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Marriage and the Movies: A History

The topic of marriage in the movies has always provided a fascinating reflection of changing social attitudes, shifting morals and gender roles. We will explore how films have defined marriage, identified seven core problems, and varied its three narrative components -- a couple, their problems, their situation -- from decade to decade from the silent to the modern era.

Sessions

Course at a Glance

About the Course

From the beginning of motion picture history, marriage has been a topic for popular story-telling, but Hollywood struggled with a subject that presented problems an audience already knew and perhaps did not want to see as entertainment.

How the film-making business crafted tales that were simultaneously an "I do!" of happiness and an "I don't!" of disappointment is a fascinating reflection of America's history, changing social attitudes, shifting morals and gender roles. Hollywood found ways both to reflect reality and deflect misery as decade after decade, movies adjusted a basic formula to audience needs.

Film clips and still photographs will illustrate how films defined marriage in the movies, identified a core seven problems, and varied its three narrative components -- a couple, their problems, their situation -- from decade to decade from the silent to the modern era.

Course Syllabus

5 weeks, 10 films, 22 lectures

WEEK I
Introduction
Lecture 1: An Overview on Marriage and the Movies
Lecture 2: Hollywood and Marriage
Lecture 3: The Silent Era
Lecture 4: The Silent Era part II
Film 1: WILD ORCHIDS (Franklin, 1929) (Warner Archive / Amazon)

Lecture 5: Defining the Marriage Movie
Film 2: MADE FOR EACH OTHER (Cromwell, 1939) (Amazon)

WEEK 2
Lecture 6: The "I Do" and "I Don't" versions
Film 3: THE MARRYING KIND (Cukor, 1952) (Amazon)
Lecture 7: Variations and Vignettes

Lecture 8: The Couple
Lecture 9: The Couple part II
Film 4: ADAM'S RIB (Cukor, 1949) (Amazon)

WEEK 3
Lecture 10: The Seven Recurring Problems
Lecture 11: Money and Infidelity
Film 5: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Lean, 1945) (Amazon)
Lecture 12: The Infidelity Story Over Time

Lecture 13: In-laws/Kids and Class/Incompatibility
Lecture 14: Incompatibility continued
Film 6: VIVACIOUS LADY (Stevens, 1938) (Warner Archive / Amazon)

WEEK 4
Lecture 15: Addiction/Murder
Film 7: SUSPICION (Hitchcock, 1941) (Amazon)

Lecture 16: The Situation
Lecture 17: WWII Marriage Movies
Film 8: SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (Cromwell, 1944) (Amazon)


WEEK 5
Lecture 18: Post-WWII, TV
Lecture 19: Post-war continued
Lecture 20: "The Modern Era" 
Film 9: HEARTBURN (Nichols, 1986) (Amazon)

Lecture 21: State of the Marriage Movie - "Nuclear" Marriages, Social Change
Film 10: THE WAR OF THE ROSES (DeVito, 1989) (Amazon)
Lecture 22: Conclusions


Assignments:
Multiple-choice quizzes during/after each lecture (ungraded)
Longer cumulative multiple-choice quiz at the end (graded)
Online discussion opportunities

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome!
This course will particularly appeal to all ages of film aficionados!

Suggested Readings

Although the lectures are designed to be self-contained, we recommend (but do not require) that students refer to the following books:
I DO AND I DON'T: A HISTORY OF MARRIAGE IN THE MOVIES by Jeanine Basinger (January 29, 2013)
THE STAR MACHINE by Jeanine Basinger (Jan 6, 2009)
A WOMAN'S VIEW: HOW HOLLYWOOD SPOKE TO WOMEN, 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger (May 15, 1995)
FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE: THE TREATMENT OF WOMEN IN THE MOVIES by Molly Haskell (October 15, 1987)
COMPLICATED WOMEN: SEX AND POWER IN PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD by Mick LaSalle (December 19, 2001)
PURSUITS OF HAPPINESS: THE HOLLYWOOD COMEDY OF REMARRIAGE (HARVARD FILM STUDIES) by Stanley Cavell (February 14, 1984)
EMPIRE OF DREAMS: THE EPIC LIFE OF CECIL B. DEMILLE by Scott Eyman (September 7, 2010)
IRVING THALBERG: BOY WONDER TO PRODUCER PRINCE by Mark A. Vieira (November 5, 2009)
THE AMERICAN FILM INDUSTRY edited by Tino Balio (March 15, 1985)

Course Format

This class consists of 4-5 video lectures per week; each lecture runs 15 - 30 minutes in length (approximately 1 hour total per week). These videos include spoken lecture, brief illustrative film clips and still photographs, and substantial references to the assigned films.

Students are encouraged to see the assigned films on their own, outside of class. They are readily available on DVD and can be found at your local library or for rental via NETFLIX or a similar service. Some of them are available streaming on the internet. All are available for purchase from AMAZON or another vendor. Students are responsible for locating/obtaining the films and viewing them each week.

If you are unable to view the assigned movies, you will still be able to benefit from the lecture videos and you will still be able to complete the assignments. We do not provide or allow posting of direct links to full-length copyrighted films. Some films may not be readily available outside the United States or in non-U.S. DVD region formats. Again, the lecture-discussion online videos are all that is required to pass the final exam.

Short, ungraded multiple-choice quizzes will be offered during or immediately following the lectures. Students may take a longer cumulative quiz to obtain a grade at the end of the course.

FAQ

  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class? Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.