Historical films exert a powerful influence on the way we visualize the past. To determine how feature and documentary films contribute to the discourse of history, we will read relevant historical texts and screen and critically analyze several films for their aesthetic characteristics and historical authenticity. Our study will focus on the two major crises in American history—the Civil War and its Aftermath, and the Great Depression.
While these crises provoked severe hardship and lasting consequences for American society, they also have inspired a high level of creativity in American filmmakers. Examples range from films dealing with important historic figures (Col. Robert Shaw in Glory) to events (the California migration in The Grapes of Wrath) to a wide range of genres (the screwball comedy, for example, flowered during the Great Depression when the new censorship code in 1934 necessitated sex comedies without sex!).
We will also explore the impact of diverse topics on historical representation–such as genre, screenwriting and filmmaking techniques, Hollywood codes of representation, and the business of film production. Students will need access to a comprehensive source for DVD rentals (such as Netflix) for weekly out-of-class screening.