As an incoming electrical and computer engineering student I came into USC excited most for my classes where I would be building circuits, writing code, and doing labs. However, I was taken by surprise this semester when one of my favorite classes was actually a GE!
This spring I participated in CTCS 190: Introduction to Cinema, a class I took in order to fulfill my general education arts requirement (GE-A). Every Tuesday we start our 4 hour class period with an hour-long lecture on a specific film concept. Some examples include performance, cinematography, sound, and genre. Professor Carstocea always made sure to include frames and short clips from a multitude of films to provide visual examples for many of our topics. He also included important historical and cultural context surrounding many of the ideas in the film industry that provided a really contextualized understanding of the lesson. I found lectures to be engaging and actually very humorous as the professor has studied comedy extensively. If you take the class, get ready for lots of memes, lecture surprises, and special effects that will make it nearly impossible to zone out.
After the lecture comes my favorite part: watching a movie. Each week Professor Carstocea chose a movie that highlighted whatever topic we were focusing on for that week. Some of my favorites included The Grand Budapest Hotel (composition/cinematography), Persepolis (literary design), Parasite (visual design/mise en scene), and Clueless (temporal design/editing). We also spent the last 5 weeks focusing on a specific genre. This year, the class did zombie movies.
While I’ve dabbled in a season or two of the Walking Dead, I really hadn’t watched much from the zombie genre, and honestly didn’t expect to like it. I was wrong. We started with I Walked With a Zombie, one of the first zombie movies, where the “zombies” were nothing like what we see on TV today. From there we watched Night of the Living Dead, the first movie in George A. Romero’s famous zombie trilogy. I loved seeing the old-fashion horror, and the movie’s vintage feel and low-budget production actually made it feel a lot more raw and scary than some modern films. We then watched They Live, a movie where if I didn’t watch it in the context of the zombie unit, I never would have noticed the similarities. We finished the semester by watching Train to Busan and Get Out, both of which were amazing examples of talented modern filmmaking.
Finally, each day we would finish class with a whole class discussion. I enjoyed hearing from fellow students about their thoughts regarding the movies we watched. Many of my classmates would consistently impress me by bringing up a tiny detail from a frame, or noticing a clever underlying theme in the movie. This discussion would be continued after lecture, in our separate discussion sections. These were led by a TA and only had around 25 other students so they had a great casual feel that allowed for engaging discussions.
Overall, the class definitely challenged me to explore a completely foreign topic. While the class seems almost as far as you can get from engineering, it actually exemplified what I was learning in my technical classes. In film, just like engineering, you have a goal that you would like to achieve from your product. However, the way you go about achieving this goal is completely up to the artist or the engineer. Just like how engineers consider the pros and cons of different design approaches, directors have to weigh the pros and cons of different film techniques. Questions like whether to frame the subject in the light or shadows of a shot, or whether or not to tell the story chronologically all come with different results that have to be carefully balanced in order to make the best possible film. This really reminded me of things we learned about in my embedded systems class (EE109) such as whether a specific project would be better in software, hardware, or somewhere in between. While each has its own advantages and disadvantages, it’s the engineer’s job, just like the filmmaker, to weigh these options and make the best choice.
Among many things, engineering is a creative pursuit. I’m so thankful to attend a school with such a wide range of subjects, where I can pair my degree with classes like intro to cinema. I think having this opportunity allows engineering students here to develop a far-reaching mindset, that pulls from many disciplines in order to engineer a better future.
I would highly recommend any of my fellow engineering students to take CTCS-190 for a fun and interesting class that will push your engineering mindset towards new levels!