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Course Descriptions

GLS 561: Theatre and Cinema

Instructor: Todd Berliner

Aesthetic study of theatre and film and the relations between them. Examination of key texts in each medium, emphasizing rhetorical analyses of language, mise-en-scene, performance, cinematography, editing and other properties particular to dramatic art forms. Three seminar hours and two screening hours each week.

The primary focus of this course will be to study the distinctive ways in which the theater and the cinema work on their audiences. We will close analyze the rhetoric of several plays and movies, examining the ways in which language, visual images, and the other properties of these two dramatic forms (the stage, the moving image, mise-en-scene, cinematography, acting, etc.) persuade us, how they cause us to adopt perspectives, and the means by which they create intellectual and emotional experiences for their viewers.

These two media, which seem so similar, often work on us quite differently. Of course, both media have actors and sets, both are mostly narrative forms, and both tell their stories through performance. However, the cinema is largely a visual medium, whereas live theater more readily uses language. the cinema controls our point-of-view by seamlessly editing together successive shots (and perspectives), while theatergoers are forced to maintain a single point-of-view throughout a performance. Performances in the theatre vary from night to night, whereas movies, which are mechanically reproduced, can be repeated endlessly without variation. In the theater, the physical presence of the actor and conspicuousness of the artifice demand from audiences an act of imagination that movies normally perform for us. Moreover, the theater feels more like a communal experience--among audience members and even between the audience and the actors whereas movies tend to feel more solitary, as though one's personal fantasies are being enacted for one's own benefit.

As we consider these issues and closely examine the texts of the course, we will engage several aesthetic questions: Why do we like to experience art that is performed? What is the difference between being an audience to a movie and to a play? What is the difference between reading a literary work and experiencing it in dramatic form? What assumptions does a text make about the audience and what values does it impose? Why do people like to be manipulated by art and why to they find certain forms of manipulation entertaining, compelling, moving, disturbing, or valuable? We will ask these questions, and student papers and interests will provide others.

Since we will be discussing the shared experiences of the texts we are studying, seeing the films as a class will be an integral part of the course. Moreover--as I have done for several other courses I have taught at UNCW and elsewhere--I will arrange for students to see live performances of one or more plays. Going to the theater together will enable us to more accurately discuss the specific plays we see and theater in general, and it will give us common theatrical experiences on which to base our discussions.

We will study about twelve of the most successfully manipulative plays and movies made in the English language, including Othello, Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest, Equus, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Citizen Kane, The Searchers, Vertigo, Unforgiven and one or more locally performed plays. We will also read film and theater criticism and theory, and study scripts of the plays and movies.

Last Update: March 29, 2004


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