Hollywood usa: Screening the American Past English 487W 002 mwf 10: 10- 11: 00 320 Sackett

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Hollywood USA: Screening the American Past

English 487W 002

MWF 10:10- 11:00 320 Sackett

Dr. Matthew Jordan


Office: N257 Burrowes

Office Hour: W 3-4 or by appointment
Course Description:

This course will examine how film has been used to represent the American past throughout the 20th Century. We will look at how important moments in American history are represented on screen and think through how these celluloid narratives shape our understanding of American culture. We will discuss the rules, codes, and narrative strategies by which the movies we view bring the America past to life on the big screen, and contemplate the effect of these movies on our collective historical consciousness.


There are no required texts for the class. All reading assignments will be posted on the course Angel page (the big brother function which allows the instructor to see who has done the reading will be turned on): cms.psu.edu


This is a reading, viewing and discussion centered course, so students must keep up with the reading and attend class. Our Wednesday meetings will be in the evening so that we can watch the films together and, except for the most extreme circumstances, these are absolutely mandatory. Students who do not view the film as part of the collective will be required to write a 2 page essay on the film, including exegesis of plot and a detailed description of the epistemological stakes of the film’s take on the past. Failure to do so will result in a loss of 5% from the student’s final grade.

For our Friday meetings, students must prepare and hand in 2 questions about the film which will serve as the basis for our discussions. Failure to do so will count against the student’s participation grade.

Since 487W is a writing course, students will be required to write three essays. The first two will be medium length essays (5-8 pages) on assigned topics and will each be worth 25% of the students final grade. The third essay will be slightly longer (10-12 pages) and will be on a film, auteur or historical event chosen by the student and approved by the instructor. This final essay will be worth 30% of the final grade.

The remaining 20% of the final grade will relate to the student’s engagement and participation in class discussion. Obviously, missing class will count against this grade. Students will have two free missed classes, and then each absence will result in 1 point being subtracted from the final participation grade. In order to get the full twenty points, students must attend and participate in discussion. For instance: good participation and three absences = 19 points; average participation and three absences = 17 points; poor participation and three absences = 15 points; good participation and 6 absences = 16 points; average participation and 6 absences = 14 points; poor participation and 6 absences = 12 points; etc.
Course Assignments and Schedule:

M 1/13

W 1/15 Robert Rosenstone, “History in Images/ History in Words”

F 1/17 Hayden White, “Historiography and Historiophoty” & Robert Brent Toplin, “The Filmmaker as Historian”

Silent Narratives

M 1/20 Thomas Cripps, “Following the Paper Trail”

W 1/22 The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith

F 1/24 Everett Carter, “Cultural History Written with Lightning”

Hollywood History

M 1/27 Catherine Guther Kodat, “Saving Private Property: Steven Spielberg’s American DreamWorks”

W 1/29 Amistad, Steven Spielberg

F 1/31 Natalie Zemon Davis, “Slaves on Screen”

Historical Fact as Fiction

M 2/3 Leslie Gossage, “The Artful Propaganda of Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath

W 2/5 The Grapes of Wrath, John Ford

F 2/7 Vivian Sobchanck, “Thematic Emphasis through Visual Style”

The Western as Historical Allegory

M 2/10 Stephen Prince, “Historial Perspective and the Realist Aesthetic in High Noon

W 2/12 High Noon, Fred Zinnemann

F 2/14 Joanna Rapf, “Myth Idology and Feminism in High Noon

Satire and History

M 2/17 Charles Maland, “Dr Stangelove (1964): Nightmare Comedy and the Ideology of Liberal Consensus”

W 2/19 Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick

F 2/21
The Documentary Film

M 2/24 Robert Rosenstone, “The Good Fight, History, Memory, Documentary”

W 2/26 The Good Fight,

F 2/28
The Detective Film as Countermemory

M 3/3 Vernon Shetley, “Incest and Capital in Chinatown

W 3/5 Chinatown, Roman Polanski

F 3/7 Tony Fitzmaurice, “Chinatown and the End of Classical Hollywood”

First Essay Due

Spring Break

Allegory and The (anti)War Film

M 3/17 John Hellman, “Vietnam and the Hollywood Genre Film: Inversions of American Mythology in The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now

W 3/19 The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino

F 3/21 Frank Burke, “In Defense of The Deer Hunter or: The Knew Jerk is Quicker than the Eye”

The Untold Story

M 3/24 Neil Isaacs, “John Sayles and the Fictional Origin of Matewan” & John Alexander Williams, “John Sayles Plays the Preacher”

W 3/26 Matewan, John Sayles

F 3/28 Marat Moore, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”

Revisionist Narratives

M 3/31 Robert Rosenstone, “Oliver Stone as Historian” & Oliver Stone “Stone on Stone’s Image”

W 4/2 JFK, Oliver Stone

F 4/4 Michael Kurtz, “Oliver Stone, JFK, and History”

M 4/7 Sumiko Higashi, “Walker and Mississippi Burning: Postmodernism versus Illusionist Narrative”

W 4/9 Mississippi Burning

F 4/11

Second Essay Due
The Sense of the Past as Present

M 4/14 Martin Fridson, “Wall Street”

W 4/16 Wall Street, Oliver Stone

F 4/18
Postmodern style/ anti-Modern narrative

M 4/21 Thomas Byers, “History Re-Membered: Forrest Gump, Postfeminist Masculinity, and the Burial of the Counterculture”

W 4/23 Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis

F 4/25 Jennifer Hyland Wang, “A Struggle of Contending Stories: Race, Gender and Political Memory in Forrest Gump,”
Postmodern Historicism

M 4/28 Robert Rosenstone, “The Dramatic Film as (Postmodern) History”

W 4/30 Walker, Alex Cox

F 5/2 Coco Fusco, “Flipped out in Nicaragua: An Interview with Alex Cox”

Final Papers due 5/7

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