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This course will trace the trajectory of the Academy Awards: from 1930s screwball comedies and backstage musicals to celebrated wartime classics; from 1950s Minnelli musicals to 1980s post-Vietnam war films. It will provide a concentrated, thumbnail history of American Cinema, which challenges students to consider and question the formal criteria (cinematography, acting, sound, editing) upon which critical judgement is based. It will introduce students to the canonical classics of American Cinema, inviting them to explore diverse film genres and even the occasional Academy extravaganza.
We will first look at the origins of the Academy and examine its early role in shaping American film and popular culture. We will examine Best Pictures from the Depression-era, considering the impact of new sound technologies on the Hollywood studio style and the subsequent enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of moral guidelines that were enforced from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. In our next section, we will move on to wartime cinema and the consolidation of star culture and the Classical Hollywood Style, considering the way in which celebrated Best Pictures such as Casablanca reflected underlying tensions in cultural and national identity. Turning to the 1950s, we will address McCarthyism, blacklisting, and the advent of television as the perfect storm that effectively swept grand dramatic spectacle into its place of prominence in the Academy Awards ceremonies.In the third section, we will examine the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the return of socially conscious cinema with the Academy’s acknowledgement of those films that focused on social and racial tensions. We will then move to the New Hollywood of the 1970s and the heyday of the American film school auteur. The final section will be devoted to subsequent decades and those genre films dedicated to social concerns, such as the historical drama Twelve Years a Slave (BP 2013), the first film directed by a Black filmmaker to have been awarded an Oscar for Best Picture. Finally, we close with the allegorical fantasy The Shape of Water (BP 2017), a film whose surrealistic ambiance pays tribute to early Hollywood horror films.
Knowledge and skills:Basic knowledge of critical and technical vocabulary of disciplineBasic knowledge of a range of film history, ranging from early cinema to the presentBasic knowledge of the various issues associated with the production, distribution, and exhibition of filmsRecognition that different film forms impact on the meaning and effects of film textsBasic knowledge of the major theoretical debates and discourses in film studiesBasic knowledge of the relationships between selected films and their social, cultural and historical context Basic ability to conduct close analysis of scenes and images from films
This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:
Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award
Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.
Biculturally competent and confident
Students will be aware of and understand the nature of biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, and its relevance to their area of study and/or their degree.
Engaged with the community
Students will have observed and understood a culture within a community by reflecting on their own performance and experiences within that community.
Students will comprehend the influence of global conditions on their discipline and will be competent in engaging with global and multi-cultural contexts.
Students must attend one activity from each section.
Please check the course LEARN page for further details and updates.
The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History. 2nd edition. Jim Piazza and Gail Kinn. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2014.Readings to be provided on LEARN(Image: Oscar Academy Awards 3D" by Emilio Gallo, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.)
Film List:Week One: Introduction to the CourseBest of 1938: The Screwball Comedy You Can’t Take It with You (Capra, 1938) Week Two: Best of 1939: Hollywood Grand Spectacle Gone With the Wind (Fleming, 1939) Week Three: Best of 1943: Classical Hollywood Casablanca (Curtiz, 1941) Week Four: Best of 1959: Colour and Widescreen Ben Hur (Wyler, 1959) Week Five: Best of 1960: Comedy-Drama The Apartment (Wilder, 1960) Week Six: Best of 1969: Western Reinvented Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969) Week Seven: Best of 1972: Gangster Film Reinvented The Godfather (Coppola, US 1972) Week Eight: Best of 1983: Melodrama Terms of Endearment (Brooks, 1983)Week Nine: Best of 1991: Horror Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991) Week Ten: Best of 2013: Historical Drama 12 Years A Slave (McQueen, 2013)Week Eleven: Best of 2019: Black Comedy, Class Allegory Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
Domestic fee $785.00
International fee $3,500.00
* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.
This course will not be offered if fewer than 40 people apply to enrol.
For further information see
Humanities and Creative Arts.