American Film History II, Fall 2011

Film 4960/6960, Fall 2011
Class: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15, Classroom South 426
Screenings: Thursdays at 2:30, Arts & Humanities 406
Office: 738 One Park Place South

Course Description

How do movies reflect and influence American life? How has Hollywood shaped Americans’ image of the world, and the world’s view of Americans? What are the alternatives to Hollywood’s stories? What is the future of film in a digital age?

In attempting to answer these questions, this class will trace the history of American movies from the 1960s to the present. Along the way, we’ll look at the semiotics, aesthetics, economics, and politics of Hollywood movies and their independent alternatives.


The readings for the class include one required book, a coursepack, and a choice of movie memoirs from which you will select one to read. In addition, graduate students will choose two additional scholarly books to read and discuss in two additional meetings outside of class.

The required text is Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence by Chuck Tryon (Rutgers, 2009).

The coursepack for this class is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

The choice of movie memoirs includes:
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (Warner, 1983).
Robert Rodriguez, Rebel Without a Crew (Plume, 1996).
Sidney Lumet, Making Movies (Vintage, 1996).
John Gregory Dunne, Monster (Random House, 1997).
Brian Michael Bendis, Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story (Oni, 2000)
Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Writing Movies for Fun & Profit (Touchstone, 2011).

In addition, optional movie news items and reviews will be distributed through the Twitter hashtag #afh2. Find all recent tweets by searching for #afh2, and feel free to share your own links and comments by including #afh2 in any tweet.

Class Schedule

8/23    Introduction
In-class screening: opening of Saving Private Ryan (Speilberg, 1998).

8/25    Hollywood Today
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Formula”:
Christopher Anderson, “The Long Tail”:

8/30    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt, 2011)
David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary
American Film,” Film Quarterly 55.3 (Spring 2002): 16-28.
Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell and Ting Wang, “Introduction,” Global Hollywood 2 (BFI Publishing, 2005), 1-49.

9/1    Moviegoing Today
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema (Rutgers, 2009): Introduction, Chapters 1, 3, 6.
Tad Friend, “Funny Like a Guy,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011.

9/6    Planet of the Apes (Schaffer, 1968)
Eric Greene, “Planet of the Apes” and “Urban Riots and Ape Revolution,” Planet of the Apes as American Myth (McFarland, 1996), 21-54, 78-113.
Michael Atkinson, “You May Not Like What You Find: The Planet of the Apes Cycle,” Ghosts in the Machine: The Dark Hear of Pop Cinema (Limelight, 2004), 7-15.

9/8    Body Genres
Carol J. Clover, “Her Body, Himself,” Men, Women and Chainsaws (Princeton, 1992), 21-64.
In-class screening: The American Nightmare (Simon, 2000)

9/13    The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
Robert Ray, “Introduction,” “Left and Right Cycles” and “The Godfather and Taxi Driver,” A Certain Tendency in the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton, 1985), 3-21, 296-360.

9/15    The Hollywood Renaissance
Yannis Tzioumakis, “The New Hollywood and the Independent Hollywood,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers, 2006), 169-191.
In-class screening: American Cinema: The Film School Generation (Klarer, 2000).

9/20    Jaws (Speilberg, 1975)
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “Introduction,” “The Hunter Myth” and “Jaws: Faces of the Shadow,” Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film (University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-8, 52-99.
Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (Routledge, 1993), 8-36.

9/22    Blaxploitation
Ed Guerrero, “The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation,” from Framing Blackness: The African-American Image in Film, excerpted in Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross (Blackwell, 2002), 250-273.
In-class screening: Baadasssss Cinema (Julien, 2002).

9/27    Real Life (Brooks, 1979)
Pick one of the following memoirs to read (and discuss on the midterm):
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (Warner, 1983).
Robert Rodriguez, Rebel Without a Crew (Plume, 1996).
Sidney Lumet, Making Movies (Vintage, 1996).
John Gregory Dunne, Monster (Random House, 1997).
Brian Michael Bendis, Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story (Oni, 2000)
Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Writing Movies for Fun & Profit (Touchstone, 2011).

9/29    Graduate Presentations

10/4    Valley Girl (Coolidge, 1983)
Robin Wood, “Papering the Cracks: Fantasy and Ideology in the Reagan Era” and “Teens, Parties and Rollercoasters: A Genre of the 1990s,” Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond (Columbia, 2003), 144-167, 309-332.

10/6    Director Presentations
Take-home midterm due (presenters have extension until 10/11)

10/11    Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988)
Susan Jeffords, “Hard Bodies: The Reagan Heroes,” Hard Bodies (Rutgers University Press, 1994): 24-63.
Susan Faludi, “Fatal and Fetal Visions: The Backlash at the Movies,” Backlash (Crown, 1991): 112-139.

10/13    Director presentations

10/18    Guest speaker: Chuck Tryon
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema: Chapters 2, 4, Conclusion.

10/20    Slacker (Linklater, 1991)
Michael Z. Newman, “Indie Cinema Viewing Strategies” and “Games of Narrative Form” (Columbia, 2011), 21-47, 182-220.
Yannis Tzioumakis, “The Institutionalization of American Independent Cinema,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers, 2006), 246-280.

10/25    Bamboozled (Lee, 2000)
Nelson George, excerpts from Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies (Perennial, 1995).
In-class screening: Classified X

10/27    Director Presentations

11/1    Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005)
Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, “Sexuality and American Film,” America on Film (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 303-355.

11/3    Hollywood Sexuality
In-class screening: The Celluloid Closet

11/8    The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2008)
Stephen Prince, “Battleground Iraq” and “No End in Sight,” Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism (Columbia, 2009), 173-233, 281-309.

11/10    Director Presentations

11/15    Winter’s Bone (Granik, 2010)
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema, Chapter 5.
Search for blog posts about Winter’s Bone and read at least six.

11/17    Director Presentations

Thanksgiving Break – No Class 11/22, 11/24

11/29    Class Choice
Reading TBA

12/1    Director Presentations

Take-home Final due 12/8


You are responsible for viewing the assigned film before class each week. Screenings are Thursdays at 2:30 in 406 Arts & Humanities.

8/25    No screening in 406 – go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now playing in theaters
9/1    Planet of the Apes
9/8    The Godfather
9/15    Jaws
9/22    Real Life
9/29    Valley Girl
10/6    Die Hard
10/13    Slacker
10/20    Bamboozled
10/27    Brokeback Mountain
11/3    The Hurt Locker
11/10    Winter’s Bone
11/17    Class choice – film TBD
11/24    No screening – Thanksgiving Break
12/1    No screening


The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:

A+    100-98        B+    89-88        C+    79-78        D    69-65
A     97-93        B    87-83        C    77-70        F    64-0
A-    92-90        B-    82-80

Presentation – 10 Points

Film 6960: Graduate students will each choose a scholarly book on American Film to read and present to the class in a 15-20 minute presentation.

Film 4960: With a partner, undergraduate students will research and present a 15-20 minute discussion of a contemporary American filmmaker. A list of potential directors is attached. The presentation should include the following parts:

1. One partner will begin by presenting a brief overview of the director’s work, with an emphasis on key films which demonstrate what makes the director’s work distinctive and innovative. Focus on bringing to class up to speed on what they should know about the director in order to have an informed discussion of the clip. If at all possible, include a short clip (under 5 minutes) of the director discussing his or her own work, from a DVD Special Feature, YouTube clip, documentary, or other source.

2. Screen a short film clip (under 5 minutes) selected by both partners to exemplify the director’s style. Unless you choose the alternate presentation, use one continuous clip.

3. The other partner will then present a short analysis of the clip. Choose 1-3 film elements, and discuss in detail how each element functions in the clip. Rewind and replay selections from the clip, or pause on still images, to highlight key moments. (Be sure to prepare by noting in advance the time marks for moments you want to highlight.)

4. Class discussion.

5. At the end of class, hand in a list of your group’s sources. At least five distinct sources are required from each group. (You don’t need to specifically discuss all five sources during your presentation – the goal is that you dig around enough to find the most useful material.) Possible sources include books, journal articles, interviews, documentaries, DVD commentary tracks, and online videos. Wikipedia can be a useful launching pad for your research but does not in itself count towards your five sources.

Alternate presentation: if you choose, you may produce a video presentation on your director in place of the spoken presentation. Possible video projects include an edited selection of clips with commentary, interviews with viewers, a fan film, or a trailer mashup. Video equipment and training are available at GSU’s Digital Aquarium in the Student Center.

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened in the first half of the semester. Due in class October 6.

Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due December 8.

Attendance Adjustment
As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.


Re-Writes and Makeup Tests
Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and the presentation. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before December 1.

Late and Unsubmitted Papers
Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.

Academic Honesty
The university’s policy on academic honesty is attached. The policy prohibits plagiarism, cheating on examinations, unauthorized collaboration, falsification, and multiple submissions. Violation of the policy will result in failing the class, in addition to disciplinary sanctions.

The Internet makes it easy to plagiarize, but also easy to track down plagiarism. Bottom line: Don’t plagiarize. It’s wrong, and it’s not worth it. There’s always a better way. Cite all your sources, put all direct quotations in quotation marks, and clearly note when you are paraphrasing other authors’ work.

Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.

Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

Course Evaluation
Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State University.  Upon completing the course, please take the time to fill out the online course evaluation.

Director List

Note: This is only a partial list. Feel free to choose any other director who’s made English-language films since World War II, with one exception: directors of films screened for class are off limits, since they’re already covered.

Woody Allen
Robert Altman
Paul Thomas Anderson
Allison Anders
Kenneth Anger
Judd Apatow
Greg Araki
Darren Aronofsky
Hal Ashby
Ralph Bakshi
Paul Bartel
Kathryn Bigelow
Lizzie Borden
Danny Boyle
Stan Brakhage
Albert Brooks
Mel Brooks
Charles Burnett
Tim Burton
James Cameron
Jane Campion
John Cassavetes
Martha Coolidge
Francis Ford Coppalla
Sophia Coppalla
Roger Corman
Alex Cox
Wes Craven
David Cronenberg
Cameron Crowe
Julie Dash
Ossie Davis
Tamra Davis
Guillermo del Toro
Jonathan Demme
Brian DePalma
Tom DiCillo
Atom Egoyan
Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Abel Ferrara
David Fincher
Stephen Frears
William Friedkin
Sam Fuller
Terry Gilliam
Michael Gondry
F. Gary Gray
David Gordon Green
Paul Greengrass
Christopher Guest
Mary Harron
Hal Hartley
Amy Heckerling
Albert and Allen Hughes
Henry Jaglom
Spike Jonze
Neil Jordan
Jon Jost
Harmony Korine
Stanley Kubrick
Neil LaBute
John Lassiter
David Lean
Barry Levinson
Doug Liman
Richard Linklater
Ken Loach
Sidney Lumet
David Lynch
Terrence Malick
Michael Mann
Elaine May
George Miller
Michael Moore
Errol Morris
Mira Nair
Gregory Nava
Mike Nichols
Victor Nunez
Alexander Payne
Sam Peckinpaugh
Arthur Penn
Sidney Poitier
Roman Polanski
Alex Proyas
Sam Raimi
Rob Reiner
Tim Robbins
Robert Rodriguez
George Romero
Eli Roth
Alan Rudolph
David O. Russell
Nancy Savoca
John Sayles
Michael Schultz
Martin Scorcese
Susan Seidelman
M. Night Shyamalan
Bryan Singer
John Singleton
Jack Smith
Kevin Smith
Stephen Sodebergh
Todd Solondz
Penelope Spheeris
Whit Stillman
Quentin Tarantino
Julien Temple
Rose Troche
Melvin Van Peebles
Gus Van Sandt
Lars von Trier
Larry and Andy Wachowski
Wayne Wang
Andy Warhol
John Waters
Forest Whitaker
Fredric Wiseman
John Woo
Boaz Yakin
Robert Zemeckis
Rob Zombie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s