Department of Communication, Media and Film
|Instructor:||Dr. Dawn Johnston|
|Office Location:||MLT 818|
|Office Hours:||Wednesday 3:00 - 4:00 or by appointment|
Each week during term we will analyze one feature film or two 60-minute episodes of The Sopranos in our class session. Students are required to come to class having already seen the required episodes, taken notes, and thought about its themes and meanings. Regular screening times have been arranged for you. If you miss any, rent a video/DVD on your own, but come to class prepared.
This course will examine how The Sopranos operates within the tradition of the crime film genre and around the conventions of North American television. In addition to the weekly class analysis of individual episodes, students must complete a major research project. Students are expected to have access to a VCR/laserdisc/DVD viewing facility. If you have access to VHS, you may sign out the whole of Season One, at no charge, through the Image Centre.
Objectives of the Course
The purpose of this course is to develop your skills in critical analysis. You will be expected to critically analyze a television series within the context of a larger popular cultural environment, as well as traditions of both television and film.
In this course you are writing â€œcriticism,â€ not â€œreview." We're not looking at whether you like or dislike the show -- we're looking at what The Sopranos is doing and why it matters. A review expresses a first impression after a single viewing. â€œCriticismâ€ is the result of careful, considered, analytical thought, and it usually requires multiple viewings. Where a review describes or summarizes a film or television show, criticism analyzes how the specific elements of the text â€“ e.g., its plot, characterization, narrative structure, dialogue, settings, sound, lighting, editing, in fact, anything in or related to the film â€“ work together to advance the theme that you are defining in your work. The strength of your argument will depend upon the â€œevidenceâ€ from the film that you use to support your claims.
Remember: Meaning depends on context. So try to relate elements of the show to each other, rather than attach what could be an arbitrary meaning to any part in isolation. Similarly, always keep in mind the cultural, social, and political climate in which the series was made and is viewed. For your models of critical writing, do NOT rely on newspaper and magazine reviews. Rather, look to academic books on film and television and to the specialized film and television journals (e.g., Film Quarterly, Literature/Film Quarterly, Quarterly Review of Film and TV Studies, Journal of Popular Film/TV, Journal of Popular Culture, Jump Cut, Film Comment, Sight and Sound, Cineaste, etc.).
All written assignments require critical analysis. Assume your reader is familiar with the films and episodes discussed. Do not retell the plot (though it may be necessary to refer to a specific point in the plot) and avoid oversimplified quality assessments, ie: "This was the best episode of the season" or "I didn't like Season Two as much as Season One."
Although the classes will focus on Season One in its entirety and selected episodes from other seasons, students are responsible for a working knowledge of all episodes of Seasons One through Five. Synopses and analyses of each episode appear in the required Yacowar text, and all five seasons are available on DVD at movie rental shops. You are required to read the episode analyses in the text, and it is strongly recommended that you view the selected episodes on your own time.
Textbooks and Readings:
David Lavery, This Thing of Ours: Investigating the Sopranos (Columbia University Press, 2002)
Maurice Yacowar, The Sopranos on the Couch (Continuum, 3rd EDITION 2005)
Assignments and Evaluation
It is the student's responsibility to keep a copy of each submitted assignment.
(1) Two 500-word analyses (15% each): 30% October 11 and November 22
(2) In-class essay (midterm exam): 10% October 25
(3) Research project, a 2,500-word essay: 50% December 6
(4) Participation (oral and/or in Blackboard): 10% Ongoing
Each student is required to submit two short (500 words) analyses of a particular element of one episode. Your analysis must relate a detail from the episode to one of the season's or series' major themes, as well as to one or more of the films from the beginning of the course. These papers are worth 15% each. The first analysis must be submitted by October 11, and the second analysis must be submitted by November 22.
The midterm exam is an in-class essay exam that will ask you to respond to a particular question growing out of our class discussions of The Sopranos. It should demonstrate your ability to engage with the material in a focused, well- organized way in a timed-writing setting. This exam is worth 10% of your final grade.
The topic of the major essay is the student's choice, but must be submitted for the instructorâ€™s advance written approval no later than November 15. An essay without its subjectâ€™s advance approval will not be accepted. This assignment affords students the opportunity to examine a theme or symbol or technical element in detail, in context, and in depth. Take advantage of it, and dig into something that really piques your interest. The essay, due on our last day of class, is worth 50% of your final grade, and is designed to demonstrate your engagement with the course material at the culmination of the term.
Participation is crucial to your success in this course, and accordingly, is worth 10% of your final grade. You will be judged on your ability and willingness to participate in discussions of the material -- in class and/or on the Blackboard Discussion threads. The quality, not the quantity, of your contributions to discussions will be considered.
Note: Please return assignments directly to the instructor if possible. If it is not possible to do so, a daytime drop box is available in SS110; a date stamp is provided for your use. A night drop box is also available for after-hours submission. Assignments will be removed the following morning, stamped with the previous day's date, and placed in the instructor's mailbox.
Registrar-scheduled Final Examination: No
Please note: If your class is held in the evening, the Registrar's Office will make every attempt to schedule the final exam during the evening; however, there is NO guarantee that the exam will NOT be scheduled during the day.
Policy for Late Assignments
Assignments submitted after the deadline may be penalized with the loss of a grade (e.g.: A- to B+) for each day late.
Writing Skills Statement
Faculty policy directs that all written assignments (including, although to a lesser extent, written exam responses) will be assessed at least partly on writing skills. For details see www.comcul.ucalgary.ca/info. Writing skills include not only surface correctness (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc) but also general clarity and organization. Research papers must be properly documented.
If you wish help with your writing at any stage, including drafts, you are invited to contact the Writing Centre, SS110, 220-7255.
The following grading system is used in the Faculty of Communication, Media and Film:
Using any source whatsoever without clearly documenting it is a serious academic offense. For details see www.comcul.ucalgary.ca/info. Consequences include failure on the assignment, failure in the course and possibly suspension or expulsion from the university.
You must document not only direct quotations but also paraphrases and ideas where they appear in your text. A reference list at the end is insufficient by itself. Readers must be able to tell exactly where your words and ideas end and other peopleâ€™s words and ideas begin. This includes assignments submitted in non-traditional formats such as Web pages or visual media, and material taken from such sources.
Please consult your instructor or the Writing Centre (SS110) if you have any questions regarding how to document sources.
It likely goes without saying (if you've ever seen an episode of The Sopranos!) that the series contains material which is usally violent, often sexually explicit, full of "objectionable" language, and intended for a mature viewing audience. For those reasons, if your level of discomfort impedes your ability to watch and analyze the show, you should seriously consider whether this course is the right fit for you.
Students with Disabilities
If you are a student with a disability who may require academic accommodation, it is your responsibility to register with the Disability Resource Centre (220-8237) and discuss your needs with your instructor no later than fourteen (14) days after the start of the course.
For details about the current Students' Union contacts for the Faculty of Communication, Media and Film see www.comcul.ucalgary.ca/info
"SAFEWALK" Program -- 220-5333
Campus Security will escort individuals day or night -- call 220-5333 for assistance. Use any campus phone, emergency phone or the yellow phone located at most parking lot booths.
Schedule of Lectures and Readings
To be handed out in class and posted on Blackboard.