The City in Film
(USP 410/510)

Mark S. Herwick,
with Karry Gillespie, and David Sutherland

Portland State University
Portland, Oregon, USA
Summer 1995

Comments on this syllabus.

This course explores themes in urban studies through the medium of film. Optimistic and pessimistic portrayals of cities and city living are presented in classic and modern films. The films are augmented by related readings and serve as a starting point for illumination and critique of the political economy and sociocultural dimensions of cities and urban society. 

Students will be responsible for attending class to view films and present critiques of films. A term paper on an issue pertinent to the course is required. 

The final grade for the course will be determined by performance on film critiques, the term paper, and class participation. 

WEEKLY CRITIQUES (40% of grade). This is a weekly writing assignment of 500 to 1000 words typewritten (750 words recommended) pertaining to the week's film and readings. The purpose of this assignment is to allow the expression of personal opinion regarding some aspect of each week's material. This opinion should be presented as a synthesis of ideas informed by the context of the material presented in the film and readings. Although considerable latitutde of expression is allowed it should be noted that this is a short "thought piece" and should be well considered and to the point. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS THIS TO BE A "BOOK REPORT" OF THE FILM. 

TERM PAPER (50% of grade). The topic for the term paper must fall within one of the weekly subject headings. In addition to the material in the syllabus, students must offer analysis of at least one more film and a number of additional readings in the presentation of their topic. All term paper topics must be approved by the instructors and proposals are due by July 11 (including titles of additional films and readings). Completed term papers are due by Aug 8. Papers written by undergraduates must be from 10 to 15 pages, and those by graduates from 15 to 20 pages. Appropriate social science format with respect to paraphrasing, quotation, and citation should be followed. 

CLASS PARTICIPATION (10% of grade). The nature of this course lends itself to shared experience. Viewing films on a large screen in a shared environment is central to this course. Students are encouraged to actively participate in all film critiques and discussions of readings. 

Doug Aberley, with forward by David Suzuki, Futures by Design: The Practice of Ecological Planning (Gabriola, B.C.; Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1994). 

Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Verso, 1990). 

William G. Flanagan, Contemporary Urban Sociology (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 

Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (New York: Doubleday, 1991). 

Tony Hiss, The Experience of Place (New York: Knopf, 1990). 

Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (New York : Crown Pub., 1991). 

Portland's Changing Landscape (Portland: Dept. of Geography, Portland State Univ., 1987) 

Mike Savage and Alan Warde, Urban Sociology, Capitalism, and Modernity (New York: Continuum, 1993). 

William A. Schwab, The Sociology of Cities (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1992). 

Thomas R. Shannon, Nancy Kleniewski, William M. Cross, Urban Problems in Sociological Perspective (2nd Ed.) (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1991). 

Brett Williams, Upscaling Downtown: Stalled Gentrification in Washington, D.C. (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1988). 

Sharon Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). 


June 20th Introduction: The Built Environment
View: Metropolis
June 22nd Discuss: The Built Environment
Due: critique of Metropolis
Readings:"The Nature of Urban Life The Myth of the City" in Shannon, Kleniewski & Cross, Urban Problems in Sociological Perspective, 63-90; Hiss, Experience of Place, 64-79.
June 27th The City as Social Backdrop & Cultural Icon
View: Barefoot in the Park
June 29th Discuss The City as Social Backdrop & Cultural Icon 
Due: critique of Barefoot in the Park 
Readings: "Urban Political Economy and its Critics" in Flanagan, Contemporary Urban Sociology, 73-107; "Junkyard of Dreams," in Davis, City of Quartz
July 4th NO CLASS (Meet on July 5 to view film) 
The Political Economy of Cities 
Assignment: View John Sayles, City of Hope 
July 6th Discuss: The Political Economy of Cities 
Due: critique of City of Hope 
Readings: "Perspectives on Urban Culture" in Savage & Warde, Urban Sociology, Capitalism and Modernity, 96-121. Utne Reader, Sept./Oct. 1994. "The Meaning of Home" in Williams, Upscaling Downtown.
July 11th The City as "Where the Heart Is" 
View: Avalon 
Due: Term paper topic proposal 
July 13th Discuss: The City as "Where the Heart is" 
Due: Critique of Avalon 
Readings: "Problems of the Urban Disadvantaged" in Shannon, Kleniewski & Corss, Urban Problems in Sociological Perspective, 91-126. Introduction & "Life on the Mississippi: East St. Louis, Illinois" in Kozol, Savage Inequalities
July 18th Social Problems in the City 
View: Falling Down 
July 20th Discuss: Social Problems in the City 
Due: critique of Falling Down 
Readings: Carl Abbott, "The Everyday City: Portland's Changing Neighborhoods" in Portland's Changing Landscape, 69-85. "Southern California: Community" in Garreau, Edge City
July 25th Neighborhood & Community 
Due: critique of Do the Right Thing 
Readings: "The Suburbanization Process" in Schwab, The Sociology of Cities, 193-332. Garreau, Edge City, 3-15. 
August 1st Suburbs vs. Cities 
View: The Out of Towners 
August 3rd Discuss: Suburbs vs. Cities 
Due: critique of The Out of Towners 
Readings: "Inventing the Sustainable City" in Aberley, Futures By Design, 60-95. "Moral Landscapes" in Zukin, Landscapes of Power. "But What About the Land" in Garreau, Edge City
August 8th The Future of Cities 
View: Bladerunner 
Due: Term paper 
August 10th Discuss: The Future of Cities 
Due: critique of Bladerunner 

Movies Relevant to City in Film Themes 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Modern Times
Black Orpheus
On the Town 

Mean Streets
After Hours
Desperately Seeking Susan
Drugstore Cowboy
Breaking In
The Warriors 

Roger and Me
Fort Apache, The Bronx

L.A. Story
Raisin in the Sun
Hoop Dreams
I Like it Like That
Saturday Night Fever 

Blackboard Jungle
A Clockwork Orange
Grand Canyon
South Central
Ghosts of the Civil Dead