Over the last year or so, a few people have told me that they stumbled upon the syllabus for my Experimental Film at Pratt Institute and have adapted it as the basis for their own similar courses. I imagine that for each person who has gotten in touch, there must be some order-of-magnitude more that have used the syllabus but didn’t alert me to that fact. Let me be clear: I don’t mind anyone using my syllabus. This is why it’s available on the open web, and not hidden behind some walled-off LMS.
However, I would like to know how others have used this syllabus so that I can improve my own course. As I’ve noted before, the syllabus for this course draws heavily on an undergraduate course I myself took in the 1990s, taught by Constance Penley at UCSB. I made a few adjustments in designing my own course. For example, I added more New York-centric films to reflect the fact that I teach these courses in New York City. Another change is dealing more directly with the early days of video art. This in turn was to reflect what I learned in a graduate course on video art at NYU, taught by Chris Straayer. Ending the class with video art allowed me to wrap up one major narrative thread about my approach to studying experimental film: video in the 1970s was like film in the 1920s, generating great enthusiasm among artists to create new visual works that were previously impossible with other forms of art.
As much as I like the narrow focus of the course, especially in its one-semester, weekly format, I feel there are many improvements that I can make, and I’d like to know how others have approached teaching this material. First, I know there is a ton of great work that has emerged since the 1970s—nearly fifty years ago at this point—that should factor in to a survey course like this one. Second, there are a lot of titles in my current syllabus that are similar to each other. I would welcome some diversity to this course. Third, how should I incorporate experimental “film” that is born digital? This question has nagged at me for decades now, but honestly, there’s so much work out there—of varying quality and subjects—that the mere thought of figuring out how to summarize even some of it seems overwhelming. For example, does Fortnite count as a born-digital experimental work? (It doesn’t, but these are the kinds of questions that haunt me in revising this course.)
In the spirit of academic collegiality and cooperation, I request anyone who has used my Experimental Film syllabus to please contact me and share your syllabus with me. You reach me via email or via the contact form on this website.