American Film and Society

Course Description

A critical examination of the complex relationship between film and society and the processes by which film both influences and is influenced by society. Emphasizes the importance of locating the meaning of film texts within social and historical perspective and identifies how the film industry influences the presentation of different groups of people and issues in society. Explores the interrelationship between film and technology, the impact of narrative and the institution of Hollywood on the sociological imagination and the nature of representation, particularly as it applies to race, class and gender.

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss and differentiate between the various genres of American film (i.e., film noir, Western, comedy, detective/mystery, gangster/crime, romance, science fiction/fantasy, combat/war, drama, musical, horror, suspense, action/adventure).
  • Identify and define filmic techniques (e.g. image, shot, scene, sequence; camera pan, tracking, zoom; montage; jump-cut; off-screen space and sound; point of view — technical, narrative, and interpretive; shot-reverse shot; etc.).
  • Develop a successful storyboard for a film plot. Using good sequencing describing kinds of shots used estimating times needed per shot providing a good rationale for the above in lieu of the films controlling idea. If story boarding is not required, filmic techniques remain ethereal. Forcing students to make reasonable decisions helps them to incorporate the terminology.
  • Discuss the major thematic elements of various film genres (e.g. the Western: oppositional values such as individual/community, self-interest/social responsibility, nature/culture, pragmatism/idealism, savagery/humanity, wilderness/civilization, agrarianism/industrialism, the past/the future, etc.; outlaw hero, reluctant hero, official hero; reconciliation of conflicting values; diminution of place and role of women).
  • Discuss the major stylistic elements of various film genres (e.g. film noir: night, darkness, shadows; urban setting; smoky cocktail lounges; motifs of entrapment — alleys, tunnels, elevators; symbols of fragility — glass mirrors, sheer clothing; locations of transient — rail — road yards, bus terminals, piers; sensuous textures — neon- lit streets, windshields streaked with mud or rain, shafts of light; harsh lighting contrasts, jagged shapes; etc.
  • Understand and discuss the relationship between and the cross-fertilization of film as a narrative device, a vehicle for cultural themes, and social institutions, history, societal norms, social behavior, cultural myths and mythic figures, etc.
  • Differentiate between descriptive and analytic writing, and, using both styles, prepare written critiques of films or other narrative forms.


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