Assignment: Lecture 6 and SF Film Serials

I’m posting a video of today’s lecture above. It begins with some information about City Tech and CUNY’s response to the coronavirus followed by a continuation of last week’s lecture on SF Film Serials. You can watch the SF film serials Flash Gordon by clicking here and Buck Rogers by clicking here. Watch a few of each to get a sense of what I discuss during lecture.

Due to the changes with the virus response, our next class will be on Mar. 25. I will provide everyone with an update about how we will conduct class online by early next week. In the meantime, you should write at least 250-words summarizing the SF-portion of my lecture above and what you watch of the SF film serials before Mar. 25.

If you didn’t turn in a physical copy of your notebook today, please scan it as a PDF and email it to me as an attachment before Mar. 18 so that I can include it in midterm grade calculations.

Read the posts below for additional information about the college’s response to the coronavirus. I will give you all information about how we will proceed as a class very soon.

15 thoughts on “Assignment: Lecture 6 and SF Film Serials”

  1. Topics discussed in our 3/11/20 lecture include a continuation of our discussion of the Pulp SF subgenre, and specifically its beginnings in film with the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. Pulp SF in film, like in print, was low budget and excessively dramatic. The original Pulp SF film serials were formatted in short, ~15 minute episodes and were shown in theaters before feature films. They were characterized by simplistic shooting arrangements (single camera, low budget sets) and included “cliffhangers” (unresolved peaks in the plot) at the end of each episode to keep the viewer engaged with the series.
    The Flash Gordon film serials were the first major Pulp SF film series and were based on the Buck Rogers stories originally included in Amazing Stories magazine (Buck Rogers started in 1928 by Philip Francis Nowlan). The Flash Gordon serials were produced by Universal Pictures and occupied three major installments: Flash Gordon Space Soldiers (1936, 13 episodes), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, 15 episodes) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940, 12 episodes). The “cliffhangers” in these serials eventually inspired the format of the extended-length television series that we know today. The Buck Rogers film serials were not released until 1939 (though the Buck Rogers magazine serials were the inspiration for Flash Gordon). Both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were played by actor Buster Crabbe, one of the first actors to define what we know of today as the “superhero prototype”: the square jawed, steely eyed protector of the innocent. Crabbe was a successful Olympic swimmer, having won a gold medal in the 1932 Olympics in the freestyle event. Both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were produced by Universal Pictures. Interesting note: George Lucas wanted to adapt Flash Gordon into a modern, full-length feature film, but was unsuccessful in getting the rights to the film. He wrote his own space opera series instead (the Star Wars series).

  2. In our las class, we spoke about our research essay formatting as well as the Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers movie conversion films. We spoke about the original Flash Gordon “Space Soldiers”, Which were 13 episodes 2 reels each. These were created in 1936 by Universal Pictures. Next were Flash Gordon Trip to Mars and Flash Gordon Conquers of the Universe in 1996. These films all have very similar traits such as a cliffhanger every episode as well as being shown weekly before a feature film. Their production cost was relatively low as well as their production value. These aspects are somewhat mimicked by television. Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon were played by the same actor, Buster Crabbe as well as both being produced by Universal Pictures. Buster Crabbe was an Olympic athlete who was used for the “Superhero look”. Elements of the “Yellow Peril” Are visible in these films with characters like emperor Ming the Merciless.

  3. Lecture #6 revolved around our upcoming research essay and also continued to build our knowledge on Pulp SF. During this lecture we discussed the outline and structure for our final research paper. We also learned about the many different free resources available to us. Such resources include which can be accessed by using our Public Library cards. MLA format using MLA Owl was also instructed. Finally we talked about how the SF-Encyclopedia could serve as a great tool as SF students. I had some time to watch both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and I have to say I enjoyed them. However, they certainly have a clear racism, sexism and ideology and although it’s not justified its understanding due to the time period. I am actually rather surprised at both films produced by universal and what they achieved in the 1930s. I did enjoy Flash Gordon a bit more, maybe because I saw it first or maybe because it felt a bit more solid in terms of story. It is strange that this feels more of a comedy sometimes due to the outdated effects and cliche lines and awful stereotypes. Still, it certainly does feel like a science fiction tale and the influences these films had on other SF are clear as day. The cliffhanger technique is present in both films and certainly left me wanting to see more. It took an additional effort of imagination to enjoy this but it was an interesting experience. I feel that I now have a more concrete understanding of Pulp SF and can’t wait to see how these films evolve throughout the different eras which I’m sure we will explore.

  4. During this lecture, we learned about the requirements for the final research paper. We are to find a single science fiction work, whether it be a book, video game, or a film/TV series, and write about what significance they have and how they relate to science fiction. Next, we learned about science fiction being brought onto the big screens. It began by taking ideas from those cheaply made pulp science fictions and making film adaptions. There are four main characteristics of science fiction films. First, the serials were released weekly and shown before a feature film. Second, at the end of each episode, there is a cliffhanger, an unresolved situation. Third, they have low cost of production. Fourth, they have low production value. Flash Gordon was the first science fiction film series, released in 1932. It consisted of three series, each with over 10 episodes. Buck Rogers was another film series released in 1939. The main protagonist of both shows was played by the same actor, Buster Crabbe. After watching the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers series, I’ve realized how they paved a path for future generations of science fiction films and television series. George Lucas became inspired by Flash Gordon and created his own SF project which he called The Star Wars, which became one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. It’s easy to identify the shoddy production value and soundtrack but the actors who played the hero and the villain were great. During that time these films did exactly what they were intended to do well, they were entertaining and stimulated the imagination.

  5. In our last lecture class, we began by discussing City Tech moving to distance learning because of the severity of the corona virus. We also went over the terms for our research paper on any Science Fiction of our choice. We continued to discuss our discussion on pulp Science Fiction. Pulp Science Fiction films were usually 15 minutes short clips, low budget and overly dramatic. These short films consist of “cliffhangers”. Unfinished plots that left viewers sitting on the edge of their seats wondering what’s going to happen next. The Flash Gordon film series were the first Pulp Science Fiction films. It was based on stories of Buck Rogers that were published in Amazing stories. Buck Rogers was created by Phillip Francis Nowlan in 1928. The Flash Gordon series were produced by Universal Pictures. There were three series of Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon space soldiers, made in 1936, Flash Gordon’s trip to Mars, made in 1938, and Flash Gordon conquers the Universe, made in 1940. Both Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were played by the same actor Buster Crabbe. Buster Crabbe was one of the first actors who defined the superhero prototype. Buck Rogers was also produced by Universal pictures. It took two reels to produces one episode of Flash Gordon.

    1. This week’s lecture was about the origin of science fiction in movies. The Pulp SF genre began in film with shorts such as Flash Gordon. Films in the genre were often over the top and campy dispite their low budget. These ideas were borrowed to make long feature-length Science Fiction films. These were released in serials which often used cliffhangers and other tactics to gain an audience. Watching Flash Gordon today, you can see the influence it had on certain genres that focus on satirical humor. Though Flash Gordon was not meant to be a comedy, many comidies today will use some tropes from it to mock other genres or industries.

  6. In our last class, we began by discussing our research project coming up soon. The requirements for the research essay was it had to be at least 2,500 words long. Also, we needed to include 5 cited sources as well as to cite our science fiction piece of our choosing. There are various works to choose from for our project including books, comics, short stories, TV series, music and so on. After going over the project we discussed film versions of Pulp SF. Flash Gordon adaptation included Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers. The adaptation was made up of thirteen two-reel episodes. The first episode we watched in class originated in 1936 and was made by Universal Studios. The second adaptation of series was Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. This adaptation originated in 1938 and contained fifteen episodes. Lastly, the final series was Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe from 1940 and had twelve episodes. Furthermore, the characteristics of SF film serials were discussed right after. Some of the characteristics were the weekly release of the episodes and were displayed before a feature film. This would result in the next characteristics, cliff hangers.This would leave viewers with the urge to watch the next episode so they could see if the problem was resolved. In the Flash Gordon episode watched during class, Flash is played by Buster Crabbe who also plays the lead role for another SF film series, Buck Rodgers(1939). Although, this would seem weird if this were to happen today, back in the twentieth century it was all relatively new and there was no fuss about it.

  7. In our last lecture we discussed moving forward with distance learning and went over the steps for our science fiction research paper. We touched on the early days of filming, and how this process affected the style of the “Flash Gordon” series as well as the “Buck Rogers” series which we watched in class. We went over certain characteristics of these short segments. We also discussed some of the main characters and the different rolls that they played.
    Our last class I must express was a very surreal moment one that I don’t think I had fully processed while it was happening. Ironically, we are taking this class during a strange time in history where we have been discussing different theories writers have had about our future. I am very curious to know how this present event will shape science fiction writers’ thoughts about our lives moving forward. This is especially of interest to me being an architectural major. I also cannot help but see an eerie correlation between our distance learning and quarantining to that of “The Machine Stops” where we are all sitting around in our homes only able to communicate via our computers and smart phones. I have been reading a few articles published by “Archdaily” on how this will change the way we design our built environments. I hope what is happening now is enough of a wake-up call for all of us to take a step back and rethink systems that may not be working for us anymore, especially for us that are in a science major.

  8. The class started in the most peculiar way. The explanation of how we turn around from a regular classes to fully online classes. The most surprising was to know that this mode is not only for a few weeks, but the rest of the semester will also be in this mode called “far learning process”. this was the moment that I noticed the coronavirus crisis will hit NY with unprecedented force. Sadly, the time gives the reason to CUNY’s authority and save the health of the students and professors.
    the research project was discussed and how will be implemented, we must choose a single work of science fiction or any work that we thought is Science Fiction. This science-fiction work must no be one of those already seen and discussed in class. The use of definitions that we learned in class is more than recommendable, MLA cited is required. The final piece must have at least 2500 words. The cited works will be at least 6. The work itself and 5 more. we can choose from Magazines, TV shows, movies, and videogames. The professor helps us with some sources that can be used like the encyclopedia of SF.
    Flash Gordon TV’s show and its 3 seasons was the next step of knowledge that we received. The use of two reels to create a single episode. The episodes were released weekly and shown before a feature film. The use of cliffhangers were mastered to captive the audience. Flash Gordon was acted by Buster Crabbe. He was an Olympic medalist who won a gold medal. Buster Crabbe as Buck Rogers.

  9. In this lecture, we discussed the requirements of our upcoming paper in more depth, and also continued our talk about the Flash Gordon series and it’s contribution to the Pulp SF sub-genre. There were three major adaptations of Flash Gordon; one of them being “Flash Gordon Space Soldiers,” which originated in 1936 with thirteen two-reel episodes. There was also “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” originating in 1938 with fifteen episodes, and “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe,” which had 12 episodes and originated in 1940. The Flash Gordon series was heavily based on the Buck Rogers series, and even had the same actor for both leading hero roles, Buster Crabbe. He was an olympic gold medalist, therefore, already having a “superhero look” to his exterior. The series had a few characteristics that helped it fit under the sub-genre Pulp SF. Episodes were released weekly, and usually were shown before a feature film. It often had cliffhangers at the conclusion of each episode, which were unresolved peaks in the plot to keep the audience interested in finding out what happened next. There was a relatively low cost of production, making the show look cheap and funny-looking to an extent; it was almost comical. There was low production value, and very simplistic shooting arrangements. This meant there was usually a single camera for them to shoot scenes from; there wasn’t a high budget set in there hands. Although the Buck Rogers series was not released until 1939, it was still the biggest inspiration to the Flash Gordon serials.

  10. Lecture 6 commenced with a discussion on CUNY’s transition to distance learning due to COVID-19. We then discussed the format and requirements for the research paper assignment due later this semester. The final part of the lesson consisted of a discussion on the transition of Pulp SF to the silver screen, followed by the viewing of various serials related to the topic.

    We first discussed that CUNY is transitioning to online distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, assigned films for the course will be reviewed and possibly changed to allow everyone access to the content. Although the class format has changed, all rules and guidelines must be followed to ensure accreditation at the end of the semester. Classes have been suspended university-wide, from 3/12-3/18, to allow the colleges to prepare their online curriculums, and as a result our next class is scheduled for 3/25.

    Next, we discussed that the assigned research paper should be ten pages (2500 words) in length, and must be in MLA format. The goal is to choose a single work of SF, analyze it, and convince the reader why it is a work of SF, using the class readings and the definitions that best support your thesis. At least five cited sources must be used, in addition to the selected work of SF. All CUNY libraries, except for the library at John Jay College, are accessible for research purposes, as is also the New York Public Library. The paper must be evidence-based, from sources such as personal observations, secondary sources, or someone else’s writing about the work.

    We then discussed Pulp SF films, specifically serial films, which are short works that played in theaters every week before the showing of the feature film, just after the playing of a newsreel and a cartoon. Some characteristics of serial films are, cliffhangers at the end of the episodes that were meant to attract patrons to return to the theater the following week, the low cost of production which caused the films to look silly and cheap, and the low production value which resulted in the reuse of special effects and simplistic camera arrangements. The episodic shooting, and the use of cliffhangers in the serial films, would later be imitated in television shows. The Flash Gordon serials are an adaptation of a comic strip that was created to compete with the Buck Rogers stories found in Pulp SF magazines of the time. Various Flash Gordon serials were created, including Flash Gordon Space Soldier (1936), consisting of 13 episodes, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), consisting of 15 episodes, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940), consisting of 12 episodes. The star of the serials, Buster Crabbe (1908-1983), a two-time Olympic swimmer, would later star in the Buck Rogers serial as well. The Buck Rogers (1939) serial film, consisting of 12 episodes, was created as a direct competition to the Flash Gordon films. Universal Studios produced both the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, and as a result, both shared similar attributes. After viewing the first two episodes of the first Flash Gordon serial and the Buck Rogers serial, it is apparent that in both, technology is more advanced than that of the present time, as is common in works of SF. Spacecrafts that can travel to distant planets, ray guns, mind control helmets, and de-gravity belts are some items in the films that were unheard of at the time the serials were created, and most are still unheard of today. Both serials are lacking in creativity and special effects by today’s standards, but for their time, I’m certain they were greatly appreciated.

  11. During Lecture 6, we discussed some requirements for our Final Research Paper that will be due on the last day of class. We also continued discussing film versions of Pulp Science Fiction. The two pulp SF series we focused on were Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Th

    There are a few characteristics that these two series and other shorts share:

    – The episodes were released weekly and shown before a feature film (to which raises some questions… were people really going to the theater every week? And how were there that many new movies to watch?)

    – At the end of the ~20 minute episodes is a cliffhanger or something that takes place that isn’t resolved (in this regard, I felt Flash Gordon was the King of Cliffhangers, I definitely wanted to continue watching after the end of an episode to how they got themselves out of trouble – even if the rest of the episode didn’t hold my attention too well)

    – Low-cost production and low production value, meaning the had to reuse some props and usually only had one camera filming

    Whilst Buck Rogers was filmed after the Flash Gordon series, the storyline first appeared in the SF magazine Amazing Stories and was also the inspiration for Flash Gordon. After watching a few episodes of each series, I can say I prefer Buck Rogers over Flash Gordon. It seems to have a better storyline and less dramatic fight scenes. Not to mention the starring lady of Buck Rogers, Wilma is a lieutenant and not just a damsel in distress.

  12. During our last lecture in class yes “the last lecture” you read that correctly, I’m from the future some wild shit happens in the future just wait. This lecture mainly focused on our upcoming research essay and how to improve our knowledge, of SF. We went through the usual when it came to the essay structure and outline. The professor also showed us some free resources we can base our essay on. We talked about flash Gordon an inspiration for star wars and how it was one of the first sf pulp science fiction film. It was also based on stories of buck Rodgers that was published 1928 by the one and only Philip Francis Nowlan in the late 1920s. We also tackled buster crabble career and how he played both flash Gordon and buck Rodgers.

  13. The film pulp science fiction, Flash Gordon started as a comic strip as a response to the Buck Rogers pulp magazine stories popularity. Flash Gordon has a series which consist of Flash Gordon space soldiers, Flash Gordon Trip to Mars, and Flash Gordon conquers the Universe. Each film was made with reels episode. Flash Gordon space soldiers had 13 episodes or reel, Flash Gordon Trip to Mars had 15 episodes of reel, and Flash Gordon conquers the Universe had 12 episodes of reel. Films reels had four characteristics: 1) Released weekly and shown before featured films. 2) Cliffhangers. 3) Relatively low cost of production. 4) Low production value. Meaning that before the main movie an episode of Flash Gordon would play and then end on a cliffhanger leaving the audience questioning “what will happen next?” Each film was made by Universal Pictures. Buck Rogers released in 1939 also by Universal Pictures. Flash Gordon was created similar to Buck Rogers due to Buck Rogers’ rising popularity. So, when Universal Pictures got in bed with Flash Gordon they also got in bed with Buck Rogers.

    While watching the Flash Gordon film series, I noticed that the audio was not synced with the video so you would hear what happens before seeing it. It seems that by the third episode they fixed the audio syncing problem. It also appears that with each passing episode the problem Flash Gordon increases in danger. While watching the Buck Rogers film series, I noticed the quality of the films was worst that the Flash Gordon film. The film unlike the Flash Gordon film has no audio syncing problem. Buck Rogers seems to be the same age as Flash Gordon. Both films have their main characters face unlikely odds with serious consequences if they lose. Both films have an intro to title the episode and display the cast.

  14. In this week’s lecture, we began with discussing the college’s move to distance learning due to the severity of the Coronavirus. We then went over in depth the requirements for the research essay due at the end of the semester. After moving on from the topics of distance learning and the requirements for the research essay, we got into the topic of Science Fiction Film Series. We learned about film versions of Pulp SF which requires taking the ideas of Pulp SF out of the magazines and putting them up on the silver screen. We then discussed three different Flash Gordon adaptations. The Flash Gordon film series were the first Pulp Science Fiction films. It was based on stories of Buck Rogers that were published in the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Buck Rogers was a character created by Phillip Francis Nowlan in 1928. The first one we discussed was Flash Gordon Space Soldiers made by Universal Pictures in 1936. It is made up of 13 2 reel episodes. The second was Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars which was made in 1938 and consists of 15 episodes. The third was Flash Gordon conquers the Universe, made in 1940, consisting of 12 episodes. Then we learned about the characteristics of film series adaptations. The first is that they are released weekly and shown before a featured film. The second is that they consist of cliffhangers, leaving you dying for the next episode. The third is the relatively low cost of production. The fourth is the low production value.

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