Urban Sociology Paper Assignment

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Urban Sociology Paper Assignment

Urban Sociology Paper Assignment


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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to help you analyze depictions of and attitudes toward cities and suburbs in films. Many filmmakers take an explicit stance on life in cities or suburbs, and in this paper you will use your powers of sociological observation to describe and explain that stance. Instructions 1. Read the two articles on depictions of city and suburb in American films (posted to Blackboard). 2. Choose two films from the table below (or others of your choosing). They can either be from the same cell (in which case you would compare the filmmakers’ assessments of cities or suburbs), or from different cells (in which case you would contrast their assessments). 3. Watch each film, taking detailed notes on the images used in the film (pausing is often useful here), the events that take place, and what the characters say. 4. Write a short (5 page, double-spaced, 12-point font, 1” margins) paper that summarizes your observations. What overall points is the filmmaker trying to make about cities and suburbs with his/her use of image, plot, and dialogue? How, specifically, does s/he make those points? 5. I am being intentionally vague about the assignment because I want you to have the greatest amount of flexibility in writing about what is interesting to you. However, some questions you might address are:

a. How does the physical location of a scene or the whole film look? Are things run down or neat and clean?

b. How does the location appear to affect employment, family life, inter-personal relationships, group dynamics, etc.?

c. If the filmmaker adopts a particular stance toward the city or suburb, is there any claim that somewhere else would be different (e.g., if it’s bad in the city, is it good somewhere else?).

e. Describe the “way of life” depicted in the suburb and city. In other words, how do people talk, work, dress, or dream?

f. How are consumption patterns similar or different in each setting? What do people do during their leisure time?

6. If you make reference to particular scenes, please note the time at which it approximately

occurred (e.g., from 52 to 54 minutes). This will help me in grading your papers. If you are making a general argument, like, “the filmmaker generally thinks that cities are ugly,” you should include a few examples, with the times noted.

Sociology 224, Urban Sociology, Paper Instructions



Films I have organized this table by whether (in my relatively quick judgment), the filmmaker adopts a basically positive or negative attitude toward cities or suburbs. You may feel free to disagree with my categorization of a particular film—the important thing in this assignment is to make an argument and provide evidence from the films. You may also choose a film not on this list, but please choose an easy-to-find, major Hollywood release (no obscure art films from the 1930s, please) and let me know what it is before proceeding. Basic orientation City Suburb


 Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1977)

 Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)

 Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1979)

 When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989)

 L.A. Story (Mick Jackson, 1991)

 High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)

 Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1950)

 Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)

 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

 The Family Man (Brett Ratner, 2000)

 Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)

 Are We Done Yet? (Steve Carr, 2007) Negative*  Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

 Escape from New York (John Carpenter, 1981)

 Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

 Witness (Peter Weir, 1985)

 Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

 Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

 The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)

 The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)

 Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998)

 Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998)

 American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

 Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

* Many of these films contain mildly to seriously disturbing scenes (esp. Taxi Driver, Se7en, and Happiness). If you are at least somewhat squeamish, you should probably stay away from these.

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