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January 12, 2005

Reel Changes

I've just been offered the opportunity to teach an Introduction to Film course this semester, so I'm doing some very last-minute planning/organizing. The class will probably look a lot like the Intro to Film course I taught this past summer. Here's a tentative schedule, but because I'm still working out the details, I'm open to suggestions, though I'd like to have the syllabus etched in stone by no later than Friday.

Week One: Early Cinema, Edison shorts via American Memory Project (ca. 1900).
Week Two: Narrative, North by Northwest (1958)
Week Three: Mise-en-scene, Blonde Venus (1932)
Week Four: Cinematography, The Third Man or Touch of Evil.
Week Five: Editing, The Harder They Come
Week Six: Sound, The Conversation or Meet Me in St. Louis (1974 or 1944)
Week Seven: Narrative, Citizen Kane (1941), but I may try something else here.
Week Eight: Documentary, The Thin Blue Line (1988), or other Errol Morris doc.
Week Nine: Genre I, His Girl Friday, tentative.
Week Ten: Genre II, Lady from Shanghai
Week Eleven: Indie Cinema, Do the Right Thing (1989)
Week Twelve: Run Lola Run (1998), also tentative.
Week Thirteen: Blade Runner (1982), or Dark City
Week Fourteen: Chungking Express or, more likely (because I've taught it before), Tampopo.
The plans get pretty tentative at around week five or six, simply because I'd like to spend at least one more week covering documentary. I'd also like to work in several films not listed, especially Breathless, which I haven't taught in a few years (I'd also like to pair Breathless with a Bogart film, maybe Maltese Falcon). Finally, I'm resisting the film studies imperative that you have to teach Citizen Kane in an introduction to film class. Would I be causing my students tremendous harm if I skipped Kane just for one semester? Any film titles that you, my readers, can suggest would be much appreciated.

Posted by chuck at January 12, 2005 12:14 AM

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Thin Blue Line seems like a weird pick for an exemplary documentary, since its use of re-enactment was controversial at the time of its release and it's not the direct cinema model of shooting events as they happen. FWIW, I cried through much of Crisis when we watched it this semester, and I'd love to thrust that one on undergrads. You don't have any Westerns, either.

Posted by: McChris at January 12, 2005 1:37 AM

Since this would ostensibly be in a unit on narrative

Mystery Train

All of which have interesting narrative structures.

Posted by: Todd Petersen at January 12, 2005 1:47 AM

Wow, no experimental at all? Wouldn't it be nice if they walked out with at least the vague impression that something that looked like Serene Velocity or Mothlight was a film too?

Posted by: Jim Flannery at January 12, 2005 4:29 AM

Yes, I've been debating about what Western I might use (Searchers? High Noon?), and the course *needs* some experimental films (I usually show some shorts such as La jetee). I'm having to track down most of the films myself (at the very last minute), so availability is a big issue.

If I do Thin, I'd likely teach that controversy, but it would work better with another, more conventional documentary (I've done Harlan County, USA in previous semesters). If I can track down a copy this afternoon, I might try that pairing again. Crisis would also work well. Good suggestions so far!

Posted by: Chuck at January 12, 2005 8:35 AM

Might I suggest a NetFlix subscription for obtaining the films (and to accommodate last minute switches)? Don't know if your budget can handle it (it's only about $18/month), but out here in the boonies, it's been a nice thing to have. The foreign film section of the local Best Buy was pretty much non-existent. I was able to get the department to order some needed films in time, but NetFlix is a good backup.

In early cinema, the Edison shorts are good, as is Melies' Trip to the Moon (it's just kind of silly/goofy, so the students tend to enjoy it, and you can talk about Melies' use of editing for effects purposes in contrast to his static single-shot scenes).

I'm trying to think of other films. The last class I taught that surveyed this stuff was a Post Production course that was part theory, part technology. The theory part was partially an overview of how editing has evolved over the years. Melies is one of the early ones I show, plus The Great Train Robbery. Griffith's Intolerance for its cross-cutting between different storylines. Potemkin for montage and Russian editing theories.

Some interesting choices you might consider from that editing perspective: Hitchcock's Rope for its experiment in 'no editing' (my students loved it, in spite of the slow pace). Scorsese's King of Comedy is interesting in the way it cuts back and forth between fantasy and reality without fancy tricks, until it blurs the line between what is fantasy and what is reality.

Those may not fit the course the way you are teaching it, but they're films that have served me well, and they have been interesting to my communication/film students.

Posted by: Chris at January 12, 2005 10:06 AM

I'd suggest All About Eve instead of Citizen Kane, although I know I'm repeating myself. While I admire Citizen Kane, I don't like it as much as other films from that period. The Emory film schedule is interesting:


Posted by: Chris Martin at January 12, 2005 11:59 AM

Only one film a week! I'm recalling that that was what my undergrad classes showed, but having gotten spoiled a bit by Brown's 2-3 films a week schedule, I don't think I could go back.

Great list. I think Thin Blue Line is an excellent choice, though if you wanted a more traditional doc, you could always add a short - maybe Primary?

I love Welles, but 3 may be too many. Maybe a more self-conscious genre film than Lady (Roaring Twenties perhaps...)? And for narrative week, there are loads other possibilities.

Posted by: Chris Cagle at January 12, 2005 12:13 PM

Not for the first time, I'm thinking I picked the wrong major in school. Citizen Kane... isn't that the one with Leanardo di Caprio washing up with rosebud soap at the beginning?

Posted by: Alex Halavais at January 12, 2005 12:44 PM

What are you studying on Week 13? ..and I thought I was the only person who enjoyed Dark City.

Posted by: Jen at January 12, 2005 1:03 PM

Lots of good ideas here. Chris: I've suggested to my students that they get Netflix accounts if they're going to be unable to attend film screenings.

Chris Martin: Good call on All About Eve. I might just try teaching it this time.

Chris Cagle: My only reason for not showing Thin Blue LIne is that students will have a harder time finding a copy of it. I've taught Harlan County as a more "traditional" documentary, and Primary might work, too. Also thinking about showing Capra's Why We Fight or Olympia.

Alex: That's the film!

Jen: I like Dark City a lot. It's pretty popular with film scholars/theorists even if it tanked at the box office.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2005 2:24 PM

The Conversation is choice. Not an easy film, but it'll open them up to a different sort of American cinema than what they're used to. The Thin Blue Line is great for documentary. If you want something more traditional/historical, you could look at a film by the Maysles or Fred Wiseman. Or less traditional- Cane Toads by Mark Lewis. American Movie would be an interesting choice, and it connects w/the indie cinema topic as well.

You might consider throwing in a silent comedy during the first week. Chaplin and Keaton feel very modern, and have the amazing effect of getting students excited about "old silent films". City Lights, but it's a feature. Keaton's shorts- i'm especially fond of The Playhouse, One Week, and the High Sign.

Personally, I'd go for Citizen Kane. I guess i'm traditional in that way. It's a really rich film, easy to talk about- and most people only encounter it in a film study class (though they will hear it referenced their whole life). But I agree with Chris-- three from Welles is probably too many, especially w/just one film a week. Maybe swap Lady from Shanghai during Genre II for a classic film noir? Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly...? Or a horror film? Evil Dead II? Texas Chainsaw, if you're brave.

Experimental possibilities-- Mothlight by Brakhage (available on the Criterion DVD), also any of his handpainted films. Short and beautiful. Easy to engage with. Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. Or, show Wavelength. They'll hate you, but they'll be talking about that screening for the rest of their life. Lock the doors so no one can leave. They'll never forget it.

For editing you might include some Soviet work. Maybe excerpts from Potemkin or Man with a Movie Camera. Breathless could fit in here as well, with the jump-cuts and all. The French New Wave can be an exciting topic, especially in the way that it connects theory and practice. Also, Italian neo-realism. The Bicycle Thief or Rome Open City. Maybe i'm thinking too much in terms of a historical approach here.

Just curious, do you have a separate class for the screening or do you combine it with the lecture?

Posted by: holzman at January 13, 2005 2:27 AM

whoa, sorry for all those line breaks. oops.

Posted by: holzman at January 13, 2005 2:27 AM

I'll probably show clips from Chaplin/Keaton in class this week. Because of the MLK holiday (screenings are scheduled for Monday nights), I'm not going to have the opportunity to show a film until near the end of January.

Horror is a good suggestion, and because I'll have already covered Hitchcock, I might do a classic '50s or '60s horror, possibly Night of the Living Dead. I do show Meshes, but forgot to list it here. Also interested in showing Man With a Movie Camera if I can work it in. Mothlight's a good call (not sure I'd be able to find a copy of Wavelength on short notice). I think my local video store has it, too.

Great suggestions. I'll list my revised comments here in the comments later tonight.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2005 9:12 AM

[I meant I'll list my revised film list....]

Re: Italian neo-realism, I'll probably spend a little less time talking about film history here, mostly because the course is an intro class for non-majors....

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2005 9:14 AM

I'd recommend at least one of James Incandenza's films.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 13, 2005 2:19 PM

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