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CMS 270 A: Perspectives On Film: Introduction

Classical Hollywood Cinema

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
* *
James Tweedie

Syllabus Description:

Course Description:

This course will provide an introduction to classical Hollywood cinema through the work of several key filmmakers, beginning with the golden age of the studio system in the 1930s and 1940s and extending up to the New Hollywood of the 1960s. We will consider the role of directors in a mature studio system marked by an industrialized and collaborative approach to filmmaking. At once ruthlessly efficient and innovative, both liberating and stifling, the studios were responsible for some of the most ambitious and influential works of American culture in the twentieth century. Over the next ten weeks, we’ll examine both the triumphs and the failures of that system. Directors will include Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, and others. In addition to the lives and work of those directors, the reading and lectures will address topics such as the economic structure of the American film industry, the history and industrial strategy of Hollywood studios, the major genres, the Production Code and censorship, the introduction of new technology into the production process, the role of stars in the film industry and film criticism, styles of acting, the art of lighting and cinematography, art direction and production design, women filmmakers in the studio era, the position of African-Americans inside and outside the Hollywood system, and the decline of the studio era.

After successfully completing the course, students should be able to

Ÿ identify crucial films, figures, and events in the history of American cinema;

Ÿ situate classical Hollywood directors and films within their historical context;

Ÿ understand the collaborative nature of the Hollywood studio system and the role of directors and other key players within it;

Ÿ understand the economic structure of the American film industry in the studio era;

Ÿ identify and analyze major Hollywood genres;

Ÿ recognize the filmmakers operating on the margins of or well outside the Hollywood mainstream;

Ÿ understand and apply various methodological approaches to the writing of film history and biography;

Ÿ communicate a critical analysis of the films and approaches to film studies in discussion and in writing.

Course Requirements

Lectures: The lectures will provide much of the historical and conceptual background necessary for this course. They will also introduce the type of film and sequence analysis that you will be asked to perform on the exams and in your paper. The lectures will be asynchronous (recorded), and they will be posted to our Canvas page by noon each Mon. and Wed., our scheduled class days. You will find them under the tab for Panopto recordings in files corresponding to the date of each class. The recordings will usually be broken into two or more parts, so be sure to watch all segments. There will also be an optional synchronous meeting at 2:00 on each scheduled class day (Mon. and Wed., excluding holidays). This will give you an opportunity to talk about the films, the reading, or any other aspect of the course. If you watch the recorded lectures at the beginning of our scheduled class time, you should be able to transition directly to the synchronous meeting.

Reading: The reading will consist of essays and book excerpts available on our Canvas site as pdfs or links to material on the Internet. This reading is designed to provide background or supplementary material that we won't cover in as much depth in class. It should usually be finished before the first class meeting each week, with one exception: essays that discuss individual films, which should be watched after the film. The exams will focus in part on material contained in the reading, so it’s important to remain current on these assignments. 

Screenings: The films are the centerpiece of this class. They included some truly exceptional, stunning pictures, and if you view then carefully, they can have a profound impact that stays with you for years, possibly for the rest of your life. To the extent that it's possible, please watch them with your undivided attention. The films will also provide a point of departure for the lectures and reading. You will be able to watch them as streaming video through links on the Syllabus and Discussions section of our Canvas page. Some of the films are available through subscriptions paid for by UW Libraries, others through CMS course fees, so you may be asked to enter your UW NetID for access to those streaming files. The questions that follow each film on the discussion board should serve as a guide for your reflections on that film and a starting point for class discussions, your exam review, and your posts on that same Canvas page. I will demonstrate how this works in class. One of the films is in the public domain and widely available for free streaming on the Internet, and I will also provide that link through Canvas. For additional basic information about the films, see

Assignments: There will be one take-home midterm (40% of the final grade; due 02/26 by 11:59 p.m. on Canvas). The exam will consist primarily of short essay questions and analysis of films screened in class. I will go over the format and content of the exam in more detail as the midterm approaches. In addition to this exam, there will be one major writing assignment: a historical and/or analytical essay (5-6 pages; 40% of the final grade), which will ask you to compare classical and contemporary Hollywood films. A more detailed explanation of the essay assignment will be distributed midway through the quarter. Because deadlines are a necessary part of academic and everyday life, late papers may be penalized by one quarter of one grade point for each day late. You will also be asked to write five posts of approximately 150 words on the Canvas discussion board (20% of the final grade). While the discussions won’t close, you are encouraged to contribute to the discussion board at least one time every other week and to write about the most recent films on the syllabus or the ones featured in pinned discussions. There will NOT be an exam during Finals WeekStudents are required to complete all evaluated assignments. Non-fulfillment of any individual assignment listed above may result in a non-passing grade for the course as a whole.

Grading Summary

Midterm = 40%

Paper = 40%

Discussion Board = 20%

Note on Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a serious offense. It undermines the fundamental mission of the university and sanctions are therefore severe. For information about plagiarism and academic misconduct, please see the UW Student Conduct Code:

Access and Accommodations

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS) (Links to an external site.), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or (Links to an external site.) DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (Links to an external site.) Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (Links to an external site.).

Use of Plagiarism Detection Software

The University has a license agreement with SimCheck, an educational tool that helps prevent or identify plagiarism from Internet resources. Your instructor may use the service in this class by requiring that assignments are submitted electronically to be checked by SimCheck. The SimCheck Report will indicate the amount of original text in your work and whether all material that you quoted, paraphrased, summarized, or used from another source is appropriately referenced.

Guidance for Students Taking the Course Outside the U.S.

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.


Yandong Li (; Long Hoang Tran (;  

Slaven Svetinovic (; Yumo Yan (



Week 1: The Origins of Hollywood Cinema

Screening: The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903); One Week (Metro; Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline, 1920); Modern Times (United Artists; Charles Chaplin, 1936)

M 01/04: Introduction to the course

W 01/06: American cinema before Hollywood; the rise of Hollywood

Reading: Read or review items 1-5 (basic terms, mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and sound) on this site; Thomas Schatz, “Introduction: The Whole Equation of Pictures” (from The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era); Jon Lewis, “The Silent Era” (from American Film: A History).

Week 2: Directors, Genres, and Studios (1)

Screenings: Scarface (United Artists; Howard Hawks, 1932); Little Caesar (Warner Bros.; Mervyn LeRoy, 1931); Duck Soup (Paramount; Leo McCarey, 1933)

M 01/11: Chaplin’s Tramp; cinema and modernity

W 01/13: Art direction and production design (1); the coming of sound; the gangster genre and the Great Depression; the Marx Bros. and the meaning of comedy

Reading: Robert Warshow, “The Gangster as Tragic Hero” (from The Gangster Film Reader); “Who Controls What We See? Censorship and the Attack on Hollywood ‘Immorality’” (from Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross).

Week 3: Directors, Genres, and Studios (2)

Screenings: It Happened One Night (Columbia; Frank Capra, 1934); Stagecoach (United Artists; John Ford, 1939)


W 01/20: Capra, the Depression, and American optimism; lighting and cinematography; Ford, the western and the frontier myth

Reading: Elizabeth Kendall, It Happened One Night (from The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s); Chris Cagle, “Classical Hollywood, 1928-1946” (from Cinematography, ed. Patrick Keating); Richard B. Jewell, “Narrative and Style” (from The Golden Age of Cinema: Hollywood, 1929-1945).

Week 4: American Dreams

Screenings: Citizen Kane (RKO Radio Pictures; Orson Welles, 1941); Rebecca (United Artists; Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

M 01/25: 1939; Welles and the “great American film”; authorship in Hollywood  

W 01/27: Hitchcock and Selznick; a “tradition of quality”; Hollywood independents; the “race film”

Reading: Peter Bogdanovich, “Interview with Orson Welles” (from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook); Leonard J. Leff, “Signing Hitchcock” and Rebecca(from Hitchcock and Selznick); Paula J. Massood, “African-Americans and Silent Films” (from American Film History: Selected Readings, Origins to 1960, ed. Cynthia Lucia).

Week 5: Hollywood and WWII

Screenings: Casablanca (Warner Bros.; Michael Curtiz, 1942); To Have and Have Not (Warner Bros.; Hawks, 1944)

M 02/01: Mobilizing the movie industry; refugees and immigrants in Hollywood; “play it again”: the Hollywood cliché

W 02/03: The Hawks code; Hemingway, Faulkner, and Hollywood’s writers

Reading: Noah Isenberg, “Such Much?” (from We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie); Mark Eaton, “Classical Hollywood, 1928-1946” (from Screenwriting, ed. Andrew Horton, et al).

Week 6: Premonitions and Allegories

Screenings: Double Indemnity (Paramount; Billy Wilder, 1944); High Noon (United Artists; Fred Zinnemann, 1952)

M 02/08: Film Noir; immigrants and exiles in Hollywood

W 02/10: Revising the western

Reading: James Naremore, “The History of an Idea” (from More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts); Paul Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir” (from Film Comment); Glenn Frankel, “High Noon’s Secret Backstory” (from Vanity Fair; available here

Week 7: Outside Hollywood

Screenings: The Hitch-Hiker (RKO Radio Pictures; Ida Lupino, 1953); Written on the Wind (Universal; Douglas Sirk, 1956)


W 02/17: The blacklist and Cold War Hollywood; women behind the camera; “Women’s pictures”; Sirk, melodrama, and auteur theory

Reading: None; start working on your paper

Week 8: Hollywood in Its Own Image

Screenings: Sunset Boulevard (Paramount; Wilder, 1950); Singin’ in the Rain (MGM-Loew’s; Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952)

M 02/22: Movies about the movies; glamour and decay in Hollywood

W 02/24: The MGM musical and American song and dance; the producer-unit system; art direction and production design (2)

Reading: Ed Sikov, Sunset Boulevard(from On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder)

TAKE-HOME MIDTERM DUE 02/26 by 11:59 p.m. on Canvas

Week 9: Young Rebels

Screening: Rebel Without a Cause (Warner Bros.; Nicholas Ray, 1955)

M 03/01: Cinema and suburbia; young audiences and stars

W 03/03: Film technology in the 1950s; styles of acting

Reading: Anne Helen Petersen, “Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Hit: The death of James Dean and the birth of the Hollywood tragedy” (available here:

Week 10: Old Rebels and New Hollywood

Screenings: The Searchers (Warner Bros.; Ford, 1956); Vertigo (Paramount; Hitchcock, 1958)

M 03/08: Aging genres, directors, and stars; the end of the classical studio era

W 03/10: The challenge of television; what Comes After Classical Hollywood Cinema?

Reading: Kathryn Kalinak, “What Makes a Man to Wander: The Searchers (from How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford).

PAPER DUE DATE: FRIDAY, 03/12 by 11:59 p.m. on CANVAS




Catalog Description: 
Introduction to film form, style, and techniques. Examples from silent film and from contemporary film.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Cinema & Media Studies Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
November 4, 2020 - 10:49am