TCF 440/540 Seminar in American Cinema

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.

Jeremy Butler
Office: 486B Phifer
Office hours: MW 2-3, & by appt. 348-6350
Course Assignments:
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.
  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 15 points for a total of 45 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 or a similar style book. This includes references to Websites and the course readings. Also, Diana Hacker, author of Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, provides a Website with numerous tips on documenting sources. And the Citation Machine can partially automate the formatting of citations.

    To quote or paraphrase without proper 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. And the UA Writing Center is available to help, too: 348-5049, room 125 Morgan Hall.

  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 film noir or a melodrama, directed by Howard Hawks or Douglas Sirk, or star Humphrey Bogart or Lana Turner. This paper is worth 30 points and will be due Monday of exam week, 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: .)

  4. Two exams--worth 5 points each. No early exams will be given.

  5. Participation in class discussions, based on questions distributed via eLearning--worth 5 points.

  6. Extra credit: Edit Wikipedia or provide frames for Shot Logger. For the latter, follow this VLC media player tutorial and then submit your files to Dr. Butler.

Additional Requirements for Graduate Students

Beyond the requirements for undergraduates, grad students' directed papers should be five pages (1500 words) instead of four, and the final paper should be 13 pages instead of 10 (worth 26 points). Also, grad students must prepare two Screenpedia lecture-note articles, within one week of the lecture (worth 4 points).

Screenings & Credits:
All films will be shown on DVD in class. There will be no other class screenings of the programs, but copies of most films will be placed on reserve in the CIS Reading Room. Also, local video stores do carry a few of the titles, many are available through NetFlix, and two or three of them are included in the audio-visual section of the Gorgas Library.

Credits are available from the Internet Movie Database. Follow the links below to find credits.


Grades will be posted on eLearning.

Grading scale:

A+ 97-100   C+ 77-79    F  59 and below
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
Course Calendar (subject to changes announced in class):
Click for illustrations = illustrations | Screenpedia = Screenpedia




1/7 Introduction to the Course
Ordinary People
(Redford, 1980; 124 min.) Click for illustrations
1/12 Film Analysis: Narrative Form Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 2, 3) Screenpedia
1/14 Film Analysis: Classical Style Click for illustrationsClick for illustrationsClick for illustrations
Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947)Click for illustrations
Bordwell/Thompson (chs. 4, 5)Click for illustrationsScreenpedia
1/19 I have a dream . . . No Class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Why not read King's "I Have a Dream" or "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" today?
1/21 Film Analysis: Editing Click for illustrations 
Ball of Fire (Hawks, 1941)
Bordwell/Thompson (ch. 6)Click for illustrationsScreenpedia
1/26 Film Analysis: SoundClick for illustrations Bordwell/Thompson (ch. 7)Click for illustrationsScreenpedia
1/28 11:00: Discussion and *Analytical Exercise Due* Click for illustrations
The Concept of Genre Screenpedia page
The Maltese Falcon
(Huston, 1941) Click for illustrations Click for illustrations
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (excerpt, Wiene, 1920)Click for illustrations
Le Jour se Lève (excerpt, Carné, 1939; Gorgas VCR 84-24)Click for illustrations
2/2 Discussion Kitses (6-27),Click for illustrations Buscombe (33-45), Collins (157-163)
2/4 Film Noir as GenreClick for illustrations
The Grifters (Frears, 1990)Click for illustrations
2/9 Discussion

Silver & Ursini (17-26, 37-52, 53-64, 65-76) Click for illustrations

2/11 The Concept of Authorship Illustrations icon
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, 1939)
To Have and Have Not
(excerpt, Hawks, 1944)
*Assignment One Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)


Caughie (9-16, 22-67)
Theories of Authorship


Howard Hawks as AuteurIllustrations icon
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
(Hawks, 1953) Click for illustrations


2/23 Discussion

Sarris (on Hawks, 52-56), Caughie (138-151), Hillier & Wollen (26-31, 32-34, 68-71, 83-86, 111-119)
Theories of Authorship


Noir & Sexuality: Gender Roles and Sexual Orientation Screenpedia article
*Assignment Two Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
Double Indemnity
(Wilder, 1944)

3/2 Discussion Women in Noir Place (47-68), Dyer (52-72) Screenpedia article
3/4 The Concept of Star The Star System Screenpedia article
Dark Victory (excerpt, Goulding, 1939)
The Petrified Forest (Mayo, 1936) Petrified Forest
3/9 Discussion Click for illustrations Dyer (Stars, 106-50; recommended: 88-105) Screenpedia article
3/11 Humphrey Bogart as Star Click for illustrations Screenpedia article
The African Queen (Huston, 1951) Click for illustrations Click for illustrations
3/13-3/20 Spring Break  
3/23 Discussion
Sklar (104-120, 165-176, 227-251)
Screenpedia article
3/25 Domestic Melodrama as Genre Click for illustrationsClick for illustrationsIllustrations icon Screenpedia article
*Assignment Three Due* (see Notes on Writing Film Analyses for tips)
Imitation of Life (Stahl, 1934) Illustrations icon Illustrations
3/30 **Midterm Exam**
Covers film noir, Howard Hawks, and Humphrey Bogart
4/1 Domestic Melodrama Since World War IIRebel Without A Cause Screenpedia article
Juno (Reitman, 2007)Click for illustrations
Haskell (153-188) Screenpedia article
4/6 Discussion Gledhill (5-39), Elsaesser (43-69)
Screenpedia article
4/8 Melodrama Variations: TV Soap OperaSoap Opera Illustrations Screenpedia article
*Research Paper Topics Due*
Backstage Wife/As the World Turns
(CBS, 1956-) Illustrations icon
4/13 Discussion Soap Apparatus & Stars ATWT alumni Meg Ryan profile Illustrations icon
Butler ("Zero-Degree Style," 55-120), Butler ("Actors," 75-91)
Screenpedia article
4/15 Douglas Sirk as AuteurIllustrations All That Heaven Allows Illustrations Screenpedia article
Imitation of Life
(Sirk, 1959) Illustrations
Recommended: Far From Heaven (Haynes, 2002)
4/20 Discussion Sarris (on Sirk, 109-110), Fischer (3-28, 268-272); recommended:
Doherty (online) Screenpedia article
4/22 Lana Turner as Star Click for illustrations Screenpedia article
The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli, 1952) Click for illustrations
4/27 DiscussionClick for illustrations Dyer (30-52) [Also in Fischer (186-206)] Screenpedia article
4/29 Discussion: Course Summary
Mildred Pierce
(Curtiz, 1945)
**Final Paper Due**
midnight, via eLearning/TurnItIn
**Final Exam**
8:00-10:30 a.m.

Covers melodrama, Douglas Sirk, and Lana Turner.
4/20 - 5/11 Online Student Opinions of Teaching Survey
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Available at Local Bookstores

Film Art cover

  1. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, Eighth Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008).
  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).

Available at Supe Store, in C&IS Reading Room and on Electronic Reserve

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. 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: Studies in Melodrama and Woman's Film, ed. Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute, 1987) 43-69.
  13. Jeremy G. Butler, "Television and Zero-Degree Style" in Television Style (New York: Routledge, in press), 55-120.
  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.

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.

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.)
Cell-Phone Policy:
Cell phones must be turned off.Cell phones must be turned off during classtime. Students who leave class to take a phone call or write text messages during class will be counted absent for that day.
Disabilities Accommodation Policy:
Students with disabilities are encouraged to register with the Office of Disability Services, 348-4285. Thereafter, you are invited to schedule appointments to see me during my office hours to discuss accommodations and other special needs.
Academic Misconduct Policy:
All acts of dishonesty in any work constitute academic misconduct. The Code of Academic Conduct and Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Procedures will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.
Use of Plagiarism-Detection Software:
The University of Alabama is committed to helping students uphold the ethical standards of academic integrity in all areas of study. Students agree that their enrollment in this course allows the instructor the right to use electronic devices to help prevent plagiarism. All course materials are subject to submission to for the purpose of detecting textual similarities. Assignments submitted to will be included as source documents in's restricted access database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism in such documents.
Online Requirements and Resources:

To use eLearning you must have a functioning Bama account. Also, you must be able to receive BamaMail. Many important class announcements will be sent to your BamaMail account.

A variety of course-related materials may be found on -- including lecture/discussion notes. Look for the Screenpedia icon above for links to Screenpedia material.

GPA Requirements:

The College of Communication & Information Sciences requires that all students enrolled in upper division courses (300/400 level) have a 2.0 GPA overall. Students who do not have the 2.0 GPA may be administratively disenrolled on the first day of class.

College of Communication & Information Sciences majors must earn a "C" or better in all required and elective courses in their major. A "C" or better is required in all external courses required by the major whether they serve as a prerequisite to a major course or are simply required by the major. This means a "C" of any kind.

Last revised: 31 May 2016 16:50:06
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