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January 8, 2005

Cinematic Educations

I found Krista's discussion of her "cinematic eductaion" compelling, in part because her experiences echo my own. Like Krista, I missed a lot of movies as a kid because of conservative religious values. Although most of my classmates saw Star Wars in the theater, often dozens of times, I never saw the film until years later on TV. My parents were also concerned to shield me from movies and TV shows that featured what she calls "occult" overtones. Thus, I was "protected from" films and TV shows ranging from He-Man and The Smurfs to The Wizard of Oz, which I never even saw until I taught the film at Purdue in the mid-90s. The undergraduate college I attended had in the past discouraged movie-going, and students who attended that college were ostensibly prohibited from seeing R-rated movies. How they'd enforce such a rule, I can't imagine, but I could imagine a version of Footloose, substituting cinephilia for dancing, with Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, and the gang crossing the state line to see Last Temptation of Christ.

But attending graduate school with a group of film buffs and reading Deleuze's books on cinema really directed my cinematic eductaion. A great video store in West Lafayette helped. One week I'd watch Godard. The next, Truffaut or Ozu. This education was particularly focused because from 1998-2002, I had no television reception. My TV served only to play videotapes (or later, DVDs). So I have little memory of most mid-late 90s TV shows, other than the ones I watched on DVD, such as The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both of which I now find it difficult to watch on TV, preferring to see them on DVD.

I can and do still enjoy pop stuff, too (of course), although in the recent past I'd usually get my pop fix when I would wash my clothes at a local laundromat where they played movies on screens above the washers and dryers. That's where I'd usually catch bits and pieces of the Disney or children's films I wouldn't rent on my own, and the movies did offer a welcome distraction from the tedium of folding clothes. But what strikes me about my cinematic education is how "accidental" it seems, how certain movies or filmmakers come across my radar completely by accident of timing. Or how parental and religious bans still work on me in complicated ways. I have no reason to think that occult films are bad, morally or aesthetically, but I'm still less likely to watch occult films than I otherwise might be.

I mention these details because I've been reflecting a bit lately about why I chose to study film and about how and when I watch film (and TV to a lesser extent) might inform that, in large part because I've been reading Anna McCarthy's book, Ambient Television, in which she explores the role of TV outside the home, including an extended section on the relationship between TV and waiting (TV in doctor's waiting rooms, laundromats, etc). I'd planned to write a longer entry on McCarthy's book, but a few too many distractions are getting in the way. The book has certainly helped me to rethink some of the questions I've been thinking about regarding spectatorship and public/private divisions, which I'll hopefully be able to develop more in a couple of articles I've been writing.

Posted by chuck at January 8, 2005 12:56 PM

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It's weird how accidental it can seem. In film school, I was introduced to many greats of US and world cinema to which I had never been exposed, but also to films that influenced my professors. One professor was very into Peter Weir, so his classes always used Weir's films as a teaching tool. That seems almost accidental to me. I learned several filmmaking techniques from Weir's films, as opposed to any countless other films I could have learned from.

I could have lived without Green Card, which this professor seemed to love.

But I was NOT introduced to so many great films that I now love, films I discovered later on my own or thanks to my brother's vast knowledge of film trivia.

Posted by: Chris at January 8, 2005 2:28 PM

Interesting that Weir was so important for your film professor. Green Card was pleasant enough, but it didn't really change my life. I do like Fearless quite a bit.

Much of my knowledge, as your comment suggests, comes from the communities where I've actively watched films, and you and your brother are a big part of that, I'm sure.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2005 2:39 PM

I was thinking that (about communities and about my brother and I and you as part of one community). The whole Godfather thing is such a big part of my young film experience, because it was a family favorite.

Green Card I fidn annoying because of Andie MacDowell. She flat-out can't act. Fearless is good, as was Truman Show. Actually, that's my favorite Weir film. But I just don't think I would have gravitated towards Weir's films without the urging of a professor. Not that I don't like them. Just not my style.

I 'discovered' Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton on my own, after film school, and I really like their work now, mostly for its outsider status.

Posted by: Chris at January 8, 2005 3:53 PM

I know that I encountered the Godfather films much later than you did, and that leads me to wonder if that's why I gravitated more towards Scorsese early on (another shared interest).

I knew that you weren't a big Andie MacDowell fan, but some directors (Soderbergh in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, especially) have used her well. Weir's not really a favorite of mine, either, but that may be due to some amount of self-criticism, including a retroactive dislike of Dead Poets Society.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2005 4:13 PM

I had a positive reacton to Dead Poets long ago -- at an influential age -- but I really haven't revisited it in ages. There are some obvious problems with it.

I didn't hate MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. I actually like that movie, so maybe it's a failing of the director (at least in part, though I can't imagine that's true for Weir).

I gravitate much more towards Scorsese now than Coppola (who I still respect as a filmmaker, but more for things like The Conversation than for the Godfather series).

Posted by: Chris at January 8, 2005 4:19 PM

I had a similar, if less opressive experience. Growing up, I wasn't allowed to watch lots of movies. Where my friends, in elementary school, would see Aliens and Terminator, I was relegated to a half hour of TV time a week, and things like He Man, Ninja Turtles or GI Joe were off limits (though things more innocuous like Star Wars and the Smurfs were perfectly accepted. Star Trek and Star Wars, in fact, were actively appreciated).

As soon as I discovered newspapers, which was at about 8, I realized that I couldn't see all the movies, but I could sure read the reviews. So between the newspaper and the parodies I read in Mad magazine, I learned about many movies that I never saw. By the time I was 15 and the rules relaxed (or I found more creative ways to break them), I was familiar with a great number of movies that I hadn't seen, plus my appetite had been whetted for criticism. When we got the internet at my home in 10th grade, the first thing I did was find all the papers and websites I could that published movie reviews.

Even today, when I see a couple of movies a week, I still have the review bug: I probably read at least a dozen reviews, sometimes much more, of most mainstream movies. And because I don't live in a good movie town, I can still read reviews for the smaller foreign films that don't find their way into my neck of the woods.

Thus, it was my parents keeping me from movies that, at least partially, made me the regular filmgoer I am today.

Posted by: Peter at January 8, 2005 10:20 PM

Sometimes the unexpected pops right out at you! I once took a class with Anna McCarthy ... interesting to find out what happened to her.

Posted by: profgrrrrl at January 8, 2005 10:21 PM

Peter, my background may not have been as oppressive as it sounds. The primary prohibition was anything with magic and, to a lesser extent, shows with non-Chritsian cosmologies (i.e., most science fiction). My parents also were less likley to see films because they had been raised to believe that going to movie theaters was sinful. But their prohibitions were somewhat inconsistent, and I managed to watch a lot of really crappy TV.

I'd imagine that some of my earliest knowledge of film grew out of what I was allowed to watch. Warner Bros cartoons, for example, offered an incredible body of cinematic references, most of which I only partially understood.

Profgrrrl, that's really cool. Her book has been very helpful for some ideas I'm working through in my book.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2005 10:39 PM

I like the idea of remake of Footloose, with film viewing substituting for dancing. It would make a great film, except can you imagine getting all those copyright clearances! :)


Posted by: Jimbo at January 10, 2005 10:15 AM

Getting copyright clearances would be pretty difficult. I like how Bertolucci used Samuel Fuller's films in the cinephile sequence in The Dreamers, a film that I criticized far too heavily when I watched it the first time. Maybe you'd just need one or two films to pull something like that off....

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 10, 2005 10:42 AM

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