Shots in the Dark (EAF2502)

StaffDr Lisa Smithstead -
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

  • To offer students a rich insight into the development of American film, ranging across the diverse formations that have enabled it to become an immensely popular and influential source for both art and entertainment.
  • To look closely at Hollywood, one of the world's most successful exponents of screen entertainment, but also to consider the important realms of independent filmmaking and art cinema, which have broadened the scope of cinematic innovation and representation, and have often offered a distinct challenge to Hollywood's own practices.
  • To place some of the most fascinating and significant films to have emerged from the American cinema in the cultural and institutional contexts from which they emerged.

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 tasks, 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, 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 development, organisation, 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 teaching11Contextual lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching5Text-based lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching33Film screenings
Scheduled learning and teaching11Seminars
Guided independent study 54Study group preparation and meetings
Guided independent study 70Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided independent study 116Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Small group critical analysisThree powerpoint slides per student per slideshow.1-6, 7Feedback 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.
Examination45Take home 1-6, 10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Module 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
ExaminationExamination1-6, 10Referral/deferral period
Module participationRepeat study or Mitigation1-11n/a

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

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