History, Theory, and Criticism Theses!

Monday saw our second round of thesis presentations– this time, the History/Theory and Criticism projects. The students and their work are featured below.


Left: Advisor A.O Scott

Claire Shaffer, Emotion Pictures: The Art and Evolution of Music Videos

We often take music videos for granted. Over their 40-year history, music videos have provided the TV background noise in our living rooms, the fun YouTube clip we casually share with a friend, the meme we scroll past on our phones. They’ve also been cultural touchstones, viral sensations and, at times, groundbreaking pieces of visual art that add to the legacies of pop stars and filmmakers alike. This thesis pays critical attention to those moments, analyzing what makes the music video a uniquely expressive art form and how it has altered the landscape of digital media throughout its existence.

History and Theory

Left: Ari Polgar, Plot, Participation, and Playing Pretend: Narrative Pleasure in Single-Player Video Games

Long relegated to low-brow pop culture for teenagers, video games have emerged as the hot new area of media studies. With many styles and systems, games form a confusing group that is part technology and part toy. They are accepted for their fun but their power to connect with audiences and tell compelling tales is widely ignored. In this thesis, I argue for the merit of games as a storytelling medium, highlighting the ways in which interactivity supports plot while looking toward their future as an integrated narrative form, one that uses play and imagination to craft immersive stories.

Right: Graham Brown, Beyond the Infinite: A Genre Study of the Hypothetical Space Film

Since the dawn of cinema, outer space has both fascinated and challenged filmmakers. Though space has been a subject of film since A Trip to the Moon (1902), concerns of accuracy and realism didn’t enter popular cinema until Destination Moon (1950). This film laid the foundations for a genre I call the Hypothetical Space Film, a tradition fueled by a desire to distinguish itself from mainstream science fiction. In this thesis, I trace the development of the Hypothetical Space Film by analyzing the genre’s conventions and elements that filmmakers have interacted with for the last 68 years.

Not pictured: Paul Partridge, Did He Do It?: Judging the Suspect- Protagonist in True Crime Documentaries

The recent mainstream appeal of series such as Making a Murderer and The Jinx has cemented the place of true crime documentaries as a popular genre in our cultural landscape. Examining earlier works crucial to its formation reveals the common characteristic of creating a participative role for the viewer, who is asked to determine the guilt of the crime suspect around whom the narrative is centered. This thesis traces the history of how the true crime documentary came to be recognized as a genre, offers an overview of its main techniques and their evolution into long- form storytelling, and explores where the genre is headed now.

Congratulations to the thesis writers! Presentations conclude this Friday and Saturday with the digital and 16mm film screenings.


Screenplay and Television Thesis Presentations

On Sunday, the campus gathered in the Powell Family Cinema for this year’s screenplay and television thesis presentations. The department’s senior thesis writers had the chance to present and read from their year-long projects. Here are the students (and Joe Cacaci) and their work:

Screenplay writers

Left to right:

Lealand Meade-Miller, Tsar Ian 

Ian is a twenty-something American thrown into an identity crisis by the death of his father. He finds the answer to this crisis in his father’s attic, where he discovers he is the last descendant of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and heir to the Russian throne. Spurred by a sense of destiny, he embarks on a journey to Russia to claim his birthright. On this journey he finds friends, foments mob violence, and gets involved in a mafia conspiracy, leading him to question his purpose in the world and what destiny truly means.

James Cureton, Seattle Story

Leah is a hardworking high school senior, who lives in Seattle with just her mother, Alma. Leah’s life is focused around finishing her high school career on track and getting a scholarship to college. A chance encounter on the streets of Seattle brings her back into the orbit of her estranged father, Anthony. Having lost contact with him and his new family years ago, she has to rediscover what family she really has and who she has to count on.

Jack Maraghy, Burner

Every year social outcasts flock to the desert for free love and free drugs at a weeklong, Burning Man-esque art festival. But Grayson, long time “Burner” and unofficial festival fixer, can’t relax after witnessing a murder on the first night of the fest. He spends the rest of the week unraveling a conspiracy that may ultimately unravel him. It’s a surreal decent into darkness as he learns what he’ll sacrifice to protect his way of life.

Jianna Xiong, Dot

Eight-year-old Dot and his father, Adam, live alone in a secluded, undeveloped valley that encloses an otherworldly land made of rough diamonds. Working with his colleague at the federal environmental agency, Adam is committed to shielding the diamond field from the profit-driven outside world. Meanwhile, trying to shelter Dot from the truth of his mother’s suicide, Adam comes up with a mythical story that leads Dot to believe that his mother is living in the distant, all-powerful ocean. However, when the diamond field is brought to the attention of a diamond-mining corporation, the company’s imminent encroachment threatens both the valley’s preservation and Dot’s idealistic worldview.

Television writers

Left to right:

Arianna Allegra D’Andrea, Syndicate

Do intentions justify actions? Set in NYC, Syndicate explores the psychological journey of two unsuspecting people involved in illicit activities, for moral reasons. The drama centers on Ginger, a 21- year-old business enthusiast whose future gets derailed due to foolish, heat-of-the- moment decision-making. What began as a quick fix to help pay family medical bills soon devolved into total involvement in nefarious activities that eat away at her daily. Lucky faces a similar situation. His now comatose brother, Dom, would use revenue from his marijuana sales to help the less fortunate. Struggling to upkeep this financial support, Lucky is launched into a business he never wanted part in. The two form an unlikely alliance, but their pasts are dangerously intertwined. The closer Lucky and Ginger grow, the closer everything comes to falling apart…

Matt Fichandler, Whisper Valley

Whisper Valley is a mystery-comedy that follows the Buckworths, a family of four, as they move from Philadelphia to the picturesque town of Bearskin Butte, Colorado. Every resident of Bearskin Butte is a member of Envirology, a nature-loving cult. Throughout their move, the Buckworths learn that Envirology is one week away from The First Day, and while attempting to discover what will happen on The First Day, the Buckworths learn that Bearskin Butte is not what they thought it was. Not only is Envirology moving the town towards self-sustainability without permission from the government, but the town of Bearskin Butte doesn’t even technically exist. They are actually in Whisper Valley, a town that Envirology has secretly been fixing up ever since its abandonment 25 years ago. What will The First Day bring?

Kaelin Loss, Zapp and Zodd

On planet Cardosso, the aliens working at Zarthorp Productions struggle to save their most popular television show: Earth. The Cardossians have watched the evolution of Earth, its species and cultures with disgust and morbid curiosity for 4.5 billion years. But the show’s location is nearing total destruction, and evolving technology poses the possibility of human colonization in space. Enter Zapp and Zodd: producers with nothing in common who must assume human form, travel to Earth, and determine whether humanity is worth saving. Zapp and Zodd, a half-hour comedy, is bursting with criticism and commentary on human nature through an “alien” perspective.

Zenzele Price, Blame

The Shore family moved to rural Watertown, Idaho in hopes of a fresh start. But on one Sunday morning at the supermarket, Alex, the family’s eldest son, commits a crime that erases any hope the Shores harbored of living a normal life. Alex’s act is caught on camera, capturing the attention of the news and igniting the indignation of the entire community. As the media spotlight threatens to unearth decades of family secrets, one question about that fateful morning remains unanswered – why did Alex do it?

Blame follows the Shore family as the consequences of that morning ripple through the town, thrusting a grieving family and a reeling community into public scrutiny.

Eli Sands, Tenement

Tenement is an hour-long historical drama series. By 1925, only the very poorest of the million and a half Jews who immigrated to New York City in the prior half-century still remain on the Lower East Side. One such poor family is the Nadelmanns: parents Abram and Devorah, and their children Menachem, Yaaakov, and Anna. Abram’s diagnosis of tuberculosis and subsequent hospitalization sparks great change in all their lives: Menachem becomes politically active as an anarchist, Yaakov becomes an assistant to a shady and wealthy banker, and Anna explores acting in Yiddish theater. Family friend Leah starts a garment manufacturing business. As they gain experience, grow in ambition, and face escalating obstacles, they reevaluate their goals and their relationships with their loved ones.

Will Stewart, Become Death

Become Death tells the story of two families brought together to survive the nuclear apocalypse. Fifteen years after the bombs fall, the Bates and Gomez families sit opposed over the remains of the State of Tennessee in the midst of a war between the United States and China. In the pilot, the various members of the Bates and Gomez families struggle to seize power after the President’s revelation that the Chinese army has developed technology which may end the nuclear detente. Bud Bates, the patriarch of the Bates family, wants to capitalize on this new technology, while matriarch Martina Gomez wants to reveal the secrets Bud hides on his estate.

Congratulations to all thesis writers! Be sure to catch the history, theory, and criticism presentations on Monday 5/7, and the thesis films on 5/11 and 5/12.

The CFILM Podcast Episode 2! We’ll Always Have Casablanca!

It’s back! Like The IncrediblesBreakin’Avatar someday, but notably not Casablanca, the CFILM podcast returns for part 2. In this episode, Jeanine Basinger and Scott Higgins discuss the beloved film with special guest Noah Isenberg. He’s the author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film, available now. Casablanca celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

The CFILM podcast will be updated biweekly on Wednesdays. Remember to check back in for new episodes!

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A Significant Blog

AWARENESS is CFilm’s public series of free films engaging with vital social, political, and cultural issues. Now in its third year, the series brings Middletown and campus communities together to confront and discuss a wide range of fascinating and sometimes difficult subjects. This year’s films included The Departure, The Rape of Recy Taylor, Paper Lanterns, Age of Consequence, and Destruction of Memory. The series concluded last Tuesday with the Indian documentary An Insignificant Man followed by a discussion with co-director Kushboo Ranka and Anthropology Professor Anu Sharma. Swapnil Rai, who taught CFILM’s course in Bollywood Cinema last fall, moderated the session. Afterward, she shared a few thoughts about the film:

An Insignificant Man is an observational documentary about a very unique moment in Indian politics, the rise of the Common Man Party (Aam Aadmi Party, AAP). It documents the early years of AAP, from the party’s inception as an anti-corruption movement, to its culmination as the ruling party in the state of New Delhi. This documentary is compelling for two reasons. First, it gives the viewer a singular and insightful glimpse into a unique democratic process; the formation of a political party from the grassroots level. Second, it very effectively utilizes the observational documentary form. The filmmakers Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka filmed for over 400 hours with their unobtrusive DSLR camera to then crystallize that footage into a crisp 100 min narrative. Their documentary gives the audience an uninhibited and honest look into the emergence of AAP and reveals the machinations behind the political haze. Four years hence, the AAP has lost its idealism and devolved into just another political party. This time capsule of their incredible rise is euphoric nonetheless.



It appears you have stumbled upon the Wesleyan College of Film and the Moving Image: The Social Media Experience! Welcome!

Consider this here blog your virtual access point to CFILM’s guts– who we are, what’s happening, ways to get involved. We’ll update every week with goings-on, thoughts on film, and the Wesleyan CFILM podcast (!), so check frequently to stay up-to-date. Have fun! Watch Closely! And be safe!

The Cinema of Horror Comes to the Rick Nicita Gallery

BE AFRAID… BE VERY AFRAID…. The Cinema of Horror

Archive Posters at the Rick Nicita Gallery

This month, the Rick Nicita Gallery space in the Center for Film Studies opened an exhibit of horror film posters from the Wesleyan Film Archive. This show coincides with the Cinema of Horror class that I’m teaching this semester, and so I wrote up a brief discussion of the genre and its advertising, which I’m posting here. The Gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays 12 – 4pm.

Horror began creeping into cinema in 1896 when George Méliès directed his trick film The House of the Devil. It haunted 1920s Germany in expressionist masterpieces like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. The term “horror film,” however, first appeared in 1932 during the great plague of Hollywood monster movies touched off by Universal Studios with Dracula a year before. The genre has stalked our screens ever since, with outbreaks cropping up in the 1950s, late 1960s, mid 1980s, late 1990s and an unrelenting apocalyptic siege encouraged by digital distribution over the past decade. There is no escape.

For young filmmakers, horror films offer a primer on how to play with expectations and move viewers with image and sound. The genre thrives at lower budgets, encourages flamboyant style, needs no stars, and tends to be critic-proof. As genre built on suggestion, horror also has long been a vehicle for social commentary. Caligari  (1919) refracted the trauma of WWI, Night of the Living Dead (1968) repurposed imagery from the Vietnam War, and Get Out (2017) documents American racism.  Horror movies can deal with subjects otherwise reserved for somber “issue films,” and they reach huge audiences along the way.

Most of us, though, go to horror films to be scared, and producers are more than happy to oblige. The posters here all guarantee terror for the price of admission. In this, they reflect cinema’s roots in the fairground side show.  Like a huckster daring patrons to enter a tent, horror advertising promises unspeakable thrills in exchange for a few dollars. The designs offer tantalizing glimpses of what lays inside, just enough to raise your curiosity and send your imagination into the dark. Carnival-barker text challenges you.The poster for Dracula’s Daughter (1936) promises that “She gives you that weird feeling.”


Frankenstein’s (1932) producers “Dare You To See It!”


And, echoing the famous campaign for Jaws, the Suspiria (1977) poster threatens “You Will Never Again Feel Safe In The Dark.”

The exhibit’s showstopper, though, must be the poster for The Chamber of Horrors (1966), a film so intense it requires an “audio-visual warning system” to tell you when to “shut your eyes and hold your ears.”

As this collection of posters attest, horror is the original exploitation genre. Could any movie be best enjoyed with closed eyes and covered ears? We dare you to find out!






The CFILM Podcast! Episode 1! With Ed Decter!

With the launch of the CFILM blog comes the launch of the CFILM podcast! With no less than three alumni here to discuss life after Wesleyan! In this episode Allis Cronan (’17) and Kiley Rossetter (’17) interview director, screenwriter, producer, show-runner, and AFI professor Ed Decter (’79).

They also discuss the Wesleyan at AFI pilot program, happening this summer. The workshop, made possible by Professor Jeanine Basinger’s decade’s long relationship with the AFI, is open to CFILM graduates of 2017 and 2018. If you are interested in learning more, contact Scott Higgins, Director of C-Film: shiggins@wesleyan.edu


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