COMM 342 students: Click here to discover the film that you'll be writing about and your paper's due date, and click here to learn your midterm exam score.
Communication 342
Spring, 2011
Course e-mail address: comm342(at)

Prof. Marty Norden
409 Machmer, 545-0598, norden(at)
Office hours: 11-1 TTh and by appointment
Prof. Norden's home page:

Kathryn Cassidy, Teaching Assistant
E34 Machmer, 545-1311 (leave message), kcass0(at)
Office hours: 2-5 M

Stephanie Lawrence, Teaching Assistant
E36 Machmer, 545-1311 (leave message), slawr0(at)
Office hours: 2-4 M and 1-2 W

This course is designed to provide a survey of significant events and representative films that mark the history of motion pictures from 1950 to the present in the United States and other key countries. Although we will give attention to a variety of styles and functions, our emphasis will be on the feature-length narrative film and the many factors -- industrial, aesthetic, social, cultural, and political -- that have shaped it since 1950.

The lecture period at 2:30 to 3:45 on Tuesdays in Herter 231 will be followed by a screening session (listed as lab) at 4 to 6 p.m. in the same auditorium. The lecture period on Thursdays, also at 2:30 to 3:45 in Herter 231, will contain a discussion component.

Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin, A Short History of the Movies, 10th abridged ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. This textbook is available at Amherst Books, 8 Main St., downtown Amherst.

The required reading for this class includes a number of articles beyond the Mast & Kawin text. They are not bundled together in a packet; instead, they are available at no cost through our online syllabus (see below). To access a particular essay, simply click on its title.

Each reading assignment noted below should be completed before class on the indicated date to correlate with that week's lecture material and film(s), and to facilitate discussion. Additional topics and readings may be assigned at a later date. The Glossary that starts on p. 463 of the Mast & Kawin book will be helpful to you at various points in the semester.

In addition to the article titles, all film titles and directors' names listed below on our syllabus are active hyperlinks. If you would like more information on any film or director, simply click on the appropriate link. It will take you to the corresponding entry at the Internet Movie Database for that film or director. Links to some of our films' trailers ("coming attractions") posted on YouTube are also provided below.


Week #1: Jan. 18-20
Topics:		Introduction; End of Hollywood's Golden Era
Screening:	Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by Don Siegel
		Click here to watch this film's trailer
Readings:	M&K, pp. 212-232
		John Whitehead, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" 

Week #2: Jan. 25-27 Topic: Race and Family in 1950s American Films Screening: Imitation of Life (1959), directed by Douglas Sirk Readings: M&K, pp. 232-235 Stephen Handzo, "Intimations of Lifelessness"
Week #3: Feb. 1-13 Topic: Asian Cinema Screening: Rashomon (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 295-313 Akira Kurosawa, "Akira Kurosawa on Rashomon"
Week #4: Feb. 8-10 Topic: French New Wave Screening: The 400 Blows [Les quatre cents coups] (1959), directed by Francois Truffaut Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 251-269 John Conomos, "Truffaut's The 400 Blows..."
Week #5: Feb. 15-17 Topics: Post-Neorealism Italian Cinema; British Cinema Screening: Blow-up (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 245-251, 283-289 Colin Gardner, "Antonioni's Blow Up and the Chiasmus of Memory"
Week #6: Feb. 24 only (Mon. Schedule on Tues., Feb. 22) Topic: Post-Neorealism Italian Cinema, part II Screening: Toby Dammit (segment from the 1968 film Spirits of the Dead), directed by Federico Fellini Readings: Antonia Shanahan, "Federico Fellini" George Porcari, "Fellini's Forgotten Masterpiece" [PDF]
Week #7: Mar. 1-3 Topic: Swedish Cinema Screening: Persona (1966), directed by Ingmar Bergman Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 276-283 Susan Sontag, "Persona" Richard Corliss, "Woman, Man, Death, God"
Week #8: Mar. 8-10 ***MIDTERM EXAM (IN LECTURE PERIOD) ON TUES., MARCH 8*** ***A FILM WILL BE SHOWN AS USUAL AT 4 P.M. ON THE 8TH*** Topic: Hollywood Renaissance Screening: Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), directed by George Roy Hill Readings: M&K, pp. 324-340 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., letter to the Vonnegut family, May 1945 B. Rodriguez, "Slaughterhouse-Five: The Novel and the Movie"
Week #10: Mar. 22-24 Topic: New German Cinema Screening: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), directed by Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta Readings: M&K, pp. 350-357 Amy Taubin, "Honoring Katharina"
Week #11: Mar. 29-31 Topic: Third World Cinema Screening: Pixote (1981), directed by Hector Babenco Readings: M&K, pp. 357-363 George Csicsery, "Individual Solutions" [PDF] Burt Folkart, "'Pixote' Actor Killed in Police Shoot-Out"
Week #12: Apr. 5-7 Topic: Hollywood Renaissance, part II Screening: Cocoon (1985), directed by Ron Howard Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 390-405 "Cocoon: 25 Years Later" Kate Evans, "Cocoon Screenwriter and UMass Alum..."
Week #13: Apr. 12-14 Topic: Race and Politics in 1980s American Films Screening: Do the Right Thing (1989), directed by Spike Lee Click here to watch a "Sesame Street" version of this film Readings: M&K, pp. 405-414 "Spike Lee: Filmmaker"
Week #14: Apr. 19-21 Topic: Cinema from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada Screening: Once Were Warriors (1994), directed by Lee Tamahori Readings: M&K, pp. 363-371 Ruth Brown, "Closing the Gaps" [PDF]
Week #15: Apr. 26-28 Topic: New International Cinema Screening: Live Flesh [Carne Tremula] (1997), directed by Pedro Almodovar Click here to watch this film's trailer Readings: M&K, pp. 376-381 Christopher McMahon, "Fecundity and Almodovar?" Pedro Almodovar, Dustjacket notes for El cine del aislamiento A. O. Scott, "What Is a Foreign Movie Now?"
Week #16: May 3 only Topic: American Movies Now Screening: [To be announced] Readings: M&K, Chap. 18 and 19 M. Dargis, "The Way We Live Now: The 21st-Century Cinephile" Lynn Hirschberg, "What Is an American Movie Now?" Toby Miller, "Global Hollywood 2010" [PDF]
Changes in the above schedule may arise in the form of additional topics and/or the addition or substitution of other films. Also, we plan to show numerous excerpts from other films throughout the semester to help illustrate the readings and lecture material.

We will routinely place video copies of our main movies on reserve in the Du Bois library. The copies are intended for students writing papers on those films or who unavoidably missed a Tuesday screening. You should NOT plan to view the course films on a regular basis by borrowing our video copies. To set up screening times, visit the Reserve desk or call them at 545-2358. PLEASE NOTE that each film will stay on reserve for only about a week after its showing in class, so plan accordingly.


Two tests will be given in this course: a midterm exam, scheduled for Tuesday, Mar. 8 during our usual 2:30-3:45 class period in Herter 231; and a final exam. The final will only cover material studied since the midterm. The format of the exams will be discussed in class at a later date. Each test will be worth approximately 25% of your final grade. Make-up exams will not be given except through special arrangement made in advance with me.

One formal paper is required for this course. It will be worth approximately 25% of your final grade and will focus on a film screened in class. Click here to discover the film that you'll be writing about and your paper's due date. Your paper will be due at the beginning of the class period on the date indicated.

Your paper should follow a "purpose/evidence/conclusion" structure and include a thesis statement that will guide your writing and research. Your thesis statement, which should appear no later than your paper's second paragraph, should emerge from a research question that relates to the history of that particular film. Importantly, your paper must discuss the film within some historical context -- a paper that simply discusses the film's plot, characters, cinematography, etc., without connecting these items to a broader historical framework will not be sufficient.

Here are some basic research questions to get you to start thinking about your film and how you might approach it:

  • What were the major factors (e.g., technological, economic, ideological, cultural, artistic) that contributed to the creation of the film? How did they do so?
  • What is the film's relationship to its genre at that time?
  • How did critics respond to the film when it first appeared, and how has the critical response changed over time?
  • How does the film reflect or attack the socio-cultural context out of which it emerged?
  • What does the film seem to be saying about such issues as race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age, and/or ability at the time it was made?
  • How is the film similar to, and different from, other films made by the same director or studio?
  • If the film was censored or its content altered in any significant way, how and why did this action occur?
  • If the film features a reasonably well-known star, how does the film support (or, in some cases, contradict) that actor's "star image"?

I recommend that you take ONE of the above general questions and customize it to your particular film. If you would like to pursue a research question that isn't related to any of these general questions, please see me before you begin working on your paper.

You must include an annotated bibliography at the end of your paper. By "annotated," I mean that you must write a brief, evaluative paragraph for each source that you listed in your bibliography. Your bibliography must consist of at least six sources (books, journal articles, newspaper/magazine articles, websites, etc.) that were useful to you in your research. Importantly, at least three of these sources must originally be print-based. Please do NOT include the following items in your annotated bibliography in order to reach the six-source minimum: the film itself, our textbook, and "wiki" sites such as Wikipedia. You are certainly welcome, however, to use these items as starting places for your research.

The paper should be at least five pages in length (not including the annotated bibliography) and must be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. Please note that you MUST include citations (either endnotes or MLA-style parenthetical cites) within the text of your paper -- the bibliography alone will not be enough. I as the reader of your paper should not have to guess where your sources leave off and your own observations begin. Please follow this general guideline whenever you present a point of information in your paper: if it is not your own observation and is not general knowledge, you should provide a citation for it. This guideline applies not only to direct quotations but also paraphrased material -- i.e., you should give a citation if you put someone else's observation, factual material, etc., into your own words.

If you have never written a paper about a film before (or even if you have), I recommend that you look over Timothy Corrigan's excellent book A Short Guide to Writing About Film. You might also check out the online resources at Dartmouth College's Writing Program. Its Materials for Students section contains many helpful links, including -- drumroll, please -- a unit on Writing About Film. Finally, I recommend that you make and keep a copy of the paper (whether a photocopy, a computer print-out, or an electronic document) until you receive the original back from me.

Do not e-mail your paper under any circumstances. Submit a hard copy only, please.

As noted above, the paper is due two weeks after the movie's screening. I will accept late papers but for reduced credit and only if you have made arrangements with me in advance.

Beginning on Jan. 27, you will be required to submit a brief (approximately 1-to-3 paragraph essay written in class each Thursday. You will write this essay in response to a question or two that I will pose on the film that we have seen and discussed that week. This series of weekly writing projects is designed to allow you to articulate your views, if in a highly abbreviated way, on the films that we see. It will also function as a once-a-week attendance monitor. We will set aside the last fifteen minutes or so of each Thursday class period to allow you to work on this assignment. Please submit your essay directly to the Teaching Assistant to whom you've been assigned (we will take care of that bit of business shortly) before you leave class each Thursday. Each of these very brief weekly essays will receive a mark (a "+" for very good, a check mark for average, a "-" for sub-par, or some similar scheme) and together will account for approximately 25% of your final grade. Importantly, they will help you prepare for the two exams and the paper.

Please be forewarned that I have a near-pathological aversion to handing out "incompletes." I will give such non-grades only under the most extreme of circumstances (such as illness or your own death) and even then grudgingly. Otherwise, any missing work will be averaged into the final grade.

Please contact me if you have any questions about our course requirements.