Our course

Of all the concepts fundamental to literary theory, none has a longer or more distinguished lineage than the question of literary type, or “genre” (Aristotle’s Poetics dates back to 335 BC). Yet genre criticism’s introduction to the study of film is comparatively recent. Prior to this, it was assumed that genre simply provided Hollywood studios with a way to organize the production and marketing of films, most of which were deemed unworthy of serious commentary. In short, the genre film was associated with commerce not art. But in the last 50 years or so, film scholars have redeemed genre by showing how it is more than a mere collection of conventions, more than just a way of classifying and describing some of Hollywood’s most popular films. The study of genre can offer fascinating and wide-ranging critiques of myth, ideology, and meaning—thus making it a viable concept not only to the study of American cinema but of American history and culture as well.  

We will pursue genre, its history and theory, through case studies in three important genres in American film history: the Western, the Screwball Comedy, and the Musical. But rather than treat each of these genres as self-evident, descriptive, neutral, and pure, we will instead treat them as varied, flexible, overlapping, and impossible to precisely and unambiguously describe. Our aim is not just to classify Hollywood films, but to de-classify sensitive information about American history and culture. Of particular interest are such issues as gender and sexual difference, race, class, bourgeois illusionism, myths of individualism and national identity, and the institutions of family and marriage.

This course will have at least 4 objectives:

  1. Understand the importance of genre in film studies.
  2. Identify the syntactic and semantic features of film genres.
  3. Evaluate the social and historical function of film genres.
  4. Carry out personal research.


ENGL 212: Cinema: History and Criticism (or permission by the instructor)

You may petition to have this prerequisite waived if you are an English major/minor, a Communications major/minor, or if you have taken a comparable film course here at the College of Charleston


Film Genre Reader IV, edited by Barry Keith Grant. U. of Texas Press, 2012


The following additional required readings can be accessed on OAKS:

Beach, Christopher. Class, Language, and American Film Comedy. Cambridge U. Press, 2002, pp. 1-16; pp. 47-124

Braudy, Leo. The World in a Frame: What We See in Films. U. of Chicago Press, 1976, pp. 139-163.

Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Harvard U. Press, 1981, pp. 161-188.

Elsaesser, Thomas. “Vincente Minnelli.” Genre, the Musical: A Reader, edited by Rick Altman. Routledge, 1981, pp. 8-27.

Henderson, Brian. “Romantic Comedy Today: Semi-Tough or Impossible?” The Film Comedy Reader, edited by Gregg Rickman. New York: Limelight Editions, 2001, pp. 310-326.

Kitses, Jim. “Authorship and Genre.” The Western Reader, edited by Jim Kitses and Gregg Rickman. New York: Limelight, 1999, pp. 57-68.

Ray, Robert. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980. Princeton U. Press, 1985, pp. 70-88; pp. 215-243.

Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System, pp. 45-80; pp. 150-185.

Warshow, Robert. “Movie Chronicle: The Westerner.” The Western Reader, pp. 35-47.

Wright, Will. Sixguns and Society. U. of California Press, 1977, pp. 4-28; 164-184.


In addition to screenings of short films and clips for lecture/discussion, you are responsible for the following films. A few are streaming for free on Kanopy* (click the title for a link to the film’s page on Kanopy), courtesy of Addlestone Library. Others are available for free or for rent/buy on a variety of streaming platforms. Check justwatch.com to determine the streaming service that best suits your needs.


Stagecoach (dir. John Ford, 1939)*

The Searchers (dir. John Ford, 1956)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (dir. John Ford, 1963)

Bad Day at Black Rock (dir. John Sturges, 1955)

The Wild Bunch (dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1969)


It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934)

My Man Godfrey (dir. Gregory La Cava, 1936)

His Girl Friday (dir. Howard Hawks, 1940)*

You Can’t Take it With You (dir. Frank Capra, 1938)


42nd Street (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1933)

Top Hat (dir. Mark Sandwich, 1935)

Meet Me in St. Louis (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1944)

Singin’ in the Rain (dir. Gene Kelly/Stanley Donan, 1952)


—Attendance & Participation: 20%

—Midterm (due 10/5 in OAKS by 11:59pm): 20%

—Research paper (min. 12 pages in length, due 11/30 in OAKS by 11:59pm): 30%

—Final exam (12/7, 1-3pm): 30%


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