Writing about Cinema: Comedies and Thrillers, 1930s-1960s
This course is an introduction to film analysis and critical writing about film genres. ‖Genre‖ is a term used to categorize and organize films. Terms like ―comedy‖ and ―thriller‖ function as marketing tools and construct audience expectations. But how do these categories function historically? What role does genre play in shaping our perception of a film? What representational techniques, characters, narrative structures, and aesthetic patterns repeat in these film cycles? Are there similar traits shared by those films designed to make us laugh (comedy) and those that generate uncertainty and suspense (thrillers?) Do genre films reinforce dominant social and cultural beliefs, or do they ―play‖ with common perceptions of masculinity and femininity, or cultural order and disorder, and so on? In order to engage these questions in a historical context we will focus on the classical Hollywood era, a period that spans the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the advent of the Cold War. Course screenings will include screwball comedies such as The Philadelphia Story (1940) and The Awful Truth (1937), mystery thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock‘s Notorious (1946) and Psycho (1960), and noir classics such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) These genre films are important cultural texts and this course is designed to help you think about them critically, to develop arguments that respond to the questions posed above, and to execute those arguments effectively through writing. To achieve this goal you will learn the terms of formal film analysis in class using clips as well as through some basic readings, and you will develop skills for close analysis in order to support and illuminate your written arguments.
There will be a series of short and long writing assignments. The shorter exercises will ask you to focus on one particular scene or element of a respective a film; longer essays will enable you to develop your thoughts on a broader cultural or conceptual issue, or to compare various films. The point is to learn to make a viable and strong argument either way. We will discuss your short writing assignments (usually 1 page) in class so that we can learn from each other and your peers can challenge and counter your arguments. This collective learning process is designed to further enhance your writing skills.