Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Semester 2

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 10 x 2 hour seminars
Practical 10 x 3 hour viewing sessions


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 x 3000 word essays  100%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements 

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should typically be able to:

1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a range of American film from a variety of genres;

2. relate these films to their broader contexts in twentieth century American cultural history;

3. analyse the ways in which the films contribute to or challenge constructions of American cultural and national identity;

4. explain and engage with recent critical and/or theoretical debates about American film.


The module is taught by weekly lectures and seminars.

Unit 1 - Hitchcock and the auteur theory

1. Rear Window
2. Psycho

It may be argued that film is essentially a collaborative art, but the issue of authorship remains a vital one. The success and failure of auteur analysis will be examined, together with a series of primary questions about the nature of film as an art form. Hitchcock's films are in many ways about the responsibilities inherent in the act of looking. In this sense, he foregrounds the problematics of the cinematic experience. While insisting that the camera invents rather than reflects reality, Hitchcock also provides a rigorous examination of that act of invention, laying bare its many dangers.

Unit 2 - Genre theory: The Western

3. The Searchers
4. Heaven's Gate

What is a genre? The Western is often regarded as a hackneyed form which promotes a morally schematic version of American history. This unit of the course seeks to challenge that assumption, replacing it with a sense of the extraordinary flexibility of the Western genre.

Unit 3 - American Vietnam Films

5. Apocalypse Now
6. The Deerhunter
7. Taxi Driver

To what extent are American Vietnam films really about Vietnam? To what extent are they really about America? How one-sided is the picture they present? These films will be placed alongside filmed documentaries, histories and fictions about Vietnam in an attempt to answer these questions. Similarities with the Western genre will also be discussed, together with a close reading of the differences in approach between the films that have been chosen.

Unit 4 - Versions of the American Family

8. It's A Wonderful Life
9. E.T.
10. Blue Velvet

These films show the American family in ascendancy and in decline and both films relate their picture of the family to the maintenance or collapse of consensus reality. Yet both films require the intrusion of extra-terrestrial forces as agents of hope and progress. The status of these forces is curiously ambivalent; at one level, they are peculiarly earthbound, the angel in Wonderful Life being a projection of the values of his time, and E.T. projecting a close affinity with current notions of green politics. Despite this, both aliens possess superhuman powers which they exercise for the good of the human community. This unit of the course focusses therefore on the functions of fantasy, highlighting the covert, often duplicitous manoeuvres it employs to coerce us into uncritical acceptance of social norms and perspectives.

An extended bibliography / filmography will be given to you at the start of the course.

Brief description

This module provides a selective introduction to aspects of American film. The component units should be regarded as interconnected rather than as totally separate. For instance, while The Deerhunter (Unit 3) can be studied in the light of Vietnam war films, it can also be studied as an example of its director's oeuvre and related directly to Heaven's Gate (Unit 2). Similarly, Westerns (Unit 2) have much to say about how the American family (Unit 4) is presented in American film. The relationship between history and myth provides a thematic core to at least four of these units. Variety and flexibility of response is thus actively encouraged and students will also be expected to relate the study of film to other cultural products.


This module is at CQFW Level 6