Using specific objects, we will investigate the history of American popular culture, as well as its various iterations. In addition to gaining greater insight into the nature of popular culture and its role in American society, we will explore different and competing theoretical approaches to popular culture.
Every week, we will alternate between theory and object. First, we look at the theory that will help us analyse a specific object of popular culture. On that week, you are expected to do the required reading, which will then be discussed more fully in class. The following week, we look at a specific object of popular culture through the theory we saw the previous week. Download syllabus.
This course introduces students to Hollywood films and filmmaking, from the transition to sound film in late 1920s and early 1930s, through the Great Depression and to the beginning of World War II. It covers basic vocabulary of film analysis and aesthetics, as we learn to describe films’ formal properties, while attending to Hollywood’s industrial structure. Topics will include the economic history of the studio and star system, genres, technical achievements (sound, color), the Production Code, and the impact of the Depression on movies and audiences. At the end of the course students will have acquired an understanding of how 1930s Hollywood films functioned as significant aesthetic, commercial and cultural artifacts.
This course aims to: 1) introduce you to the development of the Hollywood production process in the 1930s, and 2) deepen your understanding and encourage critical awareness of the textual and contextual features of Hollywood filmmaking.Download syllabus.
“I regret the passing of the studio system”, famously said Lucille Ball, “I was very appreciative of it because I had no talent”. The comedienne certainly exaggerated, but there’s no denying that at its height, the studio system was incredibly regimented and wonderfully productive—a marvel of American private enterprising not unlike Ford’s automobile factories. This course explores Hollywood’s studio era, a period spanning roughly between the early 1920s and the early 1960s. We will take into account film aesthetic and style, but also technological innovations, industrial organization and the socio-political and economic context.
The course is divided into three modules corresponding to distinct historical periods of studio-era Hollywood: the emergence of the studio system (1920s to mid 1930s), the golden era (mid 1930s to mid 1940s) and the studio system’s decline (mid 1940s to 1960s). Each module explores the era’s socio-political and economic context, its effect on the studio system and the studio’s operational structure. We will also examine each historical period through specific studios and signature outputs. Download syllabus.
Film melodrama can be seen as an expressive mode, a genre and a cultural, historical and ideological form. In this course, we will discuss melodrama as a culturally situated genre and expressive mode. Melodrama incorporates a variety of stylistics and aesthetic conventions and directors have exploited those for various effects. As a discourse of sensation and affect, melodrama has been historically discounted as a “woman’s genre”; and yet recent theory has suggested that melodrama is a valuable cultural discourse of gender, race, nationalism and modernity. We will explore a range of theories of melodrama, including those of Peter Brooks, Mary Anne Doane, Ben Singer and Thomas Elsaesser.
This course is subdivided into three modules, which correspond to three broad periods of American cinema history: early, classic and contemporary cinema. Each module tackles the main narrative tropes and formal elements of the melodramatic mode, namely: the sensational, repressed emotions, suffering and social criticism as they relate to typically feminine and masculine film genres and the national imaginary. Download syllabus.
A study of the aesthetics of film. Topics include film criticism, theories about the fundamental elements of film, and comparisons between films which do not depend on their date of production. Problems of film description, interpretation, and evaluation are discussed.
An examination of films made by women, film criticism written by women, and the portrayal of women in films. These topics are considered within the context of film history and with an emphasis on their relations to ideas in contemporary feminist theory. This course focuses on English and French language filmmaking and writing. While women’s filmmaking and writing is diverse, our course will pay particular attention to issues that have been of special interest to women. It will therefore not provide you with a complete history of women’s contributions to film (that would require much more than a semester). This course will also present key concepts in critical and feminist theory.
American films have always confronted and explored social, political, and cultural issues. Influenced by progressivism, the social problem films comprised a significant part of early American cinema’s output. More recently, the success of Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentaries has sparked renewed interest in the documentary tradition. But social issues are not the purview of non-fiction fares; fiction films often tackle, in more or less veiled ways, society’s present and past struggles. Although we sometimes go to the cinema to escape reality, we also often watch films to assess the reality in which we live and to explore ways to live a better life.
The course is divided into six units of two weeks, each exploring a different social issue that shaped—and often still does—American society. Using both fiction and non-fiction film, our aim is twofold: to understand the various ways in which social issues are tacked in cinema and to come to a better understanding of American society. Download syllabus.
American Politics in Film and Television
“Everything is changing”, once mused Will Rogers, “People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke”! Rogers had a point: in 1920s America, politics and entertainment were becoming more and more enmeshed. This course examines depictions of politics and politicians in film and television. Our goal is twofold: to analyze the relationship between off-screen politics and its on-screen representations, and to explore the ways popular film and television have depicted the political process. In addition to coming to a better understanding of the American political system and culture, we will consider different theoretical perspectives addressing the relationship between politics and films. Download syllabus.