Geography of New York City Through Film

Download Syllabus (PDF)
Course Description: This course is a critical geographic exploration of the social and cultural dimensions of New York City’s landscape through film and filmmaking. We will investigate the social issues of New York City and the ways in which they are portrayed on film. Throughout the course we will examine the ways in which New York City as a place, and as a place composed of a myriad of places, is represented through the camera’s lens and the director’s vision.  Thus, we will consider the ways in which cinematography, acting, directing, and other aspects of filmmaking are used to tell a story about New York City’s social spaces. The course posits landscape as an idea to evaluate the visual representation of New York City as a sight/site. Throughout the course we will explore the ways in which space, place, and landscape are socially constructed through various eras of New York City’s cinematic history. Moreover, the course is a critical geographic investigation into the multiplicity of social worlds that comprise, and collide within, New York City. Some topics to be considered are utopia/dystopia, race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, art, immigration, houselessness, and gentrification. The course follows three main themes: 1. How the filmmaking process (camera movements, lighting, dialogue, acting, etc.) is used as a method to describe space (filmmaking as a geographic method). 2. How various genres of film have been used to portray the social geography of New York City (the geography of film). 3. The relationship between the viewer’s “place” and the places portrayed in the film (communication geography). Finally, through this cinemagraphic exploration of New York City’s visual representation, we will also consider how our personal sense of place towards New York City has altered throughout the course.
Course Purpose: The course is designed for students to investigate the ways in which social issues as well as places are portrayed on film. We will watch documentaries, narratives, and documentary/narrative hybrids to better analyze the complexities of representing social spaces through filmmaking. Students are expected to be critical about how film represents (or misrepresents) urban space and social issues. Students will also learn about the social history and transformation of New York City, which are profoundly shaped through the processes of American capitalism. Thus readings each week will draw from social/urban geography, film studies, as well as other closely related fields.
In Class Films:
(Click the film to take you to IMDb or "Scrtipt" for a link to the script)



The Cruise (1998; documentary)
Naked City (1948; narrative)(Script)
Rear Window (1954; narrative)(Script)
Midnight Cowboy (1969; narrative)(Script)
Taxi Driver (1976; narrative)(Script)
Manhattan (1979; narrative)(Script)
Wild Style (1983; scripted documentary)
Ghost Busters  (1984; narrative)(Script)
Fatal Attraction  (1987; narrative)(Script)
Coming to American (1988; narrative)
Do the Right Thing (1989; narrative)(Script)
Paris is Burning (1990; documentary)
The Fisher King (1991; narrative)(Script)
SUBWAY STORIES: Tales from the Underground (1997; narrative shorts)
Dark Days (2000; documentary)

© Robert Lemon /

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