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Key Trends in American Film - JJMM622
Anglický název: Key Trends in American Film
Zajišťuje: Katedra severoamerických studií (23-KAS)
Fakulta: Fakulta sociálních věd
Platnost: od 2013
Semestr: letní
Body: 5
E-Kredity: 5
Způsob provedení zkoušky: letní s.:
Rozsah, examinace: letní s.:1/1 Zk [hodiny/týden]
Počet míst: neurčen / neurčen (35)
Minimální obsazenost: neomezen
Stav předmětu: nevyučován
Jazyk výuky: angličtina
Způsob výuky: prezenční
Poznámka: předmět je možno zapsat mimo plán
povolen pro zápis po webu
při zápisu přednost, je-li ve stud. plánu
Garant: Dr. Richard Nowell, Dr.
Sylabus - angličtina
Poslední úprava: Dr. Richard Nowell, Dr. (19.02.2013)


Coordinator: RICHARD NOWELL Ph.D.

Contact: richard_nowell@hotmail.com

Location: American Center

Times: Every Second Tuesday 17:00 - 20:00 [26 February; 12 March; 26 March; 9 April; 23 April; 7 May; 21 May]

Course Description and Purpose

This course offers students insights into the ways in which the production, content, and themes of mainstream American motion pictures are shaped by socio-political events, currents, and shifts. As a storytelling medium par excellence, American cinema has tended to be characterized by depictions of harmony, conflict, and resolution that are enacted by heroes, victims, and villains. It is perhaps the changing nature of the heroic, the despicable, and the vulnerable that reveals most about films’ relationships to the public-sphere discourses against which they take form and to which they sometimes contribute. An ideal opportunity to consider the relationship between film texts and relevant social contexts is provided by historically-specific clusters of topical films. Some of the most prominent trends in American cinema of the last forty years students will be (re)introduced to by way of film screenings, home viewings, Anglophone scholarship, and bi-weekly seminars. Case studies will be organized into two groups: films mediating changing social conditions, and those engaged directly - sometimes explicitly, sometimes allegorically - with political discourse. Students’ development of essential and transferable critical analysis skills will therefore be facilitated by their approaching of mainstream American films as cultural artifacts with important things to say about the times in which they were made and released. 

Course Goals and Student Learning Objectives 

Key Trends in American Film aims to facilitate students’ deeper understanding of the relationships that exist between, on the one hand, the content and themes of American mainstream cinema, and, on the other hand, certain prominent social, cultural, political discourses circulating the public (and private) sphere. In doing so, the course will seek to familiarize students with important and transferable critical tools, frameworks, approaches, and skills that will serve to deepen their capacity to engage with, and to read, audiovisual texts critically both on, and hopefully outside of, the course. Key Trends in American Cinema aims to enable students to appreciate that the interplay between texts and contexts is more than a simple "sign of the times" but is characterized by complex processes of mediation, selection, and interpretation at the levels of production, promotion, and reception.

By the end of the course, students will be expected to posses: the critical abilities to produce insightful analysis of film texts; the skills necessary to conduct sound contextual analysis; the demonstrable capacity to synthesize original ideas in a lucid and coherent manner, both verbally and in writing; a solid understanding of the complex social, cultural, historical, and political relationships that have shaped important aspects of American cinematic output (and by implication different forms of audiovisual media produced both inside and outside of the US); and solid understanding of debates circulating the case-studies that comprise the course.

Texts and Resources

Students are expected actively to contribute to seminar discussions, which will center on the mandatory film screenings, the mandatory readings, and critical analyses thereof. Accordingly, students are required to study all of the relevant set readings before each class. All of the readings will, well before the first day of the semester, be available in PDF form to download from the SIS course website. Students are advised to bring to class hard copies of the relevant readings as use of electronic devices will not be permitted during seminars.

One-on-One Tutorials

All students are invited to arrange one-on-one tutorials to discuss assignments and/or any issues arising from the course. Meetings can be arranged by email and can take place at a location and time of mutual convenience.


Mid-term Paper

Value: 50% of Final Grade

Each student is to submit a 2,000 word essay in based on a topic introduced in sessions 1-3. A choice of three questions will be revealed in good time.

Deadline: Midnight CET 19 April 2013

Final Essay

Value: 50% of Final Grade

Each student is to submit a 2,000 word essay in based on a topic introduced in sessions 4-6. A choice of three questions will be revealed in good time.

Deadline: Midnight CET 31 May 2013


All Essays are to be submitted in PDF or word format to richard_nowell@hotmail.com 

Late Submission of Work



On the day following the due date - 5 marks out of 100 deducted

On the 2nd day following the due to date - 10 marks out of 100 deducted

On the 3rd day following the due date - 15 marks out of 100 deducted

On the 4th day following the due date - 20 marks out of 100 deducted

After the 4th day following the due date - all marks deducted


Penalties are waved on medical and compassionate grounds (e.g. familial bereavement) only; please do not enquire about the waving of penalties on other grounds incase refusal offends.


Each student will be emailed individually with detailed personal feedback on his or her mid-term paper and final paper. This feedback is designed to be constructive so will spotlight strengths and any possible shortcomings.


Grades from 1-4 will be awarded based on the following criteria:








Insightful, vigorous, and demonstrating considerable depth of understanding and a significant amount of original thought; addressing question directly through a wholly coherent synthesis of ideas; demonstrating a degree of mastery over subject; demonstrating a deep and thorough understanding of key concepts.

A wide range of sources consulted; sources employed with significant discrimination and sound judgment; thorough assessment of evidence; use of a broad range of examples.

Near-Faultless typography and layout; near-flawless turns of phrase and expression; sophisticated and precise vocabulary; clear structure; exemplary citation and bibliography.





Perceptive and insightful; some evidence of original thought; for the most part addressing question directly; mainly coherent synthesis of ideas; thorough and somewhat critical understanding of key concepts.

A fairly wide range of sources consulted; solid assessment of evidence; sophisticated use of a fairly broad range of examples.

Very Solid typography and layout; few errors in grammar; mainly sophisticated turns of phrase and expression; mostly clear structure; strong citation and bibliography.





Solid understanding addressed, for the most part, to the question; good synthesis of ideas; reasonably solid understanding of key concepts; evidence of gaps in knowledge and some minor misunderstandings of key concepts.

Several sources consulted; evidence of some assessment of evidence; use of mostly workable examples.

Good typography and layout; comprehensible and largely error-free grammar, turns of phrase, and expression; reasonable clearly structured; some attempt to provide citation and bibliography.

4 (Fail)



Barely if it all addressed to question; no real synthesis of ideas; mainly descriptive rather than analytical; weak and patchy understanding of key concepts; significant gaps in knowledge and misunderstanding of key concepts.

Restricted range of sources consulted; superficial understanding of evidence; limited range of examples, many of which are inappropriate.

Poor typography and layout; numerous errors of grammar; limited vocabulary; ambiguous or inaccurate turns of phrase; weak or missing citations and bibliography.

Plagiarism Information


(A) Any use of quoted texts in seminar papers and theses must be acknowledged. Such use must meet the following conditions: (1) the beginning and end of the quoted passage must be shown with quotation marks; (2) when quoting from periodicals or books, the name(s) of author(s), book or article titles,  the year of publication, and page from which the passage is quoted  must all be stated in footnotes or endnotes; (3) internet sourcing must include a full web address where the text can be found as well as the date the web page was visited by the author.

(B) In case the use of any texts other than those written by the author is established without proper acknowledgement as defined in (A), the paper or thesis will be deemed plagiarized and handed over to the Disciplinary Commission of the Faculty of Social Sciences. 

(A) Použití veškerých citovaných textů v seminárních a kvalifikačních pracích musí splňovat tyto podmínky: (1) začátek a konec citované pasáže musí být opatřeny uvozovkami; (2) citujeme-li z periodik či knih, je nutno uvést - zpravidla v poznámce pod čarou nebo vysvětlivce - autora, název díla, rok vydání a stránku, z níž je citováno; (3) v případě citací z internetových zdrojů je nutno uvést full internetovou adresu, na níž lze citovaný text dohledat, a datum návštěvy internetové stránky.

(B) Pokud budou v uvedených pracích zjištěny přejaté texty bez výše uvedených náležitostí, bude práce považována za plagiát a předána Disciplinární komisi FSV UK. 

Note on the Course Structure

This course comprises a total of seven three hour sessions. Session 1 will introduce the course and conclude with the screening of a film that will be discussed in Session 2. This structure - a seminar followed by a film screening - will be used for each of the following sessions, except for session 7, which, because it is the final session will only comprise a seminar discussion. Accordingly, sessions 2-5 will begin with a seminar discussion that will draw on the preparatory readings, a film that students will have watched at home, and the film that was screened in the second half of the previous session. Those sessions will then conclude with the screening of a film that will be examined in the subsequent session.Session One                                      Introduction                       

Session One                                      Introduction                              26 February 2013


17:00 - 18:00: Introduction

18:00 - 18:10: Break

18:10 - 20:00: Screening in preparation for Session Two - Cotton Comes to Harlem (1971)

This session will do three things. First, it will provide an overview of the course. Second, it will provide students with an opportunity to discuss a piece of scholarship that provides a very useful entry point into understanding the political dimensions of narrative films. Third, the session will conclude with a screening of the Blaxploitation film Cotton Comes to Harlem (1971), which we will discuss in Session Two.


Toby Miller Extract from "Introduction", in Toby Miller and Robert Stam (eds.), A Companion to Film Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp. 1-4.

Robin Wood, "The American Nightmare: Horror in the 1970s", in Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan … and Beyond: Expanded and Revised Edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), pp. 63-85.


Session Two                            Blaxploitation                         12 March 2013 


17:00 - 18:00: Seminar - Blaxploitation

18:00 - 18:10: Break

18:10 - 20:00: Screening in preparation for Session Three - Dressed to Kill (1980)

This session’s seminar focuses on one of the most prominent and controversial production trends of the early-to-mid 1970s: the Blaxploitation cycle of circa 1970 to 1975. Comprising tens of mainly low-budget crime pictures featuring black protagonists, these films boasted a surprising combination of sex, violence, and criminality, and thought-provoking commentary on some of the changing social, economic, and gendered aspects of urban black life. Students will take up the implications of this blend of sensation and social critique, with reference to two of the most thoughtful contributions to the cycle: Cotton Comes to Harlem (1971) and Superfly (1972). The session concludes with a screening of the backlash film Dressed to Kill, which will be examined in session 3’s seminar.


Eithne Quinne and Peter Kramer, "Blaxploitation", in Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond (eds.), Contemporary American Cinema (New York: Open University Press, 2006), pp. 184-185, 188-198.

Jan Kraszewski, "Recontextualizing the Historical Reception of Blaxploitation: Articulations of Class, Black Nationalism, and Anxiety in the Genre’s Advertisements", The Velvet Light Trap 50 (Fall 2002),pp. 48-61. 

Home Screening: Superfly (1972)


Session Three                          Backlash Cinema                             26 March 2013 


17:00 - 18:00: Seminar - Backlash Cinema

18:00 - 18:10: Break

18:10 - 20:00: Screening in preparation for Session Four - Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985)

More so than any other production trend of the late 1970s/early 1980s, thrillers about career-women encountering misogynist maniacs attracted the attention of American public-sphere elites - leading to an unusual alliance of left-wing feminists and right-wingers and to deeply entrenched discourses about the nature of filmic violence and misogyny. Yet, despite their vilification as part of a "backlash" against increasing levels of female social, economic, and professional upward mobility, these films were usually made for, and pitched to, mature females as well as male audiences. This session considers the complex relationships between this controversial trend and its heated reception. Brian De Palma’s polarizing 1980 film Dressed to Kill and the glossy Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) provide the principal referents.


Charles Lyons, The New Censors: Movies and the Culture Wars (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), pp. 53-80.

Robin Wood, "Returning the Look: Eyes of a Stranger", in Gregory A. Waller (ed.), American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), pp. 79-85.

At-Home Screening: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)


Session Four                            Reaganite Cinema                       9 April 2013


17:00 - 18:00: Seminar - Reaganite Cinema

18:00 - 18:10: Break

18:10 - 20:00: Screening in preparation for Session Five - Reality Bites (1995)

American cinema’s engagement with important geopolitical issues has been a reoccurring feature of film history, and it is perhaps nowhere more apparent in the last quarter of a century than in a high-profile, politically-engaged, strand of mid-late 1980s output known by most cultural historians as Reaganite Cinema. Often proclaimed to be the quintessence of this right-wing, hawkish mode of filmmaking were late-Cold War fantasies that supposedly showcased American patriotism and military might in the face of dangerous, in-human enemies, including those from Latin America and the Eastern Bloc. This session will consider whether these films were quite as simplistically reactionary as they are often suggested to have been or whether they also delivered quite forceful critiques of American political, economic, and social systems. Case-studies will be provided by Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV (both 1985).


Stephen Prince, Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film (New York: Praeger, 1992), pp. 49-80.

At-Home Screening: Rocky IV (1985)


Session Five                   Generation X Cinema                           23 April 2013 


17:00 - 18:00 - Seminar: Generation X Cinema

18:00 - 18:10 - Break

18:10 - 20:00 - Screening in preparation for Session Six: The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The 1990s saw the rise to prominence of a youthful cohort that was characterized by irony, cynicism, an outward rejection of consumer-capitalism, and hyper media-literacy: Generation X. Whether such a group really existed or was in fact a media-generated discourse is open to question, however, it did give rise to a high-profile trend in 1990s American cinema. This session will consider how Generation X was depicted on the screen and how it was courted as an audience. We will examine the tensions that lay in both the representation of the group and the fraught cultural politics of courting a discerning ostensibly anti-consumerist, anti-establishment demographic through that most "mainstream" of late capitalist entertainment forms: the Hollywood motion picture. Helping us to do so will be two films that fall at the out limits of Hollywood’s generation X pictures, the youth angst drama Reality Bites (1995) and one of the most radical visions to ever come out of the Dream factory: Fight Club (1999).


Jeffrey Sconce, "Irony, Nihilism, and the American ‘Smart’ Film", Screen, vol. 43, no. 4 (2002), pp. 349-369.

Jonathon I. Oake, "Reality Bites and Generation X as Spectator", The Velvet Light Trap, No. 53, (Spring 2004), pp. 83-97.

At-Home Screening: Before Sunrise (1995)


Session Six                              Neo-/Post- Feminist Cinema                    7 May 2013


17:00 - 18:00: Seminar - Neo/Post-Feminist Cinema

18:00 - 18:10: Break

18:10 - 20:00: Screening in preparation for Session Seven: Taken (2008)

 Among the most prominent of twenty-first-century trends is a spate of female audience pictures centered on the professional activities, hyper-consumptive practices, and interpersonal relationships of middle-class women. The gender politics and lifestyles depicted in these films have been the subject of heated debate. On the one hand, they have been condemned as "postfeminist" tracts that misleadingly suggest that gender equality has been achieved and that feminists are no longer needed. On the other, it is argued that they are empowering films that support a parallel social development dubbed "neo-feminism" - a lifestyle embracing some principles of second-wave feminism but also aspects of more traditional femininities. We weigh up these positions with reference to two quintessential examples: Sex and the City: The Movie (2007) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006).


Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, "Introduction: Feminist Politics and Postfeminist Culture", in Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), pp. 1-27.

Hilary Radner, Neo-Feminist Cinema: Girly Films, Chick Flicks, and Consumer Culture (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp. 6-25.

 Home Screening: Sex and the City: The Movie (2007)


Session Seven                          Post-9/11 Cinema                                  21 May 2013 


17:00 - 18:00: Seminar - Post-9/11 Cinema

Critics and commentators have exerted considerable energy thinking about the ways in which American cultural products might engage with the events, aftermath, and repercussions of September 11 2001. In some respects then, post-9/11 cinema is more a series of reading strategies than a coherent industrial practice. The films in question are grouped together because they are seen to dramatize or thematize the more divisive aspects of the Bush-Cheney administration’s domestic and international policies, including a strict division between good and evil; valorization of hyper-masculinity; justification of pre-emptive violence, US overseas interventionism, surveillance, and torture. In some cases, the films are seen to be therapeutic, in others reactionary. We will consider these positions and the extent to which post-9/11 cinema engages with a popular vision of the Bush-Cheney era. Helping us do so will be two talismanic action films of 2008: Taken and The Dark Knight.



Douglas Kellner, Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush-Cheney Era (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 163-199.

Home Screening: The Dark Knight (2008)



 Some excellent work on American cinema is published in the following English-language peer-reviewed journals, which are, to the best of my knowledge, in the most part accessible through on-line resources such as Ebsco, J-Store, and Project Muse:

 Cinema Journal

Film Quarterly

Journal of Film and Video

Journal of Popular Film and Television

New Review of Film and Television Studies

Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies


The Velevet Light Trap




To access historical reception of recent American cinema, see the following on-line archives:




See also LexisNexis and newspapers.google for additional popular press articles.


Disclaimer about Securing Films


With the exception of the in-class screenings, it is the responsibility of each student to ensure that s/he views each of the films assigned for mandatory at-home viewing. It is also strongly encouraged that each student "views around" each of the set topics by watching topic-related films including, but not limited to, those highlighted above. Both the instructor and the department strongly discourage students from sourcing films from illegal downloading and streaming websites. Instead, both the instructor and the department encourage the purchase or rental of films from legal video-on-demand websites and/or from legitimate retailers.

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