Twentieth-Century Social History in American Movies

Spring 2010

Tuesdays, 2:50-4:40 and Wednesdays, 3:10-6 p.m. (lab), CUE 409

Note: You must sign up for the Lab (249680) as well as the lecture (249503).

Go to Course Blog

Dr. Donna Campbell
Avery 357 • 335-4831
Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 12-1 p.m. and by appointment. I am on campus all day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, so please don't hesitate to ask to see me during those times.
IM, Facebook, and Twitter: drcampbell6676

About the Course

Hollywood's America: Twentieth-Century Social History in American Movies surveys some of the significant social issues and important historical moments of the last century as they were portrayed in films of the era by white, African American, and Native American directors. We'll explore the ways in which Hollywood portrayed poverty, racism, immigration, sex, addiction, and violence, and we will also discuss the Great Depression, the rise of gangster culture in the 1920s, the Hollywood Production Code, the star system, film noir, and other features important to an understanding of film during this period. A consistent theme in the pictures we'll see is the idea of the American dream: the ways in which it is defined by people in different decades, the events that cause it to seem possible (or impossible), and the ways in which films present the obstacles that prevent people from achieving it. To facilitate our discussions of the films, class members will be expected to read short pieces (essays or short stories) related to the film for that week, and most weeks there will be student presentations related to the content of the film.

Scope of the course:

Course Goals. The goals for students in the course are as follows:


Belton, John American Cinema, American Culture McGraw Hill 2009 978-0-07-338615-7 (Required)

Corrigan, Timothy

A Short Guide to Writing About Film



0205668941 (Required)

Bordwell, David & Thompson,Kristen

Film Art

McGraw Hill


978-0-07-338616-4 (Recommended)

Schedule of Assignments. This is a tentative guide to the assignments; it may change as the course progresses. Other readings will be available online. Most of the films will be available on reserve in the library, and many are available on Netflix.

The discussion for each week will focus on the topic listed in bold. Scenes from other movies maybe substituted as examples, depending on the availability of the movies.


Date Reading Assignments
  1/12 Week 1
Course Overview

Read Belton, ch. 1
Tom Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions" (online)
View selected early films


Week 2
Early Films: Representations of Race
Read Corrigan, ch. 2

View scenes from Broken Blossoms, The Birth of a Nation

  1/20 Oscar Micheaux, Within Our Gates (1920)
Weblog post 1 (due by 9 p.m. 1/21)

Week 3
Silent Melodrama, Assimilation, and the American Dream

Read Belton, ch. 6
View Ramona,White Fawn's Devotion

Workshop: Information Literacy and Film

  1/27 Redskin (1929, dir. Victor Shertzinger, 82 minutes) Weblog post 2 (due by 9 p.m. 1/28)
2/2 Week 4
The Gangster Film
Read Corrigan, pp. 39-61; Belton, ch. 2
View scenes from The Public Enemy, Little Caesar

  2/3 Scarface (1932; dir. Howard Hawks, 94 minutes) Weblog post 3 (due by 9 p.m. 2/4)
2/9 Week 5
Sex and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood

Read Belton, ch. 3; Corrigan, pp. 61-86
View scenes from Female
Close analysis response essay for Paper 1 due
  2/10 Baby Face (1933; dir. Alfred E. Greene, 76 minutes) Weblog post 4 (due by 9 p.m. 2/11/09)
2/16 Week 6
The Great Depression in the Hollywood Musical
Read Belton, ch. 7; Corrigan, ch. 4 (focus on Film History, Genre, and Formalism)
View scenes from 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Stormy Weather

  2/17 Golddiggers of 1933 (1933; dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 96 minutes)
Optional workshop for Paper 1
Weblog post 5 (due by 9 p.m. 2/18/09)
2/23 Week 7
Midterm in class
  2/24 The Great Depression and the Journey Film

The Grapes of Wrath (1940; dir. John Ford, 128 minutes)

Paper 1 due
8 3/2 Week 8
Screwball Comedy

Read Belton, ch. 8
View scenes from Bringing Up Baby

Sullivan's Travels (1941, dir. Preston Sturges, 90 minutes)

Weblog post 6 (due by 9 p.m. 3/4)

Week 9
Film Noir

Read Belton, ch. 10
View selections from Mildred Pierce, The Big Sleep

  3/10 Double Indemnity (1944, dir. Billy Wilder, 107 minutes) Weblog post 7 (due by 9 p.m. 3/11)
  3/15-19 Week 10: Spring Break  

Week 11
Suburban Discontent and the American Dream

Read Belton, ch. 13
Discuss Paper 2
View scenes from All that Heaven Allows, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Storm Warning, Gentleman's Agreement


A Place in the Sun (1951, dir. George Stevens 122 minutes)

Weblog post 8 (due by 9 p.m. 3/25)

Week 12
New Hollywood: Breaking the Code

Read Belton, ch. 15; Corrigan, ch. 6




Bonnie and Clyde (1967, dir. Arthur Penn,112 minutes)

Weblog post 9 (due by 9 p.m. 4/1)
4/6 Week 13
Martin Scorsese

Read Belton, ch. 16 (especially pp. 398-402)
View scenes from from Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, Casino
  4/7 Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese, 146 minutes) Weblog post 10 (due by 9 p.m. 4/8)

Week 14
Modern African American Cinema

Read Belton, ch. 17
View scenes from Talk to Me

  4/14 Boyz n the Hood (1991, dir. John Singleton, 112 minutes)  

No Class



Smoke Signals (1998, dir. Chris Eyre, 89 minutes)

Presentation of Final Projects

Optional Weblog post 11 ( due by 9 p.m 4/22; covers 4/14 and 4/21)

Paper 2 due

  4/27 Week 16
Presentation of Final Projects
  4/28 Presentation of Final Projects  
  5/7 Final Exam 10:10 a.m -12:10 p.m. in CUE 409 (our usual classroom)  

Course Requirements and Policies

Attendance and Class Participation.  Attendance is expected, as is class participation; both are essential parts of the course. This course meets twice a week, and attendance will be taken in both the lecture and the lab section. You have four free absences; a fifth absence will lower your course grade one full letter grade, and a sixth will cause you to fail the course.



The midterm and final exams in this course will consist of objective (multiple choice, short answer, matching) and identification questions and an essay. Exams cannot be made up without a doctor's note. If you want to complete a weblog AND a report, you have the option not to take the final exam. The midterm is not optional.

Other Work

Reports and Weblogs

Students in this class will either present a brief oral report to the class or keep an online journal (weblog) of their reading this semester. Both options will should involve about the same amount of work, but with the weblog option, you'll be spreading the work out over the entire semester. Those who choose both to present a report and to keep a weblog will not have to take the final exam.

  • You'll sign up for a report or a weblog in class. See the Reports and Weblogs pages for more details.
  • To make the schedule updatable and available to all, it will be posted at the link above with your names on it. Weblogs will also be linked from our main page, which will contain the names of class webloggers. Because the point of the weblog is to share your thoughts with others in the class, our main class site will contain a link with your name as part of the requirement.
  • If you have any privacy concerns (under FERPA) about having people know that you are in this class or do not want your name posted anywhere on our class site, you should choose the Reports option instead; you'l also need to write to me (on paper) requesting that your name be omitted from the Reports page.
  • Policies

    Plagiarism Policy. Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of someone else's words or ideas. This definition includes not only deliberately handing in someone else's work as your own but failing to cite your sources, including Web pages and Internet sources.

    WSU Statement on Academic Integrity. As an institution of higher education, Washington State University is committed to principles of truth and academic honesty. All members of the University community share the responsibility for maintaining and supporting these principles. When a student enrolls in Washington State University, the student assumes an obligation to pursue academic endeavors in a manner consistent with the standards of academic integrity adopted by the University. To maintain the academic integrity of the community, the University cannot tolerate acts of academic dishonesty including any forms of cheating, plagiarism, or fabrication. Washington State University reserves the right and the power to discipline or to exclude students who engage in academic dishonesty.

    WSU Midterm Policy. Based on ASWSU student requests and action by the Faculty Senate, WSU has recently instituted Academic Rule 88, which stipulates that all students will receive midterm grades. Midterm grades are not binding, and because the bulk of the graded work in this course occurs after the midterm point, it can only accurately reflect student performance up to that point.

    WSU defines a "C" grade as "satisfactory," and those whose grades at midterm are in the "satisfactory" range or above (A, B, or C) will receive a "C" for the midterm grade [or will receive no listed grade at midterm]. Those whose performance is deficient (D) or seriously deficient (F) will receive a D or F.

    This does not mean that your grade is a "C" but that your grade is in the satisfactory range (A, B, or C) and that there are no significant deficiencies noted up to that point.

    Electronics PolicyRecent studies have shown that people remember material better when they take notes by hand rather than on the computer, since typing on the computer tends to produce a transcription rather than the kind of selective note-taking that leads to understanding. Also, students participate more actively when they are not using a laptop, which benefits their class participation grade, and there are fewer distractions in the classroom without laptops. The following policies thus apply in this class:

    WSU Policy on Students with Disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. If you have a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please either visit or call the Access Center (Washington Building 217; 509-335-3417) to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor. All accommodations MUST be approved through the Access Center.

    WSU Safety Policy. See also the WSU Safety Policy ( and Safety Plan (

    Grading Scale

    Grading Criteria

    Literary Studies Paper Rubric
    Literary Studies Paper Rubric with Possible Points

    A note on the evaluation process in this course: Each piece of written work, from an essay on an exam to a formal paper, starts as a "0" and rises to one of the levels listed below based on the quality of its ideas, development, and writing. Thus your writing does not start from an "A" and "lose points" based on certain errors; instead, grading starts from a baseline and points are added based on the quality of your work. Think of the grading scheme as you would think of a game or a job. You don't start with a perfect score (or a high salary) and lose points by making errors; rather, you start from a baseline and gain points based on the quality of your skills as demonstrated by your performance. The same is true here.

    I will use abbreviations as references to grammatical principles on your corrected papers. The abbreviations and accompanying explanations are available on the "Key to Comments" document here:

    Grade Cutoffs for Assignments

    Note: WSU final grade submission permits only solid, plus, and minus grades (e.g., C, C+, or C-) to be entered into zzusis.
    Note: WSU final grade submission has no "A+" grade, so the highest paper grade will be "A" (95) in compliance with WSU standards.

    There is no "D-" grade in zzusis, so a final average of 60-62 = D for the same reason.

    Total Points 100 15 20 25 30 35 50 75 125 150 500 If your final % is Your final grade would be . . .
    A 93 14 18 23 28 33 47 70 116 140 465 93 or above A
    A/A- 92 14 18 23 27 32 46 69 116 139 463    
    A- 90 13 18 23 27 32 45 67 113 135 450 90-92 A-
    B+ 88 13 17 22 26 31 44 66 110 132 440 88-89 B+
    B/B+ 87 13 16 22 26 30 43 65 110 131 438    
    B 83 12 16 21 25 29 42 62 104 125 415 83-87 B
    B/B- 82 12 16 20 24 29 41 61 103 124 413    
    B- 80 12 16 20 24 28 40 60 100 120 400 80-82 B-
    C+ 78 11 15 19 23 27 29 58 98 117 390 78-79 C+
    C/C+ 77 11 15 19 23 27 28 57 97 116 388    
    C 73 11 15 18 22 26 37 55 91 110 365 73-77 C
    C/C- 72 10 14 18 21 25 36 54 90 109 383    
    C- 70 10 14 17 21 25 25 52 88 105 350 70-72 C-
    D+ 68 10 13 17 20 24 34 54 85 102 338 68-69 D+
    D/D+ 67 10 13 16 19 23 33 50 84 101 315    
    D 63 9 13 16 19 22 32 57 79 95 313 63-67 D
    D/D- 62 9 12 15 18 21 31 46 78 94 312    
    D- 60 9 12 15 18 21 30 45 75 90 300 60-62 D


    Grade Distribution. Grades in this course are calculated by weighted percentages. Note: Because of FERPA and privacy issues, no grades will be discussed or transmitted by e-mail or instant messaging.

    Exams (15 percent each) 30 percent
    Paper 1 15 percent
    Paper or Project 2 plus presentation 25 percent
    Close reading of a film element (response essay) 5 percent
    Report or Weblog 15 percent
    Quizzes, class participation, group presentations, and in-class writings 10 percent