TCF 440/540
Seminar in American Cinema

Spring 2001
Instructor: Jeremy Butler
Office: 430C Phifer Hall, 348-6350
Office hours: MW 3-4:00, and by appt.

3 credit hours
Online grades

Course Objectives

TCF 440/540 will familiarize the student with the three major critical methods applied to the American cinema: genre study, the auteur "theory," and the star "system." We will begin with the Western, director John Ford and actor John Wayne, and then, during the second half of the semester, turn our attention to the melodrama, director Douglas Sirk, and actress Lana Turner.

Our focus will shift back and forth from the primary texts (the films themselves) to the writings on them. The latter will eventually lead us into considerations of feminism, Marxism, structuralism and semiotics.

Course Requirements

The student's grade will depend upon four separate components:

  1. An analytical exercise based on the principles discussed in David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Film Art. Worth 10 points. Due in class Wednesday, January 31, 11:00 a.m.

  2. Three directed papers--assigned over the course of the first two months. These four-page (1200 word minimum) papers will respond to questions handed out in class and will deal with specific topics covered during a particular week. Questions will be handed out on a Wednesday and will be due the following week (see below for dates). At least one of these papers will be graded and returned before midterm. Each paper is worth 16 points for a total of 48 points.

    Please see the handout, Notes on Writing Film Analyses, for tips on preparing these papers.

    These papers must be word processed and will be graded on the basis of conceptual rigor and fluency of writing style (i.e., grammar, spelling, etc.). Writing proficiency is required for a passing grade in this course. You are not expected to do extra research for these papers, but any references to sources other than yourself must be properly footnoted--see Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, fifth edition (NY: Modern Language Association, 1999) or a similar style book. This includes references to Websites and the course readings. To quote or paraphrase without citation constitutes academic misconduct.

    The paper grading will include suggestions for improving your writing. Students who are concerned about their writing style are urged to come in during office hours to discuss their work in more detail. In addition, style guides will be available in the instructor's office--as well as in the reference room of the main library.

  3. One ten-page (3000 word minimum) research paper. This paper will take one film and analyze it in the context of its genre, director, or major star--using the principles learned in class. The film chosen may not be a Western or a melodrama, directed by John Ford or Douglas Sirk, or star John Wayne or Lana Turner. This paper is worth 30 points and will be due Monday, May 7th, 4:45 p.m., in my mailbox in the TCF Office, 484 Phifer Hall.

    As with the directed papers, this project must be word-processed and will be graded based on conceptual rigor and fluency of writing style. This paper should involve outside research. Any use of outside sources must be properly footnoted. A bibliography and a filmography (that is, the credits for the film analyzed) must be provided. (One online source for credits is the Internet Movie Database: . See links below to credits for films used in class.)

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  4. An open book, open note final exam--worth 12 points. The final exam period is Thursday, May 10th, 8:00-10:30 a.m. No early exams will be given.

Additional Requirements for Graduate Students

Beyond the requirements for undergraduates, the grad student must lead one discussion (worth 3 points). The directed papers should be five pages (1500 words) instead of four (worth 15 points), and the final paper should be 13 pages instead of 10.

Grading Scale

    A+  97-100    C+  77-79
    A   93-96     C   73-76
    A-  90-92     C-  70-72
    B+  87-89     D+  67-69
    B   83-86     D   63-66
    B-  80-82     D-  60-62
                  F   59 and below		
Posting of Grades

If you give us written permission, your grades will be posted on the TCF Department's Website by the last four digits of your student ID number:

Attendance Policy

Each absence beyond four for the semester will result in one point being deducted from your final total. (Up to five points may be deducted.)

Academic Misconduct Policy

All acts of dishonesty in any work constitute academic misconduct. The Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Policy will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.

Disabilities Accommodation Policy

To request disability accommodations, please contact Disabilities Services (348-4285). After initial arrangements are made with Disabilities Services, contact Jeremy Butler.

E-mail Discussion Lists

To subscribe to FilmAlert (the local film screening announcement list), send e-mail to and put "subscribe FilmAlert YourName" in the message. For example:

subscribe FilmAlert John Wayne

Please note that there is no space in "FilmAlert".

Course Schedule (subject to changes announced in class)

Illustrations icon = illustrations

Date Topic/Film/Discussion Readings
1/10 Introduction to the Course
Ordinary People (Redford, 1980; 124 min.)
1/15 I have a dream . . . No Class: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Why not read King's I Have a Dream speech or Letter From the Birmingham Jail today?
1/17 Film Analysis: Narrative Form Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 2, 3)
Rio Bravo (Hawks, 1959; 140 min.)
1/22 Film Analysis: Classical Style Click for illustrations Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 6, 7)
1/24 Film Analysis: Editing Click for illustrations Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 8)
How Green Was My Valley (Ford, 1941)
1/29 Film Analysis: Sound Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 9)
1/31 11:00: Discussion and *Analytical Exercise Due* Click for illustrations
7:00: The Concept of Genre
Tumbleweeds (Baggott, 1925)
2/5 Discussion Kitses (6-27), Buscombe
(33-45), Collins(157-163)
2/7 The Western as Genre
Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992; 127 min.)
2/12 Discussion Wright (16-59)
2/14 The Concept of Authorship Illustrations icon
Wagon Master (Ford, 1950)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, 1962; extract)
*Assignment One Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
2/19 Discussion Caughie (9-16, 22-67)
2/21 John Ford as Auteur Click for illustrations
The Quiet Man (Ford, 1952)
2/26 Discussion Sarris (on Ford, 43-49)
Caughie (69-74, 83-101,138-151)
2/28 Auteur-Structuralism and Post-Structuralism
*Assignment Two Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, 1939)
3/5 Discussion Caughie (123-135, 152-165)
Cahiers (493-529; read only sections 1-11, 18, & 25)
3/7 The Concept of Star Illustrations icon
Hurricane Express (Schaefer & McGowan, 1933)
3/12 Discussion Click for illustrations Dyer (Stars, 106-50; recommended: 88-105)
3/14 John Wayne as Star Click for illustrations
The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
3/19 Discussion Screen Ed. (3-48)
3/21 Domestic Melodrama as Genre
*Assignment Three Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
Imitation of Life (Stahl, 1934) Illustrations icon
4/2 Discussion Haskell (153-188)
4/4 Domestic Melodrama Since World War II
Terms of Endearment (Brooks, 1983; 132 min.)
4/9 Discussion Gledhill (5-39), Elsaesser (43-69)
4/11 Melodrama Variations: TV Soap Opera
*Research Paper Topics Due*
Backstage Wife/As the World Turns (CBS, 1956-) Illustrations icon
4/16 Discussion Illustrations icon (local)Click for illustrations Butler ("Apparatus," 53-70)
Butler ("Actors," 75-91)
4/18 Douglas Sirk as Auteur
Imitation of Life (Sirk, 1959)
4/23 Discussion Sarris (on Sirk, 109-110)
Fischer (3-28, 268-272)
4/25 Lana Turner as Star Click for illustrations
The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli, 1952)
4/30 Discussion Dyer (30-52) [Also in Fischer (186-206)]
5/2 Discussion: Course Summary
Donovan's Reef (Ford, 1963)
5/7 *Monday: Research Paper Due--4:45 p.m., TCF Office, 484 Phifer Hall*
(see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
5/10 *Thursday: Final Exam Period--8-10:30 a.m.*

Reading List
Available at Local Bookstores

  1. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, Sixth Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000). Additional resources are available on its companion Website.
  2. John Caughie, ed., Theories of Authorship (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).
  3. Richard Dyer, Stars, Second Edition, Supplementary Chapter by Paul McDonald (London: British Film Institute, 1998).
  4. Recommended, not required: Lucy Fischer,ed., Imitation of Life (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991).
Available at Supe Store

In order of assignment.

  1. Jim Kitses, Horizons West (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969) 6-27.
  2. Edward Buscombe, "The Idea of Genre in the American Cinema," Screen, 11.2 (1970): 33-45.
  3. Richard Collins, "Genre: A Reply to Ed Buscombe," Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976) 157-163.
  4. Will Wright, Six Guns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975) 16-57.
  5. Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973) 43-49, 109-110.
  6. The Editors, Cahiers du Cinéma, "John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN," Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976) 493-529.
  7. Screen Education, "THE SEARCHERS: Materials and Approaches," 17 (1975/76): 3-48.
  8. Molly Haskell, "The Woman's Film," in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (New York: Penguin, 1974) 153-188.
  9. Christine Gledhill, "The Melodrama Field: An Investigation," Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and Woman's Film, ed. Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute, 1987) 5-39.
  10. Thomas Elsaesser, "Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama," Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and Woman's Film, ed. Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute, 1987) 43-69.
  11. Jeremy G. Butler, "Notes on the Soap Opera Apparatus: Televisual Style and AS THE WORLD TURNS," Cinema Journal, 25.3 (1986): 53-70.
  12. Jeremy G. Butler, "'I'm Not a Doctor, But I Play One on TV': Characters, Actors, and Acting in Television Soap Opera," Cinema Journal 30.4 (1991): 75-91.
  13. Richard Dyer, "Four Films of Lana Turner," Movie 25: 30-52.

Note: The above listings follow the guidelines for footnotes specified in Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, fifth edition (NY: Modern Language Association, 1999). Citations in a bibliography use a slightly different format. You must use the MLA or another recognized style guide when creating citations in your papers. For the MLA guidelines for Web or other online citations, click here.

Last Revised: Thursday, April 19, 2001 4:27 PM