Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
American cinema has long been one of the world's most important sources of entertainment, and has been examined both at home and abroad for the political messages embedded in its films. This course investigates the presentation of American engagement in Asia over the past half-century, examining depictions of the United States and of Asian allies and opponents alike. Our focus will be on public representations of international relations -- particularly through war and economic conflict -- but we will also ask how changing images of the United States, as well as evolving practices in the film industry itself, shape how Asia appears on film.
As stated in the Spring 2015 syllabus, the course seeks to “investigate the presentation of American engagement in Asia over the past half-century, examining depictions of the United States and of Asian allies and opponents alike.” The crux of the course is the examination of public representations of international relations; it is also important, however, to think about how the perception of the United States at any given moment in history and the evolution of film industry practices affect how Asia is represented in film. Professor Leheny emphasizes that the course is not, by any means, one centered on “great films,” and nor is it meant to make any blanket statements about “Asian war films” as a genre. Instead, students are motivated to think about how to approach these films, through interpretative and causal analysis.
Weekly one-page film journals uploaded to Blackboard enable practice of formal analysis on one-minute clips from each film, which in turn helps to build the broader, synthesizing arguments required in the 3-4 page papers (assigned twice in a semester). Essay prompts urge students to synthesize arguments about two or more films without falling into the trap of over-generalizing about “Asian conflict” films. There are usually 2-3 scholarly articles assigned for each lecture, and lectures explain the historical context and film industry practices surrounding the film, as well as elaborate on the week’s readings. Throughout the semester, students are assigned chapters from Ed Sikov’s book on film elements, which are helpful to know for formal analysis of film. While there is no midterm assignment or exam, there is a final at the end of the semester.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Professor Leheny is an engaging and entertaining lecturer. His lectures serve to contextualize the films we watch in political history as well as the history of film cinema.
Learning For and From Assignments
Professor Leheny emphasizes his belief in the importance of critical reading. It is important to make sure you understand what the author’s argument is, and how he or she goes about supporting it. Professor Leheny is an engaging and entertaining lecturer, but while lecture material can be tested on the final, it is important to do the readings carefully as he differentiates between answers that merely reiterate what he said in class about a reading, and answers that indicate the student has done the readings thoroughly and actively.
It is also important to understand that formal analysis of a one-minute segment requires a narrower focus; the student should not jump drastically from an inspection of one scene to an argument about the entire film’s motivations, intentions, or style.It can be difficult to understand how the many components of the class work or fit together. The films serve as the course material; the weekly film journals allow practice of formal film analysis on a smaller scale; the two short papers provide opportunities to craft a synthesized, broader argument; precepts delve further into the week’s film; lectures contextualize the film in its historical context; the final allows you to display you grasp on the course readings.
Wikipedia summaries may be useful as a memory refresher when preparing for the exam, but the weekly film journals were a better resource for preparing for the in-class essay portion of the final exam.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
Through this course, you will practice engaging with films as a different form of text; just as you analyze and critique a written work, so too do you think more carefully about the techniques and decision-making that goes into a film, and their larger implications politically and culturally. It is refreshing to view Hollywood films portraying Asian conflict and think of them not as insights into “Asian culture,” but rather as an indication of American politics, American perception of Asia, and America’s political status itself.