Film and Society: Course Offered at Columbia and New School for Social Research

The New School for Social Research

 

Spring 1990

Professor Emanuel Levy                                          1-2

Film and Society

 

Goal:

The major goal of this course is to demonstrate what is distinctive about the sociological approach to film, as an art form and as mass medium. The theories, concepts, and research methods that sociologists use when they study film will be examined, with special emphasis on two analytic approaches: the institutional and the interactional.

The relationship between films and the social, political, and economic contexts in which they operate will be explored from a cross-cultural perspective, though the focus will be on the American cinema, past and present.  The production, distribution, and viewing of films will be analyzed as a dynamic communication process among producers, writers, directors, players, exhibitors, critics, and audiences.

The course will discuss and illustrate the following issues: the organizational structure of the film industry; the influence of television and the “VCR Revolution” on Hollywood; popular film genres; dominant themes and prevalent myths in the American cinema; ideology and politics; sexuality, pornography, and violence; morality and censorship; the portrayal of gender and family; ethnic minorities; heroism and villainy in American films; the political and cultural roles of movie stars in America and in other countries; the impact of films on personality, culture, politics, and society.  Several movies, representing the immense diversity and creativity of the American cinema, will be screened.

 

Requirements

  1. Research Paper (at the end of course).
  2. Midterm examination.
  3. Attendance and participation in class discussions.

Required Readings:

Levy, Emanuel. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life.     Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System. NY: Pantheon, 1989.

Recommended:

Austin, Bruce A. Immediate Seating: A Look at Movie Audiences.

Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1989.

Becker, Howard. Art Worlds. Berkeley, California: University of California      Press, 1982.

Monaco, James. How to Read a Film.  N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Roffman, Peter and Jim Purdy. The Hollywood Social Problem Film.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Sklar, Robert. Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies. N.Y.: Random House, 1975.

Tudor, Andrew. Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film.

N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, l975.

 

Detailed Outline

 

Part One: Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Film

 

 

  1. The Sociology of Film

 

The distinctive contribution of the sociological perspective to film

as a mass medium, ideological construct, and art form.

Examination of two approaches:

Interactional-Organizational Perspective

Institutional-Historical Perspective

 

Readings:

 

Becker, H. Art Worlds, Chs. 1-4

 

 

  1. Sociology and Other Social Science Approaches: Psychology, Anthropology, History, and Political Science

 

 

  1. Semiological, Structuralist, and Feminist Perspectives

 

The convergence and divergence between sociology, semiology,                 structuralism, and feminism.

 

Readings:

 

Johnstone, C. “Women’s Cinema as Counter-Cinema,” in Nichols,                                       Movies and Methods, 208-17.

Ray, R. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema.

Rohdie, S. “Totems and Movies,” in Nichols, Movies and Methods,                                    469-80.

Wollen, P. “Cinema and Semiology: Some Points of Contact,”

in Nichols, Movies and Methods, 481-92.

 

 

 

Part Two: The American Film Industry

 

 

  1. The Organizational Structure of Hollywood:

 

The economic foundation and organizational structure of the film industry       during the studio system and at present;

Hollywood and Wall Street;

Changes in the financial control of the industry;

Decision-making in the studio era and in the conglomerate system.

 

 

  1. The Studio System

 

Readings:

 

Gomery, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System.

Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System.

Wasko, Janet. Movies and Money.

 

 

  1. The Corporate-Conglomerate System

 

Readings:

 

Monaco, J. American Film Now.

 

 

Part Three: Genres, Thematic Concerns, and Stylistic Devices                                   in                                     the American Cinema

 

  1. The Concepts of Film Genre, Film Cycle and Film Movement

 

Basic concepts used by sociologists in analyzing film;

Narrative, thematic, and artistic conventions;

The difference between film genres as and film cycles as artistic and           socio-historical phenomena;

Film movements as artistic and social phenomena

(Case studies of Italian Neo-Realism, French New Wave, and

Brazilian Cinema Novo)

 

 

Readings:

 

Brodie, L. “Genre: The Conventions of Connection,” in Mast and                Cohen, Film Theory and Criticism, 443-468.

Hess, J. “Genre Films and the Status Quo,” in Grant, Film                                    Genre, 53-61.

Tudor, A. “Genre,” in Grant, Film Genre, 17-23.

 

 

  1. The Crime-Gangster Film: Violence as a Way of Life

 

What makes the crime-gangster film a distinctly American genre;

The gangster as a tragic hero;

Cycles of crime-gangster films in American film history;

Changes in the conventions of the gangster film;

The technology used in gangster films.

 

Readings:

 

McArthur, Colin. “The Iconography of the Gangster Film,”

in Grant, Film Genre, 118-123.

Shadouian, J. Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster/Crime                Film.

  1. The Western Film: Individual and Community

 

Definition of the Western film genre;

Basic issues in the Western films: Individual versus Community;

Nature versus Civilization; East versus West.

The changing attitude toward Indians in Western films;

The decline of the Westerns in American film.

 

 

Readings:

 

Levy, E. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life,                                                   Chs. 3-4.

Warshow, R. “The Westerner,” in Mast and Cohen, Film Theory and                Criticism.

Wright, W. Six Guns and Society: A Structural Study of the                    Western.

 

 

  1. The Science-Fiction Film: Collective Fears and Nightmares

 

The emergence of science fiction films;

The popularity of science-fiction films in the l950s;

Ideological conventions and stylistic devices of science-fiction films;

Science-fiction films as political allegories.

 

Readings:

 

Sontag, S. “The Imagination of Disaster,” in Mast and Cohen,

Film Theory and Criticism.

 

 

  1. Comedy: Breaking Taboos and Mores

 

The screwball comedy of the Depression Era;

The comedy of remarriage;

The portrayal of love and marriage;

Ethnic humor in American comedies

(Case studies of Jewish and Black humor).

 

 

Readings:

 

Leach, J. “The Screwball Comedy,” in Grant, Film Genres,

75-89.

Weales, G. Canned Goods as Caviar: American Film Comedy of the                l930s.

 

Part Four: Film, Politics and Culture

 

 

  1. Ideology and Politics in the American Cinema

 

The political contexts within which films are made and viewed;

The ideological and political functions of films;

Films as countercultural and subversive art;

Films as agencies of political socialization, indoctrination, and moral           control;

Films as agencies of social change.

 

(Two case studies: films during the Depression and during the late               l960s)

 

Readings:

Bergman, A. We’re in the Money: Depression America and Its                    Movies, Chs. 3-4, 6, 9-11.

Levy, E. And the Winner Is, Chs. 6-7, 12.

Levy, E. John Wayne, Chs. 12-13.

Roffman, P and J. Purdy. The Hollywood Social Problem Film. Chs. 16-21.

 

 

  1. Film, Morality and Censorship

 

Film and dominant culture;

The impositions of the Production Code and Legion of Decency;

Changes in the conventions of portraying violence;

The politics of the Rating System at present.

 

Readings:

 

Grazia, E. and R. Newman. Banned Films: Movies, Censors,                                     and the First Amendment.

 

 

  1. Film, Gender Roles, and Sexuality

 

Film as an agency of socialization of gender roles;

The portrayal of masculinity and femininity in film;

Changes in the conventions of portraying sex and sexuality;

The new screen heroine.

 

(Case study of the woman’s film in the l930s and l940s)

 

Readings:

 

Doane, Mary Ann. The Desire to Desire: The Women’s Films of the                l940s.

Haskell, M. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women                         in the Movies.

Kaplan, E. A. Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera,

Chs. 1-5.

Levy, E. And the Winner Is, Chs. 3, 5, 8.

Levy, E. John Wayne, Ch. 6.

 

 

  1. Movie Stars, Critics, and Film Audiences

 

The acting profession: recruitment, socialization, and careers;

Screen images of men and women;

The politics of movie stars, on and offscreen;

Movie stars as charismatic figures and role models

The ideological importance of movie stars on audiences in the U.S. and           abroad;

The demographic structure of movie audiences, past and present;

The impact of the “VCR Revolution” on moviegoing habits and on the film

experience;

The role of film critics as gatekeepers and tastemakers;

The power of critics “to make or break a movie;”

Criteria and yardsticks of criticism (aesthetic, non-aesthetic, and           extra-aesthetic;

The blockbuster phenomenon;

The cult film as a social phenomenon;

 

 

Reading:

 

Austin, B. Immediate seating: A Look at Movie Audiences.

Hoberman, J. and J. Rosenbaum. Midnight Movies.

 

 

 

  1. The Impact of Film on Personality, Culture, Politics, and Society

 

Examination of the short-run and long-run effects of films;

The difference between manifest and latent effects;

The impact of film on fashion, consumerism, and lifestyle;

The effects of films on political attitudes and behaviors;

The impact of film on collective memory and collective consciousness

(Case study: the Vietnam War films)

 

Readings:

 

Austin, B. Immediate Seating: A Look at Movie Audiences.

Ray, R. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema,

Chs. 8-10.

Sklar, R. Movie-Made America, Chs. 15-18.

 

 

Books     (on reserve)

Allen, Robert C. and Douglas Gomery. Film History: Theory and Practice. N.Y.:  Knopf, 1985.

Balio, Tino (ed). The American Film Industry. Madison, Wisconsin: the      University of Wisconsin Press, l976.

Becker, Howard S. Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, l982.

Gomerie, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press,      l985.

Grant, Barry (ed). Film Genre: Theory and Criticism.

Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, l977.

Grazia, Edward. and Roger k. Newman. Banned Films: Movies, Censors, and the First Amendment. N.Y.: Bowker, 1983.

Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.      N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

 

Jarvie, I.C. Movies as Social Criticism. Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press,      l978.

 

Kuhn, Annette. Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema. Boston: Routledge and      Kegan Paul, l982.

 

Levy, Emanuel. And the Winner Is: The History and Politics of the Oscar      Awards. N.Y.: Ungar Press, l987 (Second Edition, l989).

 

Levy, Emanuel. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life. Foreword by      Andrew Sarris. Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, l987.

 

Mast, Gerald and Marshall Cohen (eds) Film Theory and Criticism.

N.Y.: Oxford University Press, l980.

 

Monaco, James. American Film Now. N.Y.: New American Library, l979.

 

Monaco, James. How to Read a Film. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, l981.

 

Nichols, Bill (ed) Movies and Method. Berkeley: University of California                  Press, l976.

 

Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, l930-l980.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, l985.

 

Roffman, Peter and Jim Purdy, The Hollywood Social Problem Film.

Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, l981.

 

Sklar, Robert. Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies.      N.Y.: Random House, l975.

 

Shadoian, Jack. Dreams and Dead End: The American Gangster/Crime Film.

Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press, l977.

 

Tudor, Andrew. Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film.

N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, l975.

Weales, Gerald. Canned Goods as Caviar: American Film Comedy of the l930s.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l985.

 

Wright, Will. Six Guns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western.      Berkeley: University of California Press, l976Note:  The change to pitch (12) and font (3) must be converted manually.

Films to be Screened:

Feb 8: The Public Enemy, 1931

Feb 15: The Big Heat, 1953

Feb 22: Stagecoach, 1939

Mar 1: Red River, 1948

Mar 8: High Noon, 1952

Mar 15: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962

Mar 29: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956

Apr 5: It Happened One Night, 1934

Apr 12: Nothing Sacred, 1937

Apr 19: Mildred Pierce, 1945

Apr 26: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, 1974

May 1: Bonnie and Clyde, 1967

 

 

 

 

 

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