JCM412-512 Seminar in American Cinema

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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the film noir, Double Indemnity.

JCM 412/512 Seminar in American Cinema is a discussion-oriented course taught by Jeremy Butler. For many years, it was numbered "TCF 440/540."

Course objectives

The student will learn the three major critical methods applied to the American cinema: genre study, the auteur "theory," and the star "system." We will begin with the film noir, director Howard Hawks and actor Humphrey Bogart, 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.

Online study guides

Chronological order

  1. Film Analysis: Discussion of narrative form
  2. Classical Style I: Discussion of mise-en-scene
  3. Classical Style II: Discussion of cinematography
  4. Editing: Discussion of editing
  5. Sound: Discussion of sound
  6. Concept of Genre: Discussion of Kitses (6-27), Buscombe (33-45), Collins (157-163).
  7. Film Noir as Genre: Discussion of Silver & Ursini (17-26, 37-52, 53-64, 65-76).
  8. Concept of Authorship: Discussion of Caughie (9-16, 22-67).
  9. Howard Hawks as Auteur: Discussion of Sarris (on Hawks, 52-56), Caughie (138-151), Hillier & Wollen (26-31, 32-34, 68-71, 83-86, 111-119).
  10. Noir & Sexuality: Discussion of Place (47-68), Dyer (52-72).
  11. Concept of Star: Discussion of Dyer (Stars, 106-50; recommended: 88-105).
  12. Humphrey Bogart as Star: Discussion of Sklar (104-120, 165-176, 227-251).
  13. Domestic Melodrama as Genre: Discussion of Haskell (153-188).
  14. Domestic Melodrama Since World War II: Discussion of Gledhill (5-39), Elsaesser (43-69).
  15. Melodrama Variations: TV Soap Opera: Discussion of Butler ("Apparatus," 53-70), Butler ("Actors," 75-91).
  16. Douglas Sirk as Auteur: Discussion of Sarris (on Sirk, 109-110), Fischer (3-28, 268-272); recommended: Doherty (online).
  17. Lana Turner as Star: Discussion of Dyer (30-52) [Also in Fischer (186-206)].

List of lecture notes

Category:TCF440/540 Lecture

List of discussion notes

Category:JCM412/512 Discussion

Study groups

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Group 5

Group 6

Texts & resources


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (Routledge)
  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: Douglas Sirk, Director (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991).

Articles and book chapters

  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. Alain Silver and James Ursini, eds., Film Noir Reader (New York: Limelight, 1996).
  5. Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973) 52-56, 109-110.
  6. Jim Hillier and Peter Wollen, eds., Howard Hawks American Artist (London: British Film Institute, 1996).
  7. Janey Place, "Women in Film Noir," Women in Film Noir, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (London: British Film Institute, 1998) 47-68.
  8. Richard Dyer, "Homosexuality and Film Noir," The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations (London and New York: Routledge, 1993) 52-72.
  9. Robert Sklar, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  10. Molly Haskell, "The Woman's Film," in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (New York: Penguin, 1974) 153-188.
  11. 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.
  12. Thomas Elsaesser, "Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama," Home is Where the Heart Is, 43-69.
  13. Jeremy G. Butler, "Notes on the Soap Opera Apparatus: Televisual Style and As the World Turns," Cinema Journal, 25.3 (1986): 53-70.
  14. 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.
  15. Lucy Fischer, "Three-Way Mirror: Imitation of Life," Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, Director ed. Lucy Fischer (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press) 3-28.
  16. Paul Willemen, "Distanciation and Douglas Sirk," Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, Director, 268-272.
  17. Recommended, not required: Thomas Doherty, "Douglas Sirk: Magnificent Obsession," The Chronicle Review, 49, no. 12 (November 15, 2002), p. B16. Available online.
  18. Richard Dyer, "Four Films of Lana Turner," Movie 25: 30-52.