Comm 140 students: Click here to discover the film you'll be writing about and your paper's due date.

Communication 140
Fall, 2017
Course e-mail address: comm140-norden(at)

Prof. Marty Norden
N320 Integrative Learning Center, 413-545-0598
Office hours: 11:00-1:00 TTh and by appointment

Teaching Assistants:

To leave a phone message for either T.A., please call the Department of Communication's main office at 413-545-1311.

This course is designed to provide an introduction to the nature and functions of film in its narrative, documentary, and experimental forms. We will look at the various components of film expression (composition, movement, editing, sound, production design, acting), developments in screen narrative, film's relationship to other arts and media, and its role as an instrument of social expression.

The lecture period at 2:30-3:45 on Tuesday in S240 Integrative Learning Center will be followed by a screening session (listed as lab) at 4:00-6:00 in the same auditorium. The lecture period on Thursday, also at 2:30-3:45 in S240 ILC, will contain discussion and writing components.

The course's lecture periods and film screening periods are no places for texting, Facebooking, and other activities unrelated to our class. Out of consideration for me, the Teaching Assistants, and your fellow students, please do NOT engage in these distracting activities during our class periods. If the T.A.s or I discover that you are doing so, you will be asked to "cease and desist" or leave the auditorium. Also, please make sure that your phone is turned off before class begins. We look forward to your continuing cooperation on these points throughout the semester.


  • Stephen Prince, Movies and Meaning: An Introduction to Film, 6th edition. Boston: Pearson, 2013.

The required reading for this class includes a short journal article titled "All That Glitters: City of Gold Revisited," a book chapter titled "The Documentary Film", and a brief Wikipedia article on Experimental Film. To access these documents, simply click on the links in this paragraph or in the "READING(S)" column below.

Each reading assignment noted below should be completed before class on the indicated date to correlate with that week's lecture material and film(s), and to facilitate discussion. Additional topics and readings may be assigned at a later date. The Glossary that starts on p. 478 of the Prince text will be helpful to you at various points in the semester.

All film titles listed below on our syllabus are active hyperlinks. If you would like more information on any film, simply click on the appropriate link. It will take you to the corresponding entry at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for that film.



Sep. 5-7    Course intro	Living in Oblivion (1995)	Chap. 10, 1

Sep. 12-14  Cinematography	Seconds (1966)			Chap. 2

Sep. 19-21  Production design	Citizen Kane (1941)             Chap. 3

Sep. 26-28  Acting              Doubt (2008)     		Chap. 4
Oct. 3-5    Editing I		Rear Window (1954)		Chap. 5


Oct. 12     Editing II

Oct. 17-19  Sound		The Conversation (1974)  	Chap. 6

    ****NOTE: A MIDTERM EXAM IS SCHEDULED FOR TUES., OCT. 24 @ 2:30-3:45 P.M.****

Oct. 24-26  Film storytelling   Collateral (2004)		Pp. 213-41

Oct. 31-Nov. 2  Genre patterns	Moulin Rouge (2001)		Pp. 241-70

Nov. 7-9    Documentaries I 	City of Gold (1957)		"All That Glitters"
				High School (1968)       	"Documentary Film"

Nov. 14-16  Documentaries II    Oil & Water (2014)		Pp. 318-29


Nov. 28-30  Screen realities	Waltz with Bashir (2008)	Chap. 8,
								Pp. 308-18, 330-61

Dec. 5-7    Experimental film   [To be announced]		"Experimental Film"

Dec. 12     Film theories	No God, No Master (2013)	Chap. 11
Changes in the above schedule may arise with the addition or substitution of other films. In addition, we plan to show numerous excerpts from other films throughout the semester to help illustrate the readings and lecture material.


Two tests will be given in this course: a midterm exam, scheduled for Tues., Oct. 24 during our usual 2:30-3:45 class period in S240 ILC; and a final exam. The final will only cover material studied since the midterm. The format of the exams will be discussed in class at a later date. Each test will be worth approximately 25% of your final grade. Make-up exams will not be given except through special arrangement made in advance with me.

One formal paper is required for this course. It will be worth approximately 25% of your final grade and will focus on a film screened in our class. Click here to discover the film that you'll be writing about and your paper's due date. Your paper will be due at the beginning of class on the listed due date. Your paper MUST follow one of the three following forms:

1. A close analysis of some aspect of the film's style or technique. Analyze how the film uses a specific cinematic element or combination of elements to create meaning or an emotional effect. For example, you may want to examine a film's use of black-and-white cinematography, or the camera's perspective and movement, or sound, or editing (or some combination thereof) as it relates to a film's exposition and narrative progression. Think about what central idea or ideas the film may be attempting to communicate and how certain elements or techniques are being used to achieve that communication. Consider the relationship between what the film says (its content) and how the film says it (its form). Also, think about how the film's narrative structure might work to create meaning or make you as a viewer respond or react in a certain way. Suggest by your analysis how well or poorly the filmmakers employed the stylistic element or technique. This does not necessarily have to be a library/web research paper (though you may find outside research helpful), but if you use research sources -- newspaper and magazine articles, books on the filmmakers involved, websites, etc. -- they should be appropriately cited.


2. A critical essay that examines the ways that the film functions as a social document. Evidence and arguments may be drawn from a variety of sources. To make a point, you may want to refer to the film itself and tie it in with historical research, personal experience, and articles from film journals. Be creative, but remember to give specific examples in support of your arguments. Please consider the following questions: In what respect does the film serve as a socio-cultural artifact? In other words, what does the film tell us about the filmmakers' conception of the socio-cultural setting in which the film was made? (This setting is not necessarily the same thing as the time-period depicted in the film.) Given the prevailing social attitudes, preoccupations, and restraints of the time, how effectively does the film you have chosen reflect or attack the society and culture from which it emerged? Appropriate citations are a must.


3. A study of the evolving critical response to the film. How did movie critics react to the film when it first appeared? How did their responses change over time? What do they think of it today? What were the key arguments that they made about the film? Which arguments do you agree with (and don't agree with), and why? As a part of your discussions, please offer evidence-based speculations on possible reasons for the shift in critics' views on the film over the years. You must draw upon at least five reviews for this approach, and they should ideally be spread out over a number of years. To get you started, I'd recommend that you avail yourself of our library's many online and print-based resources. A good place to start would be the library's bundled online collection of historical newspapers. (You'll need to type in your UMass NetID and password to access this collection.) The "External Reviews" section of your film's IMDb listing should be helpful, too. As with Approach #2, proper citations are required for this project.

No matter which approach you take, your paper should follow a "purpose/evidence/conclusion" structure and include a thesis statement. Your thesis statement, which should appear no later than your paper's second paragraph, will guide your write-up of the results of your investigation into the film.

The paper should be from five to six pages in length and must be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. Please do NOT rely solely on web-based materials for your paper's sources; the web should stand alongside the library as a resource, not replace it. As a general rule, no more than half of your sources should be materials that originally appeared on the web. Please note that you MUST include citations (either endnotes or MLA-style parenthetical cites) within the text of your paper; a bibliography alone will not be enough. I as the reader of your paper should not have to guess where your sources leave off and your own observations begin. Please follow this general guideline whenever you present a point of information in your paper: if it is not your own observation and is not general knowledge, you should provide a citation for it. This guideline applies not only to direct quotations but also paraphrased material -- i.e., you should give a citation if you put someone else's observations into your own words.

If you have never written a paper about a film before (or even if you have), I recommend that you look over Timothy Corrigan's excellent A Short Guide to Writing About Film. Various editions of this book are available in all of the Five College libraries. I also suggest that you read "Writing a Critical Paper" on pp. 472-475 of the Prince textbook. Finally, I recommend that you make and keep a copy of the paper (whether a photocopy, a computer print-out, or an electronic document stored on a hard drive) until you receive the original back from me.

Do not e-mail me your paper under any circumstances. Submit a hard copy only, please.

As noted above, your paper will be due two weeks after the movie's screening. I will notify you of the specific due date once I have assigned a film to each student in our class. I will accept late papers but for reduced credit and only if you have made arrangements with me in advance.

None of the three approaches I've listed above requires my prior approval; just choose whichever one you'd prefer and go with it. However, if you would like to follow an approach that differs from what I've described above or prepare an alternative project that's related to the film I've assigned to you (e.g., a self-designed website about that film, a short video that analyzes part of the film), you MUST clear it with me before you begin. Please e-mail me at norden(at) or visit me during my office hours, and we'll discuss it.

Beginning on Sep. 14, you will be required to submit a brief (approximately 1-to-3 paragraph) essay written in class each Thursday. You will write this essay in response to one or two questions that I will pose on the film that we have just seen and discussed. This series of weekly writing projects is designed to allow you to articulate your views, if in a highly abbreviated way, on each major film that we see. (It will also function as a once-a-week attendance monitor.) We will set aside the last fifteen minutes or so of each Thursday period to allow you to work on this assignment. Please submit your essay directly to a Teaching Assistant (one will be assigned to you shortly) before you leave class on Thursday. Each of these very brief weekly papers will receive a mark ("+" for very good, a check mark for average, "-" for sub-par, or some similar scheme) and together will account for approximately 25% of your final grade. Importantly, they will also help prepare you for the two tests and the paper.

Please be forewarned that I have a near-pathological aversion to handing out "incompletes." I will give such non-grades only under the most extreme of circumstances (such as illness or your own death) and even then grudgingly. Otherwise, any missing work will be averaged into the final grade.

Please contact me if you have any questions about our course requirements.