Trying to create meaningful assignments that encourage students to develop critical thinking and demonstrate course-related competencies? This category is for media instructors to share assignment ideas from their classes — from papers prompts to service learning projects to media production.

Feb 112014
CJ_Final.indd  Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 2(1) Winter 2014
 Matthew Holtmeier
 Western Washington University


In the Fall 2013 issue of the Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier, Marc Raymond describes his experiences teaching History of American Cinema in several universities in South Korea and the strategies he developed using paratexts to help students grasp unfamiliar contexts. As someone who teaches global film in an American university, my situation is the opposite of Raymond’s, but raises similar questions. Namely, how do you communicate the relevance of particular texts to students who might be unfamiliar with important connections and connotations? Raymond found support through the use of parody trailers, which engendered “a broader discussion of how meaning is constructed” and “gave the students an accessible point of entry into the cultural texts being studied” (Raymond 2013). While not necessarily utilizing pre-existing paratexts, I take a similar approach through an assignment that expands the personal relevance of global films by asking students to develop transnational connections between global media and current events closer to home.

The ‘Current Events Connection’ is a four-stage guided writing sequence that has two main goals: mutually enriching the student’s understanding of the global text and the current event they bring into the discussion and moving towards a critical pedagogy in emphasizing students’ self-discovery through the process of making their connections.

In teaching global media, I am wary of falling into two pedagogical traps:

First, that I follow what Paulo Freire labels the ‘banking model’ of education, which he considers inimical due to its dismissal of critical thinking, by explicating films fully for students in order to deposit the appropriate culturally specific meanings (1). While this might teach students how the spectators from the home-nation of a film might view the text, it simultaneously stymies the ability for students to draw their own interpretations and connections. While it is important to explicate the relevance of certain features of foreign texts, I believe that there is a balancing act between giving the necessary contextual information and assigning meanings.

Second, that, without any context, students resort to exoticizing the subjects depicted in the films or become uninterested due to their inability to relate to the events of the film. In both of these cases, the issue students seem to have is that the film is so different from their own experience that they are unable to find value in it. The challenge then becomes how to help students find ways of investing in these films beyond the historical or cultural significance we teach, even when, as instructors, we might think that this should be enough.

The goal of the Current Events Connection is to provide, as Laura Mulvey puts it, a “contribution to the ‘texture’ of understanding, so that films that travel abroad can begin to convey more explicit meanings and resonate beyond the appeal of the exotic” (Mulvey 2006, 257). The growing of this texture comes through a four-part scaffolded writing assignment – in the course I’m currently teaching, on the quarter system, students have two weeks for each ‘stage’ and the entire assignment lasts eight weeks. Each part consists of a particular writing task that draws upon what the student has written before, starting with the explication of a passage drawn from the class reading:

CEC Flowchart

Since the larger goal of this assignment is to discover something new about what a student already knows, through an unfamiliar global text, the first stage of this assignment provides a common lens through which to view both film and current event. The historical, theoretical, or political passage students begin with helps to ensure that a relevant connection exists between the film being analyzed and the current event that is drawn into a relationship. This ‘lens’ will be applied to the film and current event independently, which is why the arrows in the flowchart split from stage one to stages two and three. This ensures a closer reading and more careful analytical process, before students are asked to make the difficult move of exploring what a foreign film might reveal about issues closer to home. It also gives students a chance to come to terms with their framework before moving into applying it. The frames below are short samples given to my students to model the type of writing and responses I am looking for in each stage.


To practice visual analysis and close reading, I ask that students isolate a particular sequence for this assignment. This sequence should respond to the historical, theoretical, or political passage from stage one of the assignment. The goal of this assignment is to illustrate how the student’s chosen passage plays out formally in the text.


The student then explores a current event through the same passage, for the moment independently of the formal film analysis but connected to stage one. Perhaps the most creative part of the assignment, I encourage students to find an example they feel passionate about as long as they can make a relevant connection back to the theoretical situation of stage one. This helps to enrich the relevance of the foreign text for the student.


The final portion of this assignment draws together stages two and three to explore connections between global films and potential transnational connections. The goal of this final component is to explore what revelation a film from an unfamiliar context might offer the more familiar current event, illustrating the potential value of global media more broadly. In this way, the connection between the global film and the current event mutually enriches our understanding of both.


While I give the above example to students to illustrate what the flow of the assignment might look like, I am open to a range of connections they might make, because they will always see connections I do not. Possible connections include: linking Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé (2004) to reproductive rights in the US; looking at immigration politics through Half-Moon (2006); looking at punk/DIY culture through the lens of Breathless (1960) and the French New Wave; and using Third Cinema and Vidas Secas (1963) to think about Occupy Wall Street.

I find this to be a versatile assignment, because of its adaptability for courses focusing on global media even when they vary in size and focus. At Western Washington University, I am currently adapting this assignment for a Postwar Global Film GUR course (General University Requirement) with 60 students, which has a 5th hour requirement (reading/writing beyond the normal credit load, due to the credits per hour configuration.) This assignment can work in a classroom of this size because of the structured nature of the assignments. I give a detailed rubric to ease the grading load in a class of this size and separate handouts for each stage (samples can be found here). It can also be tailored to smaller, writing intensive classes by extending the length/depth of each part of the assignment, and also by extending the last part of the assignment into a full film analysis. Similarly, the rubric can be tailored to the learning outcomes of the particular class, in case there are certain threshold concepts focused on in the course. Currently, I use this assignment in 300 and 400 level film courses (almost exclusively juniors and seniors at my university) and have adapted it to courses both with and without a film pre-requisite by adjusting the requirement of formal analysis.

Freire argues that educators have an important pedagogical responsibility in helping students to practice an emancipatory form of knowledge-building. In other words, to oppose the ‘banking model’ of education with the ‘problem-posing model’ of education, which “enables people to overcome their false perceptions of reality” and “thereby come… to know [reality] critically” (Freire 2000, 69, 86). In the most successful cases, I hope this assignment encourages dialogue in the way Freire intends it to facilitate a “profound love for the world and for people” (Freire 2000, 89). The discovery of value in global media is not just about teaching students how to read foreign texts, but also how to forge transnational connections and to embrace the potential insights of cinematic difference, whereby each film offers its own unique perspective on (once) familiar issues. As a result, this assignment asks students not just to learn about particular films, but to learn about the world, its people, and themselves through the process of drawing these connections.


In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues educators can play a liberatory role by following the problem-posing model of education, which enables learners to think critically about the world and their place in it. If educators follow the banking-model of education, however, whereby they deposit hegemonic meanings into the empty banks of students’ minds, they perpetuate an oppressive system that does not allow students to create new knowledge. Here, I link the banking-model to a style of teaching world cinemas that emphasizes the explication of culturally specific or discursively rote readings of global films.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000.

Mulvey, Laura. Afterword to New Iranian Cinema, by Richard Tapper. . 254-261. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

Raymond, Marc. “The Value of Paratext in Teaching Media in a Foreign Country,” Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier. Vol. 1 (3) Fall 2013. Link.

Oct 242013
 CJ_Final.inddCinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 1 (3) Fall 2013
 Charlotte Howell
 University of Texas at Austin

The naturalized primacy of the text has a firm grip on many students’ relation to media, but I have found using paratexts in the media history classroom to be an excellent counterbalance and modeling tool for seeing film and television texts as historical artifacts.  Students easily understand Jonathan Gray’s argument in Show Sold Separately, “Hype…creates meaning,” and that meaning is clearly historically and industrially situated [1].

The most useful paratexts for teaching students new to media history are overt, intentional, and fleeting, affixed to a particular moment. Promos for channels or programs, trailers, advertisements, and the like instantly read as belonging to a particular historical moment and often convey the state of the industry and the idea of the audience at that time. Thus, they foreground the nexus of negotiation media history courses ask of our students: the fraught interactions among audience, industry, regulation, memory, and content.

For film history courses, promotional material can also shake the assumption of high art students may attach to canonical films. In my film history classes, I will show three trailers for films fitting into a certain Classical Hollywood genre and ask my class to use the trailers and their knowledge of the genre from reading or experience to try and identify the key generic element. For example, for Westerns, I show this trailer for The Searchers in conversation with the trailer for the Western parody, Blazing Saddles. Both emphasize the importance and grandness of the frontier setting as well as the focus on frontier wildness and civilization in tension. When I focus on the science fiction genre in the 1950s as an exploration of contemporary fears and anxieties through genre displacement, I use the trailers for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to illuminate the range of anxieties—from Communism and conformity to female sexuality and power–and the B-movie budgets and “low” character of science fiction at that time.  The trailers serve as genre shorthand, helping the students identify to whom the film was aimed, for what purpose or reach, and how it was marketed in its initial release. These trailers focus my students on the non-narrative genre characteristics that allow them to understand genre as a negotiation of contextually situated expectations between audience and industry.  When I instead showed clips from the films alone to illustrate genre, it took more guidance to get them to understand the web of the genre’s paratext and its historicity.

In broadcasting history classes, paratexts can help reiterate the various layers of commercialization in the history of American broadcasting. This becomes ever more important as the rise of “Quality television” discourses is becoming one of the primary ways our students relate to television.  When Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, and The Walking Dead are the shows that the students watch and want to discuss, it can occasionally be difficult to get them to take “lower quality” programs and genres as seriously or to examine the industrial and commercial drives behind the “art” of the “quality” shows. Thus, having students examine press releases touting ratings, news articles that discuss the advertising rates for these shows, and synergistic linkages with other programs within the corporate family lays the groundwork for discussing how this era of “Quality television” is shaped by its industrial and historical context and how it is shaped by the long history of broadcasting. These paratexts are evidence of the construction of the stories that the industry wishes to tell about itself, and as such foreground the role of the commercial broadcasting industry even in what many students consider “art.”

This theme of discursive analysis and the self-reflection and –mythologizing of the television industry is even more clearly illustrated by using promotional paratexts for the creation of new networks. Promotional videos for the WB, UPN, and Fox from the 1980s and 1990s are great examples of these stories that the industry tells about itself. Students instantly understand the youth audience, the homogeneity, and the desired brand identity of the WB following its “The Night Is Young” promo.  The story UPN chose to tell through this promotion is an industrial one, of “edginess” and partnership with a high-class film studio, yet the brand identity that UPN became known by owed more to its African-American audience than its studio parentage. Thus, promos can illustrate the unstable nature of branding and the adaptation of a network to find an audience in its nascent stages. Channel promos give a sense of the stories the industry tells itself and the audience about television while foregrounding the fundamental instability of those stories. This helps the students to understand some of the key historiographical tenets: what we think of media’s past (and its present) is founded on many levels of discourse and construction.

In my classes, I often have my students create or include paratexts in creative activities, for broadcasting often focusing on sponsorship as a key “filter through which we must pass on our way to ‘the text itself’” [2].

These activities can help students understand that commercials, product integration, and attempts to appeal to specific demographics are among the ways in which the commercial element of broadcasting media reinforce both the industrial history of radio and television and the significance of the commodity audience in the creation of programming.  More importantly, integrating such sponsor-heavy paratexts with the students’ own creative thinking about programming reinforces that the commercial nature of broadcasting and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Commercialism is not necessarily base and “quality” (in its various historical inflections) needs economic support to occur. Below are some examples of my in-class activities that include paratexts as part of my students’ thinking. I have provided links to some of the handouts I use and assess comprehension through in-class discussion and dialogue in small groups first then as a whole.

  1. To reinforce my history of radio and television students’ understanding of the golden age of radio, I have them build a day-to-night network schedule, including sponsorship, and how it appears in one program per hour. The sponsors and strategies must align with actual historical practices.
  2. When those students work in a group to “pitch” a modern equivalent of the 1950s suburban sitcom, I make sure they include products that would be advertised during the show, the audience such an advertisement would target, what channel it would appear on, and when it would air.
  3. When teaching the birth of the netlets, I have them build their own network and imagine the various paratexts (commercials, bumpers, intertextual references) that would construct the brand and its appeal to their chosen desired audience.
  4. In an internet scavenger hunt for the convergence era, I ask them to find an example of a twitter conversation that influenced the text of a television show.

These paratextual assignments allow me to assess whether or not the students are integrating the interrelation of audience, text, industry, and context into their critical thinking about broadcast history.

The understanding and articulation of the negotiation of imagined audience, actual audience, and industry relationship to both through programming is one of the most important learning outcomes of my class. In explaining why they generated for this assignment a particular sponsor, brand, or mode of advertising for a particular text and how such sponsorship would be presented and to whom it is intended, they must acknowledge that texts are always seeking to address a certain audience, and that that audience is constructed by socio-cultural and industrial history. Paratexts not only challenge the centrality of texts, they also foreground their context and usefulness as artifacts in ways that indicate historical learning as media history students recognize, articulate, or replicate them.


[1] Gray, Show Sold Separately, (New York: NYU Press, 2010), 3.

[2] Ibib, 17.

Charlotte Howell is a Ph.D. student in the department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. She has published “Value in Brokenness: Fractured Subjectivities in Contemporary American Telefantasy” in Networking Knowledge and “The Gospel of the Winchesters (And Their Fans): Neoreligious Fan Practices and Narrative in Supernatural” in Kinephanos. Charlotte has worked for FlowTV and InMediaRes, was a co-coordinator of the Flow Conference 2010, and is the graduate assistant for Media Industries, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal launching in 2014.


Oct 242013
CJ_Final.indd Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 1(3) Fall 2013
 Sam Ford
 MIT/ Western Kentucky University


Discussing with Americana his scholarly work on the U.S.-style soap opera, Robert C. Allen (2004) said his interest began in a graduate seminar. Allen recalls a discussion in a narrative theory class at the University of Iowa in which he asked whether stories existed that challenged one of the core tenets of the experience people have with a narrative: a discrete beginning, middle, and end. Allen questioned how soap operas fit into this construct, and “a lively discussion ensued, which prompted me to think further about the curious formal nature of serial narrative and its most fully elaborated and complex manifestation: the television soap opera.”

Today, media scholars find themselves more frequently teaching media texts for which the narrative does not adhere to a discrete beginning, middle, and end—especially as more shows adopt transmedia storytelling strategies in which the primary text of a film, a video series, a comic book series, etc. is supplemented by material across multiple media formats. Further, access to paratextual material about the narrative—to archival footage relevant to the narrative, to “professional” criticism and analysis about the text, and to fan discussion and fan-produced texts in relation to the narrative under analysis in the classroom—expands exponentially what it means to teach “a text.”

Because many of these transmedia narratives still prioritize a particular primary text—the film itself, or the 13-episode season arc of the primary television show—many instructors’ impulse is to return to the safe confines of traditional narrative pedagogy. As teachers, we favor drilling deeply into the vertical complexity of a multilayered and dissectible finite text, as opposed to engaging with the messiness of the horizontal complexity that accretes from a text that expands quite broadly.

While there is great value in narrative analysis such as close readings, in continuing to focus so heavily on textual analysis while overlooking the importance of everything outside a finite primary text, I fear we do little to help our students think critically about the full narrative experience an audience increasingly has with the popular culture they engage.

To best embrace the horizontal complexity of how a narrative expands across multiple official and unofficial parts of the story, much can be learned from considering more deeply the strategies of what I’ve labeled elsewhere as “immersive story worlds” (Ford 2007), such as superhero comic book universes, U.S.-style soap operas, “celebrity culture,” and politics. In my experience teaching semester-long courses on U.S. soap opera and on professional wrestling, I have uncovered pedagogical principles which may help others as they consider how to bring horizontal complexity into their classroom analysis of media texts of all sorts.

When I have taught semester-long courses on soap opera, students have spent the entire semester watching a particular daytime serial drama in “real-time,” typically with five new episodes per week. Those four months or so which comprise the average length of a semester are still only a tiny fraction of the full “text” of the soap. Nevertheless, I’ve found that engaging students in the confusing process of joining a soap opera narrative mid-stream and trying to piece together who characters are, their relationships to one another, and how storylines progress proves to be a useful way to drive understanding and deep consideration of the nature of media texts and the lived experiences audiences have with narratives. The classroom becomes a communal experience through which we all acclimate to this world we’ve entered. For almost every student, it has taken the full semester to truly begin to appreciate the narrative experience of a dedicated soap opera viewer, and to see how these texts—which often appeared quite unsophisticated to them as single episodes—started to gain deeper layers of complexity and meaning through the accretion of knowledge of the story world and characters over time.

As complex as teaching a soap opera narrative may be, its story world is still primarily contained within a linear track of one primary series. The challenge with teaching a genre like that of professional wrestling becomes many times more complex. First, while various wrestling promotions may have their own narrative histories, wrestling characters have traditionally jumped from one promotion to the other. This creates a semi-cohesive master fictional universe of “the wrestling world” or “the wrestling industry,” within which the narratives of many different franchises fit.

Second, pro wrestling is—by its nature—“transmedia.” The genre’s origin and continued staple is the live event. Television series, magazines, and other types of material were originally created to further promote these live event tours. However, over time, they became staple parts of the pro wrestling narrative in their own right—and significant pieces of the pro wrestling business model. Today, the narrative of “World Wrestling Entertainment” takes place across the promotion’s various live events; seven hours of original television programming per week; two weekly online television series; monthly pay-per-view events; a monthly magazine; the website, which acts as a fictional news organization covering the WWE story world; and various outlets for accessing historical wrestling content. Further complicating the sheer volume of these varying “primary texts” is the fact that the pro wrestling narrative plays out in “real time,” and its narrative setting is “the real world,” meaning that these wrestlers rarely appear in what could truly be considered “out of character” situations. Wrestlers maintain their own Twitter accounts and other presence in social media as their wrestling personas, and they often conduct their public appearances—from press interviews to chance encounters with fans—somewhat in character.

Simultaneously, because we the audience live in the story world of this narrative and have the potential to interact not with the actors but with the characters themselves in chance encounters in airports or bars and because all in-arena wrestling shows and non-televised events focus so heavily on the performance of the fans in the stands in addition to the performers in the ring, audience-produced content becomes more directly part of the narrative world in wrestling as well (in addition to the analytical, fictional, and theoretical writing from pro wrestling critics and fans from outside the fictional world—a line that often gets quite blurry for performer and fan alike).

Similar to my approach for teaching soap opera, my classes studying pro wrestling have followed the WWE narrative in real time throughout the semester. Yet, rather than assigning a particular portion of that real-time volume of texts, I have tasked students with keeping up with the narrative world in whatever combination they best see fit—from some combination of watching television series, engaging with online texts, reading critical and fan analysis from both inside and outside the story world, and either holding a class viewing party for a pay-per-view wrestling event and/or attending a live event as a class during the semester. Class discussion has focused on students bringing together what each has found about the story world and connecting it together, as well as to our various readings and in-class viewings.

Especially crucial in each class I’ve taught on pro wrestling or on soaps has been that one—if not multiple—longtime viewers ended up among the students. As is often the case within online and offline fan communities surrounding these two genres, those with deeper experience with the story world became the elders of our classroom community, passing along knowledge from their years of experience and helping the class piece together historical information about characters and stories that are contextually relevant to the current narrative we are following as a group.

Further, I’ve found it helpful to challenge students to both follow or—if they feel comfortable—join online community discussions about the genre for the duration of the class and to supplement our discussion of the current narrative by bringing in fan discussions and analyses, rumors from online news sites, archival clips, etc., to share with the rest of the class. In most of these cases, the students have also published their thoughts about the genre in question in a class blog, which has typically drawn some interest from dedicated fans as well, who came to be involved in some of the class discussions over time.

In all those experiences, true learning has not come through the results of these student explorations but rather through the process itself. By tackling narratives that could not possibly be neatly contained within the model of a “viewing lab” and follow-up discussion, students become responsible communally for analyzing and making sense of the narrative, for even defining what is or isn’t “the narrative” itself.

Whether teaching content from an “immersive story world” or from single films, novels, plays, or short-run television series, the access our students have in today’s classroom to a broad range of paratextual material allows us to open up for class discussion what constitutes a narrative and how that narrative might best be understood. Rather than curate for students a finite and easily intelligible classroom experience in engaging with media texts, it’s incumbent on us as instructors to engage with the messiness of the lived narrative experience we have as audience members. If this becomes a true classroom goal, students will leave our courses better equipped to think critically about popular culture and the autonomy with which audience members make meaning out of popular texts.

Works Cited

Allen, Robert C. “Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture: Robert C. Allen.” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900 to Present) (Spring 2004). Accessed 05 October 2013.

Ford, Sam. “As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture.” Master’s thesis, MIT, 2007. Accessed 05 October 2013.

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: NYU Press, 2013.


Sam Ford is an affiliate of MIT’s Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing and Western Kentucky University’s Popular Culture Studies Program. He is co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University Press of Mississippi, 2011) and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (NYU Press, 2013). He has taught courses on the U.S. soap opera and U.S. professional wrestling at MIT and WKU and also teaches Introduction to Popular Culture Studies at WKU. Sam has published/will publish essays with Transformative Works and Cultures, The Journal of Fandom Studies, and Panorama Social, and has written for anthologies including Third Person, Bodies of Discourse, Making Media Work, and The Essential Cult Television Reader. He is currently is co-curating an annotated bibliography on U.S. soap opera research for Oxford University Press. He is also Director of Audience Engagement with Peppercomm, a strategic communications and marketing firm.

Oct 242013
CJ_Final.indd Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 1 (3) Fall 2013
 Monika Mehta
 Binghamton University, SUNY


Teaching Hindi Film Song Sequences Video Presentation

In this video presentation, Monika Mehta explains how she uses paratexts to teach Bollywood song-and-dance sequences and includes a sample assignment below.

(click image to play presentation)

Teaching Hindi







Essay Assignment: Analyzing Song Sequences
Assignment Parameters

For the second essay assignment for this course, you will be analyzing song-sequences.  The purpose of this assignment is to be able to examine how song-sequences are constructed, to identify their functions in the filmic narrative and to investigate the song’s circulation beyond the film narrative (cassettes, cds, mp3s, reality shows, etc.).  To begin the assignment, you will select a film featuring your star.  Please do not select a film that we have all ready watched in class or will be watching prior to this assignment’s due date.   You will analyze three song-sequences in your chosen film; these song sequences should feature your chosen star.   I would urge you to make a decision about the film as soon as possible so you can view the film and the songs multiple times.  Also, you will need to find out information about the playback singers.  You will have more time to find out this information the sooner you select your film.  If you’d like assistance in making a decision, I would be glad to offer suggestions.  You may rent the film via Netflix or Blockbuster.  You might also check the Binghamton library for a copy.  Alternately, you can purchase the film from or

To prepare for this essay, I have attached a song-sequence assignment which we will be doing in-class. We will be watching a song from Pakeezah/The Pure One and subsequently, in small groups, you will be answering the questions in the assignment.

The song sequence assignment will provide you with a set of guiding questions and themes for formulating the thesis for your essay and analyzing songs in your chosen film.  For your essay (and chosen film), you will address questions that are listed under the section Genre and Star Image in the song sequence assignment. This will allow you to incorporate the information and analysis you have produced in you star assignment.  In addition to this, you will choose questions from one more section (e.g., Narrative, Editing, Space & Costumes etc.). While you can discuss space and costumes in an essay that is on the Genre & Star Image and Narrative, the focus of essay and its argument must remain on Narrative and Genre & Star Image.

In the thesis, you will present an argument based on the topics you have selected (e.g. Genre & Star Image and Narrative). The thesis should be one or two sentences at the most. It is generally placed at the end of the introduction. Subsequently when you write the essay, you will develop an argument which supports your thesis, providing appropriate evidence.  Furthermore, when appropriate in your essay, you will refer to articles we’ve read, films we have watched or class discussions. You may also do further research and look at outside sources.

The essay needs to 6-8 pages, double-spaced (12 points, Times New Roman or Garamond). A bibliography needs to be attached to the essay.  This is in addition to the 6-8 pages.  You may use MLA, Chicago or APA style.  Please be consistent with regard to the style.  Please make sure that you cite properly and give credit to appropriate author(s).

You will turn in a thesis statement, along with the Basic Information (the first sheet of the song-sequence assignment), on Friday, November 5.   In the Basic Information, you need to fill out the information for the film that you’ve chosen.  You can find out this information via a Google search or Wikipedia.  We will be holding a writing workshop for this assignment on Wednesday, November 17. Please bring 3 copies of your rough draft and 2 copies of the feedback-evaluation sheet (I will distribute this later). Your rough draft should be as complete as possible.  The final, polished draft of the assignment is due on November 22. Please bring a hard-copy to class and upload a copy on blackboard.


Friday, October 29:  Song Sequence Assignment Workshop; Work in Small Groups.

Friday, November 5:  Turn in your thesis statement and Basic Information on your film.

Wednesday, November 17:  Bring 3 copies of your draft and 2 copies of the feedback evaluation sheet

Monday, November 22:  Final, polished draft is due.  Please upload a copy on blackboard.


In-Class Song and Dance Sequence Analysis Worksheet

[This portion of the assignment is adapted from an assignment designed by Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Honors Faculty Fellow, Arizona State University.]

In preparation for your essay assignment, we will be doing an in-class assignment devoted to song sequences.  The topics in this assignment will serve as a set of guiding questions for the essay that you will write on your chosen film featuring your star.  For the essay, you are expected to address questions under the section, Genre and Star Image.  In addition, you can pick one more section (Narrative, Space & Costumes, Editing etc.).  Along with thesis statement, you will need to hand in the following Basic Information about your chosen film.

BASIC INFORMATION (document outside sources in this section)

  1. Title of film
  2. Briefly summarize the film’s story (3-4 sentences at most).
  3. Year
  4. Film director
  5. Music director
  6. Choreographer
  7. Lyricist
  8. Singers
  9. Name major characters in the film and actors who are playing these roles
  10. Provide titles of songs, name singers who sing each song, and name the main actors/actresses who lip-synch each song in the film.


  • How is this song organized musically in terms of different sections, instrumentation, and lyrics? Is it a verse-chorus form? Do the same melodies reappear with different lyrics? (e.g. “x” is a song that evokes both big-band type of sound and techno. As a song that takes place in a discotheque, it is a contemporary sounding song that makes little or no reference to traditional Indian instruments from the classical tradition).
  • What dance styles are used in the song sequence?  (e.g. hip-hop, classical Indian, Bhangra, a mixture)? Do the dance movements complement the lyrics and the music?


  • Briefly state what the song is about.  (e.g. The main characters declare their love for each other in the song).
  • What is happening in the story at this point, and the function of the specific song sequence?
  • Does this sequence work in tandem with the narrative? Does it advance the narrative?  Does it function as an interruption?  Does it enable covert action?
  • In addition, try to determine what function and significance this segment has for the film as a whole and your understanding of it (foreshadowing, climax, transition, exposition, etc.)
  • Does the song sequence reinforce or challenge social and cultural codes advanced in the narrative? (i.e. gender, religion, class etc.).  For example, in the narrative the heroine might be a submissive, quiet girl but in the song sequence, she verbalizes her desires through both lyrics and dance movements.


  • Space: Is space—landscape or interior—used as a “comment” on the character’s inner state of mind?  Does it figure as a character-like presence?  Does it exude a certain atmosphere, etc.?
  • Where does the song take place?  Is space in the song-sequence continuous or does the song take place at multiple locations?  List the locations and their potential functions (e.g. it is more thrilling to have a romantic song travel across and varied spaces so we become virtual tourists)
  • In a related fashion, do the costumes change along with the locations?  What might be the function(s) of multiple costume changes?
  • How do costumes contribute to the construction of the characters, the stars and nature and atmosphere of the song-dance sequence? (e.g. cabaret song sequence)
  • Are the costumes of the characters color-coordinated in the song-dance sequences?  If so, why?
  • Do the characters wear the costumes and inhabit the locations in the song sequence in their ‘real narrative worlds’?  Explain.


  • Position of segment (what comes before, what after the segment?)
  • Length of Individual shots: (extremely long or particularly short; does the director hold on a certain face or landscape after the action has been played out, etc.)
  • Rhythm/Pace (flowing/ jerky/ disjointed/ more panning shots than cuts/ acceleration of cuts/ fast-paced/slow-paced/ unusually long takes)


  • Does the song sequence acknowledge the spectator or do events transpire as if no one were present?  Do characters look into the camera or pretend it is not there, for instance?
  • How does the song sequence position the spectator vis-à-vis the onscreen events?  Are we made to favor certain characters, to respond certain ways to certain events (e.g. we along with the male audience or male character are supposed to enjoy the female dancers? Or we along with characters are positioned as devotees for a religious song sequence).   Here, consider the concepts of gaze and darsan that we have studied in class.


  • Does the song sequence appeal to certain expectations, i.e. generic conventions?  (e.g. We don’t expect a song situated in a strip-club in a historical)? What kind of conventions are they?
  • Does the song sequence follow convention or does it attempt to challenge them in any way?  If so how? (e.g. A contemporary romantic film might be feature a conventional song sequence where the romantic couple is cavorting on Swiss hills or a similar looking outdoor location).
  • How does the song-dance sequence advance, challenge, or support star images?
  • Does the song-dance sequence enable the display of a star’s performance style?  Provide examples.  (e.g. Shah Rukh Khan’s outstretched hands).
  • Given Majumdar’s argument in “The Embodied Voice,” examine the relationship between the visual and aural stars in the song-sequence.  For the essay, you need to think about the relationship between your star and the playback singer who is singing for your star.  Do the qualities of the aural star (playback singer) match the image of the visual star?  Is their a consonance or dissonance?  What might be the consequences of either a fit or a lack of fit?  For the essay, you will to find out which playback singer or singers have sung for your star in your chosen film.   You will need to find out what information circulates about the aural star (play back singer).  Here, Wikipedia might be a useful source.  Some playback singers have their own website and/or blogs devoted to them.


  • In more recent films, there are many more non-diegetic songs, that is to say songs that are not lip-synched by an actor or actress but ones that are free-floating.  How does this unmooring affect the relationship between what Majumdar calls “aural” and “visual” stardom?
  • What role might gender play in crafting and producing song and dance sequences? (e.g. It might give an opportunity for the female choreographer and female dancers to take charge of production and screen respectively).
  • Is the song-dance an item number?  If so, does it feature a prominent star or stars?
  • Was the song-dance important to the film’s publicity?
  • Are their multiple versions of the song available (i.e. original, unplugged, remix)?
  •  Did the song become popular?  What aspects might have been important in its popularity (choreography, lyrics, music, stars, photography, location etc.)?
  • Examine the use of lighting and framing in the song sequence.



I am grateful to the editors Ted Hovet and Lisa Patti for allowing me to do this video presentation.  Thanks to Lisa Patti for introducing me to Screencast-o-matic, offering useful suggestions for the video, and most of all, for encouraging me to undertake this project.  I am indebted to Nilanjana Bhattacharjya who shared her fantastic essay assignment and allowed me to adapt it for my course.  Rajesh Bhaskaran generously loaned me his hi-fi head-set and shared his seasoned video production skills.  My daughter Sahana Bhaskaran ably assisted in choosing the appropriate video clips.

Select Bibliography


Majumdar, Neepa. “The Embodied Voice: Stardom and Song Sequences in Popular Hindi Cinema.” In Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music edited by Arthur Knight and Pamela Wojcik, 161-181. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

Mehta, Monika.  “DVD Compilations: (Re)Shuffling Sound, Stardom and Cinephilia,” South Asian Popular Culture 10, no. 3 (2012):  237-248.


Lata a Journey: Best of Lata Songs.  Prod. Yash Raj Films. Perf. Mangeshkar, Lata. Yash Raj Films, 2008. DVD.

Mujras & QwallisFrom Films Old & New.  Prod.  Shemaroo Video. Ltd.  DVD.  n.d.


“Bhavani DVD.”  Bhavani DVD.  Accessed on October 5, 2013.

“Nightingale of India Lata Mangeshkar turns 84.”  Posted on September 28, 2013.  Accessed on October 3, 2013.

“Singing Legend Asha Bhosle turns 80.”  Indian Express.  Accessed on October 3, 2013. 80/3359-15.html.

Online Videos

“Dil Cheez Kya Hai-Umrao Jaan Song [HD] (1981) W/E Subs.”  YouTube video 6.01, from the film Umrao Jaan (1981).  Posted by “KabulHDvideoCenter.”  December 28, 2010.

” ‘Ghagra Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ Song Making |Madhuri Dixit, Ranbir Kapoor.”  YouTube video, 4.46.  Posted by “T-Series.” May 25, 2013.

“Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahan Hai HD.”  Youtube video 6.30, from the film Pyaasa 1957.  Posted by “MannuDreamer.”  February 25, 2012.

“Journey of India’s melodious voice Lata Mangeshkar.” IBN LiveWatch video, 1:43.  Posted by CNN-IBN.  August 13, 2013. indias-melodious-voice-lata-mangeshkar.html?utm_source=ref_article

“Lata Mangeshkar – Jo Wada Kiya (Live Performance).”  YouTube video 3.31, from a performance by Lata Mangeshkar from her “Lata An Era In An Evening” concert in Bombay on March 9, 1997.  Posted by “gussie5555.”  June 27, 2008.

“Pakeezah – Inhi Logon Ne Le Liya Dupatta Mera.”  YouTube video 5.53, from the film Pakeezah (1972).  Posted by “yasjan2012.”  August 23, 2013. .

Monika Mehta is Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University, SUNY. Her research and teaching interests include new media and film studies; cinema in South Asia; theories of nation-state; postcolonial critique; and globalization and cultural production.  She is the author of Censorship and Sexuality in Bombay Cinema (University of Texas Press, December 2011; Permanent Black, January 2012).





Oct 242013
CJ_Final.indd Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Vol. 1(3) Fall 2013
 Lynne Stahl
 Cornell University


At a time when humanities instructors feel perpetual pressure to make courses “sexy” and “relevant” to attract students to majors with dwindling enrollments, many attempt to do so by adding film and videographic media to their syllabi—adaptations, intertexts, reconceptualizations: film as paratext.  While this curricular expansion is not inherently problematic, supplementary media are too often unattended by any critical apparatus, a glaring omission inconsistent with the meticulous close-reading practices and scrupulous attention to form such classes emphasize when students approach print literature. However, this is also a time when students are constantly engaging with—and astoundingly fluent in—digital media.  This fluency enables the use of filmic paratexts in and as pedagogy and may constructively counter the negligence of critical lexicons specific to the cinematic medium. The trending treatment of film as supplement might be productively viewed not as an undesirable relegation of film to the margins of syllabi, but as an opportunity to provide a critical vocabulary while developing intellectual curiosity and independence in students.

In this essay, I advocate for pedagogical applications of filmic paratexts and multimedia as supplements in classes that are not film-specific but have significant film components—for example, a Shakespeare course that incorporates film adaptations or a popular culture class that draws from a variety of media. The omnipresence of trailers, parodies, clips, and other paratexts within and outside of academic life makes analytical attention to them essential and conducive to the development of broadly-ranging inquisitive thought, and I use my own digital “textbook” (accessible here) to foment such attention.  This online project, built on the multimedia platform Scalar, incorporates a wealth of paratexts as pedagogy, including trailers, annotated film clips, fan art, and links to pertinent websites, all of which help explain aspects of cinematic analysis: students propel themselves from one paratext to another and digress as they wish, channeling their own interests into exploratory and analytical assignments. The flexibility of time and content that such platforms as Scalar afford make them ideal paratextual teaching resources: through them, one can teach film analysis alongside the primary content of the course and simultaneously instill good research techniques through assignments constructed around the filmic paratexts featured within the website.

In high school, students often look forward to movie days as respite from the rigors of the regular curriculum, assuming (often correctly) that they are not required to apply any intellectual energy on a popular visual text. The challenge of teaching film in a non-film specific class at the college level is therefore twofold: first, instructors must re-train students to take film seriously as a medium, to become willing to invest their time and energy in the same type of formal analysis with which they would treat a poem or a novel, and second, to teach them quickly and effectively how to render such an analysis with what will for the majority be an entirely new critical vocabulary. For those instructors who strive to elucidate the relationship between film form and content to literature majors who don’t study film or engineering majors who don’t study literature except by curricular mandate a difficulty lies in condensing that process into less than a semester. Time in the classroom, of course, is precious and fleeting; to an extent it makes sense to relegate such fundamental instruction to the realm of homework—but as an alternative to encumbering students with traditional film textbooks (edifying though many of them are), digital, multimedia resources can be incredibly rich tools for furnishing students with the basics of film analysis.

In no small part because movies are predominantly viewed as entertainment within United States culture, and books as “work,” students feel familiar with film, a familiarity that can breed contempt and passive spectatorship and a sense that films are either “easy” or hopelessly irrelevant to serious academic pursuit. Part of the work of teaching film, then, is to evince the complexities (cinematographic, economic, cultural) of even the “easiest” movies and to make the more difficult ones accessible. I maintain, therefore, that an informal approach to film analysis in classes that incorporate film as a supplement is particularly effective—informal in the sense that by interacting with media, students will feel they are engaging with a film rather than slogging through information.

Ambivalent though I am about the sometimes dilettantish reading habits (reading for completion rather than understanding, refusing to look up definitions or allusions) and predilection for easily digestible nuggets of knowledge that seem prevalent among undergraduates, I believe that there is something to be said for concise, compactly packaged information, especially as a starting point for novitiates to the study of film.  A multimedia website’s exploratory layout and space for ample media can be helpful in striking a balance between overloading students with more information about aspect ratios than they will ever use and reducing film analysis to a crib sheet of vocabulary terms. Even an act as minute as clicking begets a sense of discovery and agency and adds a component of self-determination to their homework: Scalar’s format is conducive to non-linear navigation, and users may move from one section to another without compromising the logic of the information presented. Further, merely by virtue of the absence of traditional page numbers, students can also eliminate the undesirable sensation of counting down pages, racing to finish a chapter on editing. The process of learning film analysis thus becomes one that takes place largely independently—but one for which it is easy to hold students accountable, as continued unfamiliarity with even a basic film lexicon will quickly become evident in their discussion and writing.

Students have learned to be discomfited by intellectual freedom, floundering without specific essay prompts and detailed direction. They seem to need some kind of guiding framework to distract them from the vastness of academic possibility, and one potential remedy is to construct a framework that impels them to investigate that vastness unimpeded by the fear of going too far afield or “missing the point” of a text. To facilitate this mode of focused digression, I have designed an assignment that demands not only that students consider the place of film (individually and as a medium) within culture but also that they narrate their own thought processes about what they find and how they get there.  The kind of information-traversing this assignment entails, I contend, engenders sound scholarly practices: it promotes metafilmic research into historical/cultural contexts, including questions of form, authorship, spectatorship, and distribution.  Further, and most importantly, it conditions students to take a greater degree of initiative in the process of their own education, and it forces them to think about their own interests—what they find compelling, curious, or boring:

Assignment: Choose any one film that appears on this website.  You may begin either at its IMDB page or by typing the film’s title and director into a search engine. From there, you must make five “clicks”: a click entails either simply clicking on a link, or finding another site by searching for a term from the current page (the link or term should be at least nominally relevant). In your write-up, outline the trajectory you took, and include the URL and a brief summary for each site you visit. Remember to comment not only on the content you find, but also on your decision-making process and what prompted you to make each of the “clicks” you made. Were you surprised to find what you did? Bored? Intrigued? Additionally, your write-up should include an account of how your final destination relates (or doesn’t) to the first.

A trajectory might progress as follows:

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Figure 1. Starting point: Google search for “mulholland drive david lynch”

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Click 1. The Guardian on understanding Mulholland Drive

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Click 2. The Guardian on David Lynch

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Click 3. Google Books preview of David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film


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Click 4. Via a Google search for “david thomson film,” a list of Thomson’s favorite films.

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Click 5. Via a Google search for “david lynch blue velvet,” a video of pop singer Lana Del Rey performing “Blue Velvet.”


This assignment emphasizes the besideness of paratext, the proximal nature of one text to another for which students must account—and which the students in fact have a hand in creating. They choose what to click, where to turn their gaze, how to navigate the infinitude of paths in front of them. Further, the writing component of this assignment is more descriptive and ruminative than argumentative, meaning the grades students earn will be based on evidence of thoughtful reflection. This system puts less pressure on students to perform academic discourse “properly” and affords more freedom to explore and experiment, all while (perhaps unknowingly) developing precisely those research skills that yield productive discourse, academic or otherwise, as they locate individual films within a much larger, more variegated environment than the context of the classroom.

Student commentary on the sample trajectory above might range from thoughts about Mulholland Drive’s plot and structure to auteurism to the role of film criticism and critics to film’s (re)commodification via commercial allusion.  Even if the sequence of links they produce doesn’t produce a coherent narrative, the students nonetheless have expanded their conception of a single film to include critical responses to that film, a director’s larger oeuvre, film studies as a field in itself, and film as it functions across art forms and within consumer culture. The importance of illuminating for students the myriad ways in which film form, content, and context interact cannot be overstated. This assignment stands, I hope, as a generative example of how filmic paratext and film studies as paratext might be used productively to foster broadly applicable research skills as well as understanding of and genuine enthusiasm for cinema as an intellectual field.

Works Cited

“David Thomson’s Favourite Films.” Mubi.

Lewis, Robin. “Understanding Mulholland Drive.” The Guardian, January 17, 2002.

Lezard, Nicholas. “David Lynch: Director of Dreams.” The Guardian, February 17, 2012.

Pelly, Jenn. “Watch: Lana Del Rey Covers “Blue Velvet” in New David Lynch-Inspired H&M Commercial.” September 17, 2012.


Lynne Stahl is a graduate student in the Department of English at Cornell University and is currently working on a dissertation entitled “Tomboys in Time: Gender, Affect, and Resistance in American Film.” At Cornell, she has designed and taught first-year writing seminars called “Shakespeare from Stage to Screen” and “Queer Self-Representations,” both of which considered film, video art, and other media alongside more traditional literary forms, and is currently serving as a TA for a course called “Desire and Cinema.” Through a grant from Cornell’s Olin Library and the Society for the Humanities, she recently created an online, multimedia film tutorial as a supplementary component of the syllabus; it aims to furnish a critical lexicon, to defamiliarize and historicize film as a medium and an industry, and to provoke thought about various cultural functions of film.