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Course Catalog

Genre Courses

  • “It’s Alive!”: Monsters in Horror Cinema


    Frankenstein (1931)

    Taught by Alice Bullitt, M.A., Board Member, BMFI

    Since the early days of cinema, horror has been an intellectually arresting and commercially successful genre. With their fantastic creatures, suspenseful narratives, and captivating imagery, horror films have kept moviegoers coming back for more. Like the cinematic monsters they depict, such movies have proven to be inexhaustibly mutable, adapting with each passing age to reflect the fears and concerns of a particular historical moment. For example, the ever-present vampire film has gone from portraying the likes of Count Orlok, the repulsive vampire of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), seen as a representation of xenophobia, to the more urbane and seductive vampires of the 1980s, including Catherine Deneuve’s Miriam in The Hunger (1983) and Tom Cruise’s Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994)—figures representing a critique of homophobia and sexual repression.

    In this survey course, we will explore of some of the seminal monsters that have haunted the silver screen, and our collective imaginations, throughout film history, beginning in the heyday of the Universal Pictures monster-movie era with James Whale’s 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Subsequently, we will look at classic and contemporary films about vampires, zombies, and other bêtes noires. Additional films include (but are not limited to) E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire (2000) and Danny Boyle’s spectacularly imaginative addition to the zombie film canon, 28 Days Later (2002). Join us, if you dare.

    The course includes an optional and complimentary visit to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in downtown Philadelphia for a private tour and lecture on their exhibit, Frankenstein and Dracula: Gothic Monsters, Modern Science. Date and time to be determined.

    Bryn Mawr Film Institute has upgraded its website, and you will now need to log into an account on BrynMawrFilm.org to register for classes, buy tickets, and renew your membership online. Don’t worry! The process is quick and easy, and you’ll only need to do it once. Click here to complete your online account. If you’re having difficulty creating an account or logging in call our dedicated helpline at (610) 295-1356 between 10:00 am and 9:00 pm.

  • Action Films as Art


    Die Hard (1988)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D. & Valerie Temple, M.F.A., BMFI

    Depending on one’s age, the term “action film” conjures up images of a lethal Sean Connery, a thuggish Lee Marvin, a stoic Clint Eastwood, or a brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger. What these stars—or rather their action movies—have in common is that in their respective times, they were dismissed by critics, ignored by cineastes, overlooked by much of Hollywood, and in general not taken seriously—except at the box office. A more recent entry, a rejuvenated Sylvester Stallone in the aptly named The Expendables, is a prime example.

    Does this mean that contemporary action pictures are devoid of cultural significance or aesthetic beauty, hopelessly incapable of making contributions to cinematic art? We don’t think so, and as proof we offer the genre-redefining Die Hard (1988, shown on 35mm), one of John Woo’s stylish and moving Hong Kong tales, the atmospheric and contemplative work of Michael Mann (Heat, 1995; Collateral, 2004), and the intelligent and elegant Drive (2011), among others. In them, you will see bold stories about complex characters exploring issues of identity, morality, honor, and loyalty told through expressive cinematography, thoughtful performances, and, yes, the occasional gunfight, car chase, and explosion.

  • Beyond Objectivity: The Contemporary Documentary


    The Fog of War (2003)

    Taught by Chris Long, M.A., Film Critic and Author

    The quizzical notion that the primary purpose of the documentary is to provide an objective account of real events rose to dominance in America in the 1960s, along with the influence of direct cinema as practiced by such filmmakers as the Maysles Brothers (Gimme Shelter). This inclination lingers today, like an unwanted guest in the corner of a party muttering, “Michael Moore doesn’t make real documentaries because he’s biased!”

    But in the last forty years, new generations of documentarians have questioned the primacy of objectivity and introduced a variety of self-conscious, reflexive techniques that have permanently transformed the ever-shifting practice of documentary filmmaking. This course will examine the ways in which this diverse body of work has shattered old myths and often blurred the line between fiction and non-fiction and, in so doing, revealed fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) new means of expressing “the truth” through documentary. Filmmakers such as Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, and Nick Broomfield, among others, will be discussed as we trace a convoluted path through this brave new world where no rule goes unchallenged.

  • Cracking Wise and Falling in Love (Again): The Screwball Comedy


    Bringing Up Baby (1938)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    What do Katharine Hepburn's wit, Cary Grant's charm, and Claudette Colbert's glamour all have in common? They are in rare form in the screwball comedy. This course introduces students to the genre, also known as the “comedy of remarriage” because often, when boy meets girl and they fall in love, it is a road the two have gone down before.

    But these films, most popular in the 1930s, are not just snappy patter and romantic hijinks. Beneath the surface they address important class, gender, and social issues, and do so with subtle aplomb under the watchful eye of the industry's then-new regulatory agency, the Production Code Administration.

    Join us to laugh (and think) along with the screwball classics that we will discuss, which include It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934), The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937), and Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938).

    In these films, you, like Depression-era audiences, will see the noble working class getting the better of the idle rich, and sassy heiresses winning over wealthy playboys and blue-collar guys alike.

  • Cracking Wise and Falling in Love (Again): The Screwball Comedy


    It Happened One Night (1934)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    What do Katharine Hepburn's wit, Cary Grant's charm, and Claudette Colbert's glamour all have in common? They are in rare form in the screwball comedy. This course introduces students to the genre, also known as the 'comedy of remarriage' because often, when boy meets girl and they fall in love, it is a road the two have gone down before.

    But these films, most popular in the 1930s, are not just snappy patter and romantic hijinks. Beneath the surface, they address important class, gender, and social issues, and do so with subtle aplomb under the watchful eye of the industry's then-new regulatory agency, the Production Code Administration.

    Join us to laugh (and think) along with screwball classics including It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934), The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937), and The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942). In these films, you, like Depression-era audiences, will see the noble working class getting the better of the idle rich, and sassy heiresses winning over wealthy playboys and blue-collar guys alike.

  • The Dark Side of Hollywood: Film Noir at PMA


    Double Indemnity (1944)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    This course introduces students to film noir, a phrase credited to critic Nino Frank who used it to describe a cycle of pictures that emerged from the gangster and crime genres in the 1940s. A tricky category, noirs can be detective films, thrillers'even post-modern anti-narratives'and are often more concerned with 'How' or 'Why' rather than 'Who' 'done it.'

    More style than genre, noir is fascinated with doom, male anxiety, and transgression, and it uses the spellbinding femme fatale to embody these emerging threats. Although these films are typified by stark lighting, bleak urban settings, and corrupt, broken characters, their influence has impacted films as diverse as the (partially) animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the Coen brothers' pitch-black comedy Barton Fink (1991), and the mind-bending Memento (2000).

    Join us on a descent through the dark side of Hollywood via an exploration of such classic films noir as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), and The Big Heat (1953). As novelist Dennis Lehane so eloquently puts it: 'In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb.'

  • The Documentary Impulse


    Olympia (1938)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Even before its invention, the cinema was saddled with a "documentary impulse"—the desire, tendency, and ability to capture, depict, and communicate facets of life, both familiar and foreign.

    As the medium matured and coalesced into an industry, this inclination tended to be subverted in favor of fictional, narrative films. The cinematic documentary was marginalized and pushed before the feature (newsreels), out of the theater altogether (educational, instructional, and propaganda films), or finally off the movie screen entirely, landing on television.

    In recent years, however, there has been something of a resurgence of the documentary form in mainstream cinema, with major Hollywood players now eager to be involved in producing the traditionally affordable and potentially lucrative genre.

    This course examines the history of documentary film, considers different approaches to non-narrative cinema, and discusses some recent entries in the genre and the questions they raise about the form.

  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Blockbuster


    Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Often dismissed as expensive, explosive, multiplex fodder for the 12-to-25-year-old set, blockbusters are in fact an important sector of the film industry that warrants serious consideration. Not mere summertime entertainment, such films have exposed people around the world to their first glimpse of American popular culture, and in the process made California's economy one of the world's ten largest.

    Hollywood sees the blockbuster as a necessary evil: Studio heads and the conglomerates that employ them consider such pictures to be necessary for the survival of their industry, while many filmmakers and most critics view them as evil. Audiences, in their underestimated wisdom, acknowledge elements of both perspectives, and respond accordingly by flocking to some films and avoiding others. While it is impossible to definitively explain why they do so, some light will be shed on the issue as this course explores the history, practitioners, and commercial impact of blockbusters and discusses the form and content of some emblematic films.

  • Look to the Skies: Superhero Cinema


    The Dark Knight (2008)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Springing forth from the colorful pages of the pulpy, dime store periodicals of our youth, films about mysterious, costumed crusaders—comic book movies—have been with us for decades in a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and budgets. Yet, despite such variety, these pictures all have in common heroes with extraordinary abilities who are able, or willing, to do the things of which we mere mortals can only dream.

    Whether fighting fascism, postmodernism, bigotry, or terrorism (not to mention muggers, gangsters, and jokers) these heroes appeal to the better angels of our nature while combating the bitter devils of our culture.

    Though, over the years, their flaws, complexities, and existential crises have begun to show through the slightest of cracks in their chiseled exteriors, these heroes have always been mythic figures—the Greek Gods of popular culture—whose brave and bold exploits have taught us as much about ourselves as any documentary.

  • Magnificent Obsession: The Melodrama

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Hollywood melodramas, also known as "women's films" or "weepies", enjoyed considerable popularity during the 1940s and 50s due in no small part to the presence of luminous stars, such as Joan Fontaine, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford, and the skilled direction of iconic filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, and Douglas Sirk.

    Of course, it didn't hurt that in such films these leading ladies were both prone to the mundane frustrations of middle-class domesticity and subjected to fantastic struggles with dangerous men, psychiatric maladies, and deadly female competition. These films were highly stylized as well, as directors augmented the characters' plights with chilling suspense, textured cinematography, and rich Technicolor.

    But these pictures are more than soapy, big-screen entertainment. As the World War II years gave way to the postwar era, changes in American society—and women's roles in it—were roiling the culture. The melodrama of this time is a female counter, of sorts, to film noir, and it can be just as cynical and dark.

  • Marriage, Motherhood, and Madness: The Hollywood Melodrama


    Now, Voyager (1942)

    Taught by Alice Bullitt, M.A., Programmer, BMFI

    Popularly known as "weepies", melodramas in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s were a force in the motion picture industry, directed by some of the most successful directors of the time, and attracting prominent leading ladies like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

    With sweeping scores, hyperbolized emotion, and outlandish plots that included thwarted love, psychoses, and murder, melodramas were considered escapist fantasy for women, devoid of any intellectual depth. Though on closer examination, melodramas craft a unique aesthetic through camera movement, music, and lighting to address conflicts between the individual and society. This course focuses on prime examples of the genre, including Letter from an Unknown Woman and Now, Voyager.

  • Outlaw Cinema


    You Only Live Once (1937)

    Taught by Marc Lapadula, M.F.A., Screenwriting Program, Yale University

    The notion of the outlaw roaming across vast stretches of the American countryside with the authorities in hot pursuit has captivated our collective imagination since before the nation's very founding.

    What is it about these social deviants we find so compelling? Is it their belligerent refusal to willingly submit to the at-times oppressive mores of our society? Is it their casting of caution to the wind, their devil-may-care freedom, short-lived though it may be? Indeed, such reckless abandon seems even more tantalizing precisely because it is so evanescent.

    Whether perpetrated by hardened individuals, infatuated couples, or daring gangs, these doomed, ephemeral blazes of glory have been depicted on screen by some of our most ambitious directors. This course strives to redefine the outlaw by offering a vast composite of desperate, highly combative, and self-destructive characters that all chose to live and die outside the law. Films to be discussed include Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once (1937), Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night (1949), and The Night of the Hunter (1955), starring Robert Mitchum, himself one of Hollywood's great outlaws.

  • Science Fiction: A Film Odyssey


    Serenity (2005)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Science fiction films are almost as old as the cinema itself, dating back, most famously, to 1902 and French magician and filmmaker George Méliés's spectacular and groundbreaking "A Trip to the Moon." The genre was a natural choice for motion pictures, given the revolutionary and technological nature of the fledgling form and the fertile imaginations of so many of its pioneers.

    Beyond their stunning visual elements, science fiction films serve as allegories for the societies that create them. From the German Expressionist dystopia of Metropolis (1927) to Cold War America's Forbidden Planet (1956), such movies offer glimpses into a culture's consciousness and insights into its fears and fantasies.

    Join us as we screen a variety of films from the genre's rich history—including a 35mm presentation of Serenity (2005)—and discuss the mythic conflicts they address.

  • Short Attention Span Cinema


    Toutes des connes (2014)

    Taught by Gary M. Kramer, Author and Film Critic

    Although they are rarely screened outside of film festivals, short films deserve anything but short shrift. These easily digestible mini-movies are often 'calling cards' for burgeoning directors who want to showcase their talents in a modest'and modestly budgeted'form. For example, stunt man Nash Edgerton's short, 'Spider,' left many viewers speechless.

    The beauty of a short film'be it a dramatic slice of life, or a simple joke, eloquently and visually told'is that it can be a brief, intense view into a larger world. A good short film hooks viewers, carries them through the story, and delivers a satisfying payoff. The best shorts prompt viewers to reassess their conceptions of cinema. Short films may not require the investment in character development that features do, but viewers' emotions'from laughter to sadness to discomfort'can be effectively evoked nevertheless.

    This seminar will showcase about a dozen contemporary short films that highlight the strengths of the format. Examining films like 'Toutes des connes,' 'Fresh Guacamole,' 'Lemonade Stand,' and 'Brussels,' we'll look at how shorts use editing, casting, and narrative strategies, and leave students with a greater appreciation for this underestimated format.

  • Short Attention Span Cinema 2


    "Balcony" (2015)

    Taught by Gary M. Kramer, Author and Film Critic

    Although they are rarely screened outside of film festivals, short films deserve anything but short shrift. These easily digestible mini-movies are often "calling cards" for burgeoning directors who want to showcase their talents in a modest—and modestly budgeted—form. Successful and acclaimed filmmakers ranging from Wes Anderson (1994's "Bottle Rocket", 2014's Grand Budapest Hotel) to Benh Zeitlin (2008's "Glory at Sea", 2014's Beasts of the Southern Wild), as well as countless others, launched their careers in just this way.

    Short films may not require the same investment in character development that features do, but viewers' emotions—from laughter to sadness to discomfort—can be effectively evoked nevertheless. Indeed, short films can be more satisfying than feature films, as they offer a dramatic slice of life, or a simple joke, eloquently told; they are brief, intense snippets of a larger world. A good short film works with quiet efficiency to hook viewers, carry them through the story, and deliver a satisfying payoff; the best shorts prompt us to reassess our conceptions of cinema.

    This seminar will showcase a handful of contemporary short films that highlight the strengths of the format. Exploring shorts like "You Deserve Everything" (2016), "Balcony" (2015), and "Family Dancing" (2014), among others, will leave students with a greater appreciation of this underestimated format.

  • Short Attention Span Cinema 3


    "Limbo" (2016)

    Taught by Gary M. Kramer, Author and Film Critic

    Although they are rarely screened outside of film festivals, short films deserve anything but short shrift. These easily digestible mini-movies are often “calling cards” for burgeoning directors who want to showcase their talents in a modest—and modestly budgeted—form. Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) are among those who won Oscars for the shorts they made early in their careers.

    Short films may not require the same investment in character development that features do, but viewers' emotions—from joy to sadness to discomfort—can be effectively evoked nevertheless. Indeed, short films can be more satisfying than feature films; they are brief, intense snippets of a larger world, offering a dramatic slice of life or a simple joke, eloquently told. A good short film works with quiet efficiency to hook viewers, carry them through the story, and deliver a satisfying payoff; the best shorts prompt us to reassess our conceptions of cinema.

    This seminar will showcase a handful of contemporary international short films that highlight the strengths of the format. Exploring shorts like “Bamboleho” (2001), “Election Night” (1998), and “You, Me and Him” (2007), among others, will leave students with a greater appreciation of this underestimated format.

    Bryn Mawr Film Institute has upgraded its website, and you will now need to log into an account on BrynMawrFilm.org to register for classes, buy tickets, and renew your membership online. Don’t worry! The process is quick and easy, and you’ll only need to do it once. Click here to complete your online account. If you’re having difficulty creating an account or logging in, call our dedicated helpline at (610) 295-1356 between 10:00 am and 9:00 pm.

  • Singin' on Screen: The Musical


    Singin' in the Rain (1952)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    Have you ever strolled down 42nd Street, just enjoying the Sound of Music, wishing you were an American in Paris who was Singin' in the Rain? If so, this class is for you. While the musical film has fallen out of favor in recent decades, for a time—especially the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s—it was a jewel in Hollywood's crown.

    We examine the different musical modes—backstage, integrated—and consider how these productions, often thought of as pure escapism, reflect the cultural moments in which they were made. Key practitioners of the genre, both well-known (Gene Kelly) and more obscure (Arthur Freed), are discussed.

    Taking this class doesn't mean you will spontaneously burst into song, but it does guarantee you will have a new appreciation for those who do so on screen.

  • Stardust Memories: The American Musical


    Cabaret (1972)

    Taught by Maurizio Giammarco, Ph.D., Intellectual Heritage Program,
    Temple University

    In the early 1930s, one out of every three American films was a musical, and its popularity has endured throughout the decades into the 21st century, in which the genre is vibrant once more not only in film—both live action and animated—but also on television and commercials. Such longevity speaks to the expressive power of the musical as a distinct, significant form of American performance.

    Toward that end, we will explore the origins, development, and internationalization of the musical, focusing on the interrelationship between Broadway and Hollywood, the influence of the rise and fall of the Production Code, the role of sound and Technicolor, the shaping hand of different studios, and the tensions between narrative and spectacle, sincerity and camp.

    Questions to be discussed throughout the class include the following: Why has the musical's popularity risen and ebbed in the 20th century? Why are audiences more inclined toward musicals at some historical moments rather than others? How and why is the musical a format often used for investigating sensitive issues involving race, class, and gender?

    Some of the brilliant performers we will watch and savor include Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland, while also examining the notable contributions of directors such as Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen, and Bob Fosse. So bring a song in your heart and your favorite dancing shoes as we experience the magic of the American Musical through films as rich and diverse as these: The Jazz Singer, 42nd Street, Top Hat, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, South Pacific, Gigi, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Cabaret (shown on the big screen), Hair, Saturday Night Fever, All That Jazz, New York, New York, Footloose, Chicago, and Beauty and the Beast.

  • Vistas and Vengeance: The Western


    The Searchers (1956)

    Taught by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education, BMFI

    The western, like jazz, is an original American art form the influence of which has spread far and wide to nations (and filmmakers) such as Japan (Akira Kurosawa), Italy (Sergio Leone), Australia (George Miller), and Taiwan (Ang Lee). The genre’s cinematic tradition dates back to the beginning of the last century, in the form of Edwin S. Porter’s innovative 1903 short, “The Great Train Robbery.”

    In this course, we examine the definitive characteristics of the genre—its iconography, key practitioners, and recurrent themes—to better understand how these tales of people weathering the beautiful, but often brutal, frontier are myths that attempt to address the concerns and allay the fears of a society that appears to have abandoned the values such films represent.

    Its stories are the conflicts of America: civilization vs. wilderness, order vs. chaos, white vs. other, and justice vs. vengeance, among others. The changing attitudes toward these issues throughout the nation's history are evident in the western's evolution since its screen inception more than a century ago. Indeed, as gender roles changed, psychology entered popular culture, and generation gaps emerged, the genre adapted, in fits and starts—with varying results.

    We will discuss classic films like John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and more recent big-screen westerns, such as Clint Eastwood’s valedictory to the genre, Unforgiven (1992), that will leave you wondering, as you ride off into the sunset, why Hollywood only very rarely, if ever, makes them like they used to.