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"Here's Looking at You, Hollywood": An Introduction to American Film

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 15, 2020 - June 26, 20206/15 - 6/26M-F 3:30P-6:20POpenStephen Woo
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Course Description

Cinema has profoundly influenced American life in the twentieth century and twenty-first century thus far. As an industry that determined the evolution of visual media across the globe, it shapes the way we see, think, and talk about the world. How do we consider Hollywood film beyond a notion of mere entertainment and through a critical lens? This course introduces the study of American cinema through several perspectives: as a mass medium with a robust economy and mode of production; as an aesthetic form with a distinct filmic language; as a cultural institution that mediates contemporary issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class alongside questions of history and representation; and, yes, as a venue for socialization and entertainment. We will survey historical changes throughout Hollywood, from the introduction of sound to the deployment of mass production and movie stars, from its rivalry with television to its battle with censorship and independent film. Screenings of important films will guide this conversation and introduce students to major American genres and directors along the way.

We will begin with an emblematic American movie that will not only entertain, but force us to ask why we are entertained and what about the film or how it unfolds can induce meaning for the audience. This introduction to Hollywood narrativity will provide the opportunity to learn concepts that are basic to film analysis and production. It will also lead us to understand Hollywood as a system and the progression of that apparatus over time. Discussion of genre, stardom, and modes of group and historical representation will then follow as components of that system. Finally, we will think about challenges from within and without that system, discussing the production code, television, cult film, and independent cinema.

Lectures, discussion, and screenings are all essential components of this course. Class meetings will introduce key concepts to students through lecture and conversation, followed by screening of entire or excerpted films. Reading and writing assignments will allow students to engage with the material further. Students are expected to be prepared for discussion about the screenings and readings.

As a result of completing this course, students will have learned or be able to demonstrate competency in the following areas: (1) a vocabulary that allows you to talk about films and cinema with specificity and nuance; (2) close, critical analysis of filmic images; (3) an understanding of complex factors influencing crucial moments in U.S. film history; (4) the ability to research issues in U.S. cinema, and to write up and document your research; (5) the ability to investigate U.S. cinema from more than one perspective (aesthetic, industrial, cultural, etc.).

Prerequisites: This course is open to all students who love movies and talking about them! It assumes no previous familiarity with American cinema or film studies but does require an aptitude for close reading and detailed writing.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEMS0933
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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