Ann Douglas is a powerhouse. Brilliant, quirky, and endlessly passionate about film noir, this class often felt like her attempt to somehow cram her lifetime love for the genre into concise two-hour sessions, complete with her original analysis as well as innumerable tangents about, say, the 5th camera crew's freedom in Fritz Lang's this-and-that. She begins the course by treating noir as a sort of historical entry in the arc of post-colonial scholarship, and this subversive bent shapes the rest of the class. It turns out film noirs are among the most powerful social critiques of American society in their time. Douglas is a radical in the truest sense of the word - she was one of the first women to bust into the academy and it's easy to see why. She is whip-smart, creative, and truly loves the material she is teaching. Getting the chance to tap into that energy in a tiny overpacked room in Philosophy (probably chosen because it has the only VHS player left at Columbia) each week was an honor, a pleasure, and a privilege. The class itself is run somewhat haphazardly - Douglas brightly solicits student feedback, but also cut students off mid-comment over half the time. This was kind of annoying, but also forgivable because it was always out of her exuberance about the topic. We never covered all the stuff she seemed to want to, perhaps because she ran class by occasionally looking down at a scrawled sheet of paper with all the amazing things she loved about the movie that week. Unstructured, yes, but it hardly mattered. This course is less about coming away with factoids about film noir and more about capturing the sense of it all - what one of her favorite readings calls the "specific sense of malaise" that pervades noirs. Combined with the post-colonial critique framing the movies, all the juiciness of noir gets drawn out so you can wrestle with its dark implications for the United States and modern society. She also loves when students come to her office hours, and will happily chat your head off about something you mention as well as help you with your paper if you want. Film Noir is a journey of learning in the truest sense. What a delight.
Professor Douglas is that rare professor who invites you to think about what it really means to be a scholar. I'm sad that the class is over. But, perhaps most importantly, I'm humbled to have gotten the opportunity to work alongside her for an entire semester. The class, itself, was wonderful. It's obvious that every film and reading is chosen for a very specific reason, and Professor Douglas's ability to synthesize all of the course material into one coherently structured and intellectually engaging whole was what made the class even more impressive. Aside from that, though, Professor Douglas is just somebody you want around you. She's so passionate about these films, and it really does create a stimulating learning environment for everybody. Although technically retired, I hope that Professor Douglas continues teaching in some capacity. She's outstanding, and has really reaffirmed my love both for the academy and for Columbia.
If Ann Douglas wasn't three times my age, I would propose to her. Actually, I still might. She is the best professor I had at Columbia. Period. Film noir with Ann was great because she's not really a film professor but someone who really, REALLY loves the movies she talks about (she has claimed to have seen exactly 250 films of the genre). Her lectures and discussions with the rest of the seminar were predicated on her deep love of these movies, and she taught them in a very non-film way. She also started the class with two novels from the 19th centuryâ€”Heart of Darkness and Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hydeâ€”which helped present her own theory on the origins of film noir that actually made quite a lot of sense. I had seen most of the movies we talked about, but not in the same way she described them. Best class I took at Columbia? You betcha
Simply said, she's great. Very laid back, yet intellectually rigorous class. This isn't a typical film or English class- we get into discussions of feminism, Marxism, and imperialism to look at the themes of the films. Ann can talk for long periods of time without every meandering or missing a beat; she is a captivating professor. Yet she often prefers to hear our interpretations of the films. One of the few professors who is intellectually intimidating while nobody every felt uninvited to contradict her or offer their own analysis.
At the first meeting of discussion section for this class, students were asked why they were taking the course. An overwhelming majority said "because Sarris is teaching it." He's a great guy, really funny, and his knowledge is extensive. It's fantastic to take a class with such a renowned film critic, but he is getting along in years, and if you're looking for an in depth analysis of each film and the genre as a whole, you won't find it here. Also, although Sarris encourages participation, he is a bit hard of hearing, so it's often difficult to get your point across, and if he doesn't agree with you, he can be a bit stubborn. However, I would still recommend this class to anyone who wants to get a general idea of what film noir is about from a professor who always makes class fun.
He assigns a lot of unnecessary readings, for one session which are unrealistic to be read in a week's time, in addition to a workload of papers: 12 1000 word essays(3 for every 4 sets of fims you view each month in class) and a 4000-5000 final paper. The discussions are insightful but tends to concentrate too much on off-camera bios and infos about each film and its creators. Therefore, one gets a load of information about who married who or who divorced who while yhe film is made, or who was the grip, blah blah. On the other hand, Pena is very knowledgeable on film analysis but tends to be bookish. Your grades depend entirely on one TA even though he has two. Pena never reads a single student paper in this clss. If you are an international student and you happen to be graded by his TA who is unforgiving of grammatical or syntax irregularities be prepared to get Cs or B minuses even though you have excellent and original analysis for a film. The films screened are excellent and well picked for the topic. You'll enjoy the screenings and the discussions in this class. The latter you'll enjoy more if you plan to win first place in a film trivia contest.