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COMM 150N: The Art of Cinema (3 credits). The development of cinema to its present state; principles of evaluation and appreciation; examples from the past and present.


Communications 150N: The Art of Cinema is designed to introduce students to a critical and analytic mode of viewing film. The course will focus on major trends and landmarks in the history of cinema that will be intertwined with important concepts and frames for viewing film as a cultural form. From early silent films to classic Hollywood, and from post WWII studio system to so-called post-modern films, we will examine significant exemplars of cinematic movements and styles. We will examine different narrative forms, such as Comedy, Tragedy and Melodrama, and relate these forms to their use in different genres, such as the Western, populist cinema and Horror. In each case, students will be encouraged to think critically about how films construct meaning, convey emotion and create patterns of audience identification with their message.

Cyber Etiquette

As an online class, students should be mindful of cyber etiquette. The instructors and graders are not anonymous customer service employees and should not be treated as such. Your communications should not be intimate instant message between friends; avoid email shorthand, use normal letter writing conventions and display a rudimentary knowledge of the English language. In the group forums, be respectful of others.

Course Materials

Most World Campus courses require that students purchase materials (e.g., textbooks, specific software, etc.). To learn about how to order materials, please see the Course Materials page. You should check the World Campus Course Catalog approximately 3–4 weeks before the course begins for a list of required materials.

Using the Library

Many of the University Libraries resources can be utilized from a distance. Through the Libraries website, you can

  • access magazine, journal, and newspaper articles online using library databases;
  • borrow materials and have them delivered to your doorstep—or even your desktop;
  • get research help via email, chat, or phone using the Ask a Librarian service; and
  • much more. 

You must have an active Penn State Access Account to take full advantage of the Libraries' resources and service.  The Off-Campus Users page has additional information about these free services.

Technical Requirements

Technical Requirements
Operating System Penn State's LMS, Canvas, supports most recent versions of Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac operating systems.
To determine if your operating system is supported, please review the Canvas Computer Specifications.
Hardware For a list of required computer hardware specifications and internet speed, please review the Canvas Computer Specifications.
Browser Canvas supports the last two versions of every major browser release. We highly recommend updating to the newest version of whatever browser you are using.
To determine if your browser is supported, please review the list of Canvas Supported Browsers.
Please note that due to Instructure's reduction of support for Internet Explorer, students and instructors should choose another browser to use such as Firefox, Chrome, Edge, or Safari.
Note: Cookies must be enabled, and pop-up blockers should be configured to permit new windows from Penn State websites.
Additional Software

All Penn State students have access to Microsoft Office 365, including Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Students will need Adobe Acrobat, available through Adobe Creative Cloud.

Sound Card, Microphone, and Speakers Required
Monitor Capable of at least 1024 x 768 resolution
Mobile Device The Canvas mobile app is available for versions of iOS and Android. To determine if your device is capable of using the Canvas Mobile App, please review the Canvas Mobile App Requirements.

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If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Service Desk.

For registration, advising, disability services, help with materials, exams, general problem solving, visit World Campus Student Services!

Course Requirements and Grading

Communications 150N will combine film viewings with readings surrounding the films. Students will be required to view the films, keep up with the readings, watch and answer questions on the online lectures, complete responses in each lesson, and complete lesson discussions and quizzes. All readings will be available as E-Reserves through the university library. Each student’s grade for the semester will be based on the following components:

  1. Lesson Responses
  2. Lesson Discussion Participation (Odd numbered lessons)
  3. Lesson Quizzes (Even numbered lessons)
  4. Engagement with lectures

Lesson Responses  (15 total, lowest score dropped)
There will be Lesson Responses each week, consisting of a video clip and a question from the feature film of the week. Students should think about the question in relation to the clip and, in about 250 words, submit a text response. These responses will be graded based on a scale of 100%, 85%, 70% and 50%. At the end of the semester, the low score will be dropped before generating the average. The Lesson Responses will be open during the week that each response is due.  All submissions received after the scheduled due date will be penalized one step in the grading hierarchy. The response average will be worth 40% of your final grade.

Lesson Quizzes (even numbered lessons, 7 total, lowest score dropped)
Lesson Quizzes will be a test of the students’ ability to recognize formal components of film. Students will be required to complete these quizzes. The lowest score from the quizzes will be dropped from the final average. The total quiz average will comprise 40% of the final grade.

Lesson Discussion Participation (odd numbered lessons, 8 total)
The Lesson Discussion Forums consist of a general question prompt to get the discussion started. Students are encouraged to engage in the discussion by drawing upon what is learned from the lesson Previews and Critic's Corner. You should not only respond to the question in a thoughtful way, but also engage the ideas of your fellow students by responding thoughtfully to at least two other students' posts. While critical engagement is encouraged, you should be respectful and constructive when interacting with one another.
The total discussion participation average will be worth 20% of the final grade.

Please see the Grading Rubric, which outlines the expectations for the content quality of discussion posts.

Grading Rubric for Discussion Forums

Example Discussion Forum Question:

What is the relationship between the following clip and the idea discussed in the lecture about the difference between fantasy and realism in cinematic representation?

Example Contributions and Instructor Ratings:

"This scene isn’t real looking. U would have to be wacked to think this was real."

(This doesn't address the question, doesn't refer to the idea in the lecture and uses poor grammar and texting conventions.)

1 out of 4 points

"This clip is from the movie The Matrix, which is one of my favorite films. It is about a guy who thinks that his life is real, but it is really just a computer program that he is hooked into. It made me really think."

(This is better, but still doesn't really address the question or refer to the concept as described in the lecture notes. Moreover, it is merely giving the opinion of the author about the movie instead of showing analytical thinking.)

2 out of 4 points

“In the lecture, it talked about how realism and fantasy were two of the trajectories in cinema. Directors wanted to use the capacity of photography to look real and apply it to cinema. In some cases they wanted things that were trying to be accurate to life to be convincingly real. In other cases, they wanted things that were obviously make-believe to appear to look real so as to give film goers the experience of something different.”

(This shows a good grasp of what we discussed in the lecture, but does not link the ideas to the clip. It is generally correct and well written.)

3 out of 4 points

“In this clip, we see Trinity in what looks like a standard detective movie. The police are coming to get her and the viewer is given all the cues the movie can give to make it seem like a realistic picture. However, when the fighting starts, Trinity begins to defy gravity and move in ways that are completely fantastic. The film still looks real in many ways, but it is portraying things that transcend conventional representations of the world. So it seems to show both tendencies as discussed in the lecture. It is both realistic, in that it is trying to convince the viewer that it actually could happen, yet fantastic, in that it is obviously showing something that could only happen in the make-believe world of cinema.”

(This discusses both the specifics of the clip and the concepts at stake from the lecture. It shows that the commenter is trying to integrate the concepts into the commentary in a way that shows a grasp of both the film and the material.)

4 out of 4 points

An additional point will be added for responding to other people's comments in a constructive manner.


Your grade will be based on the following:

AssessmentTotal% of GradeWhere?
Assessments and Grade Percentages
Lesson Responses15 (drop lowest score)40%Lessons 1 through 15
Lesson Quizzes7 (drop lowest score)40%Even numbered lessons
Lesson Discussion Participation820%Odd numbered lessons


Your final grade will be determined based on the scoring explained above, and will conform to the following:

PercentLetter Grade
Grading Scale
92 - 100%A
90 - 91.99%A-
88 - 89.99%B+
82 - 87.99%B
80 - 81.99%B-
78 - 79.99%C+
70 - 77.99%C
60 - 69.99%D
Below 60%F

* To meet graduation requirements, students must earn at least a C for this course

Please refer to the University Grading Policy for Undergraduate Courses for additional information about University grading policies.

Course Schedule

Untitled Document
Course Introduction and Lesson 1: History of Cinema


  1. Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2001). Readings on Mise-en-scene. In Film Art: An Introduction (pp. 169-171). New York. McGraw Hill.
  2. Mast, G., & Kawin, B. F. (2006). Film Narrative, Commercial Expansion. In A Short History of the Movies (pp. 28-37). New York. Longman.
Feature Films:
  1. The Great Train Robbery
  2. Voyage dans la Lune
  3. A Corner in Wheat
  4. The Girl and Her Trust
  5. Bangville Police
  1. Lesson 1 Response: Voyage dans la Lune
  2. Lesson 1 Discussion
Lesson 2: Development of Cinematic Language


  1. Giannetti, L. (2008). American Cinema in the 1920s - "Chaplin Giannetti." In Understanding Movies (pp. 46-51). Upper Saddle River. Prentice Hall.
  2. Winokur, M. (1987). Modern Times and the Comedy of Transformation. Literature/Film Quarterly, 15(4), 219-226.
Feature Film:

Modern Times

  1. Lesson 2 Response: Modern Times
  2. Lesson 2 Quiz
Lesson 3: Frank Capra and Populist Cinema


  1. Richards, J. (1976). Frank Capra and the Cinema of Populism. In B. Nichols (Ed.), Movies and Methods (pp. 65-77). Berkeley. University of California Press.
  2. Toplin, R. et al. (1999). Frank Capra's America. Journal for MultiMedia History, Vol. 2, 1-12. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from
Feature Film:

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

  1. Lesson 3 Response: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  2. Lesson 3 Discussion
Lesson 4: John Ford and Classic Hollywood Cinema


  1. Giannetti, L. (2008). On John Ford. In Understanding Movies (pp. 152-157). Upper Saddle River. Prentice Hall.
  2. Gossage, L. (1990). Artful propaganda of Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. In D. Wyatt (Ed.), New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath (pp. 101-125). New York. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Mast, G., & Kawin, B. F. (2006). American Studio Years: 1930-1945 "Ford and the Studio System.” In A Short History of the Movies (pp. 186-210). New York. Longman.
  4. Sobchack, V. (1979). Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis Through Visual Style. American Quarterly, 31(5), 596-615.
Feature Film:

The Grapes of Wrath

  1. Lesson 4 Response: The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Lesson 4 Quiz
Lesson 5: Romantic Comedy and Cinema as an Ethical Tool


  1. Cavell, S. (1981). Importance of Importance: The Philadelphia Story. In Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (pp. 133-160). Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.
Feature Film:

The Philadelphia Story

  1. Lesson 5 Response: The Philadelphia Story
  2. Lesson 5 Discussion
Lesson 6: Elia Kazan


  1. Beltzer, T. (2004). A Face in the Crowd. Senses of Cinema. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from
  2. Wolcott, J. (2007). Unforgettable Face. Vanity Fair. Iss. 559, 228. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from
Feature Film:

A Face in the Crowd

  1. Lesson 6 Response: A Face in the Crowd
  2. Lesson 6 Quiz
Lesson 7: Hitchcock


  1. Bonitzer, P. (1992). Hitchcockian Suspense. In S. Zizk (Ed.), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan: But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock (pp. 15-19). London. Verso.
  2. Chion, M., & Bozovie, M. (1992). 4th Side and Man Behind his own Retina. In S. Zizk (Ed.), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan: But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock (pp. 155-177). London. Verso.
  3. Giannetti, L. (2008). Hitchcock. In Understanding Movies (pp. 254-258). Upper Saddle River. Prentice Hall.
  4. Mast, G., & Kawin, B. F. (2006). American Studio Years: 1930-1945. "Hitchcock and 50s Cinema." In A Short History of the Movies (pp. 211-214). New York. Longman.
Feature Film:

Rear Window

  1. Lesson 7 Response: Rear Window
  2. Lesson 7 Discussion Forum
Lesson 8: A Look at Documentary Film and Historical Knowledge

No Readings for this lesson

Feature Film:

Night and Fog

  1. Lesson 8 Response: Night and Fog
  2. Lesson 8 Quiz
Lesson 9: Stanley Kubrick and the Cold War Hollywood


  1. Siano, B. (1995). A Commentary on Dr. Strangelove. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from
Feature Film:

Dr. Strangelove

  1. Lesson 9 Response: Dr. Strangelove
  2. Lesson 9 Discussion Forum
Lesson 10: Mike Nichols and the Hollywood Renaissance


  1. Beuka, R. (2000). Just one Word...."Plastics." Journal of Popular Film & Television, 28(1), 12-21.
  2. Mast, G. & Kawin, B.F. (2006). Hollywood Renaissance: 1964-76. In A Short History of the Movies (pp. 344-349). New York. Longman.
Feature Film:

The Graduate

  1. Lesson 10 Response: The Graduate
  2. Lesson 10 Quiz
Lesson 11: Martin Scorsese and the Gangster Film


  1. Raymond, M. (2002). Martin Scorsese. Senses of Cinema. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from
  2. Viano, M. (1991). Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese. Film Quarterly. 44(3), 43-50.
Feature Film:


  1. Lesson 11 Response: Goodfellas
  2. Lesson 11 Discussion Forum
Lesson 12: The Western

No Readings for this lesson

Feature Film:


  1. Lesson 12 Response: Unforgiven
  2. Lesson 12 Quiz
Lesson 13: Spielberg and Film as History


  1. Davis, N. Z. (2002). Witnesses of Trauma: Amistad and Beloved. In Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (pp. 69-93). Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
  2. Linder, D. O. (2000). The Amistad Case. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from
Feature Film:


  1. Lesson 13 Response: Amistad
  2. Lesson 13 Discussion Forum
Lesson 14: Science Fiction and Postmodern Aesthetics


  1. Silverman, K. (1991). Back to the Future. Camera Obscura, 9(3 27), 108-132.
Feature Film:

Blade Runner

  1. Lesson 14 Response: Blade Runner
  2. Lesson 14 Quiz
Lesson 15: The Unreliable Narrator


  1. Friday, K. (2003). Generation of Men Without History: Fight Club, Masculinity, and the Historical Symptom. Postmodern Culture, 13(3).
  2. Ta, L. M. (2006). Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism. Journal of American Culture, 29(3), 265-277.
Feature Film:

Fight Club

  1. Lesson 15 Response: Fight Club
  2. Lesson 15 Discussion Forum


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Disclaimer: Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus are subject to change, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Your instructor will notify you of any changes.

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