Shots in the Dark (EAF2502)

StaffDr James Lyons - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to engage you in the rich history of American cinema, making connections between key films and the major contexts that have shaped their production, distribution, and reception, and exploring the models and methods of film scholarship that have shaped an understanding of this history.  By examining topics such as the origins of Hollywood, the coming of sound, the impact of film censorship, the role of World War II, the break-up of the studio system, and the rise of the contemporary independent film sector, as well as looking at significant stars, genres and production trends, the module aims to provide you with wide-ranging knowledge of American cinema, and the methods used to approach a study of its history.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an informed understanding of key phases of American film production, taking in Hollywood cinema, but also the independent sector, from 'art house' to the 'avant garde'
  • 2. demonstrate a critical appreciation of some of the key debates shaping our understanding of the contours of American film production in its various formations.
  • 3. relate the formal characteristics of some key American films to the distinct contexts that served to shape their production and reception.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate their skills in the close formal, thematic, generic and authorial analysis of different kinds of films.
  • 5. demonstrate skills in the research and evaluation of relevant critical and historical materials for the study of film.
  • 6. demonstrate an ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to film texts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 8. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 9. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 10. through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process.
  • 11. through sitting their final examination, demonstrate proficiency in the use of memory and in the development, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

The module surveys the history of American cinema from inception to the contemporary era, with an emphasis on Hollywood, but also examining independent filmmaking, the avant garde, art cinema and cult cinema. It proceeds decade-by-decade, looking at major trends and exemplary films, and the cultural, aesthetic, and industrial contexts that shaped them.



Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 11Contextual lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 5Text-based Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 66Film Screenings
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 22Seminars
Guided independent study 33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study 70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study 93Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Small group critical analysis 15 minutes1-9Instant feedback from tutor, supplemented by feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay452000 words1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Exam452 hours1-6, 10Examination period
Seminar Participation10Continuous 1-11Oral feedback with opportunity for office hours follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-6, 10Referral/deferral period
Seminar ParticipationRepeat Study or Mitigation1-11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Viewing


The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, Fox Searchlight, 2014)

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, Annapurna, 2012)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, WB, 2008)

Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, The Picture Factory, 2001)

Fargo (Joel And Ethan Coen: Polygram/Working Title/Gramercy Pictures, 1996)

Speed (Jan De Bont: Twentieth Century-Fox, 1994)

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee: 40 Acres and a Mule/Universal, 1989)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemickis: Amblin/Universal, 1985)

Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray: WB, 1956)
Double Indemnity
(Billy Wilder: Paramount, 1944)
Meshes of the Afternoon
(Maya Deren, 1943)
It Happened One Night
(Frank Capra: Columbia, 1934)
The General
(Buster Keaton: UA, 1927)
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (D.W. Griffith: Biograph,1912)

Secondary Reading

David Bordwell,
The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies (University of California Press, 2006)

Jon Lewis,American Film: A History (Norton, 2007),
Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction
(Blackwell, 2003)
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill, 2006)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources



Indicative learning resources - Other resources

The Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Popular Culture

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Film, Hollywood, history