Fall 2017 Undergraduate
ETS-170 American Cinema, From Beginnings to Present
This course covers the history of American cinema from its emergence as a celluloid-based medium in the late nineteenth-century to its digital development at the intersections of multiple media companies and platforms. We will look at fiction and non-fiction films, narrative and avant-garde modes, and Hollywood and independent productions. Our goal will be to understand how to interpret the aesthetics and ideologies of American films at particular historical moments—in the contexts of the film industry, mass culture, and a national artistic tradition—and how to account for change over time. Topics will include: the rise of cinema as an institution; the standardization of American film genres and storytelling; the classical studio and star systems of Hollywood; the shift to color, widescreen, and location shooting in the late studio era; the promotion of naturalism through Method acting and censorship deregulation; new waves of film school-trained and independent directors; the political effects of the Cold War, the counterculture, and September 11; and the technologies and economics of the twenty-first century blockbuster.
Fall 2017 Graduate
ENG-730 American Film Melodrama
Film scholar Linda Williams calls melodrama “the fundamental mode of popular American moving pictures.” Following her argument, this seminar suggests that to study American film melodrama is to deepen our understanding of American cinema’s aesthetic and affective expressions. A cinema of heightened emotionalism based on excess and containment, fantasy and desire, and pathos and identification, melodrama has been theorized as a site of ideological critique and viewer pleasure. With origins in the “blood and thunder” spectacles of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century theater, melodrama came to fruition on the screen in the action serials and passionate epics of the silent era. The term is perhaps most associated with family and women’s pictures of Classical Hollywood, including sentimental “weepies,” stories of “fallen women” and mother/daughter relationships, and the Gothic romance. We will look at these different examples from Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytic approaches, as well as in the contexts of genre and American culture. Yet, as melodrama never disappeared, we will consider ways in which it persists in especially apparent cases—art cinema, postmodern cinema, the male action films of Kathryn Bigelow, and the queer films of Todd Haynes—that have further expanded our definition of the term.