This course traces out the stops on our voyage by means of stories, memoirs, and films. We will, of course, be interested in what these texts have to say about their particular cultures. How do they convey a sense of national identity and how do they see themselves in relation to the world as a whole? How do they reflect a heritage that includes the mixing of cultures, in some cases the occupation of their land by colonizing powers? How do they negotiate between global modernity and local traditions? How do they represent such intimate subjects as family, romance, and domesticity? How do these texts require you to rethink your understanding of places like Mexico, India, and South Africa? Are you surprised at how they represent (or ignore) the United States? Because this course juxtaposes two very different media, it also raises questions about genre. How is the language of film different from that of literature, and what difference does this make in telling a story? Is there anything that literary texts do better than cinematic ones—and vice versa? We are used to reading closely and thinking critically about literature, but may be less accustomed to doing so when it comes to movies. In this course, we will not only sit back and enjoy the show but also focus in on particular scenes, consider the effects of various techniques—the framing of shots, editing, lighting, etc. We will, in short, treat our films, along with our memoirs and stories, as complex objects of interpretation.
For this field lab, we will travel by coach to the Shanghai Film Studio, located in the Songjiang District, about 15 kilometers from downtown Shanghai. Comprised of four movie and two TV studios, it is the largest indoor studio in Asia and provided the sets for such celebrated films as Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. As we explore facsimiles of Old Shanghai, we may even stumble across a film production crew in action. Accompanying us on our tour will be two or three local bilingual students who can give us some insight into the Chinese movie industry and tell us what it’s like to study at Shanghai University and the Shanghai Theater Academy. Following our studio tour, our Chinese hosts will join us for dinner at a local Shanghai restaurant. For them and for us, this will provide an exciting chance for informal, cross-cultural conversation with peers. Tying into the overall concerns of the course, this lab will help us to think comparatively about Chinese cinema in relation other national cinemas. It will also invite us to consider the mechanical aspects of shooting a film and how these bear on the final product.
The goal of the field lab is to explore such questions as the following: What are some of the features distinguishing popular Chinese cinema from movies produced by Hollywood? Where do the two traditions overlap and seem to borrow elements from one another? How does an awareness of how films are actually made—the experience of looking behind-the-scenes at elaborate studio sets and other machinery—alter your experience of watching a film? What does Chinese cinema have to say about how this country views its pre-Communist past? What is the role of urban as opposed to rural settings in Chinese cinema—how are these settings used to dramatize ideas about class differences, relations to the West, and modernization?