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CMS 271 A: Perspectives On Film: Great Directors

Classical Hollywood

Course Flyer: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
Location: 
KNE 110
SLN: 
23039
Instructor:
James Tweedie

Syllabus Description:

This course will provide an introduction to classical Hollywood cinema through the work of several key filmmakers, beginning with the golden age of the studio system in the 1930s and 1940s and extending into the “New Hollywood” of the 1960s. The course will focus on the role of directors in a mature studio system marked by an industrialized and collaborative approach to filmmaking. At once ruthlessly efficient and innovative, both liberating and stifling, the studios were responsible for some of the most ambitious and influential works of American culture in the twentieth century. Over the next eleven weeks, we’ll examine both the triumphs and the failures of that system. Directors will include Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Arthur Penn, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and others. In addition to the lives and work of those directors, the reading and lectures will address topics such as the economic structure of the American film industry, the history and industrial strategy of Hollywood studios, the major genres, the Production Code and censorship, the introduction of new technology into the production process, the role of stars in the film industry and film criticism, styles of acting, the art of lighting and cinematography, art direction and production design, women filmmakers in the studio era, the position of African-Americans inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the decline of the studio era.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Readings: The readings will consist of selections from the textbook, American Film: A History, by Jon Lewis. Like this course, the book is organized chronologically, so we’ll progress through the book chapter by chapter (with a few exceptions noted in the schedule below). Because the reading will provide the background for and supplement the lectures, it should usually be finished before the first class meeting each week. The only exception is the first week’s reading (identified with an asterisk), which covers the first three decades of American film and which lies largely outside the purview of this course. You may not be able to finish that reading within the first week, but please complete it as soon as possible after that. The exams will focus in part on material contained in the reading, so it’s important to remain current on these assignments.

Screenings: The films are the foundation of this class. We will usually screen two films per week, moving in roughly chronological order from the 1930s to the 1960s. Most of the films will be available for streaming on our Canvas site using MediaAMP. (I will show you how to do this in class.) A small number of films are in the public domain and widely available for free streaming on the Internet; other are accessible through subscription services provided by UW Libraries. In those cases, there will be a link to the film on our Canvas site. We will also hold optional screenings (usually in Blu-ray) on Wednesday nights at 6:00 (beginning next week, location TBA). Those screenings will be followed by a discussion of the film. If you want to know additional information about the movies (e.g., their precise length) please consult www.imdb.com.

Assignments: There will be two midterms, one in the sixth week and one on the final day of class (in week 11, NOT during finals week). Each midterm will count for 30% of the final grade. The exams will consist primarily of short answer or short essay questions focused on topics introduced in the lectures or reading and on clips from the films screened for this class. A critical essay assignment (about 5 pages, double-spaced; 30% of final grade) will ask you to compare the classical Hollywood films on the syllabus to contemporary films. A more detailed explanation of the essay assignment will be distributed midway through the quarter. Although there is only one paper, you may select one of two due dates. If you submit the paper by the early due date (11/17), you will receive more extensive comments on the paper. You will not be penalized if you submit the paper on the regular due date (12/01), but you will receive limited feedback because it falls near the end of the quarter. Active participation on the online discussion board is also required; it will account for the final 10% of the overall grade. Writing three posts of approximately 100 words or more on the discussion board will count for full credit. Students are required to complete all evaluated assignments. Non-fulfillment of any written assignment listed above may result in a non-passing grade for the course as a whole.

Note on Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a serious offense. It undermines the fundamental mission of the university and sanctions are therefore severe. For information about plagiarism and academic misconduct, please see the UW Student Conduct Code: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=478-120.

Required Text: Lewis, Jon. American Film: A History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. New and used copies available for purchase at the UW Bookstore and online. Note that the textbook is also available for rent.

SCHEDULE OF CLASSES, SCREENINGS, READING, MIDTERMS, AND ESSAY ASSIGNMENT

Week 1: The Origins of Hollywood Cinema

Screening: Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936)

R 09/29: Introduction to the course; One Week (Buster Keaton, 1920)

Reading: * To provide background for the period covered in this course, read the following as soon as possible: Chapter 1: Early Cinema (1893-1914); Chapter 2: The Silent Era (1915-1928).

Week 2: Directors, Genres, and Studios (1)

Screenings: Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932); Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

T 10/04 American cinema before Hollywood; The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903); the rise of Hollywood; Chaplin’s Tramp

R 10/06: Art direction and production design (1); the coming of sound;

the gangster genre and the Great Depression; the Marx Bros. and the meaning of comedy

Reading: Chapter 3: Technical Innovation and Industrial Transformation (1927-1938), pages 91-123.

Week 3: Directors, Genres, and Studios (2)

Screenings: It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934); Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)

T 10/11: Capra, the Depression, and American optimism; lighting and cinematography

R 10/13: Ford, the western and the frontier myth

Reading: Chapter 3: Technical Innovation and Industrial Transformation (1927-1938), pages 123-145.

Week 4: American Dreams

Screenings: Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941); Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

T 10/18: 1939; Welles and the “great American film”; authorship in Hollywood

R 10/20: Hitchcock and Selznick; a “tradition of quality”; Hollywood independents; the “race film”

Reading: Chapter 4: Hollywood in Transition (1939-1945), pages 147-161.

Week 5: Hollywood and WWII

Screenings: Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942); To Have and Have Not (Hawks, 1944)

T 10/25: Mobilizing the movie industry; “play it again”: the Hollywood cliché

R 10/27: The Hawks code; Hemingway, Faulkner, and Hollywood’s writers

Reading: Chapter 4: Hollywood in Transition (1939-1945), pages 161-178, 180-191 (skip section on “early film noir”).

Week 6: Premonitions and Allegories

Screenings: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944); High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952)

T 11/01: Film Noir; immigrants and exiles in Hollywood

R 11/03: FIRST MIDTERM: IN CLASS

Reading: Chapter 4: Hollywood in Transition (1939-1945), pages 178-180 (“early film noir”); Chapter 5: Adjusting to Postwar America (1945-1955), pages 193-209.

Week 7: Outside Hollywood

Screenings: The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953); Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

T 11/08: The blacklist and Cold War Hollywood; women behind the camera

R 11/10: “Women’s pictures”; Sirk, melodrama, and auteur theory

Reading: Chapter 5: Adjusting to Postwar America (1945-1955), pages 209-231 (skip passage on Sunset Boulevard on page 221; read after you see the film).

Week 8: Hollywood in Its Own Image

Screenings: Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, 1950); Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952)

T 11/15: Movies about the movies; glamour and decay in Hollywood

R 11/17: The MGM musical and American song and dance; the producer-unit system; art direction and production design (2)

Reading: None.

EARLY PAPER DUE DATE: THURSDAY, 11/17 by 11:59 p.m. on CANVAS

Week 9: Young Rebels

Screening: Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)

T 11/22: Cinema and suburbia; young audiences and stars; film technology in the 1950s; styles of acting

R 11/24: NO CLASS: HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Reading: Chapter 6: Moving toward a New Hollywood (1955-1967), pages 233-247, 251-258 (skip section on the western).

Week 10: Old Rebels and New Hollywood

Screenings: The Searchers (Ford, 1956); Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)

T 11/29: Aging genres, directors, and stars; the end of the classical studio era

R 12/01: The challenge of television; extreme cinema

Reading: Chapter 6: Moving toward a New Hollywood (1955-1967), pages 247-250 (on the western), 258-272.

PAPER DUE DATE: THURSDAY, 12/01 by 11:59 p.m. on CANVAS

Week 11: Towards a New Hollywood

Screenings: Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

T 12/06: “The New Cinema: Violence… Sex… Art”

R 12/08: SECOND MIDTERM: IN CLASS

Reading: Chapter 6: Moving toward a New Hollywood (1955-1967), pages 272-279. Optional reading: Chapter 7: A Hollywood Renaissance (1968-1980).

 

Additional Details:

This course will provide an introduction to classical Hollywood cinema through the work of several key filmmakers, beginning with the golden age of the studio system in the 1930s and 1940s and extending into the early days of "New Hollywood” in the 1960s. Directors will include Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and others. In addition to the lives and work of those directors, the course will address topics such as the history of the Hollywood studios, the major genres, the Production Code and censorship, movie technology, the star system, styles of acting, lighting and cinematography, production design and the "look" of Hollywood movies, women filmmakers in the studio era, the position of African-American artists inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the rise of independent cinema in the 1960s.

 

Catalog Description: 
Introduction to authorship in the cinema. The work of a major director or directors. C LIT 270, C LIT 271, C LIT 272 are designed to be taken as a sequence, but may be taken individually.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Cinema Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
April 12, 2017 - 9:12pm
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