Weekly Film Notes


Students are expected to watch films attentively, with an active mind; although all of these films are certainly entertaining, we are viewing them as more than entertainment. To help facilitate this, and to generate ideas for papers and class discussion, students are required to prepare and submit notes on each film prior to the discussion session following each film. Since we will be watching films in the dark, you may want to purchase a small book-light for note-taking; laptops, tablets, and other computers cannot be used.

These notes will be graded pass / fail and are required for 12 of the 13 films in class. Taken together, these points will count for 24% of your final grade for the class. Please pay special attention to the deadlines described above: Late notes will be accepted, but will not be given credit. To help you prepare notes, this handout lists a number of questions you must answer, as well as some more general questions to just think about.


Questions to Answer in Your Notes

For each film, your notes must answer the following questions.

  1. Who was the Director?
  2. (a) What year was the film made?

    (b) What year was it set in?

  3. (a) What city was the film set in?

    (b) Where do you think it was shot?

  4. Jot down five adjectives or phrases to describe the sense of the city portrayed in the film. What kind of place is it? Be as descriptive and specific—and nuanced—as possible: There are a lot of rich, descriptive words out there waiting around patiently, just dying for their chance to get used. Think about how this city looks, sounds, feels—but also how it behaves: If the city were a character in this film, how would you describe its motivation or personality?
  5. Briefly describe one remarkable scene—ideally one related to the subject of this course. Be sure to also explain why you choose it, and what you think it tells us about the ideas about cities presented or explored in the film?
  6. Pose at least two questions you'd like to think more about or discuss in class.
  7. Draw one parallel or contrast between this film and another film you've seen (either in this class or elsewhere), or—alternatively—some sort of real-world place or urban scene you experienced.

Questions to Think About and Maybe Answer in Your Notes

Beyond the items mentioned above, consider the following questions, and add your thoughts to you notes if you want.

  1. Could the film have been set somewhere else? How might this have made it a different film?
  2. Did the city and the places in this film seem "realistic" to you, or somehow fantastic, mythical, imaginative, or surreal? (Or something else? Or a mix?)
  3. How do the characters get around the city? How do they move through the physical space of the urban environment, and what does that signal to you about city life?
  4. How else do the characters interact with the typical elements of urban life—taxis, trains, beat-cops, payphones, lunch-counters, crowds, elevators, pot-holes, muggers, businessmen, plate-glass windows, benches, neon-signs, garbage, glitz, high-society dames, homeless people, and the like?
  5. Are there any elements of the city that you found notable absent from the film?
  6. Looking back at the adjectives you used the previous series of questions (item 4 on the preceding list), do you think the film suggests that these characteristics apply to cities in general, or just this city in particular?
  7. Is there anything else about the film and the ways it depicts the city that you'd like to remember, or to call attention to for you classmates?


To help liven up the class a bit (as if all these great city films isn't enough!), and also to help us all keep the films straight, I'm challenging you to come up with limericks for each film, which you can include in your weekly film notes. Writing a few of my own, I think I may have invented a new art form: the "filmerick." Here's what I came up with for a few of the films:


Joh Frederson's city is smart,
The brains tell the brawn when to start.
      But inspired by Hel,
      The workers rebel:
The head and the hands need a heart.

Berlin: Symphony of a City

Made from hundreds of meters of stock,
And covering block upon block,
      This film, like a rhyme,
      Shows a town keeping time:
Berlin is one big cuckoo clock.

Modern Times

With all of its plot twists and swerves,
This film, like a clarion, serves
      To gives that impression
      That the Great Depression
Did a hell of a job on our nerves.

Bicycle Thieves

De Sica shoots Rome neo-real,
The poor have been dealt a raw deal.
      A bike is required
      Or Ricci gets fired:
All men must eventually steal.

Student Examples

Metropolis Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City Example (PDF)
The Crowd Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
Modern Times Example (PDF)
Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) Example (PDF)
The Naked City Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
West Side Story Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
Play Time Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
Midnight Cowboy Example (PDF)
Blade Runner No Examples
Do the Right Thing Example 1 (PDF), Example 2 (PDF)
London Example (PDF)
Night on Earth No Examples