The ENG3940H Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia Film Festival

Welcome to the First ever ENG3940H Cinema of Fear, Anxiety and Paranoia Film Festival. Below are most of the student videos we watched together during our last class session. The videos are part of a final project which also includes a lengthy written reflection on the process of making the videos and their connections to the assigned films, readings and the broader themes of the course. Enjoy.


H1N1X: Christy, Yelena, and Alesia pay tribute to 70’s paranoia films with this dark and suspenseful comment on the recent Swine Flu scare.

The Spud Diamond: Miriam and Lisa put Psycho, Marathon Man, Night of the Living Dead, and your childhood in a blender to create this nail biter.

Manchurian Mean Girls: In reimagining of the Spring Lake Ladies Garden Club/brainwashing demonstration scene from The Manchurian Candidate, Maria, Alice, Chamandeep, and Jenny put the 1962 classic into dialogue with Mean Girls.

Final Cut: Nick and John speak to the anxiety and fear inspired by their final project in this tense and rapidly paced homage to horror films of the last three decades.

NOTLD: A faithful shot-for-shot recreation of the graveyard scene at the beginning of Night of the Living Dead by Elisabeth, Minhaj and Gilbert. Blooper reel included.

Exorcist Revisited: Whitney, Ravendra, Stephen and Giomar’s dramatic take on the famous exorcism scene in the The Exorcist. The spirit of William Friedkin compels you!

Three Days of the Condor – Elevator Scene (Sweded): Taking a page from Todd Haynes’ on casting, Vik, Jhaneel, Jahn and Daniel reenact shot-for-shot a famous scene from Three Days of the Condor. Starring Max Von Sydow and friends.

Andrew’s Parannoying Activity: Andrew considers the ghost’s needs in a parody of Paranormal Activity.

Vestige: Alan’s homage to Memento with a protagonist whose memory problem is slightly different than Leonard Shelby’s.

And, unfortunately, the Warner Music Group Doesn’t want you to see Scary Stuff, a mashup by Tamara because they don’t seem to get fair use. We’ll see if we can get it to post eventually.

Writing Assignment: Final Project Reflection Essay

Final Project Reflection Essay

Length: 5-7pp

DUE: Anytime between Thurs., 5/13 and 12pm on Friday, 5/21 in Rm. 318 in the Annex bldg. You can hand in your paper anytime between 9am and 5pm. The office will be closed after 5pm.

The Assignment:

Write an essay in which you reflect, in detail, on the process of creating your final project as well as on the ways in which it speaks to our assigned films and the broader themes of this class.

Consider the following in composing your essay: (You don’t need to address every single one of these, but use them in composing your essay).

Why did you choose to do approach your project the way you did? Was this a group or individual decision? In either case, describe the process of coming up with your project idea and with your initial plan. What role did your teammates play in the initial planning?

Which films did you reference or address in your project? Why? Why did you choose the films you did? How does your project speak to, draw on or engage those films? What, in other words, does your project say about the films you chose to honor, mock, revise, update, etc.?

How does your project engage our readings?  How did any of the assigned readings influence your thinking about your project and how you carried it out? Which readings were especially useful? How and why? Feel free to discuss, if briefly, any specific ideas from our readings that you feel influenced you.

Discuss the process of carrying out your project in as much detail as possible. What was the planning like? If you shot video, where did you shoot and when? Who was involved in the shoot? Why? What role did everyone play? Why did you choose the location you chose? What were some of the challenges you encountered? Did you have to deviate from your original plan? Why? How? How did that affect the end result? What happened after the footage was shot? Who did what? What was the post-production process like? Did you encounter any snags along the way?

How and to what extent does the video you turned in resemble the one you had in mind when you first started working on your project? Why do you think that is? Did you end up with something you did not expect to end up with? How might you explain that? Does it offer any insights for similar projects you might undertake in the future?

You get the idea. We will brainstorm some in class as well.

Reminder: Project Proposal Due on Thursday, 4/22

This is a reminder that your project proposals are due in my inbox before class on Thursday the 22nd. I need to know the following:

Who is involved in the project? Is it a group or individual project? If the former, who is in the group?

What are you planning to do? Give me an idea of what you’re doing in as much detail as possible.

Why are you proposing what you are proposing?
In a few sentences, describe the connection between your project and the themes and movies of this course. Why, in your opinion, does it make sense for you to do what you are proposing for the final project? Why and how does your proposed project fit the goals of this course?

Do you have any additional questions or requests?
How might I help you with your project?

Blog Assignment #3

Ok, bloggers, here’s the last round. I was really impressed with what you did with found material from the Internet so let’s do it again but with one new parameter.

For this next round of blog posts, I’d like you to once again do what you did for the last assignment: find something interesting on the Internet (video, image, blog post, a conversation on a forum, etc.) that relates to our films or to the broader themes of this course and respond to it, much as you did last time. This time however, don’t use YouTube. That’s right, no YouTube. We can discuss my reasons for this in class if you wish.

So feel free to scour,, the Internet Archive, Creative Commons,,, even the forums at movie sites like IMDB, Cinema Blend, or Movie-Vault. You can even try shopping sites like or even Google Products. Use your imagination. Just no YouTube.

Please don’t forget to embed or link to whatever you’re writing about and to tag your posts and to assign them to the “blog assignment #3” category.

I look forward to another great round of posts. So far, they’ve been truly great.

Two 1980s Nuclear Nightmares

If you haven’t had your fill of nuclear doomsday narratives, here are two more.

The Atomic Cafe (1983) is a clever, satirical documentary made up of archive footage from a variety of sources from the late 1940s to the early 1960 addressing every aspect of cold war era nuclear anxiety. Both frightening and darkly funny, it very nicely distills many of the themes in the discussions we’ve had over the last two weeks.

Threads (1984) is a BBC made for TV movie about a nuclear attack on Great Britain. It is, in a sense, a British Day After. It feels decidedly more real than it’s American counterpart broadcast a year earlier. Believe it or not, it is even darker and bleaker. It is widely regarded as the very best, most disturbing and haunting imagining of nuclear war and its aftermath from the 1980s.

Midterm Exam

This is a take-home exam due at the start of class on Thursday, April 8th.

Choose 3 of the following 5 questions (not including the extra credit question) and respond to each as thoroughly as you can. Each of your responses should be 2-3 double spaced pages in length. Be sure to address every part of each question you choose.

1. Is Romero’s Night of the Living Dead scary? Why or why not? If so, what about it frightened you? If not, how might it have been scarier? Does it still resonate for the reasons Phillips discusses?

2. Peter Dendle argues that movie zombies can be seen as a “barometer of cultural anxiety.” According to Dendle, the preponderance of zombie movies over the years, in other words, speaks to various anxieties and fears that inform a particular cultural moment. What other genre (or sub-genre) of movies speaks to our fears and anxieties in a similar way? How? Why? Has it evolved in a way that might be compared to zombie movies? Be sure to use plenty of specific evidence from movies or our readings to back up your arguments.

3. Watch Touch of Evil and pay careful attention to the final scene. Consider the last few lines, spoken by Marlene Dietrich’s character, and discuss their significance to the movie. What does she mean by “He was some kind of a man . . .What does it matter what you say about people?” How might we interpret that line? How might we connect it to the moral sensibility typical of film noir according to Schrader, Naremore, Grossman, or Borde and Chaumeton? Use evidence from the film and our readings to back up your argument.

4. Watch a movie released in the 1940s or 1950s (it can be one that’s assigned, recommended, or one you choose to watch on your own on Netflix or and discuss how it does or does not adhere to one or more of guidelines for patriotic, anti-communist movies as delineated by Ayn Rand in her 1950 pamphlet, “Screen Guide for Americans.” Be sure to back up your assertions with evidence from the movie and Rand’s infamous pamphlet.

5. Released in 1964 by Columbia Pictures and based on similar source material, Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove both speak to prevailing fears and anxieties over the very real threat of global nuclear war. They do so, however, in distinctly different ways. Discuss how each film presents the threat of a nuclear apocalypse. What sort of conclusions do they seem to reach about the cold war conflict and the possibility of a doomsday scenario? Be sure to cite evidence from the films and our readings by Whitfielfd and Perrine in supporting your argument.


6. “Are you now, or have you ever been a Communist?”

Nuclear War Films on the Digital Campus

In addition to the three required films for next week (Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove and The Day After), two more movies nuclear war themed movies have now been added to the Digital Campus page. These are On the Beach and The Bedford Incident (1965) (which Whitfield briefly discusses). Though I will not hold you responsible for these two movies, I do recommend that you watch them if you have a chance. It will enrich our discussions on Tuesday and Thursday.

If you encounter problems with streaming from the Digital Campus, please let me know in an email so I can report it the folks at the library. Please be as specific in your description of the problem as possible.

The Red Scare and the Hollywood Blacklist: For Tuesday

As you’ll see on the calendar page, our viewing for Tuesday is The Front, a 1976 comedy starring Woody Allen about McCarthyism’s impact on the entertainment industry and Trumbo, a 2007 documentary about Dalton Trumbo, a well known screenwriter who was blacklisted but continued to write and and win awards under psuedonyms. Both are available for streaming on Netflix.

Also, please take a look the following films. Together, they’ll give you some additional context for the two films as well as our reading from Whitfield’s The Culture of the Cold War. Most of these are already in our Delicious feed.

“Hollywood ‘Red’ Probe Begins, 1947/10/20 (1947)” A newsreel on the beginning of HUAC’s probe of alleged communist activity and influence in Hollywood.
I Married a Communist(a.k.a. The Woman on Pier 13)(1949). An RKO feature starring Robert Ryan and an exemplary red scare propaganda film along with My Son John and I Was A Communist for the FBI.

“The Hollywood Ten” (1950), a 16mm short critical of McCarthyism and the blacklist. The director, John Berry, was blacklisted after the film’s release and fled to France where he worked until his return to the US in the 1970s.

“Make Mine Freedom” (1948). A propaganda cartoon on the virtues of democracy and what Americans stand to lose if communism should prevail.
“Communism,” a 1952 educational film about the threat of Soviet Communism.

A Quick Update

As I mentioned in class, the schedule for presentations and required viewings is now available for download here. Take a look at that when you have a chance. Also, the next two readings are now available as well: the Melley article on brainwashing for Thursday and chapter 6 of Whitfield’s Culture of the Cold War. You’ll notice on the updated calendar that next week is going to look a little different from what I described to you last week.

Since Swank will not be ready in time to post to the Digital Campus the movies I had intended for you to watch, I had to improvise a little given what is available on Netflix. Rather than watching the two 1950s anti-communist movies as planned (let’s face it, they’re more interesting than entertaining, especially to contemporary audiences), I’m going to switch things around and ask you to watch the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate for Thursday. If you can find the time to watch the 2004 version, you should. Both are available on the Digital Campus and are linked to on the calendar page.

Since we can’t get primary material, we’ll go for the secondary. For the following Tuesday, please watch The Front, a 1976 comedy with Woody Allen about blacklisted writers and Trumbo, a 2007 documentary about Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who was blacklisted and wrote many films under psuedonyms — one even won an Oscar. Both are available for streaming on Netflix. I’ll also post some links to a few shorts from the Prelinger archive. Most of these are already on our delicious page, so take a look. For that Thursday, 7 Days in May should be available on the Digital Campus site. Once that’s set, it should be smooth sailing for the remainder of the semester.

Blog Assignment #2

Since we’ll be reaching the end of our first posting cycle at the end of this week, here’s your next blog assignment:

1) find a video, audio file, blog post, image, article, or even a whole website that is somehow related to themes of this course or one or more of our assigned movies. (By themes I mean fear, anxiety, paranoia, most obviously, but also topics like zombies, nuclear war, conspiracy, terror, monsters, etc., etc.)

2) embed it or link to it somewhere in your post (make sure you credit the source) and

3) use it as a springboard for a substantive discussion of one or more of our assigned movies or ideas explored in our readings or in class discussion. You might talk about the connections between what you’ve found and our movies and themes or you might take an idea expressed in what you’ve found and explore it in the context of the movies we’re watching and the ideas that run through them. Feel free to run ideas past me if you’d like some help brainstorming. Please be sure to assign your post to the “blog assignment #2” category and to add 3 or 4 tags based on the themes your post covers, (e.g. “coldwar, zombies, fear”) You can enter tags just above where you select your categories.

You’re free to use anything you find in a Google or YouTube search but I encourage you to look beyond those and explore the Internet Archive, which is an amazing treasure trove of all sorts of media on an incredibly wide range of topics. You might play around on Flickr, Photobucket, Vimeo, delicious and the Creative Commons as well. You’re welcome to use any of the items I’ve posted to our class delicious account, but your choices will be rather limited. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could try sites like WFMU’s Beware of the Blog or Ubuweb, a collection of avant-garde writing, video and audio.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask me in a comment or via email.

Chinatown (1974) and the Recommended Viewing for Thursday

There are several ways to watch Chinatown online. It is available for “rent” for around $3 from Amazon VOD and the iTunes store. Click here for links to the movie on both services.

It is also available to you on Swank’s digital campus site for free. The copy on Swank seems to have been cropped to a 4:3 aspect ratio (that means it’s not widescreen like the original) and the quality may be not quite as good as the paid versions. But it is still Chinatown, it is still superb, and it is free. I will email you with instructions for how to access the digital campus from here at Baruch and from off campus as well. Because there are copyright issues involved, I cannot post the access information in this public space.

Kiss Me Deadly and Touch of Evil are available via the digital campus as well. If you have not seen them, please do. They will be on the midterm.

The recommended films this week are Taxi Driver and Blade Runner. While I will not hold you responsible for them, I suggest you watch them if you can. I realize there is a paper due on Thursday, but if you have the time to watch the recommended films, you definitely should. Taxi Driver is available for streaming from Netflix and Blade Runner is available on line at Click here for the link.

A Few Small Changes to This Site

I have made a few small changes to this site which will hopefully enhance your experience using it and will better facilitate discussion.

1. Email notifications. You are now subscribed to receive email noifications of new posts and should have received an email about this post. If you didn’t, please let me know and I will make sure this feature is working properly. If you use an RSS reader or check the site regularly anyway and wish to unsubscribe to the notifications, you may do so by logging out, entering your email address in the “Subscribe” field in the sidebar, and clicking “unsubscribe.”

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2. Avatars. Comments now have avatars enabled. This means that you can have an image of yourself (or anything else) appear at the beginning of any comment. This is useful for associating names with faces and giving your comments a bit more personality. In order to use an avatar on this site, you will need to get a Gravatar, or Globally Recognized Avatar. You can do that here. Visit the Gravatar site, set up an account and associate any image with your email address. The use of avatars is totally optional, naturally, but I think it will make commenting and responding to comments a bit more fun.

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3. Threaded Comments. You’ll notice that each comment now has a “Reply” link. This allows you to prespond to individual comments rather than the whole post. You can respond to the entire post by entering your comment into the comment field like you have been doing. To reply to individual comments, click the “Reply” link under the comment you wish to respond to.

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4. Most Commented. If you look in the sidebar on the left, you’ll notice a “Most Commented Posts” list which tells us which posts have inspired the most discussion. Make of that what you will, but some folks have the competitive spirit and who am I to deny that. That said, please don’t spam comments.


A Distillation Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”

The following is a distillation of key concepts in Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” I hope this helps.

Laura Mulvey, “Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure,” 1973.

Mulvey appropriates psychoanalysis as a “political weapon” in order to expose ways in which the “patriarchal unconscious” structures film form and the way we experience it.

Woman is the bearer, not maker of meaning in a patriarchal, phallocentric symbolic order. The paradox of  phallocentrism is in that it depends on woman (as lack) to provide meaning and order, to give symbolic meaning to the phallus (the yin needs its yang) – phallus also signifies threat of castration (woman’s supposed desire to “make good the lack”).

There is no lasting place in phallocentric order for the woman: she exists only to symbolize lack, threat of castration (by lack of phallus, male power) and to bring children into the symbolic order –to reproduce it. In patriarchal culture, woman is only the signifier of the “male other” – of that which the male is not, his binary opposite.

According to Mulvey, psychoanalysis allows a way to interrogate patriarchal order from the inside, “to fight the unconscious structured like a language” – provides a way of understanding the frustrating predicament of woman within the patriarchal order.

The unconscious (shaped by the dominant order) structures looking, visual pleasure; film poses questions about the way this works. Hollywood film coded “the erotic” into language of dominant culture. An alternative to this coding is possible in avant-garde, alternative cinema but as a counterpoint to Hollywood. Mulvey wants to rip apart this coding of beauty, erotic pleasure, to destroy it: “It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty destroys it. That is the intention of this article.” She wants, in part, to “conceive new language of desire.” She sees a thrill in this sort of thing.

Two contradictory aspects of pleasure of looking in film: 1) scopophilia, 2) identification.

1) Scopophilia: scopophilic instinct: pleasure in looking at another as sexual object. Audience as voyeurs, isolated from images on screen and one another – audience as looking in on a private world (by way of narrative conventions, etc.). The spectator represses own exhibitionism and projects desire onto screen performer. (This is the separation of subject’s “erotic identity” from object on screen.)

2) Identification: ego libido; related to Lacan’s mirror stage; spectator identifying with an image on screen, gap between image and self-image. Mulvey relates image to first articulation of “I,” subjectivity; constitution of ego, narcissism. (Identification of ego identity w/ object on the screen – subject seeing his/her like.) Paradox: look can be pleasurable in its form but threatening in its content – woman is an active threat of castration is “crystallization” of this (desire born of language and can transcend instinct (scopophilia) and libido (identification), but returns to traumatic source, to the fear of castration).

Active/male; passive/female. Image of woman (passive) is “raw material” for the looking of man (active). Woman as exhibitionist: is simultaneously to be looked at and displayed – coded to connote “to-be-looked-at-ness.” Woman as “alien presence” in many mainstream films – only there to be looked at, breaks diegesis. Woman as erotic object for 1) male characters in the movie and 2) for the spectator – there is a shifting tension between the two looks. Man in the story is the bearer of spectator’s gaze. Lead male character serves as surrogate for spectator’s look – conferring a sense of omnipotence: “so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look.” Man as “figure in a landscape” – demanding presence in space, commanding “stage of spatial illusion” while woman is often “cut up,” despatialized (close-ups of body parts, etc.) – not occupying the virtual landscape of the film.

Big problem in the figure of the woman: Since woman de facto signifies sexual difference, a lack of a penis, the threat of castration, “unpleasure, she threatens to destroy unity of the diegesis: “Thus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified.” (This is also the contradiction inherent in the structures of looking: as is, the image of woman threatens diegesis, imaginary world of the film asn comes off as an “intrusive, static, one dimensional fetish.”) To “escape,” to avoid castration anxiety, to maintain diegesis, the male unconscious can take one of two avenues:

1) voyeurism: going to source of anxiety (“investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery”) combined w/ devaluation, punishment, or saving “the guilty object” This is typical of film noir, she says – has sadistic element in asserting control, judging, punishing.

2) fetishistic scopophilia: disavowing castration altogether by fetishizing the figure of the woman (or substituting fetish object), taming it, making it reassuring, satisfying in itself.

Sternberg’s films with Marlene Dietrich are a good example of fetishistic scopophelia: no identification with male star – all about looking at Dietrich as fetish object. There is little or no mediation of spectator’s gaze through the male character. Male hero does not see, but the spectator does.

Hitchcock’s films, on the other hand, rely on voyeurism quite a bit: viewer essentially sees through the male protagonist, assumes his subjectivity, his looking. In Rear Window, for example, Jimmy Stewart’s “Jeffries is the audience.” Erotic element is in looking; his sexual relationship with Grace Kelly’s Lisa (who is already an exhibitionist) is only re-ignited when she crosses over and becomes the object of his gaze. Hitchcock makes audience voyeurs as much as the lead protagonist: “The audience is absorbed into a voyeuristic situation w/in the screen scene and diegesis that parodies his own in the cinema.” Mulvey offers examples from Marnie and Vertigo as well.

All this business – this structure of pleasure in looking – is not inherent to the film medium but to prevailing film form in its aping of the male unconscious. The camera is an instrument beholden to the neurotic needs of the male ego. Spectator can’t get distance from the image on the screen because fetishization steps in as soon as the erotic image shows up and works to conceal the threat to the “spell of illusion” posed by the unmediated fetish object; the audience look is frozen, fixated.

Writing Assignment #2: Be the Critic

Double spaced, standard 12pt font (Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, etc.), approximately 3 pages, stapled.

Due Thursday, Feb. 25th in class.

You have two options for this assignment:

1) Imagine that you are a contributor to a collection of brief essays on the influence of classic film noir on contemporary film. Choose a movie you’ve seen recently that you feel owes some significant debt to film noir of the 1940s and 1950s and discuss how your movie draws on, pays homage to, enters into conversation with, updates, or subverts the various thematic or stylistic elements that are typically associated with film noir. Be sure to draw on Schrader, Naremore, Grossman, or Borde and Chaumeton where approporiate to back up your arguments — chapter 5 of Naremore (now on the readings page) might prove especially useful. If you choose to work with Schrader (and you probably will want to), be mindful of Naremore’s take on his famous essay in chapter 1 of More Than Night. Try to be as specific as possible when talking about your movie — feel free to focus on individual scenes or even shots rather than merely broad themes. While you may wish to briefly summarize the movie you’ve chosen, please don’t spend a whole lot of time on plot summary — no more than a brief paragraph. The bulk of your essay should be devoted to analysis.

2) Imagine that you are a film critic writing for a special issue of a journal of film criticism devoted to the key ideas in Laura Mulvey’s famous essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Choose a recent film and discuss it through the theoretical lens Mulvey offers us in her essay, applying the concepts she uses to the themes, individual scenes, or even single shots of your movie. Do, in other words, with your movie what Mulvey does with Vertigo, Marnie, and Rear Window toward the end of her essay. (If you are interested in discussing a movie that you feel subverts the structures of looking that Mulvey talks about, or if you wish to offer a critique of Mulvey’s persepctive in relation to a given film, please let me know and I will give you several critiques and analyses of Mulvey to work with.) Be as specific as possible and use Mulvey to support your arguments. To make your life easier, here are some notes on Mulvey that outline her central ideas.

Regardless of which option you choose, try to be as focused and as specific in your discussion as possible. You don’t have a lot of room for a broad, wide ranging discussion so try to keep it somewhat narrow. Please feel free to run ideas by me or to show me drafts. I will be happy to discuss any aspect of this assignment with you and will help you work out your arguments as best I can. What I am looking for here, more than anything else, is how well you articulate and support your arguments with evidence from your movies and the text. If you have questions about this assignment, please feel free to post theme here in a comment.

Reading Mulvey

For Tuesday I’ve asked you to read British film theorist Laura Mulvey‘s hugely important and influential 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Since the copy we have is all marked up, you can download a clean version from another source here. It’s also available in HTML at the Brown University Wiki.

As I noted in class, this is a very challenging essay. It relies heavily on psychoanalytic theory and can seem confusing at first, but it is logically organized and reasonably argued. While some of the concepts Mulvey works with may be difficult and unfamiliar, a careful, attentive reading will reveal an interesting and provocative argument that makes sense whether or not you agree with it. So go slowly and make note of what you don’t understand, want to discuss, or would like clarified further. You may not totally grasp every idea Mulvey raises right away, but you should be able to get a pretty good sense of her overall argument — enough to give us a lot to talk about in class on Tuesday. This is a well known and controversial essay that has been discussed, debated, refuted and refined by film students, scholars and filmmakers for the last 35 years and now we’re going to join the conversation.

At it’s most basic, Mulvey’s argument is that the perspective of Hollywood films has historically been a male one, predisposing viewers to identify with men onscreen and to see women in the movies merely as passive objects, there to be looked at by by both the male characters and the spectator.  The “gaze” Hollywood films offer, she argues, is a male one so that when we watch a movie, we look with the men, but look at the women.

Grace Kelly and James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954)

I am looking forward to our discussion on Tuesday and to establishing explicit connections between Mulvey’s argument and the films we’ve seen so far, particularly the noirs we’ve been watching for the last two weeks.

If you have questions you’d like to pose before our discussion (or even after), feel free to post them here in a comment.