Monday, August 19, 2013

Professor Davisson's Film Studies Course - Final Exam

Professor Davisson's Non-Existent Hypothetically Radical Film Studies Course 
Final Examination


Choose two of the following seven questions. (NB: choose wisely, and you may be granted immortality. Choose poorly, and an old man may frown at you as you age rapidly and crumble into dust. I will probably sympathize more with the old man than with you.) Answer both of your choices in an essay of no less than 451 words and no more than 2001.

Essays will be graded based on the depth of your knowledge of the films involved, the strength and originality of your arguments, and the number of movies to which you make reference in order to support your claims and make your response fun to read. Puns are encouraged. Note that more than three Star Wars references will not be counted in your favor, and more than a dozen will start to actively hurt your score. Note also that you may reference Dead Man, Stalker, and any of the films of Hayao Miyazaki as many times as you wish, though an essay composed solely of allusions to these films will almost certainly receive a zero. I may tape a copy on my wall though, so that's something.

Return your responses to me by 5pm Saturday, either by email or to my inbox at my office. Bonus points for anyone who delivers a final exam by owl, hobbit, or Kiki's Delivery Service, especially if live John Williams/Howard Shore/Joe Hisaishi music is somehow made to coincide with said delivery.

Essay Questions:

1. Watch To Kill A Mockingbird. What parts did you get choked up or cry at? (If you experienced no such emotions, consider writing an essay titled "What's Wrong With Me?" Note that this essay will not be counted toward your score, but will nonetheless probably be good for the state of your soul.) How did director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula use the tools at their disposal to provoke a strong emotional reaction from their audience? Would they have been more able to do so given more modern tools, or would these have hindered their aims in some way?

2. We all know Han shot first, but what if Greedo had killed Han and taken his place in the plot of Star Wars? Explore the consequences of having a central character (besides Chewbacca) who speaks exclusively in a non-Basic language, and discuss whether Greedo and Chewie would ever have been able to mend their differences and work together for the good of the galaxy. (Note that indefinite Star Wars references may be employed in this essay without incurring the penalty mentioned in the instructions.)

3. Sketch a survey of the career of Nicolas Cage. Divide his films into ones in which he appears to have been trying to act with depth and character and ones in which he was clearly there for the sweet, IRS-owed paycheck and decided to massively overact. Discuss how to tell the difference, and whether and how his "paycheck" films can further be divided into ones which are fun to watch and ones which are not. (Bonus points will be awarded to any essay which makes relevant use of the scene in The Rock where Cage asks a man if he likes the Elton John song "Rocket Man" before shooting him with a rocket. Use of the phrase "NO NO NOT THE BEES" is also encouraged, perhaps in the essay title. In fact, strongly consider using this as the title for your essay, but only if you can make it make sense as a title.)

4. Select a film from the list below and assume it was the work of one of the following directors: Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick. Show how it fits into the thematic concerns and artistic style of said director, and discuss how it affects our understanding of their work.
Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 
Battlefield Earth
Jack and Jill
The Number 23

5. In the wake of recent comments by directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Steven Soderbergh, a large amount of wondering has been done about the state of the film industry and whether the current system of massively over-financed blockbusters and resultant huge flops is sustainable. Instead of worrying about all that, imagine a scenario in which your favorite director is given an unlimited budget and creative freedom; describe the film he or she would make, and defend your description given what you know about the director's tastes, thematic concerns, and (if possible) past frustrations due to budget and limits on creative freedom. (Bonus points if you choose Guillermo del Toro and sell me a much better The Hobbit. It had better be great, though. Minus a thousand points if you try to rip off Patton Oswalt's massive Star Wars blockbuster crossover event.)

6. Who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep? Cite evidence from the film and explain how your answer affects our understanding of the plot and the major characters, the killer in particular. Convince me; I genuinely want to know.

7. Switch the soundtracks of any two films. Discuss the consequences for the mood, coherence, and enjoyability of each film. Bonus points if you can make the soundtracks for Saturday Night Fever or Twilight: New Moon work for more enjoyable films. More bonus points if you can find a highly iconographic soundtrack (think Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, or The Lord of the Rings) that can really work for another film. Audio-visual evidence will be key to this question; I will accept electronic files or burned DVDs. Mega bonus points for a phonograph and projector combo.

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