Monday, January 11, 2010

Syllabus: History of Independent Film (undergrad)

Course description:

This course will first trace the roots of commercially-oriented, low-budget fiction films and then examine their contemporary status. We will explore the industrial, socio-cultural and formal-aesthetic characteristics of independently produced, distributed and/or exhibited narrative features. A wide range of films will be analyzed, ranging from genre films to art films to studio-based indies. In addition, we will address the validity and usefulness of the label of “independence” within the present media context.

A key emphasis throughout the course will be on the relationships between independents and Hollywood, and the ways in which definitions of independence have changed over time. Special attention will be paid to the business of independent film throughout the semester.

In the first half of the course, we will survey the history of independent films in the U.S. through the mid-1970s. During the second half of the semester, we will examine the rapidly changing independent landscape of the past three decades. Among the many issues to be discussed are the role of film festivals and film markets in making and marketing movies; the importance of new platforms such as VOD and the Internet for filmmakers; and the role that specialty divisions such as Fox Searchlight and Focus Films have played in contemporary Hollywood.

Please note: In general, this class will not discuss non-fiction, avant-garde and experimental cinema.

Objectives and outcomes: By the end of the course you should be able to…

Assess how and why certain types of independent films developed as they did at particular historical moments;

Understand the shifting relationship between independent films and Hollywood product;

Recognize the changing meaning of the term “independent” during the course of the 20th century;

Appreciate and critique the different ways that scholars research and write about film history.


Please note: Chapters and articles should be read for the *following* class meeting.


Jan . 11 (M) Introductions

Book: Tzioumakis, Introduction

Screening: Baghead (2008, 84m)

Jan. 13 (W) Defining Independence

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 1 (pp. 19-30)

Packet: Cooper, “Studio History Revisited: The Case of the Universal Women”

Part I: 1910s-1945: Independent Film in the Studio Era


Jan. 18 (M) Independents in the Age of Silent Cinema

Packet: Regester, “The African-American Press and Race Movies, 1909-1929”

Screening: The Blot (1921, 80m)

Jan. 20 (W) Independents in the Age of Silent Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 1 (pp. 30-62)


Jan. 25 (M) Independent Production in the Studio Era

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 2

Screening: Detour (1945, 67m)

Jan. 27 (W) Poverty Row in the ‘30s and ‘40s

Packet: Selections from Taves, “The B Film: Hollywood’s Other Half”


Feb. 1 (M) Poverty Row, cont’d

Packet: Schaefer, “‘The Monster that Caters to Thrill-Hungry Youth’ – The Drug Film”

Screening: Reefer Madness (1936, 67m)

Feb. 3 (W) Classical Exploitation Films

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 3


Feb. 8 (M) Classical Exploitation Films, cont’d

Packet: Wilinsky, “Reading for Maximum Ambiguity: A Consideration of the Art Film”

Screening: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, 18m); Lost Boundaries (1949, 99m)

Part II: 1946-1974: The Transitional Era

Feb. 10 (W) The Rise of Art Cinema

Packet: Wilinsky, “‘Any Leisure That Looks Easy is Suspect’: Art House Audiences and the Search for Distinction”


Feb. 15 (M) Art Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 4

Screening: Bucket of Blood (1959, 66m)

Feb. 17 (W) Exploitation Films of the 1950s and ‘60s

*Hand out exam review sheet*


Feb. 22 (M) Exploitation Films, cont’d; exam review session

Screening: Schlock! The Secret History of Movies (2001, 89m)

Feb. 24 (W) *Exam #1*

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 5 (pp. 169-177; 184-187)

Packet: Film-Maker’s Cooperative Statement


March 1 (M) New American Cinema

Packet: Marguilies, “John Cassavetes – Amateur Director”

*Full semester mid-point: Last day to withdraw and receive a “W”*

Screening: Faces (1968, 130m)

March 3 (W) New American Cinema, cont’d

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 5 (pp. 177-184; 187-191)

Packet: Wyatt, “From Roadshowing to Saturation Release”


March 8-10 ***Spring Break***


March 15 (M) The “Hollywood Renaissance”

Packet: Heffernan, “Inner City Exhibition and the Genre Film”

Screening: Night of the Living Dead (1968, 96m); Start Billy Jack

March 17 (W) In-class screening: Continue Billy Jack (1971, 114m)


March 22 (M) Exploitation, ‘70s-style

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 6

Screening: Female Trouble (1974, 92m)

March 24 (W) Exploitation, cont’d

Packet: Levy, “The New American Independent Cinema”

*Discuss final paper assignment*

Part III: 1975-Present: From Independents to Indiewood


March 29 (M) Independents, 1975-present: An Overview

Packet: Carson, “John Sayles, Independent Filmmaker”; King, “Alternative Visions: Social, Political & Ideological Dimensions of Independent Cinema” (pp. 197-222)

Screening: Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980, 110m)

March 31 (W) Overview, cont’d

Packet: Levy, “The New African American Cinema”

*Proposals due at the start of class*


April 5 (M) The New African American Cinema

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 7

Screening: Hollywood Shuffle (1987, 78m)

April 7 (W) Mini-Majors in the 1980s

Book: Tzioumakis, Chapter 8 & Epilogue

Packet: Rich, “New Queer Cinema”

Outside Screening: CHOOSE ONEMy Own Private Idaho (1991, 104m) or The Living End (1992, 92m)


April 12 (M) The 1990s-Era Ultra Low-Budget Moment

Packet: Perren, “sex, lies and Marketing: Miramax and the Development of the Quality Indie Blockbuster”;

Lane, “Just Another Girl Outside the Neo-Indie”

Screening: Walking and Talking (1996, 86m)

April 14 (W) The Rise of the Studio-Based Indie

Packet: King, “Introduction: Indiewood in Contexts”


April 19 (M) The Institutionalization of Indiewood

Packet: McDonald, “Miramax, Life is Beautiful, and the Indiewoodization of the Foreign-Language Film Market in the USA”

Screening: Life is Beautiful (1998, 116m)

April 21 (W) Indiewood, cont’d

Packet: Newman, “Indie Culture: In Pursuit of the Authentic Autonomous Alternative”


April 26 (M) The Fall of Indiewood

Packet: Tryon, “Desktop Productions: Digital Distribution and Public Film Cultures”; selections from Filmmaker, indieWIRE

Screening: Four-Eyed Monsters (2006, 70m)

April 28 (W) New Millennium, New Directions

Recent articles to be posted on ULearn

Look at:;;;;

*Hand out exam review sheet*

*Final papers due at the start of class*


May 3 (M) What’s Next?

May 5 (W) *Final exam from 12:30-2:30 p.m.*

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