General Advice on Leading Class: Remember that you will lead (as in guide) discussion, not do a report or lecture. You can assume that the class has done the reading or seen the film (so there's no need to summarize the reading or film). You can both pose questions and solicit them but in a way that makes use and develops some crucial issues (rather than a townhall format where questions are posed randomly). The discussion leaders are not supposed to (have to) do all the talking. Also, remember that in preparing discussion you end up taking lots of notes and that you will have far more material to dicuss than we will actually cover in class. Teaching is like writing in this respect; you (should) always have more notes, more text than you end up keeping for your final draft. You'll all want to collaborate on notes and questions by and / or in person. I'll email everyone in each group so you can correspond by email. If you wish, I can also meet your group in my office after class at least the class before your group will lead class. We can then talk more about the materials you'll be teaching and I can make some preliminary suggestions. You can contact me anytime to meet in person or by email to talk about the readings and / or film on which you'll be leading the discussion. Please get me your notes at least 48 hours before class so I can comment on them and make suggestions. I will of course still be participating in class discussion as well.
Leading Class requires a lot of planning because it involves a lot of preparation.
So here is what you need to do and DUE DATES (in bold):
A. Be in touch with your co-leader by email at least a week before you co-lead. CC me all of your email correspondence.
Here's what you all need to do after you get in touch a week before you co-lead and before one of you sends me your final draft of your notes:
B. Have a copy of the DVD a week in advance, and notify me that you have done so. To lead class on a film, you'll need to know it fairly well. You'll need to watch it at least twice. I recommend you watch it attentively one time without taking notes, then watch it again and take notes.
C. Choose your two scenes with my inpout at least three days before leading. PREPARE AT LEAST TWO KEY SCENES or sequences with an eye to the readings in this way--see part two of the film clip exercise (shot by shot analysis--kind of shot, length of shot, lighting, focus, mis-en-scene, sound, and so on). Decide among yourselves in consulatation with me which scenes you will all do. Each person in yor group should lead discussion of one sequence. YOU'LL WANT TO DISCUSS THESE SCENES IN SOME DETAIL in class. CLOSE READING OF THE FILM'S FORM IS WHAT PAYS OFF. You should show THESE SCENES or sequences IN CLASS BEFORE and then we will DISCUSS THEM. Please keep these scenes or sequences to a maximum of three minutes and know exactly where they begin and end. Decide in advance which of you will lead what part of the discussion (think of your notes as a kind of script as well).
D. Take detailed notes on the entire film. I write down my notes on a paper with a pen and pause the DVD when I write. I sometimes watch a scene over and write more notes. Your notes are not simply descriptions of what happens in the film. That amounts to a kind of plot sementation or summary. That is not what you want to do. Notes are instead analytical observtions about the film, the kind of observations that come with your discussion questions. So your notes should be designed with an eye to making points that open up discussion (based on formal elements of the film, not just the plot). Obviously, you can't wait to watch the film until the class screening and then prepare your notes since that won't leave you enough time. Please focus your questions on the film. Information about the background of the director, the production of the film, or the author will not be terribly helpful since the class has only seen the film. Please stick to discussing the film itself.
E. Turn in your notes and analyses of two scenes to each other, cc'ing them to me, at least 48 hours in advance of leading. Decide who is going to cover leading class not only for each of four scenes but for which aspects of the film within the next 24 hours. You'll need to be clear with each other who is going to cover (take the lead) on which topics. i recommend that one of you lead on one scene, the other lead on the next scene.
F. One of you should then combine your notes and scene analyses and send me and your co-leader a your final set of notes at least 12 hours before class.
G. Read and print out the disussion questions and bring them with you to class the day you co-lead.
H. Please bring a copy of the DVD with your to class the day you are leading discussion.
WHEN LEADING A CLASS ON THE READINGS ON a Tuesday, think of the readings as if they were literature, deserving, that is, of very close reading. Instead of film scenes, prepare to focus on a few passages in detail and relate them to broader issues raised by the writer. You should also focus on the structure of the argument as well so everyone is clear on what the writer's key points are and appreciates why she or he has organized the reading the way he or she has.
In both cases (film and reading), please
Please print out the discussion questions after I post them and bring them with you to class. Feel free to call on students.
Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions you may have as you put your notes together. Ditto for reading out loud in class passages from a reading.
In terms of what your should preare for leading class, here is a fine example a student did in a course I taught earlier. These notes were written about a film for discussion in a two period class.
Leading Discussion on Gladiator (dir. Ridley Scott 2000)
SCENE 1: End of Chapter 11, "Battle in Chains" - Beginning of Chapter 12, "Greatness of Rome"
We will begin the class with a clip from the film, followed by a "quiz". We will allow them to take notes and if you want, write for five minutes, and then discuss. This will warm up the class for the following discussion. The first scene we will show is the transition between Maximus's (Russell Crowe) first win in the Gladiator ring to first time that Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) enters Rome as emperor. In this sequence, Maximus, chained with fellow gladiator, Juba (Djimon Hounsou), work together to protect themselves against various heavily armored gladiators. Their last kill triggers an eruption of thunderous applause from the Arab audience. As they gaze up into the crowd, dumbfounded by the response to their carnage, the shot dissolves to an aerial view of Rome and is followed by various grandiose shots depicting Commodus's entrance into Rome as the new Caesar. This transition between the barbaric bloodbath in Zucchabar to the civilized might of Rome stirs up several themes and ideas we have talked about in class.
Ideas to talk about:
Scott's use of color or lack of color. Rome is seen with drab, dull, and dark colors. Grey skies shadow Rome. There is hardly any use of bright colors. The Praetorians and Emperor are seen in dark uniforms and color, not in the traditional bright red robes and shiny armor we have seen in previous films. Why portray a celebratory moment with this grim use of color?
The use atmosphere in both settings. (Ex: the smoke and dust seen in Zucchabar or the rose petals and confetti seen in Rome)
Discuss other features in the scene's mise en scene and cinematography such as décor, lighting, space, scale, framing and quality.
Any indications of Orientalism in the Zucchabar sequence as described in McAllister's "Introduction" in Epic Encounters .
Comparisons to Nazi Fascism. The sequence in Rome contains many shots closely similar to Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film, Triumph des Willens (1935). The scene contains many images associated with Nazi Germany such as the eagle standard and masses of faceless soldiers. We can refer to Winkler's "The Roman Empire in American Cinema after 1945" in Imperial Projections .
The contrast between the barbarism seen in Zucchabar to the orderly, civilized Rome. The carnage seen in the gladiatorial fight is linked to the grandeur of Rome. We can link this paradox to Kaplan's "Introduction" in The Anarchy of the Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture .
The use of music by Hans Zimmer. Contrast the awe-inspiring score and musical crescendo when Commodus enters Rome to the Oriental music used during the Zucchabar sequence. Scott uses similar Arabesque music in other films such as Black Hawk Down (2001) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005).
Compare the similarities and differences to Commodus's entrance into Rome to that of Alexander's entrance into Babylon in Alexander (2004).
The importance of the intilialism S.P.Q.R. (the Senate and People of Rome) seen in the arch that Commodus rides under. There is a contradiction in symbolism between the totalitarianism associated with the metallic eagle and the republic/democracy associated with the S.P.Q.R. seen right under the standard.
Contrasting reactions between the crowd's applause towards the victorious Maximus in gladiatorial combat to the jeers seen by the crowd as Commodus enters Rome.
SCENE 2: Chapter 5, "One More Duty"
The second scene we will discuss is the conversation between Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) and Maximus where the emperor asks his beloved general to succeed him in power over Rome so he can prevent further corruption over the failing Empire. However, Maximus is reluctant to accept this great honor and would rather return home to his wife and son. With this long scene, we will divide the class into three groups and then ask each group to discuss a particular theme or idea in the scene and then report it to the class.
Group 1: The first group will compare and contrast Maximus to Spartacus. They will discuss the traits of Maximus and his role as a reluctant hero and compare it to Spartacus as a hero. In the scene, Maximus is seen as this naïve, idealist who believes in the myth of Rome. We see this with several lines. Maximus is asked by Aurelius, "Why are we here?" to which he responds, "For the glory of the empire." They can refer to Hark's "Animals or Romans?: Looking at Masculinity in Spartacus" and Futrell's "Seeing Red: Spartacus as Domestic Economist" in Imperial Projections . They should discuss such obvious themes as individualism vs. the group cause. Maximus is this man who longs to return to his family and is quite reluctant to the better good that his mentor asks of him. He quest throughout the movie is not for this social or political cause as in Spartacus. While Spartacus struggles to fight to end slavery and the tyranny of Rome, Maximus fights to avenge the murder of his family. He really does not care for the social and political problems facing Rome. He does care for the well being of his men ("5,000 of my men are out there in the freezing mud..."). However, that is the extent of his political unrest. They will also be asked to compare Maximus to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith . While the Jedi council criticizes Anakin's personal commitments, emotional "selfishness", and dedication towards his wife, Gladiator advocates Maximus's individual motives to reunite with his family instead of fighting for the larger good. The group should also discus the domesticated qualities seen in Maximus that were first discussed with Spartacus. Maximus is seen as this devoted family man who holds on to vivid memories of his family to keep him going. ("The soil, Marcus, black. Black like my wife's hair..."). Who would they say is the better, nobler hero?
Group 2: The second group will report on the role of Marcus Aurelius as the old, wise emperor. How can they compare him to other figures that we have seen in other epics such as Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) or Obi Wan (Alec Guinness)? What is his role in the film? Is there significance in the choice of Richard Harris who is known as the noble King Arthur ( Camelot , 1967) to play Marcus Aurelius, who was known as one the most righteous Romans? Is there a connection there? Why does he refuse to be called Caesar? What can we say about his jaded view towards his empire? How can we compare him as the good father to other fatherly figures in epics such as Spartacus?
Group 3: The third group will report on the portrayal of Rome and if it contains any political or social comparison to the United States. They should discuss the anarchy of the empire seen in this clip. Maximus says the rest of the world is "brutal and cruel and dark" and that "Rome is the light." However, Rome, through the carnage of gladiatorial games and deadly corruption of the emperor is what we see as brutal, cruel, and dark. They should relate this idea of Rome as the light to the United States' current view of itself as the light to the rest of the world. Is the United States as Aurelius refers to Rome, just a fragile whisper? Can we compare Aurelius to George Bush? Bush does not contain the noble traits of Aurelius. However, as Aurelius says to Maximus, "Since I have became Caesar, I have known four years without war. Four years of peace in 20. And for what?" Can we compare this to Bush's presidency where it seems that we will have only seen less than a year of peace in his eight year term? Just as Marcus Aurelius's reign would be overshadowed by his long, brutal campaigns in Germania, so will Bush's by his current war against terrorism. And for what? Did Bush as Aurelius says, "Brought the sword, nothing more?" Can we see Maximus in this scene as the naïve, idealist Republican who refuses to believe that then men and women in Iraq "fought and died for nothing?" When Maximus says that these men fight for Aurelius and Rome, and Aurelius questions his trust in Rome, can we apply this to how Americans are dying for false myth of the United States? This film has been seen as politically neutral, unlike Spartacus or Alexander . The group should decide if this statement is valid or does it contain any political messages.
* The last three scenes will follow the traditional class discussion.
SCENE 3: End of Chapter 12: "The Greatness of Rome"
This scene shows Senators Gaius ( John Shrapnel) and Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) sitting outside in a Roman café discussing Commodus, his intentions, and the true essence of Rome.
Ideas to talk about:
• Portrayal of the senators.
• Who has the power in Rome?
• Relate the senators' discussion to the Kaplan's notion of Anarchy of the Empire.
• "Fear and Wonder, a powerful combination." What can we say about Gracchus's quote? What does this say about the empire? Does the United States use the same tactics (Shock and Awe) to retain power?
• Gracchus praises Commodus for knowing what Rome is. Does Bush know what our nation really is? Has he seduced this nation as Gaius says about Commodus towards the Roman people?
• Gracchus compares Rome to the mob as does the Gracchus in Spartacus. Is the United States also ruled by the mob?
• If the beating heart of Rome is not the senate but the sand of the Colosseum, then what can we say is the beating heart of our nation?
• Gracchus says Commodus will take away the people's freedom yet they will still roar. "He'll bring them death...and they will love him for it." Has Bush done they same?
SCENE 4: middle of Chapter 13, "Win the Crowd"
This scene shows Maximus enter the gladiatorial arena and easily slays 5 heavily armored gladiators. Cynical towards the cheering crowd, he throws his sword in disgust and asks rhetorical questions towards the audience.
Ideas to talk about:
Discuss the use of excessive violence. (The spraying of blood and decapitation)
Mise en scene of the shot
"Are you not entertained?" What does this say about the Roman Empire and anarchy of the empire?
Can we apply these rhetorical questions to the spectator culture of this nation
Compare Maximus throwing the sword to the booth to Draba throwing the trident at Crassus in Spartacus . Which shot is more effective?
What can we say about the crowd?
What can we say about Maximus at this point?
SCENE 5: Chapter 16, "My name is Gladiator"
In this scene, Maximus has just defeated the "Romans" in the reenactment of the Battle of Carthage. Commodus, impressed by this show, enters the arena floor to congratulate the Spaniard gladiator. Maximus disrespects the emperor, and then reveals his true identity to Commodus. Commodus wants to kill him but his persuaded by the crowd to spare his life.
Ideas to talk about:
Individualism vs. man of the people. He fights for a murdered wife and son, revealing his private cause. Yet he first calls himself gladiator, losing his identity and becoming one with the mass of slaves.
Portrayal of Commodus. Are there any similarities to Bush?
Commodus is emperor yet he is controlled by the masses. Who hold true power? Power of the mob.
The significance of Maximus taking his helmet off. Can we relate this to other epics such as Kingdom of Heaven ?
Compare the confrontation of Commodus discovering the Spaniard's true identity to Crassus discovering the true Spartacus.
Besides the clips, we can talk about other issues in the film if time permits. Such ideas may include:
Is Gladiator a traditional epic? How is it the same? How is it different?
Is the film worth all the hype and all the awards?
Is Ridley Scott the master at director epics?
Historical accuracy and inaccuracies of the film. Compare the real Marcus Aurelius and Commodus to their fictional counterparts. Maximus is an amalgam of various historical figures.
What the film borrows from other epics.
The Black or "other" buddy. Compare Juba to Draba
The role of women in the film. One of the few epics that show villainous women (the Gladiator women on the chariots). Is there significance that they are black?
Importance of animals in the film. (Tigers during the fight with Tigris de Gaul, Maximus's pet wolf, captive animals as the Hyena, and the queer giraffe Proximo mentions)
Slaves compared to animals (Juba tells Maximus, "don't die they will feed you to the lions. They are worth more than us")
Is there a gaze in the film as in Spartacus?
Abundance of action. Six fight sequences compared to two or three seen in most epics.
Is Maximus an anti-hero?
The score of the film
Romans portrayed as deviants and immoral. Compare and contrast Commodus to Crassus. He does not have homosexual tendencies but has an incestial lust for his sister, Lucilla.
"People should know when they're conquered." Can we relate this quote to the current political atmosphere?