The new film course, Cinema and the City, will instruct students about the role settings, such as specific cities, play in movies. Mason Allred, assistant professor of communications at BYU–Hawaii, said, “Films begin to shape the preconceived notions about certain cities and the human inhabitants of those cities.”
“In this course, we’re mostly interested in the ways cities and urban development work [collectively] to bring people together and work together in tight spaces,” said Allred. “They have this really interesting relationship which is connected from the beginning because [of] the city as a setting”
In a film, the city where the film takes place can have an impact on the perspective and imagination of the viewer, according to Allred. For example, when people think of New York they “think a hard Brooklyn accent, yellow taxi cabs, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty because films so often use those images when portraying New York. Films shape the identity of a city.
“Settings are powerful things in a story. There’s a sense of imagination for audiences who live outside those cities because whether you’ve been to New York or not, you still have these preconceived notions about New York.”
Agreeing with Allred, Jadan Watson, a senior from Utah studying intercultural peacebuilding, said that within any film, the setting brings with it a creative sense that can help the audience to imagine things as they are or could be.
“Whether it’s in a city or not, the setting builds a connection for us, or even a desire to explore wherever that is. I know for me, personally, whenever I watch a film set in a city, I’m always drawn to it. It always makes me want to live there, but the same can be true for any setting.”
There a multitude of ways cities can be represented, shared Allred. He explained how cities can be darkly-lit, crime-ridden streets with immoral characters like “Chinatown”. On the other hand, they could be bright and romanticized versions of New York, similar to “On the Town” or any other bright, colorful musical.
“The setting of a movie largely impacts the feeling of it,” said Donavyn Jorgensen, a sophomore from Utah studying exercise and sports science. “For instance, if we start in a hospital with a family surrounding a loved one, the audience will at first feel sad and yet comforted. Sad because in that setting the outlook is already bleak, but comforting because of the presence of loved ones.
“Settings are the beginning glimpse into a story and thus must set the tone of what’s to come. You can’t start a romantic comedy with the same setting you would a horror film. The mood can of course change based on the actions of the characters, but the foundations of that mood will have started and will remain with the setting.”
Just as a novel has characters with moods and personalities, Allred said cities are very much characters of their own in cinema, and we should treat them as such.
In the course, students will learn how to notice details and not get distracted, similar to the way Sherlock Holmes looks at London with a different eye than most to find clues.
“We’re going to unpack the ways cities have been built up over time and how their identities have been shaped through media,” said Allred. “We are also going to think about gender, race, and other factors in cities and how these interactions affect their development.
“We will enjoy these discussions but we’ll also strive to think of new ways to consider cities that most might not think of.”