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Films in American Culture - Carmen Hoover

mla quick quide

Course Basics

History 230/Humanities 230

Films in American Culture

Fall 2018

Instructor: Carmen Hoover   Office: Library 127

Phone: 432-5409        email: choover@olympic.edu (use your student email account to contact me—I will respond within a day on M-F but not weekends)

Required Texts:

A Short Guide to Writing about Film (8th edition) by Timothy Corrigan

A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn

Libguide/Research Guide  readings on the OC Hazelwood library site


Course Description: This class is an exploration of American history and culture as told through U.S. cinema.  We will proceed somewhat chronologically, beginning with a version of our national creation story in 1492. This review of our history will focus on films which purport to dramatize actual events, recreate biographies, document and interpret case studies, or tell the “truth” about historical periods and cultural flashpoints, especially as they pertain to common people and individual experience. This emphasis on narrative will be enhanced both by consultation of historical sources and by our study of cinematic vocabulary, techniques, and tools.  Though we will watch a number of truly great movies, we will never view films for the passive pleasure of being “entertained”—we will consistently work to view with an alert, engaged, and informed eye.  Ultimately, we will reflect on the nature of historical truth as it relates to art, artifice, entertainment media, cultural power, common people, and the American dream.


Course Objectives:


--Ability to understand and appreciate the stylistic and narrative aspects of film as well as the historical context of film.


--Ability to measure the impact of filmmaking and filmmakers.


--Ability to understand the role of genre in American film history and to recognize how some of the most popular genres express American social and cultural tensions.


--Ability to write college level analysis while accurately and ethically using both primary and secondary information sources.


--Ability to interact productively with other students.




The Core Abilities at Olympic College consist of the following five categories:


§ Information Technology & Literacy    § Lifelong Learning

§ Communication                                 § Global Perspective                            

§ Thinking                                           


Description: May 2009 Core_Abilities_Option A




1.   Graduates engage in critical analysis.*

2.   Graduates engage in creative problem solving.*

3.   Graduates engage in quantitative reasoning.



1.         Graduates understand and produce effective oral communication.*

2.         Graduates understand and produce effective written communication.*

3.         Graduates understand and use effective non-verbal communication skills.*


Information Literacy and Technology:  

1.         Graduates use strategies to search for information that enhance the acquisition of knowledge.*

2.         Graduates evaluate and appraise sources.*

3.         Graduates access and use information and/or technology ethically, legally and/or responsibly.*

4.         Graduates use various inquiry tools and different formats of information (e.g. media).*

5.         Graduates use technology and information appropriate to field or discipline, synthesizing information to formulate insights and create knowledge.*


Lifelong Learning:

1.         Graduates demonstrate self-monitoring and self-advocacy skills to effect positive life changes.*

2.         Graduates demonstrate the ability to recognize, understand, and accept ownership for their own learning and behavior in varied and changing environments.*

3.         Graduates demonstrate the ability to adapt to technological innovations and to understand their implications.*


Global Perspective:

1.         Graduates demonstrate an understanding of their own cultures and the framework upon which their society has been built.*

2.         Graduates demonstrate an understanding of how cultural differences (e.g. beliefs traditions, communication, norms) shape human interaction and perceptions of others.*

3.         Graduates demonstrate that they are aware of, and understand world events (e.g. religious, historical, environmental, political, economic) and the role of human decisions and physical conditions shaping these events and their outcomes. *

4.         Graduates demonstrate an understanding of their own region/bioregion and recognize that other parts of the world are different in both physical and human attributes.

5.         Graduates demonstrate an understanding of universal processes involving both distribution and circulation of resources and their byproducts; e.g. wealth, food, water, oil, gases, energy, and pollutants.*


•           Items with an asterisk are the Core Abilities addressed in this class.





1— Weekly Reflection Papers (45%) will be due every Tuesday. For these, choose seven (or more) quotes/summaries from the readings (books and website) and the in-class media from each week and write a short, typed reflection that comments on the course materials week by week. Your reflections could take the form of observations, questions, arguments, challenges, points of fact, or stories. Show what you have learned, what you are thinking about, and what you have gained from the materials.


You should include earlier class materials as you build knowledge during the quarter. You may also include your final project research in addition to the seven quotes from each week’s materials. These will be graded for content only, not for mechanical precision. Due in class on Tuesdays for a total of 11 (with a 12th and Final Reflection due in your portfolio). (Homework: 5 hours reading and responding per week.)


Our emphasis will be on the quality of your ideas—they will not be graded for spelling, grammar, or any formal elements. Typing is required.  Your comments should call attention to key facts and principles, interesting ideas, surprising information, visual highlights, questions, objections, analysis, exploration, pertinent stories, and other points suitable for class discussion. Please apply bold to your seven quotes/summaries to separate source material from your comments.


2--Scene Exposition/Critical Analysis and Final Reflection (25%)--Due in the final binder, this Final Reflection will analyze a single scene in the context of a selected film overall. (Homework: 2-4 hours per week to screen films and research) For your Final Reflection, you will identify one scene from a single film of your choice and analyze the formal elements based on the vocabulary in the course. Using the scene explication as a representation of the whole film, your research should be balanced equally between formal elements of the film and legitimate historical information. In addition, you will provide a critical analysis using the elements of the critical essay as described in your text.


You may choose any film based on true events, including films we watch in class. Please propose your film to me by week 5.  The film chosen must be based on true events, biography, or cultural truths.  It must be a film with defensible artistic merit whose director is working within--or consciously against--cinematic tradition. You may work with a documentary (or mockumentary) rather than a dramatization if you choose. Assume that the film has been constructed deliberately.


The following features are required:


►Cinematic Elements: An in-depth analysis which considers several technical aspects (such as mise-en-scene, music, editing, dialogue, use of color, and special effects) and the ways in which those constructions shape the film and our understanding of it. Aside from your own analysis, you must employ at least two sources in support of this critique. How do the director’s decisions influence and construct both the film and our response to it? How does the scene “work” both within the confines of the scene and as one part of the movie as a whole? What larger cultural references are drawn upon and/or ignored?


►Historical Accuracy: Research which proves and/or disproves the historical accuracy of the film. Your findings from at least two sources should be discussed in detail—what were the intentions of the director?  Does the scene reflect historical accuracy, metaphors for “truth,” fiction, or “composite” truths? (Even if you choose a film which is not based on actual events, comment on cultural realities and historical references in the film.) How does historical information influence the artistry of the film and vise versa?  How does it influence the audience? Does the presentation enhance or cripple our cultural understandings of history?  Who is to be believed? What is history? Reflect on Howard Zinn’s assertion that “the historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological.” Can the “truth” of history be known?


►The Big Picture: Draw conclusions about the ways in which this film, and film in general, impacts our understanding of both our history and contemporary North American thought.  What does it mean to live in a culture which focuses so intently on entertainment?   What is the role of historical film? Do the intentions of the film contradict the results? What is art?  What is (or what might be) the role of the arts, especially film? What does it mean to make artificial constructions based on “fact?” How do the entertainment media influence culture, politics, faith, education, etc.? What does it mean to have cultural power—and do people who make films have it? What is the nature of the American Story?  Is it anchored in truth?  Can movies be historically accurate but miss the point?  Can they be built of fabrications/imagination and still present a cultural truth?  Is it possible to make a film which deals responsibly and ethically with history? What is the role of cinema in our lives?


One MLA works cited page--minimum of four sources-- https://owl.english.purdue.edu/media/pdf/20170627162500_747.pdf

For MLA paper model. MLA quick guide available on request.


For an extended discussion of terms along with visual analysis, please investigate   https://filmanalysis.coursepress.yale.edu/ Highly recommended for all students, but visual learners will benefit the most.




30%--Attendance, Participation and Professionalism. You must attend class, view films, participate in class discussions, and turn assignments in on time. If you miss more than one class, a grade penalty of one full letter will be imposed on this grading area for each additional class missed. Professionalism includes the following: Be on time. Speak your mind. Appreciate and respect the views of others, especially when you beg to differ. View films in class without side conversations. No cell phones (ringing, talking or texting). If it appears to me that you are sleeping, texting, gaming, or checking email during class, I will count you absent. We will only rarely take a formal break during class—if you need to excuse yourself for a few minutes, do so silently and discreetly.


45%-- Weekly Reflection Papers will be due every Tuesday, and will cover the material from the week before.  


○Film Text

○History Text

○LibGuide/Research Guide Links

○In-class Films and Discussions


Choose a minimum of seven quotes/summaries from the books, websites, and in-class films each week and write a short, typed reflection that comments on the course materials week by week (1-3 pages). Your reflections could take the form of observations, questions, arguments, challenges, points of fact, analysis, and stories. Show what you have learned, what you are thinking about, and what you have gained from the materials. Be sure to include information about the director and critical analysis and/or reviews of the films we study. We are most keenly interested in disparities and alignments between the historical facts and the cinematic interpretations. Occasionally, a note taking guide or worksheet will be required—please attach to your Reflection, and feel free to comment on it as part of your reflection.


You should include earlier class materials as you build knowledge during the quarter, and I would expect that your reflections will improve over the quarter. You may also include your final project research in addition to the seven quotes/summaries from each week’s materials. Your comments should demonstrate your understanding and analysis of course materials. I will check this work as done when it is turned it, but I do not record specific assignments as done or not done—you must keep track of assignments yourself and turn them in as part of your final portfolio. These will be graded for content only, not for mechanical precision. Due in class on Tuesdays for a total of 11. (Homework: 5 hours reading and responding per week)




Your cumulative letter grade for Reflection Papers will correspond to the following:


C=I did the assignment. I know what I liked or didn’t like, but cannot put my finger on my opinions. Minimum: discussion of seven bolded quotes/summaries from A People’s History, The Short Guide to Writing about Film, the LibGuide readings/film prep, and the film(s) viewed in class during the previous week.


B=In addition to the above, I can personally relate to the material by noticing what it reminds me of in my personal life or by noticing emotions or ideologies that come to mind. I can make thoughtful statements about the material and use critical thinking skills to engage meaningfully and link all elements of the class together. I include my individual research for the final project. I can link the readings to the films and comment on how they align, overlap or contradict. 


A= In addition to both of the above, I can identify a quotation/summary from a text/film and use it to support a mini-argument. I can integrate feelings, facts, and opinions with observations about what is valuable in the material. I show comprehension of and contribute to the material. In my own words, I can build on course information to synthesize the main points, key ideas, and subtleties of the works. I can use examples, known historical facts, cinematic vocabulary, theories, metaphors, and illustrations to effectively explain the significance of the material and add to a fuller understanding of it. I link the readings to the films and display my accumulation of knowledge as the quarter progresses.  I incorporate notes I took during class discussions and build on the insightful ideas of my classmates. Occasionally, I do outside research to challenge the materials of the course.





25%--Scene Exposition/Critical Analysis and Final Reflection. This presentation, described above, will be evaluated this way:


10%     Appropriate Choice of film/scene

20%     Clarity/Concision/Organization

20%     Cinematic Elements/Technical Explication (include at least 2 sources)

20%     Historical Accuracy/Discovery (include at least 2 sources)

20%     The Big Picture: Conclusions/Reflections

10%     Works Cited Page


Your Scene Exposition/Critical Analysis Individual Final Reflection will receive a grade based on the Weekly Reflection criteria described above. (Homework: 2-4 hours per week.)


Here’s what you will need for the final exam period:

1—Eleven regular reflections that cover the 11 weeks of class.

2—A “Final,” 12th Reflection that is a critical analysis of a single scene in a single film. If you put this in a form other than a paper that can be turned in as part of your binder, email the project to me at choover@olympic.edu.   

3—Be sure your portfolio is put together using the Portfolio Table of Contents—this will be turned in at the end of the final exam period.

4—Please put a note on the outside of your binder that says your name, course number, and whether you plan to pick your binder up at the front desk over break, in my office during the first 2 weeks of winter quarter, or not at all (in which case it will be shredded).




Student Responsibilities:  It is your responsibility to attend class, be here on time, and turn in assignments as scheduled.  Should you miss a class, please email me to check in about assignments and handouts. If, at any time, you have a question, please ask it right away.  If you have a documented learning or physical disability that could interfere with your performance in the course, please talk to me about it during the first week so that we can arrange for legal accommodations.  Academic honesty is essential—infractions, including plagiarism, will result in automatic failure in the course.


Arrive to class on time, and stay until the end. Power down cell phones and laptops during class, unless you volunteer or have been called upon to search for information on behalf of the class during class discussion.


PERMISSIONS: From time to time, I like to make a copy of a student’s work (with name removed) for use on the library website, for teacher training, or for my own course-improvement files. If you consent to this, no action is required. If you object to this, please send an email to me stating that you do not give me permission to make copies of your work for any reason.

Library Faculty

Dianne Carey's picture
Dianne Carey
Olympic College
1600 Chester Ave
Bremerton, WA 98337

Film Lists

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_actual_events (Wiki List)





Films Based on Actual Events, People or Cultural Truths (past class list)

 10,000 Men Named George

1492—The Conquest of Paradise


8 Seconds

A League of their Own


American History X





Ballad of Gregorio Cortez

Based on a True Story


Birth of a Nation

Black Robe

Blackhawk Down


Born on the 4th of July

Boys Don’t Cry

Bread and Roses

Brian’s Song

Brother to Brother

Chaplin (1992)

Cheyenne Autumn

Citizen Kane


Crazy Horse (1996)

Daughters of the Dust

Dead Man

Dead Man Walking

Do the Right Thing

Dog Day Afternoon

Donnie Brasco

Dr. Death

Dr. Strangelove

Easy Rider

Enemy of the State

Erin Brochovich

Farewell to Manzanar

Fat Man and Little Boy

Fog of War

Fort Apache

Full Metal Jacket

Gangs of New York

Ghosts of Mississippi


Grapes of Wrath


High Noon


In Cold Blood

Incident at Oglala

Inherit the Wind

Iron Jawed Angels


La Bamba

Lady Sings the Blues

Last of the Mohicans

Little Big Man

Malcolm X

Manchurian Candidate (both versions)




Mississippi Burning

Motorcycle Diaries

Mr. and Mrs. Loving

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Norma Rae



Quiz Show

Raging Bull


Roger and Me



Salt of the Earth


Sid and Nancy


Smoke Signals

Star 80


The Babe

The Crucible

The Deer Hunter

The Godfather

The Graduate

The Hurricane

The Laramie Project

The Matrix

The Miracle Worker

The Mission

The Patriot

The Wave


Trials of Oscar Wilde

Tying the Knot

Whip It

Wyatt Earp