Thursday, January 28, 2010

Requiem for a Heavyweight


Last night, a colleague called me for some advice. She was updating a handout she gives to her students every semester that covers the major distributors of specialty (aka indie aka independent) film. Before she began rattling off company names, I tried to convey to her how depressing this was going to be.

The conversation went something like this:

Her: Paramount Vantage?

Me: Gone.

Her: Warner Independent?

Me: Gone.

Her: Picturehouse?

Me: Gone. Gone. Gone. Also, cross off ThinkFilm. And New Yorker Films. Note that New Line has been downsized. Focus has cut back. IFC buys lots of films but doesn't pay much.

Pause.

Me:   And I don't know where you should put Miramax. It's all but dead. But I don't think that Disney will actually *kill* it.
Then I woke up this morning. What was the first thing I saw? A zillion tweets along the lines of "RIP Miramax," "Miramax killed by Disney," etc.
 
Sharon Waxman of The Wrap broke the story this morning, and as she notes, this news does not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following indie film. There are any number of moments that one can point to when it was clear that Miramax was on its way out. One could cite the moment when Robert Iger replaced Michael Eisner at Disney and the Weinsteins left the company in 2005 or, more recently, when the Weinsteins' replacement, Daniel Battsek, announced he was leaving in late October 2009.

In spite of the fact that Miramax's fate had long been sealed, it was startling for me to see that this moment had actually come to pass. It is odd to me to mourn the death of a company, of all things. And yet for both personal and professional reasons, the end of Miramax hits me fairly hard.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Syllabus: History of Independent Film (undergrad)

Course description:


This course will first trace the roots of commercially-oriented, low-budget fiction films and then examine their contemporary status. We will explore the industrial, socio-cultural and formal-aesthetic characteristics of independently produced, distributed and/or exhibited narrative features. A wide range of films will be analyzed, ranging from genre films to art films to studio-based indies. In addition, we will address the validity and usefulness of the label of “independence” within the present media context.


A key emphasis throughout the course will be on the relationships between independents and Hollywood, and the ways in which definitions of independence have changed over time. Special attention will be paid to the business of independent film throughout the semester.


In the first half of the course, we will survey the history of independent films in the U.S. through the mid-1970s. During the second half of the semester, we will examine the rapidly changing independent landscape of the past three decades. Among the many issues to be discussed are the role of film festivals and film markets in making and marketing movies; the importance of new platforms such as VOD and the Internet for filmmakers; and the role that specialty divisions such as Fox Searchlight and Focus Films have played in contemporary Hollywood.


Please note: In general, this class will not discuss non-fiction, avant-garde and experimental cinema.


Objectives and outcomes: By the end of the course you should be able to…


Assess how and why certain types of independent films developed as they did at particular historical moments;


Understand the shifting relationship between independent films and Hollywood product;


Recognize the changing meaning of the term “independent” during the course of the 20th century;


Appreciate and critique the different ways that scholars research and write about film history.


SCHEDULE


Please note: Chapters and articles should be read for the *following* class meeting.


WEEK 1


Jan . 11 (M) Introductions

Book: Tzioumakis, Introduction


Screening: Baghead (2008, 84m)


Jan. 13 (W) Defining Independence

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 1 (pp. 19-30)

Packet: Cooper, “Studio History Revisited: The Case of the Universal Women”


Part I: 1910s-1945: Independent Film in the Studio Era


WEEK 2


Jan. 18 (M) Independents in the Age of Silent Cinema

Packet: Regester, “The African-American Press and Race Movies, 1909-1929”


Screening: The Blot (1921, 80m)


Jan. 20 (W) Independents in the Age of Silent Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 1 (pp. 30-62)


WEEK 3


Jan. 25 (M) Independent Production in the Studio Era

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 2


Screening: Detour (1945, 67m)


Jan. 27 (W) Poverty Row in the ‘30s and ‘40s

Packet: Selections from Taves, “The B Film: Hollywood’s Other Half”


WEEK 4


Feb. 1 (M) Poverty Row, cont’d

Packet: Schaefer, “‘The Monster that Caters to Thrill-Hungry Youth’ – The Drug Film”


Screening: Reefer Madness (1936, 67m)


Feb. 3 (W) Classical Exploitation Films

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 3


WEEK 5


Feb. 8 (M) Classical Exploitation Films, cont’d

Packet: Wilinsky, “Reading for Maximum Ambiguity: A Consideration of the Art Film”


Screening: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, 18m); Lost Boundaries (1949, 99m)


Part II: 1946-1974: The Transitional Era


Feb. 10 (W) The Rise of Art Cinema

Packet: Wilinsky, “‘Any Leisure That Looks Easy is Suspect’: Art House Audiences and the Search for Distinction”


WEEK 6


Feb. 15 (M) Art Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 4


Screening: Bucket of Blood (1959, 66m)


Feb. 17 (W) Exploitation Films of the 1950s and ‘60s

*Hand out exam review sheet*


WEEK 7


Feb. 22 (M) Exploitation Films, cont’d; exam review session


Screening: Schlock! The Secret History of Movies (2001, 89m)


Feb. 24 (W) *Exam #1*


Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 5 (pp. 169-177; 184-187)

Packet: Film-Maker’s Cooperative Statement


WEEK 8


March 1 (M) New American Cinema

Packet: Marguilies, “John Cassavetes – Amateur Director”


*Full semester mid-point: Last day to withdraw and receive a “W”*


Screening: Faces (1968, 130m)


March 3 (W) New American Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 5 (pp. 177-184; 187-191)

Packet: Wyatt, “From Roadshowing to Saturation Release”


WEEK 9


March 8-10 ***Spring Break***


WEEK 10


March 15 (M) The “Hollywood Renaissance”

Packet: Heffernan, “Inner City Exhibition and the Genre Film”


Screening: Night of the Living Dead (1968, 96m); Start Billy Jack


March 17 (W) In-class screening: Continue Billy Jack (1971, 114m)


WEEK 11


March 22 (M) Exploitation, ‘70s-style

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 6


Screening: Female Trouble (1974, 92m)


March 24 (W) Exploitation, cont’d

Packet: Levy, “The New American Independent Cinema”


*Discuss final paper assignment*


Part III: 1975-Present: From Independents to Indiewood


WEEK 12


March 29 (M) Independents, 1975-present: An Overview

Packet: Carson, “John Sayles, Independent Filmmaker”; King, “Alternative Visions: Social, Political & Ideological Dimensions of Independent Cinema” (pp. 197-222)


Screening: Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980, 110m)


March 31 (W) Overview, cont’d

Packet: Levy, “The New African American Cinema”


*Proposals due at the start of class*


WEEK 13


April 5 (M) The New African American Cinema

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 7


Screening: Hollywood Shuffle (1987, 78m)


April 7 (W) Mini-Majors in the 1980s

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 8 & Epilogue

Packet: Rich, “New Queer Cinema”


Outside Screening: CHOOSE ONEMy Own Private Idaho (1991, 104m) or The Living End (1992, 92m)


WEEK 14


April 12 (M) The 1990s-Era Ultra Low-Budget Moment

Packet: Perren, “sex, lies and Marketing: Miramax and the Development of the Quality Indie Blockbuster”;

Lane, “Just Another Girl Outside the Neo-Indie”


Screening: Walking and Talking (1996, 86m)


April 14 (W) The Rise of the Studio-Based Indie

Packet: King, “Introduction: Indiewood in Contexts”


WEEK 15


April 19 (M) The Institutionalization of Indiewood

Packet: McDonald, “Miramax, Life is Beautiful, and the Indiewoodization of the Foreign-Language Film Market in the USA”


Screening: Life is Beautiful (1998, 116m)


April 21 (W) Indiewood, cont’d

Packet: Newman, “Indie Culture: In Pursuit of the Authentic Autonomous Alternative”


WEEK 16


April 26 (M) The Fall of Indiewood

Packet: Tryon, “Desktop Productions: Digital Distribution and Public Film Cultures”; selections from Filmmaker, indieWIRE


Screening: Four-Eyed Monsters (2006, 70m)


April 28 (W) New Millennium, New Directions

Recent articles to be posted on ULearn

Look at: www.foureyedmonsters.com; www.sitasingstheblues.com; http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/;

http://jonreiss.com/blog/; http://workbookproject.com/


*Hand out exam review sheet*

*Final papers due at the start of class*


WEEK 17


May 3 (M) What’s Next?


May 5 (W) *Final exam from 12:30-2:30 p.m.*