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Course Catalog

Historical Era and Film Movement Courses

  • Conscientious Objectors: Post-War Political Films


    A Face in the Crowd (1957)

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

    Racism, anti-Semitism, corruption, and political oppression are not just problems that plagued our nation in the 1950s--they are issues that Hollywood addressed in some of its best work of the era. These political films, coming in the relatively comfortable period following World War II, had the luxury of once again taking on domestic social problems after the industry spent years focusing on the more immediate threats abroad.

    But filmmakers with controversial political viewpoints needed to tread lightly in this time of HUAC, Joseph McCarthy, and the emerging Soviet threat. As a result, much of the era's cinematic activism was aimed at slightly off-center--yet clearly analogous--targets.

    This course examines such films as Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd and considers the factors surrounding the translation of individual social consciousness into mainstream entertainment. Understanding these ideas opens up new cultural and historical avenues to the appreciation of cinema from any era.

  • Culture Wars on the Riviera: The Cannes Film Festival at 70


    Paris, Texas (1984)

    Taught by Paul Wright, Ph.D., Department of English, Cabrini University

    "Cannes for a director is really a hellish place. Imagine all those critics and savvy audience members ready to jump at your movie and tear it apart—your movie which quite often would be shown for the first time in the world. Those . . . audience members—the likes from The New York Times and Variety—get to see my movie for the very first time, with a sashimi knife at hand to brandish. But then . . . I must admit. It's hard to resist Cannes."
    --Bong Joon-ho, director of Snowpiercer

    As we near its seventieth anniversary edition this May, the Cannes Film Festival has long been the premiere venue to introduce and to reward cutting-edge films from around the globe. A dizzying battle for cultural and commercial capital staged over the course of ten days with distinctively French flair, Cannes has also been the site of indecorous booing and bitter disputes over the awards; geo-political tensions and resentments played out in the artistic arena; and film industry dramas and embarrassing debacles. Our course celebrates this year's Cannes milestone with an exploration of the aesthetic dimensions and cultural politics (internal and international) of the Cannes awards process, especially in comparison to other systems such as the Oscars. Focusing on four winners of the prestigious and sometimes incendiary Palme d'Or prize, we will examine these films on their own terms as art, yet simultaneously reflect on why the Cannes jury picked as it did, and how that selection was received internationally by critics and audiences.

    We begin with Francis Ford Coppola's "other" 1974 classic, The Conversation (USA), as an example of American inroads made at the French festival. We then turn to German director Wim Wenders's poetic take on American family and alienation, Paris, Texas (West Germany, 1984). In moving to Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (Austria, 2009), we find a disturbing indictment of authoritarian character in the lead-up to last century's two world wars; the film's accolades dredged up long-standing tensions between German and Austrian notions of identity, as well as those nations' competing recollections of their fascist pasts. Lastly, we conclude with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's unique Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand, 2010), a powerful example of Asian contributions to world cinema that raises important questions about the problematic ways the Cannes festival addresses the world beyond "the West."

  • French Cinema: Making Waves


    À bout de souffle (Breathless) (1960)

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

    One of the most fascinating of all cinematic movements, the French New Wave, refers to the iconoclastic spirit of a group of filmmakers who, between 1958 and 1964, produced a distinctive body of work that departed from the conventions of traditional French cinema in its treatment of narrative, visual style, and editing.

    These innovators had influences ranging from Italian neo-realism, to French masters Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, to such Hollywood directors as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock. In their work, nouvelle vague filmmakers like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer paid homage to, as well as subverted, familiar genres to create a new mode of cinematic expression.

    Toward this end, they utilized new lightweight cameras which enabled them to shoot in the streets rather than in studios, used long takes as well as rapid changes of scene, scripted loosely-constructed scenarios, and encouraged actors to improvise their lines. These things were done in an effort to explore not only the social and political upheavals of their era, but to remind audiences that they were indeed watching a film.

  • Hollywood in the Mirror


    On the set of Show People (1928)

    Taught by Ian Abrams, College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel University

    “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots.
    Don't let this get around.”

    – Herman J. Mankiewicz urging fellow writer Ben Hecht to come to Hollywood, 1926

    From its earliest days, the movie industry has always been keenly interested in… itself. And like the remark above, movies about Hollywood tend to be clever and amusing, but also at least a little damning.

    This course will take a look at the history, culture, and mythology of the movie business by examining films made about Hollywood, by Hollywood, during the industry's golden age. There are two main, recurring themes: (a) The industry is deranged and in a continuous state of upheaval and filled with lunatics of widely varying degrees of competence and sociopathy; and, (b), despite (a), people are desperate to break in. Put another way, you rarely see a cinematic depiction of Hollywood that's about nice people doing nice things.

    Yet, undeterred by all this, Hollywood manages, in many films, to both mock and glorify itself—striking a delicate balance of contrasting sensibilities. Join us to learn more, in part through discussions of Show People (1928), A Star is Born (1937), and Sunset Blvd. (1950).

  • Midnight Cowboys and Taxi Drivers: New Hollywood


    Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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

    By the end of the 1960s, the Golden Age of Hollywood was over and the Movie Mogul, who had ruled over his celluloid fiefdom as a benevolent (at times) dictator, was all but extinct. The industry was adrift, battered by an influx of foreign films, conglomeration, and the counterculture revolution—all of which forced Hollywood to radically alter the way it did business. After a period of turmoil, what emerged was a cinematic renaissance known as New Hollywood. Its greatest artists and craftsmen were the first generation of filmmakers to be raised on television and to have gone to film school; its biggest patrons the massive corporate entities that gobbled up the remnants of once great studios.

    From this imperfect union emerged some of the most powerful—and personal—films the industry ever produced. Freed creatively by the new ratings system and hailed as auteurs by a burgeoning film intelligentsia, directors of this era ignored tradition to make cinematic history.

  • Moguls, Mensches, and Nudniks: Jews and American Cinema


    The Way We Were (1973)

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

    Jewish Americans have had an enduring, substantive, and complex influence on the nation's cinema, both behind the scenes and on screen. It began with a small group of Eastern European immigrants (with names like Zukor and Mayer) and first-generation Americans (with names like Warner and Cohn) who took the movies from being dismissed as a fad and a petty amusement to being hailed as a major art form and a mighty industry.

    The course starts by discussing some of the ways in which the Jewish identity of the industry's early, prominent moguls was a key ingredient in Hollywood's formation and success in the first half of the 20th century. It continues by considering the work of filmmakers and actors from Jewish backgrounds, and by looking at such films as The Jazz Singer (1927) and The Way We Were (1973) to get a taste—a cinematic nosh, if you will—of their lasting contributions to the art form.

  • Quiet Beauty: Silent Cinema


    The Gold Rush (1925)

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

    Long before Garbo talked, Jolson sang, or Norma Desmond readied for her close-up, there were movies. Some were scandalous, some were glorious, and many have been lost to time. But what remains sheds considerable light on the origins of this form that emerged from the confluence of science, art, commerce, and the Industrial Revolution.

    This course introduces students to silent film, a blanket term covering the period in cinema from the Lumieres' Paris premiere in 1895 to the establishment of synchronized sound feature films as the Hollywood standard in 1929. We examine some of the medium's key precursors, pioneers, and practitioners in technology and technique, and discuss some of the classic films of the age, including novelties, short films, documentaries, and features.

    Don't miss your chance to experience the era that saw the movies go from being dismissed as a fad and a petty amusement to being hailed as a major art form and a mighty industry.

  • Quiet Beauty: Silent Cinema at PMA


    "A Trip to the Moon" (1903)

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

    Long before Garbo talked, Jolson sang, or Norma Desmond readied for her close-up, there were movies. Some were scandalous, some were glorious, and many have been lost to time. But what remains sheds considerable light on the origins of this form that emerged from the confluence of science, art, commerce, and the Industrial Revolution.

    This course introduces students to silent film, a blanket term covering the period in cinema from the Lumieres' Paris premiere in 1895 to the establishment of synchronized sound feature films as the Hollywood standard in 1929. We examine some of the medium's key precursors, pioneers, and practitioners in technology and technique, and discuss some of the classic films of the age, including novelties, short films, documentaries, and features.

    Don't miss your chance to experience the era that saw the movies go from being dismissed as a fad and a petty amusement to being hailed as a major art form and a mighty industry.

    Please note: This class meets at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2525 Pennsylvania Avenue in Philadelphia). To register for this class at PMA, please call (215) 235-7469. (BMFI Members: Please call 610-527-4008 x108 for instructions on receiving your tuition discount for this course.)



  • Signs of Life: New German Cinema


    The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

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

    In the post-war years, the German film industry, controlled by American distributors, had fallen into ruin both commercially and creatively. Beginning with the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, however, a group of young, ambitious filmmakers began to create a body of work that would come to be known as New German Cinema.

    As a movement, the New German Cinema was not defined by unified thematic or stylistic concerns, but rather it crystallized around a series of robust personalities such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Wim Wenders. Since these auteurs could easily be marketed to international film festival audiences, the state eagerly funded these rising stars in hopes of promoting a new, rehabilitated image of German culture to the rest of the world.

    Before the New German Cinema gradually dispersed by the early 1980s, it left an indelible mark on German and international cinema. Along with the filmmakers mentioned above, Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, and Helma Sanders-Brahm will be discussed.

  • Thou Shalt Not: Pre-Code Hollywood


    Baby Face (1933)

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

    To the casual observer, the period when the late 1960s bled into the 1970s was the most shocking era for Hollywood film, with graphic violence from the likes of Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, 1969), lurid sexuality in films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), and the release of A Clockwork Orange (1971), which provided ample doses of both. But historians of American cinema recount a time when, in comparison to cultural mores, Hollywood was more unbridled, salacious, and subversive than at any other: the pre-Code era.

    The “Code” refers to the studios’ Production Code Administration (PCA), a self-censorship body that was essentially foisted upon the industry by pressure from religious, sociological, and governmental entities. It was in place, in differing forms and to a range of degrees, from 1930 until November 1, 1968, when it was replaced by the first version of the present ratings system. The pre-Code era encompasses the years 1930-1934, when the Production Code was instituted in letter, though not yet in spirit, resulting in a fig leaf of decency that gave Hollywood license to be even more licentious than before.

    Join us to learn about the era, its films, and its stars. These include some you may know (King Kong, 1933; Scarface, 1932—both shown on the big screen), some you may not (Tod Browning’s Freaks, 1932; She Done Him Wrong with Mae West, 1933), and some you thought you knew—Barbara Stanwyck’s role in Baby Face (1933) makes Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Dietrichson look like Mary Poppins—but all are memorable.

  • Thou Shalt Not: Pre-Code Hollywood at PMA


    Baby Face (1933)

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

    To the casual observer, the period when the late 1960s bled into the 1970s was the most shocking era for Hollywood film, with graphic violence from the likes of Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, 1969), lurid sexuality in films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), and the release of A Clockwork Orange (1971), which provided ample doses of both. But historians of American cinema recount a time when, in comparison to cultural mores, Hollywood was more unbridled, salacious, and subversive than at any other: the pre-Code era.

    The "Code" refers to the studios' Production Code Administration (PCA), a self-censorship body that was essentially foisted upon the industry by pressure from religious, sociological, and governmental entities. It was in place, in differing forms and to a range of degrees, from 1930 until November 1, 1968, when it was replaced by the first version of the present ratings system. The pre-Code era encompasses the years 1930-1934, when the Production Code was instituted in letter, though not yet in spirit, resulting in a fig leaf of decency that gave Hollywood license to be even more licentious than before.

    Join us to learn about the era, its films, and its stars. These include some you may know (King Kong, 1933; Scarface, 1932), some you may not (Tod Browning's Freaks, 1932; She Done Him Wrong with Mae West, 1933), and some you thought you knew—Barbara Stanwyck's role in Baby Face (1933) makes Double Indemnity's Phyllis Dietrichson look like Mary Poppins—but all are memorable.

    BMFI Members: Please call 610-527-4008 x108 for instructions on receiving your tuition discount for the session at the PMA. To register for this class at the PMA, please call (215) 235-7469.

  • World War II Comedy


    Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

    Taught by Ian Abrams, Associate Professor, Media Arts & Design, Drexel University

    The American entertainment industry has always reflected what Americans were thinking and, simultaneously, helped shape it. Between the late-1930s and the mid-1940s, what was on American minds was global war, the fight against fascism, our boys over there, and life here on the home front.

    The movies rose to the occasion. We saw our share of stirring war dramas, but it was through comedy that Hollywood really shined. A good comedy reflects the real world in a fun house mirror—the best and funniest films of the period not only make us laugh today, but let us see what life was like and what people needed to believe during the war years.

    This class will look at four great comedies: To Be or Not to Be, Buck Privates, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Apartment for Peggy, as well as newsreels, cartoons (both print and animated), and even some popular music to see what they can teach us about the era.