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Sem In American Cinema

TCF 440 Section 001

Spring 2014, Seminar

Dr. Jeremy Butler


UA Course Catalog Prerequisites

No prerequisites or none listed.

TCF 112, or permission of instructor.

Course Description

UA Course Catalog Information


Core Designations:

Student Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the three major critical methods applied to the American cinema: genre study, the auteur "theory," and the star "system", through the examples of film noir, director Howard Hawks and actor Humphrey Bogart, and the melodrama, director Douglas Sirk, and actress Lana Turner;
  2. Understand the shaping of film history and the impact of diverse groups on that history;
  3. Write correctly and clearly (evaluating their work for accuracy and fairness, appropriate style, and grammatical correctness);
  4. Evaluate concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and narratives, including feminism, Marxism, structuralism and semiotics; and
  5. Think critically, creatively, and independently about the American cinema.

Exams and Assignments

The student's grade will depend upon four separate components:

  1. An analytical exercise. Worth 15 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 11:59 p.m. Thursday of the following week--via Blackboard Learn/TurnItIn. 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 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 cited--see Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or a similar style book. This includes references to online resources and the course readings. Also, Diana Hacker, author of Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age, provides 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. And the UA Writing Center is available to help, too: room 322 Lloyd Hall.

  3. One ten-page (3,000 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 11:59 p.m. Wednesday of exam week, via Blackboard Learn/TurnItIn.

    This paper 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 cited. A bibliography and a filmography (that is, the credits for the film analyzed) must be provided. (One source for credits is the Internet Movie Database: .)

  4. Reading quizzes--one point each for 10 points total. Thirteen quizzes on the readings will be given at the start of class discussion days. The lowest three scores will be dropped.

Additional Requirements for Graduate Students

Beyond the requirements for undergraduates, grad students' directed papers should be five pages (1,500 words) instead of four, and the final paper should be 13 pages (3,900 words) instead of 10. Also, grad students may be required to lead a class discussion.

Policy on Missed Exams & Coursework

Make-up tests/exams will be given at the discretion of the instructor. No tests/exams will be given before their scheduled dates.

Grading Policy

Grades will be posted on Blackboard Learn.

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

Outline of Topics

Please refer to the online course schedule for an outline of lecture topics, film screenings, reading assignments and various course resources (including lecture/discussion notes):

Required Texts

UA Supply Store Textbook Information


Required course readings -- in addition to the textbooks -- are available at Supe Store, in the 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. Robert Sklar, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  8. Molly Haskell, "The Woman's Film," in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (New York: Penguin, 1974) 153-188.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Jeremy G. Butler, "Television and Zero-Degree Style" in Television Style (New York: Routledge, 2010), 55-120.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Paul Willemen, "Distanciation and Douglas Sirk," Imitation of Life: Douglas Sirk, Director, 268-272.
  15. Recommended, not required: Thomas Doherty, "Douglas Sirk: Magnificent Obsession," The Chronicle Review, 49, no. 12 (November 15, 2002), p. B16. Available online.
  16. 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, Chicago or another recognized style guide when creating citations in your papers.

Extra Credit Opportunities

Students may earn 3 extra credit points by providing frames for Shot Logger. You must submit your Shot Logger files to Dr. Butler by the Friday of Study Week.

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.)

Other Course Materials

All films will be shown on DVD and Blu-ray disc 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, many titles 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 in the outline of topics to find credits.

Digital Devices Policy

Cell phones/tablets/laptops or other digital devices may be used for reference to class texts or for online research, but they may not be used during screenings. Text messaging is not permitted at any time during class. Any use of digital devices during exams will be considered academic misconduct.

GPA Requirements

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.

Severe Weather Guidelines

The guiding principle at The University of Alabama is to promote the personal safety of our students, faculty and staff during severe weather events. It is impossible to develop policies which anticipate every weather-related emergency. These guidelines are intended to provide additional assistance for responding to severe weather on campus.

UA is a residential campus with many students living on or near campus. In general classes will remain in session until the National Weather Service issues safety warnings for the city of Tuscaloosa. Clearly, some students and faculty commute from adjacent counties. These counties may experience weather related problems not encountered in Tuscaloosa. Individuals should follow the advice of the National Weather Service for that area taking the necessary precautions to ensure personal safety. Whenever the National Weather Service and the Emergency Management Agency issue a warning, people in the path of the storm (tornado or severe thunderstorm) should take immediate life saving actions.

When West Alabama is under a severe weather advisory, conditions can change rapidly. It is imperative to get to where you can receive information from the National Weather Service and to follow the instructions provided. Personal safety should dictate the actions that faculty, staff and students take.

The Office of University Relations will disseminate the latest information regarding conditions on campus in the following ways:

  • Weather advisory posted on the UA homepage
  • Weather advisory sent out through UA Alerts to faculty, staff and students
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA at 90.7 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over Alabama Public Radio (WUAL) at 91.5 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA-TV/WUOA-TV, and on the website at WVUA-TV Home Team Weather provides a free service you can subscribe to which allows you to receive weather warnings for Tuscaloosa via e-mail or cell phone. Check for more details and to sign up for weather alerts.

In the case of a tornado warning (tornado has been sighted or detected by radar; sirens activated), all university activities are automatically suspended, including all classes and laboratories. If you are in a building, please move immediately to the lowest level and toward the center of the building away from windows (interior classrooms, offices, or corridors) and remain there until the tornado warning has expired. Classes in session when the tornado warning is issued can resume immediately after the warning has expired at the discretion of the instructor. Classes that have not yet begun will resume 30 minutes after the tornado warning has expired provided at least half of the class period remains.

Disability Statement

If you are registered with the Office of Disability Services, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss any course accommodations that may be necessary.

If you have a disability, but have not contacted the Office of Disability Services, please call (205) 348-4285 (Voice) or (205) 348-3081 (TTY) or visit 133-B Martha Parham Hall East to register for services. Students who may need course adaptations because of a disability are welcome to make an appointment to see me during office hours. Students with disabilities must be registered with the Office of Disability Services, 133-B Martha Parham Hall East, before receiving academic adjustments.

Policy on Academic Misconduct

All students in attendance at The University of Alabama are expected to be honorable and to observe standards of conduct appropriate to a community of scholars. The University of Alabama expects from its students a higher standard of conduct than the minimum required to avoid discipline. At the beginning of each semester and on examinations and projects, the professor, department, or division may require that each student sign the following Academic Honor Pledge: “I promise or affirm that I will not at any time be involved with cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or misrepresentation while enrolled as a student at The University of Alabama. I have read the Academic Honor Code, which explains disciplinary procedure resulting from the aforementioned. I understand that violation of this code will result in penalties as severe as indefinite suspension from the University.”

See the Code of Student Conduct for more information.

UAct: Ethical Community Statement

The University of Alabama is committed to an ethical, inclusive community defined by respect and civility. The UAct website ( provides extensive information on how to report or obtain assistance with a variety of issues, including issues related to dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual violence or other Title IX violations, illegal discrimination, harassment, child abuse or neglect, hazing, threat assessment, retaliation, and ethical violations or fraud.