Thursday, May 15, 2008

film class redux


As many of you many remember I have been teaching an Introduction to Film Studies Class, and I asked readers to contribute suggestions for films to show to a class who have no experience in watching classic films. For the purpose of the class, I defined classic films as pre-1967 and modern classics as 1967-1999. Everything else fell under the heading of "recent." And, wow, there were some great comments everyone and great suggestions. (Impressive lists Laura & Jacqueline).

Here are some of your suggestions:
Ed: The Thin Man series.
Tammy: Casablanca & Citizen Kane
Caitlin: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Flynn style, yo)
brewjoe: The Wizard of Oz
Laura: Singin' in the Rain, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, Meet Me in St. Louis, Love Me Tonight, and of course Hitchcock: Notorious, Foreign Correspondent, North By Northwest and Rear Window.
Bryan: To Be or Not to Be (the mighty Jack Benny and lovely Carole Lombard)
and
Jacqueline: The Grapes of Wrath, My Man Godfrey, Mrs. Miniver, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Kid, Sullivan's Travels, Top Hat (or any Fred and Ginger), 42nd Street and The Lady Eve.

I also think Jacqueline had a great comment that deserves to be repeated: " I think we must make clear first that watching a classic film is like time travel. You just have to accept things you don't quite understand. Eventually, you will understand." That is very true, but I have also experienced that the basic elements of story and character can transcend time. The other parts of the film that may be dated or different, can be understood later. Which is one reason why repeated viewing of classic films can be great or instructive.When I interviewed Robert Osborne, erstewhile TCM host, earlier this year, I was struck by a comment he made:
"...some of these great movies we have..., [The thing about them] is that they almost refuse to let you leave once you get in. They’re like page turners in a book. One scene just takes you to the other. I’m forever saying, “Oh, well, I’m just going to wait until that scene where they do this or that scene where Ingrid Bergman does that”, but you’re still there at the end of the movie. It’s one of those things that’s so great about good film making."
Great films, not just classic films, all have the same quality: The ability to suck you in.

I've taken some of your suggestions and incorporated some of them. I've exposed my class to quite a bit, with varying degrees of success. My number one rule with them was, even for their weekly personal film viewing assignments, to watch something they've never seen before.
We watched in class:
The Third Man
In the Heat of the Night
Rio Bravo
The French Connection
The Jazz Singer
Double Indemnity
Bad Day at Black Rock
Singin In the Rain
North By Northwest
The Searchers

It has been interesting to hear their comments. I was really surprised by how much they took to certain films - like Singin in the Rain. None of them expressed any fondness for musicals- but they loved it. As Laura said: "Singin' in the Rain is a good one because the comedy wins them over." Very, very true! They were also impressed by the dancing- it really floored them. Some of them even asked why we don't see that kind of talent anymore. It goes to show - sometimes a great flick is a great flick.

I've even been more surprised by some of their personal choices- one student watched Anna Karenina with Vivian Leigh because it was on, and she needed to watch a film for class. She loved it and has since been exploring more of Vivian Leigh's films. She also loved Imitation of Life- and I've recommended some other films like Waterloo Bridge, All This and Heaven Too, Gaslight, Camille, and others- and now that student is off on a great journey of her own.

In an introductory class such as this- I think the main goal is just that: introducing students to many types of films and give them the tools to be able to interpret or understand them. That requires lessons in film terms, film techniques and film history in addition to showing films that display some of the topics discussed. For a more advanced class I think silent films, foreign films and others would be ripe for discovery. In fact, if I had access to a decent copy of Greed, I would've shown it anyway- it is that good.



All in all, I think success comes from their willingness to explore more films (especially further back than the 80's as I found that's where their "movie memory", as it were, stopped). And I don't think I could've said it better than one student who said- "the great thing about these old movies, is that there a whole bunch of them to watch." Exploring is always more fun when there is a lot of treasure to find.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Talking pictures, that means I'm out of a job. At last I can start suffering and write that symphony.


6 comments:

mel said...

I am most impressed by the remarkable insight expressed in this post - not only by you but also by Laura and Jacqueline with their lists and comments.

And I go along with your definitions of the periods for classic films and modern classics, and I would adopt them as being valid for general use too.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you Mel, and JC. Your wide variety of genre is probably the best bet at capturing the students. Film is so subjective. One may prefer gangster films, another musicals. First they just need to get over the hurdle that these movies are really old. After that everything you've mentioned about their timelessness will shine through.

Laura said...

This post was great fun to read -- in fact I read it both last night and again today just to absorb all the info -- it is so wonderful to hear of "young people" who are being introduced to the pleasures of great movies and finding they are liking them.

I particularly liked your quote of a student and your response: "'the great thing about these old movies, is that there a whole bunch of them to watch.' Exploring is always more fun when there is a lot of treasure to find."

Absolutely! I'm lucky that I grew up watching classic movies, including spending countless hours in the revival theaters of L.A. in the '70s and early '80s, but I am fascinated by how many movies I have *not* seen which are so good. Thanks to the availability of TCM and DVDs, we are blessed to have so many viewing choices, including some fairly obscure films. Blogging has particularly encouraged me to watch dozens of films for the first time, and more often than not, I find wonderful new things to enjoy. It's very exciting!

Finally, thanks to both you and Mel for the very kind words. Being able to share the love of "old" movies with others online is another great thing for which we can thank modern technology.

Best wishes,
Laura

Ladytink_534 said...

Another good one is Bringing Up Baby because it's genuinely funny without a lot of slapstick or the "gross humor" in today's "comedies".

J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks for all of your comments. I'm not preachy about Classic films or anything, but I definitely think that broadening one's cultural radar ups their IQ (and EQ if you want to get all PC about it).
Just a quick story- when my boys are in the car with me for a decent length of time, we throw a OTR show in - Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, etc. This past week during standardized testing, my 11 year old had to write an essay where they pick one famous person they would like to spend the day with and explain why. My son picked Jack Benny. Makes a dad proud dontcha know?

Christian H said...

What a great post. I was lucky enough to study two film degrees and couldn't get enough of screenings and reading.

I think the selections are spot on - your students are very lucky.

You mentioned silents and how you'd show them Greed. Would be great to slip at least one silent in on the course, even if it's only a two-reeler before a main feature.

If a two-reeler how about something like Buster Keaton in One Week, Laurel and Hardy in Liberty or Charley Chase in Mighty Like a Moose. If a feature I'd suggest Chaplin's The Circus.

Christian.
http//classicfilmshow.com

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