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Film 120 Film Theory

Essay #1: Triumph or Tetro


Please read this prompt in its entirety before writing.
Choose one of the following two topics and complete a 5-6 page essay.

Please write in essay form and complete 5-6 full double-spaced pages. Do not
summarize the content of the film except in brief; rather, focus on analyzing a particular
scene or scenes in the service of explaining the key ideas. No cover sheets, please.

• I strongly suggest focusing on only a few scenes from the film. In order to assist
you, I have posted stills of various scenes, which may be of interest, as a pdf
document on the eCommons site.

• For this assignment, you are permitted to do outside research, however, it is


optional. I encourage you to use the online databases for articles at the library
website. Film reviews from major publications are acceptable (such as NY Times,
Washington Post, Film Comment, etc.—no personal blogs!)

• You must cite your sources properly, and must include a works cited page.

• In addition to proper grammar and writing skills, we will be grading based upon
your command of the concepts related to the key readings, and your interesting
and informed application of those concepts in the service of interpreting the filmic
example.

• Please remember to keep in mind the helpful advice from your previous peer
review sessions and graded papers.

ESSAY OPTION #1: Triumph of the Will and Walter Benjamin


READINGS: Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
(FTC) p. 665-85
Bryher, “What Shall You Do in the War?” (CP) p. 27-30

FILM: Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)


The film may be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcFuHGHfYwE

Writing prompt: The Reichstag Day Rallies that were documented in Triumph of the Will
occurred in 1934. The film was released in 1935. Walter Benjamin's canonical essay, "The Work
of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," was published in 1936, and can be thought of as
being "in conversation" with Triumph.

Use Leni Riefenstahl's film to help explain some of Benjamin's key concepts, particularly:
• Benjamin's notion of "aura," and its relationship to what vision of Germany is
imaged in this brilliant work of propaganda
• Benjamin's interpretation of the relationship between aura, the film and the actor
• What Benjamin means when he says: "To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura,
is the mark of a perception whose "sense of the universal equality of things" has
increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of
reproduction." (223)

OR...

ESSAY OPTION #2: Tetro and Kracauer / Bazin

READINGS: Siegfried Kracauer, “Basic Concepts,” “The Establishment of Physical


Existence” (FTC) p. 147-58, 262-72
André Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” p. 41-53; “The
Ontology of the Photographic Image,” p. 159-63;
Optional: Bazin, “The Myth of Total Cinema” (FTC) p.163-66

Screening: Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009)

Writing prompt: André Bazin discussed the filmic strategies of montage versus mis-
en-scène as more than mere formal strategies, but as choices that were connected to
the viewer's agency to interpret the images presented. Discuss this, including how his
interpretation of the function of deep focus (depth of field) comes into play. Siegfried
Kracauer discusses realistic versus formative filmic tendencies and theorizes their
most effective use. What, like Bazin, did Kracauer suggest the objective of filmmaking
should be? Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro draws on many film forms and moves between
each of the ideas mentioned above. Explain what these terms mean in the context
of Tetro, which is in conversation with film form itself. Consider whether Coppola's
film meets – or does not meet – these theorists' objectives.

Due: THURSDAY, FEB 10 IN CLASS.