American Cinema: Beginnings to Present

This course traces the history of American cinema from its emergence as a celluloid-based medium in the late nineteenth-century to its digital development at the intersections of multiple media companies and platforms. We will look at individual films not as ends in themselves, but as products of an industry, mass culture, and national artistic traditions. Our goals will be to understand how to interpret the meanings of individual films in particular historical contexts, as well as how to account for aesthetic, technological, and ideological changes over time. Learning this history will introduce you to various cinematic modes—fiction and non-fiction, narrative and the avant-garde, Hollywood and independent production—that shape different experiences. Course topics will include the following: the rise of cinema as an institution; the standardization of American film genres and storytelling; the classical studio and star systems of Hollywood; the shift to color, widescreen, and location shooting in the late-studio era; the political effects of the Cold War and the counterculture; new waves of film school-trained and independent directors; Hollywood’s recycling of styles and revision of genres; and new directions for film style and genre in the early-twenty-first century.