“Like Writing History With Lightning”:
History of American Cinema
Dr. Chris Schutz
Course Website: http://www.twcnet.edu/cschutz/courses-taught/history-of-american-cinema/
Office Hours: MWF, 9–9:50 AM
Or by appointment
• Bergman, Andrew. We’re In the Money: Depression America and Its Films. Ivan R. Dee, 1992.
• Harris, Mark. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. Penguin Books, 2008.
• Lorence, James J. Screening America: United States History Through Film Since 1900. New York: Longman, 2005.
• Mintz, Steven and Randy Roberts, eds. Hollywood’s America: United States History Through Its Films. 4th edition. St. James, New York: Brandywine Press.
• Ross, Steven J. Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
From its earliest years, motion pictures have been widely recognized as a powerful and influential cultural force in American society. As such, films have been scrutinized by public and civic officials and endured official and unofficial censorship campaigns; many have used films to generate sympathy for cherished causes; many others have rallied to protect alleged moral or patriotic threats against controversial films. This semester, then, we will closely examine the history of cinema by viewing a select number of motion pictures. We will view, analyze and discuss these films as primary documents, and ask ourselves what those films reveal about the times in which they were created. We will thus use cinema as an important prism to view the changing social landscape of the United States in the twentieth cinema.
U.S. History Background as a Pretext for the Course: While there is no technical prerequisite for this course, I must presume entering students to be knowledgeable on twentieth century American history since that will be a basic foundation for analyzing the films we analyze this semester.
Reading: You have three books for the course. In addition to that, I will assign reserve reading at times. For an upper-level course, then, a quite moderate amount of reading is expected this semester. Beyond providing the critical backdrop for many of our class discussions, these readings will also be a vital subtext for your analysis of the films we will view this term. Because of all those factors, expectations of your close and thoughtful reading of the materials assigned will be quite high. You should read carefully not just for factual information, but for the authors’ arguments as well, and come to class fully prepared to discuss them intelligently. In the Course Schedule, you will find reading dates assigned to the dates where those readings will be discussed in class. It may be necessary to add additional reading assignments as the course progresses to provide you with the necessary background with which to analyze films properly.
Internet Readings: When “Internet Readings” is listed in the course schedule you should go my web page at “http://www.twcnet.edu/cschutz,” click on “History Web Links,” and then follow the directions listed in the Course Schedule (i.e., look for the page listed in the Course Schedule, click on it, then find the subsection listed in the Course Schedule, locate the reading listed and click on that reading).
Exams: There will be two written exams in the class. The first will be a midterm exam held in class on Wednesday, February 19. The other will be your final exam. Any makeups for those exams will require valid medical documentation or my approval prior to the date of the exam.
Quizzes: All reading and film assignments will be subject to an unannounced “pop quiz” to take place at the beginning of class. Those quizzes, taken together at the semester’s end, will form 20% of your final grade.
Viewing films: Films are, obviously, a vital part of this course. Viewing these films is simply another series of “texts” which must be completed and digested in order to intelligently participate and contribute to our classroom discussions. Some films will be viewed during our Friday (two-hour) class meetings. Most of the assigned films for this course, however, will– like the other texts in this course– need to be completed by you outside of class time. Viewing these films not shown during class time will be your responsibility, and completing that responsibility may be done in virtually any way that you can. Please note: You should take careful note of class dates where we will discuss films. It is your responsibility to arrive in class having already seen the assigned film for that scheduled discussion date.
How to View Assigned Films: I will place the assigned films on reserve in the library. All feature films for the course will be available on two-hour reserve for use within the library (you may use one of the library’s VCR/DVD machines– or, if I have placed a DVD copy for reserve– perhaps on your own laptop computer). Those two-hour, in-library copies are not to be removed from the college library at any time to ensure that one copy will always be available for your peer students. In the case of films not shown during class time, I will also place one or more copies for 24-hour use that you may remove and take home for convenience (i.e., in addition to the remaining 2-hour, in-library copy). All my copies of these films, of course, should be returned in a timely fashion according to their restrictions. Indeed, I urge you to return the 24-hour copies to the library as rapidly as possible (i.e., not to use all 24 hours if possible) to be courteous to students following you eager to get the films. You may also have access to these films from online services, video stores, etc. You are welcome to acquire the films in those ways as well. Please note, however: be certain you have the exact title and year of the film (seeing a remake of the film will not suffice). Furthermore, viewing these films outside of class time on your own schedule remains your responsibility. I cannot accept the excuse that you wanted to acquire a film but could not because it was checked out. You simply must allow yourself sufficient time to gain access to the film well before its due date. Analyzing Films: We will analyze the selected films for this course as sources with which to view the times in which they were created. Most of that analysis will occur as class discussion. For two of the films, you will be required to compose a paper (4-7 pages typewritten).
Some General Rules for Analyzing the Films: Be alert while watching the film. Don’t sit passively and simply let the film roll past you. Remember that you will need to thoughtfully critique or write a paper on the basis of what you recall. Bring something to jot notes on so that you can use quotes and important details from the film in discussion or your paper. While the content of the film (the issues raised by the film, the plotline, etc.) is certainly important (and in some instances critically important because the film may break new ground in simply entering a subject for public consumption and consideration), you should also pay careful attention to what choices the filmmaker makes in covering that content: camera angles, the use of colors and/or shading/lighting, the use of music and sound, the crafting of the film’s beginning and ending, and so on. Those are all pivotal choices, and a good filmmaker (which, beyond rare exceptions, is all we will cover in this course) will make such choices carefully and deliberately. Your job, then, will be to analyze why she/he made the choices s/he did and not other available choices (i.e., what is the filmmaker trying to tell the audience by telling the cinematic story in just this way?).
A Note About Film Content: Please be aware that some of the films we will see this semester contain adult situations, salty language, sexual content, and/or violence (we will be viewing some, for example, which bear the MPAA rating of “R”). Our purpose, of course, will be to neither condone nor defend such content, but to analyze the films which may, at times, be disconcerting, and to simply accept that content as a necessary aspect of artistic and academic freedom. Indeed, there are certain genres of film and time periods where I can find virtually no significant films which would not include material that some viewers might find objectionable. Since we simply must cover those genres and time periods adequately to complete the course, I urge you to drop the course now if such content might upset you. I will not be able to excuse you from seeing required films during the semester.
Paper Assignments: You will write two papers for this class. These papers will require you to bring to bear lecture material, and primary and secondary sources on the film in question, analyzing the film’s message, context, and intent. Both papers should be 4-6 pages, typewritten double-spaced with Times-New Roman 12 point font. Any ideas not originally your own (or not part of general public knowledge) must be cited to avoid the serious charge of plagiarism (which leaves you subject to failure in the course and reporting as violating the honor code). If you use ideas from my lecture material, you may depart from the more formal citation style expected of outside sources and simply parenthetically note following the appropriate passage: “(Schutz, [date of lecture]).” To cite any of the sources you will be assigned for analyzing the films you may follow a similar format as the lectures (for example: “(Jones, 256),” “(Kowalski, 132),” etc). Should you decide to include any outside sources beyond your assigned reading (not a necessary part of doing a successful job), you should, of course, fully cite those sources using the Chicago Manual of Style.
What to Avoid on Papers: Do not simply recount the plot of this film in your paper. I will presume you have seen the film (as I have) and done the readings as a simple necessary first step to composing your paper. Your job will be analysis-- which will include your own thoughts. Hence, you should cite scenes and dialogue from the film and text from the readings essentially only as examples to support your analysis-- not as the fundamental skeleton of your paper.
General rule on turning in written assignments: Because the subject of the papers will be discussed the day they are submitted, harsh penalties will accrue to papers not turned in during class time on the date due (since benefitting from the discussion could unfairly advantage authors of late papers).
Student Scholarly Integrity: Any student cheating on exams, plagiarizing on papers, or copying other students’ work on assigned papers will be subject to failure in the entire course.
Class Participation: This will be a vital part of our class time together, and discussions will occur frequently throughout the semester. Some of the discussions will be scheduled specifically to discuss particular films we have viewed (and, thus, they have scheduled dates for such discussions listed in your Course Schedule section below). Other discussions will simply occur during our class time. As such, discussion will comprise 20% of your course grade. While I expect some students to be better suited than others to class participation (i.e., more vocal and assertive in public speaking), all students are expected to participate during the course, or suffer in this portion of their grade. It will be an especially vital part of our time in an upper division course.
Attendance: I will take roll daily, and up to two unexcused (i.e., without documentation from a doctor) absences will suffer no penalties. Roll will be taken at the beginning of class. It is the responsibility of any late students to inform me of your presence in class immediately after class is completed. After that time has passed, you will remain marked as “absent.” Over two absences may result in penalties in the 20% of your class participation grade. While I will make an effort to repeat any announcements of upcoming assignments or exams, it remains the responsibility of anyone who misses class for catching up on any missed material— including the announcement of any dates (or date changes) in upcoming assignments. Be aware also that, since discussion is a critical part of your grade, missing class may also gradually damage your grade in that area as well (even without exceeding the allotted unexcused absences). Please note: Being present means just that– being present to what is going on in this class. Students asleep, doing work for another class, text messaging, or doing anything else other than what pertains to this class means being absent (and will count as such in my record), and will not be tolerated.
Student Athletes: Because the purpose of permitting only two unexcused absences is to prevent the student from falling behind and suffering academically, student athletes who miss class due to athletic events will be limited in their allowed unexcused absences. Should you miss two (or more) classes due to athletics, then you may not take any unexcused absences in addition to that (if you have one athletic absence you may take one unexcused absence). Exceeding this agreement will damage your attendance and participation grade. Student athletes who miss more than two classes due to athletic events (and have no unexcused absences), of course, will not be penalized; but, student athletes should be especially mindful of the burden such escalating absences will create for their academic performance (and, should thus be vigilant to keep track of assignments, be sure to quickly get good notes from a classmate, etc.). Should an athletic event ever conflict with a mandatory discussion or exam date, you should come see me at least a week in advance to make alternate arrangements. Please note that it is the responsibility of the student athlete to keep the instructor aware of athletic absences– not the other way around. Thus, student athletes should notify the instructor that an absence was due to an athletic event at the next class meeting, so the instructor may properly note it. If the student athlete fails to do so, the absence may remain recorded as simply an unexcused absence.
Students with Disability: Any student who feels she/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a documented disability should contact the Academic Success Center to discuss specific needs. Please contact Dr. Patsy Ging, Director of Learning Support Service for Students with Disabilities at x5237, or via email at email@example.com. It is the students’ responsibility to make initial contact with one of the coordinators in the Academic Success Center. Coordinators: Dr. Patsy Gingfirstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Patti email@example.com, or Mr. John Gaston at firstname.lastname@example.org
Course Grade Distribution: Course Grade Scale:
Midterm Exam: 15% A: 92-100/ A- : 90-91
Final Exam: 15% B+: 88-89/ B: 82-87/ B- : 80-81
Class Participation: 20% C+: 78-79/ C: 72-77/ C-: 70-71
Pop Quizzes: 20% D+: 68-69/ D: 62-67/ D-: 60-61
Paper on “The Apartment”: 15% (due 3/3) F: 0-59
Paper on “Do the Right Thing”: 15% (due 5/1)
Early American Cinema (1/10–1/22)
► Friday, 1/10: Reading: Lorence, pp.1-8; Mintz, chap. 1 & pp.1-16, 65-67; Handout Reading: Charles Musser, “Work, Ideology and Chaplin’s Tramp”
► Wednesday, 1/15: Reading: Lorence, chap. 1.
► Friday, 1/17: Reading: Lorence, chapter 2; Mintz, pp.69-70, chap. 2 & 3
The “Jazz Age” and Morals Controversies (1/25)
► Wednesday, 1/22: Reading: Mintz, pp.116-128
The Great Depression (1/27- 2/3)
► Friday, 1/24: Film Discussion: Little Caesar (1931); Reading: Bergman, part 1; Ross, chap. 2
► Wednesday, 1/29: Film Discussion: Modern Times (1936); Reading: Ross, chap. 1
► Friday, 1/31: Mandatory Discussion: Bergman, part 2; Ross, chap. 2 In-Class Film Viewing: “The Negro Soldier” (1942)
World War II (2/5)
► Wednesday, 2/5: Reading: Lorence, chap. 8; Mintz, 18-20 & chap.12; Film Discussion: “Why We Fight”
“Consensus America”: 1945-1960 (2/7–2/15)
► Friday, 2/7: Reading: Mintz, 20-24, 175-177 & chap.19; Ross, chap.3
► Wednesday, 2/12: Paper Due & Film Discussion: The Apartment (1960)
► Friday, 2/14: Film Discussion: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964); Reading: Mintz, chap. 15 & 21 & pp.235-238; Lorence, chap.11; Internet Readings: “Walt Disney friendly HUAC testimony” & “Ronald Reagan HUAC testimony,” both found on “Consensus America, 1945-60" history web links page under the “Second Red Scare” subsection.
The Late 1960s and 1970s (2/21–4/2)
► Friday, 2/21: In-Class Film Viewing: “Stepford Wives” (1975)
► Wednesday, 2/26: Film Discussion: Tootsie (1982) & Stepford Wives (1975); Reading: Reserve selection
► Friday, 2/28: Mandatory Discussion Date: Film Discussion: The Graduate (1967); Book Discussion: Harris, Pictures at a Revolution
► Wednesday, 3/12: Reading: Ross, chap.6; Lorence, chap.12
► Friday, 3/14: In-Class Film Viewing: “The Conversation” (1974)
► Wednesday, 3/19: Film Discussion: The Conversation
► Friday, 3/21: Reading: Lorence, chap.14; Mintz, chap.25; Reserve Reading: “Where Trouble Comes: History and Myth in the Films of Vietnam” in James West Davidson & Mark Hamilton Lytle, After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection; In-Class Viewing: “The Deer Hunter” (1978); Film Discussion: “The Deer Hunter”
► Wednesday, 3/26: Reading: Ross, chap.5
► Friday, 3/28: Reading: Mintz, chap.22
► Wednesday, 4/2: Reading: Ross, chap.7
The Reagan Era”: the 1980s & 1990s (4/4–4/23)
► Friday, 4/4: In-Class Film Viewing: Do the Right Thing (1989)
► Wednesday, 4/9: Reading: Ross, chap.9; Reserve Reading: Richard Schickel, “No Method to His Madness”
► Wednesday, 4/23: Paper Due and Class Discussion: “Do the Right Thing”