American New Wave Film Syllabus

American New Wave Film Syllabus

MOT 3120.01 / MDS 3895.05: National Cinemas: American New Wave Film

Monday 3:00 – 5:50 pm

3 Credit Hours

No Prerequisites

Spring 2021: This class meets online via Zoom.

Dr. Nancy McGuire Roche

Office Hours on Zoom. Schedule an appointment.          

Tuesday: 12:00 – 4:00 pm

Wednesday: 2:00 – 4:00 pm

Thursday: 2:00 – 4:00 pm


Cell phone: (615) 337-3732 Text only.

Final Exam: TBA

Required Texts:

Kirshner, Jonathan. Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies

Film in America.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2012.

Recommended Texts:

Kirshner, Jonathan, and Jon Lewis, eds. When the Movies Mattered: The New Hollywood

Revisited.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019.

Elsaesser, Thomas, Alexander Horwath, and Noel King, eds.  The Last Great Picture

Show: New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s. New Brunswick, Amsterdam:  Amsterdam University Press, 2004.  

Additional materials will be posted on Blackboard.

Course Description:

In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America announced a new ratings system which gave filmmakers much more freedom, as a younger viewing audience made the Hollywood mainstream aware of its preferences, heralding a change in American cinema. The directors of this American New Wave were not only auteurs of a new brand of filmmaking, they also engaged more radically with American culture, while taking advantage of new censorship regulations to test the limits of filmmaking. This new cinematic movement pushed boundaries, relied more on techniques pioneered by European new waves, and signified a profound change in Hollywood filmmaking—initiated by a generational shift. This cinema reflects American society in flux and often criticizes its very foundations. In A Cinema of Lonliness, the critic Robert Kolker states that film has “a cumulative effect, giving the culture a way of looking at itself, articulating its ideology, reflecting and creating its physical appearance and gestures, teaching and confirming its shared myths (vii).” With its emphasis on antiheroes, often lost and drifting through society or living on its fringes, these films provide a unique view of our culture in the late 1960s and 1970s, often motivated by the desire to show an unflinching portrait of American life.        

Course Objectives:

We will read materials pertinent to this subject and examine the cultural and historical contexts of films viewed in class. Students will engage with texts which locate their knowledge base to current academic thought on the subject of The American New Wave. Critical thinking and analytical skills will be developed through writing assignments, keeping a film journal, and in-class discussion and assignments. By the end of this course, students will be able to apply an intermediate knowledge of film language and elements, and to demonstrate an understanding of the conventions, narrative style, directorial approach, cinematography, and industry standards of this genre.

We will use our class for discussion and examination of texts, group work, and presentations. You will engage in discussion and debate, while respecting your classmates as individuals with diverse views and beliefs.  Additionally, we will approach writing as a process that requires a strong thesis supported by textual evidence and relevant research.  Please keep in mind that the ability to construct and support a compelling argument and to convey it through concise, persuasive, and formal writing is a proficiency that will benefit you throughout your academic career and beyond.

Course Outcomes

  1. Students will actively read materials pertinent to this topic and examine the cultural and historical contexts of films viewed in class. Students will engage with readings that locate their knowledge base to current academic thought on the subject.
  2. Students will exhibit critical thinking and analytical skills which will be developed through writing assignments, keeping a film journal, group work, and class discussion.
  3. Students will be able to apply an intermediate knowledge of film language and film criticism in both class discussions and writing assignments.
  4. Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the conventions, technique, subject matter, narrative style, and films of some of the major directors within this genre.

Course Requirements:

Reading:  I expect you to have completed your reading and/or viewing assignments on the day they are due—and to be able to discuss the content. Class discussion is one of the most important components of this course. Your participation in class counts for 10% of your final grade, so come to class prepared.  Be sure to write down your thoughts and reactions, and come to class with ideas for discussion based on your assignments. These notes will help you to start and lead dialogue. 

Writing: You will be required to write a formal research paper at the end of this course and keep a journal each week. Your final paper may come directly from notes and ideas in your journal. 

Student’s grade will be determined upon the successful completion of:

Midterm Take Home Exam: 15% of your final grade will consist of a midterm take home exam.  All questions will come from your notes, assigned readings, or from the films you watch. If you miss a class you should obtain notes from a classmate or review the class, which will be available through zoom. If you miss a film, you will be able to stream it online.  

Film Journal: 22% of your final will be based on a film journal.  You will write one to two pages a week in this journal and respond to both the films and the assigned readings for the course. This journal tells me if you have read the material and viewed the films.

Homework: 12% of your grade. You will write two short, two-three page reaction papers to films and ideas we discuss in class.

Final Take Home Exam: 20% of your final grade will consist of a take home exam.  All questions will come from your notes, assigned readings, or from the films you watch in class.  If you miss a class you should obtain notes from a classmate.  If you miss a film you should check stream it through Kanopy or Netflix. 

Final Essay: 16% This paper will consist of a close reading of a film, possibly including an analysis of characters, film elements, a discussion of feminist or film movements, interviews with directors, or a comparison of two films. Topic of essay must be approved by professor. This paper must include include text-based evidence including dialogue and three or more secondary sources that support your thesis. You may use your textbook or class readings for two of these sources. IMDb or Wikipedia will not be accepted.

Your papers should be written in MLA format, typed, and double-spaced.  You are required to use twelve point Times New Roman font.  You may refer to MLA guidelines, which are present in a number of books, including, Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.  Or you may access MLA guidelines at this site:

Class Presentation: 5%  You are required to do a class presentation with one or two other classmates during the course of the semester.  You will be expected to present a short overview of a particular film you have chosen from a provided list.  I require that you turn in proof of your work for this assignment, which may consist of a power point presentation, outline, or a list of references you consulted.  Your grade will reflect your effort and should indicate independent thinking and research. 

Class Contribution: 10%  Please keep in mind that class participation is worth 10% of your grade.  Students should come to class with questions that relate to the week’s material and attempt to engage us in a relevant discussion.

Final Grade Scale:

A   94-100                    A-  90-93

B+ 87-89                      B   84-86

B-  80-83                      C+ 77-79

C   74-76                      C-  70-73

D+ 67-69                      D   64-66

D-  60-63                       F    59 and Below

Grading Standards for Papers:

Your writing is expected to effectively communicate your ideas logically, critically and in clearly written Standard English. Grades on papers written in this class range from A to F and they are evaluated based on content, organization, and mechanics. Papers are graded according to the standards below:

A. The A paper shows originality of statement and observation. The writer’s ideas are clear, logical and thought provoking. It contains these positive qualities:

          1. Careful construction and organization of sentences and paragraphs.

          2. Careful choice of words and phrases.

          3. Adequate development of ideas through use of specific, necessary details.

          4. Relative freedom from grammar and mechanical errors.

B. Although it reads clearly, the B paper lacks the originality of thought and style found in the A paper.

C. The C paper shows an average level of competency. It is fairly well organized conveying its purpose to the reader.  It lacks serious errors in the use of English.  It could, in fact, have few or no corrections marked on it, but it lacks the energy of thought and expression that would bring an above average rating.

D. The grade of D indicates below-average achievement in effectiveness and a general lack of competency in the skill level required for the course. Most D papers contain frequent major errors in the use of English and fail to adequately fulfill the purpose of the paper.

F. A grade of F indicates an abundance of serious errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. The F paper may also lack significant grammatical error but have serious problems with organization or development of ideas. In addition, a paper that fails to achieve the purpose of the assignment will receive an F.

Class Schedule:

Week One:  January 18th: Introduction

Class Introduction.

For next Monday read: Kirshner, pages 1-22: “Prolouge” and “Before the Flood” and “Robert Altman: Documentaries, Dreamscapes, and Dialogic Cinema” by David Sterritt


Watch: Robert Altman – Nashville (1975).

Week Two: January 25th

For next week read: Kirshner, pages 23-51: “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation” and “Mike Nichols and The Hollywood Renaissance: A Cinema of Cultural Investigation” by Nancy Roche (TOHR Blackboard), and pages 337-42 “Hippies at War: Explorations of Flexibility” from “Allegories of Post-Fordism in 1970s New Hollywood” by Drehli Robnik (Blackboard).

Watch: Mike Nichols  –  Catch 22 (1970).

Week Three: February 1st

For next week read: Kirshner, pages 102-118 in “Crumbling Cities and Revisionist History” and “The Mad Housewives of The Neo-Woman’s Film” by Molly Haskell (Blackboard) and “John Cassavetes: In Your Face and Off the Grid” by Rebecca Bell-Metereau (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: John Cassavettes  –  A Woman Under The Influence (1974)

Week Four: February 9th                          

For next week read: Thomas Elsaessaer’s “The Pathos of Failure: American Films in the 1970s: Notes on the Unmotivated Hero”(Blackboard) and pages 58-66 of “Jason’s No Businessman… I Think He’s an Artist” by Johnathon Kirshner (Blackboard), and “Hal Ashby, Gentle Giant” by Brenda Austin-Smith (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Hal Ashby  –  Harold and Maude (1971) or Shampoo (1975).

Week Five:  February 15th

For next week read: Kirshner “The Personal is Political”, p. 76-101 and “Remaking Gender in the Early Films of Peter Bogdanovich” by Douglas McFarland (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Peter Bogdanovich –  The Last Picture Show (1971).

Week Six: February 22nd

Midterm due – journals and take home test                        

For next week read: “Terrence Malick’s Emergent Lyricism in Badlands and Days of Heaven” by Rick Warner (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Terrence Malick –  Badlands (1973)

Week Seven: March 1st                        

For Monday read: Kirshner “Privacy, Paranoia, Disillusion, and Betrayal” p. 133-165 and Elaine May: Subverting Machismo “Step by Tiny Step” by Kyle Stevens (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Elaine May  –  Mikey and Nicky (1976)

Week Eight: March 8th

Read: Kirshner “Businessman Drink My Wine”, p. 189-216 and “Sidney Lumet and the New Hollywood” by David Desser (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Sidney Lumet  – Network (1976)

Week Nine:  March 15th

Read: Escape from Escapism: Bob Fosse and the Hollywood Rennaissance” by Dennis Bingham (TOHR Blackboard).

Watch: Bob Fosse – Cabaret (1972)

Week Ten:  March 22nd

Read for next week: Kirshner, pages 118-132 in “Crumbling Cities and Revisionist History”, and TBA.

Watch: Woody Allen  –  Annie Hall (1977). We will zoom with Christie Mullen, Allen’s location scout.

Week Eleven: March 30th

Read: “Allegories of Post-Fordism in 1970s New Hollywood” by Drehli Robnik (Blackboard) and TBA.

Screen: Martin Scorsese  – Taxi Driver (1976)

Week Twelve:  April 5th

Read: TBA.

Screen: Francis Ford Coppola  –  Apocalypse Now (1979)

Week Thirteen: April 12th:

Final class.

Screen: Steven Spielberg  –  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Date of Final: TBA

You will need to upload your take home test, final paper, and final Journal entries onto Blackboard at this time. We will meet during the assigned final time to wrap up the course.

Course & Classroom Policies:

Attendance & Participation. Class attendance follows university policy as stated in the current Undergraduate Bulletin. Belmont University is committed to the idea that regular class attendance is essential to successful scholastic achievement. Absence is permitted only in cases of illness or other legitimate cause. Attendance is checked from the first meeting. Late registrants will have accrued some absences prior to formal registration in the course. Additionally, you cannot make up a pop quiz or other work without an excused absence (with official permission from the Provost or a medical excuse). You are only allowed three absences for this course, and with the fourth absence you will automatically fail. Furthermore, unexcused absences will affect your class contribution grade.

Attendance is extremely important to your success in this class. Even though I am usually willing to work with you to catch up on what you miss, it is impossible to replace or replicate the experience of being in class. ATTENDANCE IS KEY TO A GOOD GRADE AND GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE COURSE. We will cover a lot of ground each week.When you miss a session, you are missing in-class assignments, interaction, and information.  You are also responsible for notifying me of any absences in advance and you are accountable for getting your work in when it is due.  It is your responsibility to keep up with all assignments, either reading or writing.  Being prepared for class is expected even after an absence.

Provost’s Excused Absences. If a class absence is necessary because of an activity by another class or university organization, the sponsor of the activity will provide a detailed memorandum on the letterhead of the unit to the Provost at least two (2) weeks prior to the event. The memo will provide the names of students involved, the type of event, and the date range of the event. If approved, the Provost will countersign the memo, generating a Provost’s Excuse, and copies will be provided by the sponsor to each student to present to instructor as an excused absence with the allowance for the student to make up missed class work.

Student responsibilities:

Students are responsible for providing documentation in support of absenteeism for the faculty member to review and evaluate according to course attendance policies. In the case of excused absence from class, students have the right and responsibility to make up all class work missed. For complete explanations of excused and unexcused absences, student and faculty responsibilities, and absence appeals, see Student Class Attendance Policy listed under Academic Policies at

Absences not Covered by the Provost’s Excuse. Shooting a film does not count. Do not ask. When the number of absences (other than those addressed in the Provost’s Excuse or a medical excuse) exceeds 20% of the number of regularly scheduled class meetings per week, the student may receive the grade of “FN” (failure for non-attendance).

Class meets 12 times. 20% = 3. Miss 3 and pass; miss 4 and fail.

Late Work. It is important that you submit your work on time. Ordinarily, I do not accept late work; however, if an emergency arises and you are unable to submit an essay on the due date, you may turn in the assignment by the next class meeting.  If your work is later than one week, you will receive a letter grade penalty.

Tardiness. Please do not be tardy. Your lateness disrupts the class. If you are more than fifteen minutes late without notifying me, you may not be admitted to the class and counted as absent.

Zoom Classes.  Students are expected to expected to keep their monitors on at all times. It is important that you see me and that I see you note your engagement with the materials. If I cannot see you I have no idea whether you actually attended the class.

Grade Evaluation Scale:  Student performance evaluation follows university policy as stated in the current Undergraduate Bulletin, where:

A (94-100) / A- (90-93) is a grade of distinction.
B+ (87-89) / B (84-86) / B- (80-83) represents excellent work, above average.
C+ (77-79) / C (74-76) / C- (70-73) indicates average work.
D+ (67-69) / D (64-66) / D- (60-63) represents minimally acceptable work.
F indicates non-acceptable work: no credit is received.

Honor Code. It is the responsibility of each student to abide by the Belmont University Honor Code. “In affirmation of the Belmont University Statement of Values, I pledge that I will not give or receive aid during examinations; I will not give or receive false or impermissible aid in course work, in the preparation of reports, or in any other type of work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of my grade; I will not engage in any form of academic fraud. Furthermore, I will uphold my responsibility to see to it that others abide by the spirit and letter of this Honor Pledge.”

Plagiarism. Using another’s work as your own is wrong. The most flagrant instances of plagiarism are:  (1) Submitting work that is copied from another student’s writing; (2) Having someone dictate what should be written (such as having a typist rewrite a paper, substituting his/her language for the student’s); (3) Use of sources without documentation. Such violations are very easy for writing teachers to spot because we become familiar with the student’s style.  I will not hesitate to fail a student for the course (not just the guilty paper) if I find a student misrepresenting another’s work as his or her own.

Accommodation of Disabilities.  In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Belmont University will provide reasonable accommodation for all medically documented disabilities. If you have a documented disability and would like the university to provide accommodations during this course, you need to notify the Office of the Dean of Students located in Beaman Student Life Center (460-6407) at the start of the semester. If you wait too long, you may not receive accommodations.

Course Evaluations.  At the end of the semester, the Office of the Provost will email you a link to complete a course evaluation for this section. It is expected that all students will participate in the end-of-the-semester, online course evaluation.