity is good. You also have to read a lot, actually. Some people maybe don’t think of that… they take a course that has the word film in it… but we are actually doing a lot of reading in this course. That’s something you have to want to do.
Do you read theory in the course?
Vivian: Yes. Theory. There’s a novel and a play and a short story. There’s some of that in there, a couple of novels, actually. That’s the easy stuff. If you like reading, That’s good.
Can you tell us some of the theories that you look at?
Vivian: There’s Sergei Eisenstein. He did a lot of films that you would now consider a little avant-garde. He was interested in how images can be used to show how life doesn’t go on in a straightforward way. He’s using images almost as symbols. Once you’ve got a writer like that commenting on film, you are going to see how the image is very important. You can read images like the same way you can read books.
Spatial relationships between people and things like that?
Vivian: Yes. That is part of it, for sure.
Does this course qualify for any certificates or diplomas?
Vivian: You can use it towards a degree. I don’t think It’s a required course for anything. People often take it because they need 300-level credit.