Film 324: Seminar in Science Fiction Film

Fall 2007, Fridays 10:00 to 1:00, Avery 117
Screenings: Thursdays, 8:30 to 11:00, Avery 110

Professor Ed Halter
halter @ bard . edu
Office: Avery 220
Office hours: Thursdays 12:00 to 1:00 & Fridays 1:00 to 3:00, by appointment
course feed

Description: A critical examination of science fiction film from the silent era to today, with a special focus on the relationship between science fiction and the avant-garde. Topics include: visualizing technology, gender and sexuality; alien and robot as human countertype; futurism, utopia and dystopia; Cold War and post-Cold War politics as seen through science fiction; camp and parody; the depiction of consciousness and interior states; special effects and the sublime; time travel, paradox, and alternative history; the poetics of science fiction language.

Requirements:Attendance; one 5 page paper; one 15 page final research paper; class discussion; presentation of one week’s reading. Three absences and your grade drops a letter; more than three and it drops two.

Grading rubric:25% participation (including presentation) 25% first paper, 50% final paper. All assigned work must be completed by the semester’s end for a passing grade.

Shorter readings and book excerpts will be available online or as pdfs, either on Reserveweb or linked from this site. The following required books will be at the Bard Bookstore:
Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film by Vivan Sobchack
Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction by Scott Bukatman
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Engine Summer (in Otherwise: Three Books) by John Crowley
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Master of Space and Time by Rudy Rucker
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin

In-class presentation
Each week one student will give a 15-20 minute presentation on that week's readings, meant to kick off that day's discussion, which will count towards participation. Each presentation should outline the basic arguments or themes of the readings, and attempt to connect them to that week's film. (Don't worry about presenting all of each writer's ideas--just hit on some of the most pertinent or the ones that interested you the most.)

Sept 6
Screening: Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927, Germany, 119 mins)
Sept 7
Joanna Russ "Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction"
Hugo Gernsback Ralph 142C 41+ (excerpt)
William Gibson “The Gernsback Continuum”
Thomas M. Disch, “Introduction” from The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of
Vivian Sobchack "The Limits of the Genre: Definitions and Themes" (Screening Space, Part 1)
Recommended: Martin Willis "Science, Literature and Science Fiction"

Technological Utopianism & Postwar Paranoia
Sept 13
Screening: Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936, UK, 100 mins)
Sept 14
Screening: The Day The Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951, USA, 92 mins) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956, USA, 80 mins)
Frederick Pohl & Frederick Pohl IV “Imagining Things: The Thirties”
J. Hoberman "Paranoia and the Pods"
Otis Ferguson "More Things in Heaven and Earth..."
Howard P. Segal, "American Visions of Technological Utopia, 1883-1933"
Raymond Williams “Utopia and Science Fiction”

Space Opera
Sept 20
Screening: Les Astronauts (Chris Marker & Walerian Borowcyzk, France, 14 mins) & Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956, USA, 98 mins)
Sept 21
Peter Biskind “Pods and Blobs”
Ursula Le Guin “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction”
Joanna Russ “SF and Technology as Mystification”
Gary K. Wolfe "Icons of Wonder"
Vivian Sobchack "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" (Screening Space, Part 3)

Imagination of Disaster
Sept 27
Screening: Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People) (Ishiro Honda, 1963, Japan, 89 mins)
Sept 28
Susan Sontag “The Imagination of Disaster”
Brian Aldiss “What Should a SF Novel Be About?”
Noi Sawaragi "On the Battlefield of 'Superflat': Subculture and Art in Postwar Japan"
Vivan Sobchack "Images of Wonder: The Look of Science Fiction" (Screening Space, Part 2)

New Wave
Oct 4
Screening: Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, France, 99 mins), La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1966, France, 28 mins)
Oct 5
Samuel Delany, "About 5,750 Words" & "Quarks"
Scott Bukatman "Terminal Image" (Terminal Identity, Part 1)
Andrew Sarris, "Alphaville"
Philip K. Dick, Ubik

Space Odyssey
Oct 11
Screening: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968, USA, 141 mins)
Oct 12
Annette Michelson “Bodies in Space”
Michael Stern “Making Culture into Nature”
Scott Bukatman "The Artificial Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime"
Parker Tyler “The Time/Space Computer as Film Hero”

Camp & Pop
Oct 18
Screening: Sins of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar, 1965, USA, 48 mins) & Fantastic Planet (Rene Laloux, 1973, France/Czechoslovakia, 72 mins)
Oct 19
Tom S. Chomont "Interview with Mike Kuchar"
Jonas Mekas "On Camp and Being Campy"
Jack Stevenson "Thinking Big on Small-Gauge Film: Mike Kuchar Still the Voice of Independence"
* First paper due (5 pages)

Oct 25
Screening: Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982, USA, 117 mins)
Oct 26
Janet Bergstrom “Androids and Androgyny”
Guiliana Bruno “Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner”
Scott Bukatman "Terminal Space" (Terminal Identity, Part 2)
William Gibson Neuromancer
Larry McCaffery ""Cutting Up: Cyberpunk, Punk Music, and Urban Decontextualization"

Nov 1
Screening: Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979, USSR, 163 mins)
Nov 2
John Crowley Engine Summer
Frederic Jameson "How to Fulfill a Wish"
Vida T. Johnson & Graham Petrie "Chapter 8: Stalker"
Ted Chiang “Crumbs From the Table”
David Ketterer "The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature"
Vernor Vinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity”

Nov 8
Screening: Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983, USA, 80 mins) & Tribulation 99 (Craig Baldwin, 1992, USA, 48 mins)
Nov 9
Anne Cranny-Francis “Feminist Futures: A Generic Study”
Michael Zryd “Craig Baldwin: Found Footage Film as Discursive Metahistory”
J. Hoberman "Review of Tribulation 99"
Ursula Le Guin “American SF and The Other”
John Varley “The Barbie Murders”

Nov 15
Screening: Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981, Canada, 103 mins) Note: screening will start at 9:00pm this week
Nov 16
Robert Silverberg “In the Group”
Susan Stone-Blackburn “Consciousness Evolution and Early Telepathic Tales”
Brooks Landon “The Insistence of Fantasy in Contemporary Science Fiction Film”
Vivian Sobchack "Postfuturism" (Screening Space, Part 4)

Nov 22 Thanksgiving Break
Nov 23 Thanksgiving Break

Paradox 1: Space-Time as Avant-Garde
Nov 29
Screening: Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968, France, 91 mins)
Nov 30
J.G. Ballard “The Concentration City” & “The Atrocity Exhibition”
Constance Penley "Time Travel, Primal Scene and the Critical Dystopia"
Rudy Rucker, Master of Space and Time

Dec 6
Screening: Strain Andromeda The (Anne McGuire, 1992, USA, 126 mins)
Dec 7
Greg Bear “Blood Music”
Bruce Sterling “Our Neural Chernobyl”
Freeman Dyson "Our Biotech Future" and "Our Biotech Future: An Exchange"
Scott Bukatman "Terminal Flesh" (Terminal Identity, Part 4)
Recommended: essays and art projects by Critical Art Ensemble
* One page proposal + bibliography for final essay due

Paradox 2: How to Build a Time Machine
Dec 13
Screening: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004, USA, 78 mins), screened twice
Dec 14
Paul Davies "How to Build a Time Machine"
Dennis Lim "A Primer Primer" & "What Time is it There?"
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "Time Machines"

Alternate History
Dec 20
Screening: C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (Kevin Willmot, 2004, USA, 89 mins)
Dec 21
Gavriel Rosenfeld "Why Do We Ask 'What If?' "
Fred Bush "The Time of the Other: Alternate History and the Conquest of America"
Bruce Sterling “Dori Bangs”
Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
* final essay due (15 pages)

Further Exploration

Infinity Plus
Science Fiction Studies
Analog: Science Fiction and Fact
Definitions of science fiction