style ): 5 points possible clarity H u m a n i t i e s

style ): 5 points possible clarity H u m a n i t i e s

Students will interview an elder about personal experiences of theatrical film-going before home video, cable, multiplexes, and the world wide web—approximately before 1980. Some of these were introduced in the 1970s but only widely adopted in the U.S. in the early-mid 1980s; popular adoption of the Internet occurred in the mid-1990s and after. These periodizing dates may differ for contexts outside the U.S.

There are two parts to this assignment, the interview itself and the essay about the interview. You will turn in both your list of PREPARED questions (10-12) and a 1000-1200 word oral history essay explaining who your interview subject was and reporting on the interviewee’s responses, contextualizing them in relation to the period and the version of film history presented in class.

The goal of this assignment is both to humanize the historical period we are learning about in class and to get a sense of audience reception practices in contrast to the formal and industrial histories we are learning about in class. Students are encouraged to interview subjects who were living and going to movies outside the U.S. Interviews may be in languages other than English as applicable, but students will need to translate questions and quotations into English for the assignment. Keep in mind that the film movements we are studying were not all “popular” and that your interview subjects may not have seen the specific films from this course. There are many forms of cinema, and people remember or consider important different films. Students are responsible to find their own interview subjects. Interviews may be done via phone, Skype, email, etc—although talking in-person is ideal.

Student grading rubric:

Total points possible: 30

Questions prepared for interview: 5 points possible

Personal context for interviewee in report: 5 points possible

Communicates a sense of or reflection on film history in report: 5 points possible

Tells a story and captures a sense of the person (form/style): 5 points possible

Clarity and focus: 5 points possible

Communicates what you learned: 5 points possible

Finding Your Subject

Your interview subject can be a relative (for instance, a grandparent or parent), a neighbor, or anyone else, as long as they can speak about going to the movies before changes in movie-going ushered in by home video and cable. It is fine—even encouraged—for you to choose an interview subject who lived outside the U.S. during this time. Ideally, you will be able to interview your subject in-person, but in a pinch, you may call or Skype them if the are not local. Part of the assignment is to find an interview subject.

If your interview is conducted in a language other than English, that is fine, but the questions should be translated into English for submission of your assignment, and your essay should indicate which language was used for the interview. Also, note if certain concepts or terms were difficult to translate.

Oral History

Oral histories help us to retrieve and clarify aspects of history that are usually not accessible or made available to us in published history books and articles.  While it is easy enough to obtain a sense of “major events” occurring in the film world by reading newspapers, searching online, and consulting trade and critical journals, none of these sources provides us with a sense of what it was like to experience cinema as a creative participant, theater owner, film technician, or movie spectator during the period we are studying. Although oral histories provide us with a “subjective” account of events in the past, they can help us to pose fruitful questions regarding film culture and politics, as well as provide immediate insight into how film culture affected people at different locations in different ways.  Occasionally, they yield important facts that have been forgotten or overlooked by public and institutional discourse, as well as by historians.

If your interviewee worked in the film industry, that is great. The interview should address both production and film-going. You are not expected to find someone who worked in the industry.


(There are no required questions, and you are encouraged to come up with your own. But these will provide a good basis. Again, you will likely talk beyond specific questions and beyond the 10-12 you prepared)

If your subject was not residing in the United States during any of this period, you will likely want to ask the following: Did s/he primarily see films from the country in which s/he lived? Was s/he able to see U.S. movies where they lived? If not, why was s/he not able to see American movies?  If yes, what kinds of films (genres)? If yes, what were his/her favorite actors, genres, or directors? Did s/he receive any information about American movies (photos, news clippings, etc.) even if they couldn’t watch the films?  What kinds of information?  Did they go to see other national cinemas at movie theaters?  What kinds of films? What languages? How did those national films compare to Hollywood films (if they had access to U.S. cinema)?

For all respondents, ask if any particular movies stand out in his/her memory. What were the movie theaters like that s/he attended most of the time? Where were these theaters located (city, downtown/ neighborhood)? Did s/he have any favorite genres, directors, or stars? (Please have him/her identify these.) Did s/he read fan magazines (which ones?) or write fan letters? Is there anything special that they think you should know about the movies before 1980ish? How did film going differ then compared to now?


PREPARE ahead of time.

  • Prepare ten to twelve questions that you would like to ask the subject about her experience (you will probably not get to ask all of them).
  • Arrange enough time for the interview (at least half an hour to talk) and conduct it in a place where your subject feels comfortable (usually either in her home or in a non-noisy public place). Make sure you arrange these aspects of the interview well ahead of time.
  • Have a notebook, computer or audio recorder ready – make sure you ask the subject ahead of time whether it is okay for you to take notes or record what she says. Since you won’t be publishing the material, it’s unnecessary for her to sign a release form.
  • The interview is not about you, or what you think. The whole point of the interview is to get the subject to tell her story.
  • Don’t ask yes/no questions. Rather, ask why/how/where/what do you remember about … questions.
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Ask brief and focused questions.
  • Have patience. Silence is okay. Some people like to take time to think before answering a question – give them the time.
  • Listen, and don’t interrupt. You should prepare follow-up questions as you listen, but don’t interrupt with them.
  • If your subject does stray into topics that are not pertinent, try to refocus the interview. Say, for example, “Before we move on, I would like to ask you a little more about X…”



If your interview subject gave short, one-word responses to your questions, it is my hope that you intuited the need to ask FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS and/or to rephrase the original question in order to get a more fleshed out response. Obviously your written report will be difficult if you didn’t get full answers during your interview. Leading an ineffective interview does not let you off the hook for the written component, and you should not blame your interviewee for incomplete answers when you should have asked for clarification or more detail. If you are concerned that you don’t have enough information to write a report, there may yet be time for a follow-up.


The bulk of your written report will come from your interviewee’s accounts, and you are encouraged to make direct quotations (verifying that they are accurate). However, you are also expected to contextualize your interviewee’s experiences by identifying where and when these experiences took place. Additionally, you are expected to make connections between the accounts your interviewee gives you and the historical background we have covered in class lectures, readings, and discussions.

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