Film 4960: American Film History II

American Film History II

Film 4960, Spring 2012

Class: TR 1-2:15

Screening: R 2:30-4:20

Instructor: Jessica L. Keys

Office: 1044 One Park Place, TR 10:30-12:30 and by appointment


Class Website:

Course Description: This class explores the ways in which movies reflect, illuminate, and influence American life by examining the evolution of American cinema from 1967 to the present. Every culture bears its own imprint on the films it produces, and by historically situating these films and identifying the industrial, economic, aesthetic, and socio-political trends that occur during those periods will help us gain a better understanding of American culture, past and present. To make this more manageable, we will break it down into four interconnected units:

1. The Hollywood Renaissance (1967-1975)

2. The Spielberg-Lucas Connection (1975-1977)

3. The Age of Reagan (1980s)

4. Independent Cinema and the Internet Economy

Objectives and Outcomes: By the end of the course, you should be able to…

  • Identify the aesthetic, industrial, and technological foundations of the contemporary Hollywood cinema
  • Construct a historical narrative of American cinema’s development
  • Evaluate the relationship between American cinema and culture through analysis of its production, meaning, and reception
  • Recognize the ways in which Hollywood influences the ways we think about ourselves and what it means to be American

Prerequisites: This course builds on the material covered in Film Aesthetics and Analysis (Film 1010) and History of Motion Pictures (Film 2700). 

Required Texts

Course Packet (available at Bestway Copies)


Grading Breakdown                  Worth                   Due Date

Attendance and Participation      10%                          Ongoing

Group Presentation                     25%                         Sign up week 2

Screening Responses                  15%                         Ongoing

Midterm Exam                            20%                         Feb. 23rd

Final Paper                                  30%                        April 24th 

  • There will be plus and minus grades in this course. Final grades for the class are determined using the following scale:

A+     100-98         B+     89-88         C+   79-78          D     69-65

A        97-93           B       87-83         C       77-74         F      64-0

A-       90-92          B-      80-82        C-     70-73

  • Regarding dropping, incompletes, and withdrawals: If you decide this class is not for you, it is your responsibility to drop it within the University’s time frame. If you stop coming to class but are still enrolled, I will have no choice but to assign you a failing grade. Incompletes may be given to the student who, for nonacademic reasons beyond his or her control, is unable to complete the course requirements.

The University’s Withdrawal policy states that all withdrawals must be finalized before mid-semester for a “W” to appear on your transcript.  After that date the grade will be listed as “WF,” which will count as an “F” in GPA calculations. Please refer to your student handbook for additional information.

Attendance: Attendance for this class is mandatory. You are allowed 3 unexcused absences over the course of the semester. More than 3 will adversely impact your grade in the course by 1/3 of a letter grade. If you need to miss class for an emergency (such as illness, family emergencies, etc.), please provide me with a written excuse within 3 days of the absence to be excused from missing that class. Chronic tardiness will also adversely affect your grade. Within the first ten minutes of every class meeting, I will take role. Being 15 minutes or more late to class will count as ½ of an absence. If you arrive more than 30 minutes late you will not be counted as being present that day.

Please be aware that exams draw overwhelmingly from the material covered in class. Lecture notes will not be made available on uLearn, you must obtain them from a classmate. Please be considerate during class—no talking, no reading of newspapers, texting, surfing the web, sleeping, etc. Always turn your cell phones off before class!

Class Participation (10%): Since you will be expected to attend class regularly, arrive prepared to contribute to class discussion. Participation in the online class discussion group is optional, and will count as extra credit toward your participation grade.

Online Discussion Group: All students will be subscribed to an online class discussion GoogleGroup for the class. I will regularly post prompt, breaking Hollywood news items to the class, etc.; you are welcome to forward other interesting information, post your reactions to recent movies, respond to other postings, or continue any other ongoing discussions from class. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not required. (Online participation will count as extra credit toward your Class Participation grade). 

Group Presentation (25%): With a partner (or two) you will research, prepare, and present a 20-25 minute discussion of a contemporary American filmmaker. The presentation should follow this five-part structure:

1. One partner will begin by presenting a brief overview of the director’s work, with an emphasis on key films that demonstrate the director’s thematic interests and visual style (i.e., what makes their work distinctive and innovative). Focus on bringing to class up to speed on what they should know about the director in order to have an informed discussion of the clip. If at all possible, include a short clip of the director discussing his or own work, from a DVD Special Feature, YouTube, etc. 

2. Screen a short film clip (under 5 minutes) selected by the group to exemplify the director’s style. Practice at home to make sure it doesn’t run over; if it does, I’ll have to cut it off. Choose only one continuous scene. If you use a DVD, be prepared with the exact scene number and time mark where your clip starts. You won’t be penalized for any technical difficulties, but points will be taken off if you’re not properly prepared. 

3. The other partner will then present an analysis of the clip. Use the form of a DVD commentary—play the clip a second time with the sound off, talking over the image. Practice this at home to relate your commentary directly to what’s on screen. In your analysis, discuss the use of at least three film elements in the clip, observing as closely as possible details such as lighting, editing, production design, sound design, etc. Try to make connections between the clip you’re showing and the rest of the director’s oeuvre. 

4. Start the class discussion

5. Hand in a list of your group’s sources. At least five distinct sources are required from each group. Wikipedia can be a useful launching pad for your research but does not in itself count towards your five sources.

Screening Responses (15%): Over the course of the semester, you will have to submit 12 screening responses. After a screening, you will be asked to write a short response, highlighting specific elements that link the film to what we discuss in class and what is discussed in the readings. These typed responses are about 1-2 pages long, single-spaced, and are due the following Tuesday in class. These responses are worth 15% of your final grade and are designed to help improve your mastery and command of the material in relation to specific films. 

Take-Home Midterm Exam (20%): The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films we’ve screened. Due in class Thursday, 2/23

Final Paper (30%): You will produce an 8-10 page paper on an American film or some aspect of American cinema since 1967. However, you cannot write about a film we have viewed in class. You are expected to incorporate scholarly research into this paper, and are allowed to use reading material you have been assigned in class, but you are also expected to include several outside sources to help develop your argument. A mandatory one-page proposal is due at the beginning of class on March 7th. You must submit a proposal and have it approved in order to fulfill the assignment. No papers will be graded without an accepted proposal attached. The assignment is due by 5 P.M. April 24th.