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The Films of Mike Leigh

Com BF 554 D1

Mr. Carney

Class Meetings: Tues. and Thurs. 9㪣AM

Supplementary Screenings (as announced): Mon. and Weds. 8:00㪢:00 PM


An in-depth examination of the work of the most important living English-language filmmaker.The semester will be devoted to surveying Mike Leigh’s entire dramatic oeuvre—his work in radio, writing for the stage, short films, and feature work. We will read the scripts of several of his plays and also read the texts of a number of his interviews (and listen to tapes of several unpublished interviews). Approximately equal emphasis will be placed on the screenwriting, acting, camerawork, and editing in Leigh’s films.


Required books (the first two available in the book store):

Mike Leigh, Abigail’s Party (Samuel French)

Mike Leigh, Naked and Other Screenplays (Faber and Faber)

Mike Leigh, Ecstasy (to be provided specially to the class)




September 2

Introduction: Beginning in the middle with High Hopes


September 3

High Hopes


September 4

High Hopes


September 9

Read the complete text of High Hopes. Break down a scene as assigned.

In class screening: Life is Sweet


September 10

Life is Sweet


September 11

Read the complete screenplay of Life is Sweet. Break down a scene as assigned.


September 16

Starting points: Bleak Moments


September 18

Bleak Moments


September 23

Hard Labor


September 24

Bleak Moments


September 25

Hard Labor


September 30

Kiss of Death


October 2

Kiss of Death


October 6

Hard Labor


October 7*

Nuts in May


October 9

Nuts in May


October 14

No daytime class (substitute Monday schedule) Evening screening: Too Much of a Good Thing and The Permissive Society


October 16

Five Five Minute Films and The Short and Curlies


October 21

Have read in advance: Abigail’s Party. Create a character as instructed.


October 23

Abigail’s Party


October 28

Who’s Who


October 29

Who’s Who


October 30

Who’s Who


November 4

Have read in advance: Ecstasy. (Screenplay to be provided.) In class: a staged dramatic reading


November 6



November 11

Grown Ups


November 12

Grown Ups


November 13

Grown Ups and Home Sweet Home


November 18

Home Sweet Home


November 20

Home Sweet Home and Meantime


December 1



November 25



December 2

Meantime and A Sense of History


December 4

Where’s Miko? Style makes the man.


December 8



December 9



December 11

Conclusion: Inside the mind of the artist


1. Attendance (and promptness) at all screenings and classes.

2. Class participation.

3. Prompt and thoughtful completion of written and other assignments.

The Films of Mike Leigh

Mr. Carney

Breaking down a scene and creating a character (Tuesday)

Comparing our results with Leigh’s (Thursday)

Your assignment for class on Tuesday is to prepare a brief section from somewhere within pages 7㫔 of Abigail’s Party as if you were acting in the play and were preparing for a rehearsal. That involves several steps:

1. Pick a partner from the class. Imagine that the two of you have been chosen to act in the play and have only a few days to prepare for a sudden run–through. (The gender of the pairs does not matter.) Exchange phone numbers and addresses and schedule a time to meet and rehearse between now and Tuesday morning’s class. Read pages 7㫔 prior to your meeting.

2. Pick a brief section from the assigned section of the play (the equivalent of one page of text will suffice) that involves an interaction between two characters. Note that I will allow you two liberties: First, the gender of the actors (male–male, male–female, or female–female) need not necessarily match the gender of the characters—though it would be nice if it did. Second, although the chosen passage as written ideally will only feature two characters, if it is absolutely necessary and does not change the meaning of the scene or seriously distort it, other characters may be temporarily "written out" of the scene in order to make a scene a two–character one. (Note that you are forbidden to consult a video of the play, are not to read past page 60, and under no circumstances are allowed to chose a passage from the final nine pages of the play.)

I would note that the subtlest approach will be not to go looking for a specially dramatic moment in the play, but to reveal the drama in an ordinary one.

3. In concert with your partner, prepare the excerpt you have chosen for performance (you need not memorize the lines; we shall imagine that the rehearsal is still "on the book" so that a reading knowledge of the lines will suffice):

  • Break down the passage into beats: Mark the beats; mark who controls them; note the tones each character uses; note how tones change or don’t change.
  • By playing it, decide on how your character will deliver his or her lines; work out your pauses, your timing, the pace of the interaction.
  • Experiment with possible movements, gestures, facial expressions.
  • Decide on a few principles of "what makes your character tick" based on this scene and the rest of the play

4. Bring two things to class:

  • A prepared performance to be done in front of the class with your partner. Be ready succinctly and efficiently to refer the class to page numbers in our books and any alterations you have made in the scene.
  • A brief work–up of your character and scene, in which, in approximately 300 words or less, you verbally describe the scene, your tonal breakdown of it, and your sense of character.

On Thursday, you will have the opportunity to compare your choices with those of Leigh and his actors (which is why it is crucial that you not look at a video of the play while you are preparing this exercise).

To avoid spoiling the experience of watching Leigh’s version on Thursday (and to leave something to your imagination), I would insist that you studiously avoid reading anything after 60 of the text. Do not read pages 61㫝!

If it chances that you have already read or seen a performance of the entire play, please make a note of that fact at the bottom of your written assignment, and announce it to the class if called on.

The Films of Mike Leigh

Mr. Carney

In drama, there is someone called a "dramaturge" who advises the director and actors on the play they are preparing. The dramaturge makes a list of "notes" about the play and reads them to the assembled cast and crew—for example, generally summarizing some of the most important characteristics of the main characters, sizing up the mood or tone of certain scenes, pointing out particularly important moments or events within the play. Of course, the whole trick of being a brilliant dramaturge is not merely to say the obvious, but to point out things that the cast and crew might otherwise miss or misinterpret.

Your assignment in this exercise is to be dramaturge for a new production of Mike Leigh’s Ecstasy. Read the text and prepare a series of notes for your meeting with the cast (your fellow students) and director (moi). Five or six or so notes will do (say, no more than three or four double–spaced typed pages).

Just to indicate the realism of this exercise, this actually was exactly what took place in New York three years ago. A New York director decided he wanted to mount this play in a small Manhattan playhouse, but was unfamiliar with it and asked someone to come in an coach him and his actors as dramaturge. Of course, you have a much greater advantage since you are familiar with a wide range of Leigh’s work. The dramaturge actually chosen by the New York director knew almost nothing about Leigh before the process began.

Due in class: November 13

No extensions may be granted.

Extra Credit

The Films of Mike Leigh

Mr. Carney

Compare and relate the following characters:

Nicola, Aubrey, Keith, Peter, Pat, Barbara, Alan, Christine, Mrs. Thornley, June, Hazel, Beverly, Laurence, Nigel, Samantha.

Be deep. Be profound. They hold the key to understanding the essence of Leigh’s work. Do not write a "laundry list" paper with one paragraph (or observation) per figure. Write about all of them (or groups of them) at once. Hold them all in one thought.

Length: two pages maximum.

Necessary to be turned in only if you desire extra credit.

Due at the start of class: Tuesday, December 9. Absolutely no extensions!

COM FT 458/721

International Masterworks

Mr. Carney

Room B5 Tues. 5ץ

Teaching Assistant: Julia Haslett

A survey of the supreme masterworks of International Cinema created by some of the greatest artists of the past thirty years.


Required book :

David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Third Edition (Random House).




January 13

Frederico Fellini, Amarcord


January 20

Roberto Rossellini, Voyage in Italy


January 27

Andrei Tarkovsky, The Sacrifice


February 3

Theo Angelopoulos, Landscape in the Midst


February 10

Sergo Paradjanov, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (35mm)

First Paper Due


February 17

Outside screenings TBA:

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, La Jolie Mai, La Jetee


February 24

Robert Bresson, Lancelot du Lac


March 3

Robert Bresson, L’Argent

Spring Break: March 9-15


March 17

Dietai Kanievski, Freeze, Die, Come to Life (35mm)

Second Paper Due


March 24

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, In a Year of 13 Moons


March 31

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Marriage of Maria Braun


April 7

Ingmar Bergman, Scenes from a Marriage


April 14

Yasujiro Ozu, Equinox Flower

Final Paper Due


April 21

Yasujiro Ozu, Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice


April 28

Charlie Chapman, City Lights


1. Attendance (and promptness) at all screenings and classes.

2. Class participation.

3. Prompt and thoughtful completion of written and other assignments.

Attendance is required and necessary since many of these films are not otherwise available and the in-class screening will be your only chance to see the film.

To avoid disrupting screenings, promptness at all classes is absolutely mandatory.

Please note that if you miss a class, be certain you have contacted the teaching assistant or another student to familiarize yourself with what has been handed out or assigned for the following class.

There will be no mid–term or final exam. There will be three papers (4ע pages, double–spaced, typed), due on Feb. 10, March 17, and Apr. 14.

International Masterworks

Mr. Carney

Final Paper (optional):

Consulting a tape of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and, as appropriate, the sections of the screenplay distributed in class, write about how the acting contributes to the meaning of the film. Pick any ten to twenty minute section of the film that has not been discussed in class.

Among other things, please be sure to consider: the actors’ particular artistic "choices," their creation of an emotional "subtext," their shifts of "beats" (and which actor leads or controls them), and their responsiveness to each other—as actors and as characters.

Length: 3ס double–spaced pages.

Due in class Tuesday, April 30.

No extensions will be granted.

Note: This paper is optional and for extra credit only. If you are satisfied with your grade (and willing to rely on your past work as an index of your performance this semester), you are not required to write it.

Understanding Film

COM BF 360 A1, B1, C1, D1

Professor Carney

Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday 9 – 11 am, Room B5 (basement screening room)

Discussion sections: A1: Friday 10 – 11, Room 215: Melissa Battaglia

B1: Friday 10 – 11, Room 211: Melanie Farrington

C1: Friday 11 – 12, Room 211: Melanie Farrington

D1: Friday 11 – 12, Room 215: Melissa Battaglia


It’s best to begin with what this course is not. It is not a film history course, not a survey of cinematic movements or genres, not a study of social themes or historical issues. It is an exploration of what happens when we watch movies: what movies do to us, what we do to them. In short, it is an exploration of how movies make meanings.

We will be asking a few questions again and again: How do films make us feel certain ways? How do we know what to pay attention to in a shot or a scene? How does a film teach us to understand it? How do movies move us? What different worlds of understanding do they create? What forms of truth do they make visible and audible?

We will focus on a small number of works and conduct an intensive analysis of selected scenes, comparing the formal properties of one film with another in an attempt to understand the distinctive expressive properties of film.

Three things are required of all participants: 1) attendance at all lectures and section discussions; 2) completion of all assigned papers and class exercises; 3) outside viewings of videotapes and films as specified during the course of the semester.

With reference to the first point (attendance): Please note that this is not a course in which if you miss a class, you can simply "get the notes" from a friend. It is a course in training ourselves to see and think in a specially heightened way. A large part of that training occurs within each class period. If you miss a class, the material cannot simply be "made up," since the viewing experience of each class will be unique and different from anything you can do on your own. If there is a legitimate reason why you must miss a screening, lecture, or section meeting, you are required to inform your TA at least one class in advance of the day of the absence. (If for some reason you are forced to miss a ten o’clock section meeting on Friday, you are encouraged to sit in one of the eleven o’clock meetings with the same TA.)

With reference to the second point (exercises and responses): During the course of the semester, we will be engaged in completing a programmed series of exercises designed to train your eyes, ears, and brains. It is essential that you successfully complete all of them and bring each week’s exercises along with you to the lectures and the section meetings, where they will frequently form the basis for discussion. These exercises are central to the course. All exercises should be retained in a separate notebook to be turned in at the end of the semester.

With reference to the third point (in–class and out–of–class screenings): The films are your principal "texts." For that reason, you should treat the viewing assignments with the same seriousness you would treat a reading assignment in another course. The viewing of a film should be done just as dutifully and professionally as you would do a reading of Shakespeare or Plato. That means several things: You should arrive promptly and pay meticulous attention to everything you see and hear; you should refrain from talking or other forms of inattentiveness during the screenings; you should take notes during in–class and out–of–class screenings, and retain them for future reference and to help with the writings assignments; you should review your notes outside of class to deepen your insights and during the course of the semester you should mentally compare and contrast the various films with each other and refer back to your previous notes as necessary to refresh your memory.




Tues. Sept. 3 Introduction: How does a movie make meanings?

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho

Thurs. Sept. 5 Psycho (cont’d)

Tues. Sept. 10 Psycho (cont’d)

Thurs. Sept. 12 Psycho (cont’d)

Tues. Sept. 17 Michael Curtiz, Casablanca

Thurs. Sept. 19 Casablanca (cont’d)

Fri. Sept. 20 Paper #1 review session during section meeting.

Tues. Sept. 24 First paper to be turned in at the beginning of this class. Please do not be late for the screening.

Max Ophuls, Lola Montes

Thurs. Sept. 26 Lola Montes (cont’d)

Tues. Oct. 1 Carl Dreyer, Ordet

Thurs. Oct. 3 Ordet (cont’d)

Tues. Oct. 8 Comparisons and Contrasts, I

Thurs. Oct. 10 Comparisons and Contrasts, II

Fri. Oct. 11 Paper #2 review session during section meeting.

Tues. Oct. 15 No class — substitute Monday schedule

Second Paper to be turned in at the Broadcasting and Film office before 3 pm today.


Thurs. Oct. 17 Gary Sinise, True West

Tues. Oct. 22 Robert Bresson, Au Hazard Balthazar

Thurs. Oct. 24 Robert Bresson, Diary of a Country Priest

Tues. Oct. 29 Mike Leigh, Grownups

Thurs. Oct. 31 Mike Leigh, Home Sweet Home

Fri. Nov. 1 Paper #3 review session during section meeting.


Tues. Nov. 5 Third paper to be turned in at the beginning of this class. Please do not be late.

Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D

Thurs. Nov. 7 Umberto D (cont’d)

Tues. Nov. 12 Mike Leigh, Kiss of Death

Thurs. Nov. 14 Kiss of Death (cont’d)


Tues. Nov. 19 Su Friedrich, Sink or Swim

Thurs. Nov. 21 Mark Rappaport, Casual Relations

Tues. Nov. 26 Miscellaneous Short Films: Caveh Zahedi, Jay Rosenblatt, and others

Thurs. Nov. 28 Thanksgiving Holiday

Tues. Dec. 3 Caveh Zahedi, A Little Stiff

Thurs. Dec. 5 A Little Stiff (cont’d)

Fri. Dec. 6 Paper #4 review session during section meeting.

Tues. Dec. 10 Final paper to be turned in at the beginning of class. Please do not be late.

Final Class: Conclusions and possibilities.

Fri. Dec. 13 All completed exercise notebooks (along with papers #1 – #3) due to your teaching assistant by 4 pm.


There will be no mid–term or final exam. The final evaluation will be based in equal parts on your performance on: 1) the approximately twenty in–class and out–of–class exercises; 2) the four assigned papers (3 pages, double–spaced, typed) due on September 24, October 15, November 5 and December 10. (Paper topics will be announced in advance of due dates.) Class participation will count for the rest of your grade. That is to say, forty percent of your grade will be based on the papers; forty percent on the exercises; and twenty percent will be based on your in–class participation.

Class exercises will be collected at various points during the course of the semester as well as at the end of this course. You are required to retain all of the exercises (both the questions and your answers) along with the four papers in a separate notebook and to keep them as neat and legible as possible.

Your record of attendance at and participation in section meetings and class discussions (whatever interest, energy, or enthusiasm you show or intellectual contribution you make) will count significantly to raise or lower your final grade. You are strongly encouraged to meet with your section leader during her office hours from time to time during the semester concerning her judgment of these matters.


Mr. Carney

Exercise #11 (and Paper #1):

The finale of Casablanca

Review the shot-sequence near the end of Casablanca beginning with the

shot in which an airport guard says: "The Lisbon plane leaves in 5 minutes," and ending with the shot in which Major Renault says: "Well, I was right. You are a sentimentalist."

Using sheets of standard paper turned sideways, as the heads of four

parallel columns across the top of the page write the following: SHOT NUMBER, THE WORLD, THE MOVIE, THE MEANING.

As you watch the sequence, in each column from left to right, for each and every shot, fill in:

1) THE SHOT NUMBER (a running shot count):

A numerical count of the shots starting with the number "1" for the first shot.

2) THE WORLD (what is physically seen and heard in the shot):

Across from its number, write a description of what you see or hear in the shot. Describe everything visible or audible in terms of people, props, objects, events, worldly sounds, etc. that matters to the meaning of the shot.

3) THE MOVIE (how experience is shaped cinematically):

Next to the worldly facts and events, include a description of all specific cinematic events or stylistic effects in the shot that matter--eg. the position and distance of the camera, movement of camera (if any), how the shot is framed, any special lighting effects, editing effects, the felt length of the shot and its temporal relation to previous or subsequent shots, points of view represented, musical orchestrations, etc..


Across from that, write a slightly fuller description of the emotional /psychological / intellectual /cinematic meaning of the shot, telling how you know that that is its meaning by relating the content of the shot (#2) and the style of the film (#3) to the meaning of the moment (i.e. relate entries 2 and 3 to me emotional and psychological meaning of the film : what is seen, the style of the presentation, and the reason it is presented that way).

Paper #1: (3 pages, typed, double–spaced)

Based on the preceding exercise, describe the meanings and methods involved in Casablanca’s airport sequence. How would you describe the film’s style? What does Curtiz’s style do to us as viewers? Cite specific examples, but also relate the style of this scene to that of the rest of the film. How does Casablanca imagine experience? What does its style tell us about life?

The paper is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, September 24. Please turn the papers in to the T.A. of your Friday section meeting.

No late papers will be accepted.

Understanding Film

Mr. Carney

Paper #2: Actors as Meaning Makers

Choose A or B:

A. Pick an extended conversation from Grownups or Kiss of Death and discuss its moment by moment movements. How do characters change during the course of it? How do their relative positions change?

B. Focusing on the scene from John Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz that will be shown several times in Friday’s section, mark the beats. What does each beat mean? Where does it shift? Who is in control? Does the control change?

Whichever choice you pick, be specific and detailed in your argument and your marshaling of evidence. Be microscopic, not cosmic; but don’t hesitate to offer a few generalizations about the meaning of the moment you have chosen to write about.

All three titles will be on reserve in Beebe Library starting Tuesday afternoon. Both Leigh titles should also be available in an exceptionally well–stocked video store.

BF 360

Understanding Film

Mr. Carney

Final class

Seven Rules to Live By

1) Film what you live—capture the feeling of life.

2) Film what you don’t know.

3) Never have your characters say or do something you wouldn’t say or do.

4)Make your characters as smart as you are.

5) Show the way life really is.

6) Don’t be afraid to be different in the service of truth.

7) Watch out. Clichés are waiting to trap you.

Ways of Seeing

Mr. Carney

With Casablanca and A Woman Under the Influence this week, we shall be focusing on how filmmakers handle groups. As you watch A Woman Under the Influence tonight and Casablanca tomorrow, notice how groups of people are cinematically presented.

When two or more characters are present, how are their interactions photographed and edited? How do they "reach" each other and the viewer? How do they make their presence felt to each other and to the viewer of the movie? How do these films compare with Psycho and Rules of the Game in their cinematic use of groups?

Notice in particular, the use (or avoidance) of:

    • master shots
    • shot/ reverse shots
    • look/see/think interactions (compare with the scenes involving Marion Crane and the policeman in Psycho)
    • lighting
    • focus
    • bodily expressions
    • verbal expressions
    • looks or glances as transmitters of meanings
    • whether the frame space is "open" or "closed" (compare the servants’ dining scene or the "Dance Macabre" scene in Rules of the Game)
    • whether the character "motivates" camera movement or editing cuts or doesn’t
    • anything else you can notice

Write up one page of conclusions on A Woman Under the Influence and bring to class with you on Tuesday.


Mr. Carney


1. What does the work mean/make us feel?

2. How you we know? Briefly prove your case.

3. Did the "author" intend that meaning?

4. Could other meanings/feelings be "read out" of the work?

5. Is any special knowledge/training/background/expertise necessary to arrive at these meanings/feelings or does the work stand completely on its own?

6. How does this sort of work compare with the grafitti/signs/objects/marks/signatures (which are presumably not deliberate art) that we previously gathered? If possible, make a specific comparison.

7. What do your answers to #'s 1-6 tell you about "What Art Is"?

CO 101Film Unit

Lecture I: Speaking the Language of Film

Prof. Carney

Three–minute papers (no extensions may be granted!)

Note that you should work with a partner during the consultation phase of the response (and should candidly share your ideas and observations with your partner); but during the writing phase of the response, each individual should write up his or her own answer on a separate sheet of paper.

1. The opening sequence of Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. Terms: symbolic or metaphoric objects and events. How many symbolic or metaphoric objects or settings can you find? For your answer, make two columns of entries. In the left–hand column, name the object; in the right–hand column, briefly state what it symbolizes or means. (Three minutes; five points; difficulty: easy)

For extra credit: Is there anything that is symbolic or metaphoric other than the objects and settings? Name it and describe its metaphoric import. (Two points; difficulty hard)

2. Marion Crane drives to the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Terms: long shot, medium shot, close–up, tight close–up, extreme close–up, tighter shot, looser shot, fill lighting, key lighting. How do the camera and lighting tell the story during this sequence? How do the distance of the camera and the lighting change as the sequence progresses? (Three minutes; five points; difficulty: easy)

For extra credit: How does the pacing of the sequence change once Marion pulls into the motel parking lot? Why? (Two points; difficulty moderate)

3. The exploration of the lunar monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Terms: Tilt up (shot from below eye–level looking up), eye–level shot, tilt down (shot from above eye–level looking down), stable camera, hand–held camera, relative size of the figures. Write about how the shooting and editing tell the story. Mention any and everything you notice during the sequence that contributes to its meaning. (Five minutes; ten points; difficulty: hard)

For extra credit: Why is the group photo session included near the end of the scene with the monolith? (Two points)

4. Carol (Julianne Moore) almost chokes to death from exhaust fumes in Todd Haynes’ Safe. Terms: mood, feeling, tone. A four or five minute sequence in a film can move through several different tones or moods. Mark the shifts of mood or feeling in the screened excerpt. Write about two things: How many major tonal shifts are there? How are they achieved (does the photography, lighting, or music change)? What does the filmmaker do to clue us into the changes of feeling? (Five minutes: ten points; difficulty: hard)

For extra credit: Discuss the expressive effect of the background in the final shots during the restaurant scene. (Ten points.)

5. Peter Lowe (Nick Cage) meets with his therapist (Elizabeth Ashley) and recites the alphabet in Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss. Terms: beats, subtext, bodily clout, tonal meaning (as distinguished from denotative meaning). Mark the changes of beats in this sequence. How many different tones does Peter (Cage) circulate through? Is there a progression? (Five minutes: ten points; difficulty hard)

For extra credit: In a sequence that will be screened following your work on the preceding scene, immediately after his scene with his therapist, Lowe is seen at work interacting with some of the secretaries. He calls Alva (Maria Conchita Alonzo) into his office and asks her about the filing situation. What are his tones of voice? How do they change? How can the delivery of a line and the use of bodily gestures affect our understanding of a scene? (Three minutes; ten points; difficulty moderate)

6. (If time permits) A sequence from Hal Hartley’s The Unbelieveable Truth featuring Boston University alumna Adrienne Shelly as Audrey. Terms: source sound, non–source sound. Compare the different tones of voice of the various characters, as well as the sounds in the background. What is the effect? Think back to the scenes you saw from Vampire’s Kiss. How does the contrast between the tones of voices of different characters affect us there? (Five minutes; ten points; difficulty moderate)


Writing assignment (due in section): Based on what you have learned in the preceding exercises, as well as anything else you may know about how films make meanings, describe the effects employed in J.P. Bernardo’s The Box. (Bernardo is a recent Boston University graduate who made this film as his final student project.) Take notes about everything you notice—from the use of symbolic objects, to the expressive use of lighting effects, camera movements and positions, to the tones and moods of scenes (and how the transition from one scene to another occurs), to nuances of gesture and acting. Write up a well–organized 250–word (one typed page) description of how the film uses cinematic language and bring to your section meeting.


Mr. Carney



This Tchaikovsky ballet is an example of a non-representational work of art. The simple way to explain what that means is to say that it doesn't give us "pictures" of events, persons, and actions that resemble what we see in our ordinary lives; the more interesting way to understand it is to say that The Nutcracker creates meanings in fundamentally different ways from the ways meanings are created outside of works of art.

Your goal in this exercise is to describe as much as possible of what THE NUTCRACKER means, and how and why you know that that is what it means. In the process of doing that, comment on the fact that its meanings are made non-representationally.

* * *

Some questions to consider: How do we know what a non-representational work of art means? How does it make meanings? What meanings are made? Are they social, political, personal, emotional, intellectual, or merely formal? How do these various realms of meaning interact? How would you persuade someone that The Nutcracker meant something in particular? To what extent do works of art "mean" anything? Can they just "be" without meaning anything at all?

Please consider any of the issues that were raised earlier in the semester concerning the forms of formalist analysis and understanding (eg. how meanings were made in the Jarmusch clips or the Wallace Stevens or Stevie Smith poems). Consider Sontag's concept of an "erotics of art." How do artistic forms of expression make nonrepresentational meanings? How does a work of art make meanings differently from the way meanings are made in life?

* * *

Length: 2-4 pages. Due in class, Tuesday, December 7.


And as a reward for reading this far, I include one of my favorite poems by another artist who had to wait until after her death to be fully appreciated, the wonderful Stevie Smith. Buy a book of her work today!

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

(Not bad, eh? Suggestion: Read it out loud and hear the "voices"—the ghostly voices—the voice of the world, the voice of society, and the voice of the heart. What a world we live in.......)

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©Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.