American Film History I, Summer 2010

Film 4170/6170

Course Description

The past is a foreign country. Viewing the silent films of over one hundred years ago, we are reminded of the strangeness of this distant culture. It is a challenge of the imagination to recapture the pleasures of these entertainments, to put oneself in the minds of those early spectators viewing a brand-new medium. Like the best foreign travel, a journey into the history of American film can be an act of defamiliarization, shaking up our assumptions about how movies work.
At the same time, the past is prologue. In the history of American film, we find the roots of contemporary culture, as well as hints about the future. Watching even the earliest “cinema of attractions,” we see versions of the spectacles which fill multiplexes today.
This class, then, takes two approaches to American film history. On the one hand, it seeks to understand the culture of earlier eras on their terms, in all their strangeness and specificity. On the other hand, it attempts to chart the distance between past and present, and attempt to understand the historical changes that film has both reflected and, in some ways, influenced. Along the way, we’ll address questions of aesthetics, semiotics, economics, ideology, race, gender, and national identity.

Screening Schedule

On Mondays, films will be screened during class time. On Wednesdays, screenings will be held from 1:50-3:40 in 406 Arts & Humanities. Additional film clips and documentaries will also be screened during class time.

6/14    Selections from vaudeville routines

6/16    Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Reisner, 1928)

6/21    Silent film shorts

6/23    The Public Enemy (Wellman, 1931)

6/28    His Girl Friday (Hawks, 1940)

6/30    Gone With the Wind (Fleming, 1939)

7/5    No class – Independence Day observed

7/7    The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946)

7/12    It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1944)

7/14    All About Eve (Mankiewicz, 1950)

7/19    Singin’ in the Rain (Donen and Kelly, 1952)

7/21    Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955) 7/26    North by Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959)

7/28    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (Ford, 1962)

8/2    Class choice

Reading Schedule
The course-pack for this class is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). The graduate section will choose one additional book to read.

6/14    The Roots of Hollywood
No reading; Vaudeville documentary screened in class

6/16    Historicizing Hollywood
No reading; Hollywood: An Empire of Their Own documentary screened in class

6/21    Early Silent Film: The Cinema of Attractions
Tom Gunning, “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)credulous Spectator,” Film Theory and Criticism, eds. Braudy and Cohen (Oxford, 2004), 862-876.
Donald Crafton, “Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy,” Classical Hollywood Comedy, eds. Karnick and Jenkins (Routledge, 1995), pp. 106-119.
James Agee, “Comedy’s Greatest Era,” Agee on Film (Modern Library, 2000), pp. 393-412.

6/23    Silent Film Audiences and Identities
Kathy Fuller-Seeley, “Coming of Age at the Picture Show: Middle Class Youth in the 1910s and 1920s,” At the Picture Show (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996), pp. 169-193.
Michael Rogin, “Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice,” Blackface, White Noise (U California Press, 1996), pp. 73-120.

6/28    Hollywood Genres: Gangster and Screwball
Thomas Schatz, excerpts from Hollywood Genres (McGraw-Hill, 1981), pp. 3-41, 81-110.
Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” The Immediate Experience (Atheneum, 1970), pp. 127-133.
Tina Olsin Lent, “Romantic Love and Friendship: The Redefinition of Gender Relations in Screwball Comedy,” Classical Hollywood Comedy, eds. Karnick and Jenkins (Routledge, 1995), pp. 314-331.

6/30    The Politics of Hollywood
Robert Ray, “A Certain Tendency of the American Cinema: Classic Hollywood’s Formal and Thematic Paradigms,” A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton UP, 1985), pp. 25-69.
Larry May, excerpts from The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Poltics of the America Way (U Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 1-10, 101-138, 257-269.

7/5    No class – Independence Day observed

7/7    Race, Gender and Region in Gone With the Wind Ruth Elizabeth Burks, “Gone With the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor,”
Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21 (2004): 53-73. Leonard J. Leff, “Gone With the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics,” The
Atlanic, December 1999, pp. 106-114. Charles Rutheiser, “Going, Going, Gone with the Wind,” Imagineering Atlanta
(Verso, 1996), pp. 40-46.

7/12    Film Noir
Thomas Schatz, “The Hardboiled-Detective Film,” Hollywood Genres (McGraw- Hill, 1981), pp. 111-150.
Midterm due

7/14    The Capra Consensus
Robert Ray, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton UP, 1985), pp. 175-215.

7/19 Backstage
Robert Corber, “Cold War Femme: Lesbian Visibility in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11.1 (2005): 1-22.

7/21    The Musical and Utopia
Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia,” The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (Routledge, 1999), pp. 371-381.
Steven Cohan, “Case Study: Interpreting Singin’ in the Rain,” Reinventing Film Studies, eds Gledhill and Williams (Hodder Arnold, 2000), pp. 53-75.

7/26    The Invention of the Teenager
Peter Biskind, “Wild in the Streets,” from Seeing Is Believing (Pantheon, 1983), pp. 197-227.

7/28    Hitchcock’s Gaze
Slavoj Zizek, “The Individual: Hitchcock’s Universe,” Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, ed. Slavoj Zizek, pp. 211-272.

8/2    The Beginning of the End of the Western
Robert Ray, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton UP, 1985), pp. 215-243.
Garry Wills, “John Wayne’s Body, The New Yorker, August 16, 1996, pp. 39-49. Take-home final due Wednesday, August 4

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
Take-Home Midterm – 50 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.
Take-Home Final – 50 points The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester.
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.


Late and Unsubmitted Papers Late papers will be marked off by 1⁄2 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 published in On Campus: The Undergraduate Co-Curricular Affairs Handbook, available online at ~wwwcam. 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 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.

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