Joss Marsh

9:05a-9:55a MWF (70 students) 3 cr., A&H.
TOPIC: "American Mirrors"

The American cinema has been both a crucible and a reflecting pool for American culture for more than a century. This course investigates great historical cruxes and enduring cultural complexes of the twentieth century in the light of the great films that both represented and re-envisioned them. In each unit, study of our central film text will work side by side with study of relevant, and sometimes urgent, literary and print material (including Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, an exemplary dime Western, publicity materials, script extracts, and newspaper reports on lynching) as well as secondary films, shorts, and substantial clips (from works by, among others, Von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, King Vidor, John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Stanley Kubrick). Topics and central films will be: race hatred and the legacy of the Civil War in D.W. Griffith's 1915 masterwork, The Birth of a Nation (the foundational text of modern cinema and a recruiting tool for the Ku Klux Klan); the killing fields of Flanders and the trauma of World War I as envisioned in Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); mechanized city life and the plight of the urban "Tramp" in Chaplin's Modern Times (1936); the Hollywood "Dream Factory" run amuck in Billy Wilder's cynical film noir, Sunset Boulevard (1950); sex, violence, and Freudian gender relations in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958); Sergio Leone's satirical extravaganza Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), American frontier-lust, and the American Western genre; Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam revisiting of Conrad's British Imperialist nightmare in Apocalypse Now (1979); and Ridley Scott’s dystopian return to the themes of Frankenstein in the film noir, urban-gothic, sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Mandatory weekly screenings (Monday, 7:00p-10:00p); mandatory discussion questions; two midterms, paper, and final.