135T: Selected Topics in Film
Instructor(s) Eileen Jones
Typical approaches to a course topic such as this one would include a cultural studies approach, examining American films as ideological texts with representational systems for depicting, among other things, race, class, gender and sexuality, representational systems that can be decoded by the analytical spectator. Or a historical approach, studying American films as sociological and cultural artifacts that both reflect and shape public attitudes toward key events and eras in American history. While not rejecting either of these approaches—we will draw on both—in this course, we will emphasize the development of certain film genres in response to aspects of American life, in the philosophical terms set out by Stanley Cavell:
“...[T]he members of a genre share the inheritence of certain conditions, procedures and subjects and goals of composition, and...each member of such a genre represents a study of these conditions...”
For Cavell, the inheritence of a genre includes a complex weave of historical and aesthetic antecedents which gives rise to the necessity of “study,” of collective popular cogitation on a perplexity, in the form of a genre. We will look at examples from some uniquely American genres, including the Western, the gangster film, the screwball comedy, film noir, and the zombie film, in this light. We will also consider the films of certain directors, often working within genres, who were or are clearly invested in representing, examining, and/or mythologizing certain relationships between American geography and “the American character,” between physical environment and social configuration, such as John Ford, Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Stanley Kubrick, George Romero, and the Coen Brothers.