When reflecting on his 300-level “Filming in the 70s” class, associate professor of English Ken Cooper characterizes the course as a study of culture with an interdisciplinary perspective aimed at encouraging students to look at literature in relation to other things. The lack of a lab or recitation due to the video streaming and renting services makes this twice-a-week class unlike other film studies courses. “Students balance some dimension of looking closely at films with reading either historical or theoretical works,” Cooper said.
Students enrolling in this class can expect to examine approximately 11 films from the 1970s. The chosen films each reveal some aspect of the transformation of American culture at that time.
“These transformations did not receive appreciation as such in their own decade,” Cooper said. “They demonstrate the origins of our current culture, specifically with regard to technological infrastructure.”
While the choice of films does encompass some of those deemed by critics’ “best of the decade” like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II, others might appear strange because they lack quintessential Hollywood endings. Such films, however, reflect the repercussions felt in the 70s of problems from the preceding decade: war, gender dynamics, militarism, environmentalism and scarcity.
Combatting the widespread notion that the 70s exist merely as the cheesy aftermath of the 60s, Cooper approaches his class and its exploration of 70s culture within the framework of contemporary thinking. “[It’s] like looking back at a picture of yourself from junior high,” he said. “Reflecting on the 70s reveals indications of where modern technologies began, demonstrated by the popularity of CV radios, [which set] the stage for mobile cellular technologies meeting the demand for communication while in motion.”
Virtually every student comes to college having practiced analyzing poems and novels. Although most arrive having also heard of historically revered films, many have not necessarily seen them, and have almost certainly never learned to ‘read’ or interpret film as literature.
“By the end of this semester, the students are definitely way more attuned to other things going on in the film besides the plot,” Cooper said. “A lot of the world around us is not print anymore, and if we are going to talk about contemporary literature and the world around us, then we need a critical and thoughtful perspective.”
As with literature, reviewing and discussing a film necessitates attention to intricacies beyond plot—from mise en scène to the political and sociological relationships between the work and the reality in which it exists.