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Kylee Peña
Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 2:11:58 pm

I'm stealing an idea for a thread that Tim had a few days ago. If you were running a film appreciation class, what would your curriculum be? What would you choose to help someone understand how to watch a film?

I took an introductory film class in college (the only one I ever took) and it felt very remedial and focused more on making sure you've seen the classics than making you think about what the films mean. So of course at the time I thought to myself "self, you could totally make a better film class than this!" Well, surprise, it's a lot more difficult than I thought it would be to come up with films that represent FILM the way I want someone to see it while teaching them how to watch films without becoming a total film snob.

I went with 10 movies in my film course. That's about one film per week. I'm assuming my class is twice a week, with one class for watching and the other for discussing because this is a made-up fantasy land where we all teach our own film classes. On weeks with only one class (like the week of Halloween or my birthday, because I don't teach on Halloween or my birthday, because I have tenure in this world) we'd spend the class watching awesome title sequences or awesome clips from movies that are otherwise boring.

(My film professor was super super weird. She made us stay to the end of the closing credits which I appreciated as a creator. She also made us refer to the characters by their names only, not as the actor's name. If either of these rules were violated, she lost her FREAKIN' MIND.)

I wouldn't show Citizen Kane. I think everyone should see it at the beginning of a life of film appreciation, but I don't really think it's very compelling to a new film student. Almost everyone knows the twist. It's become expected that this is in a film 101 class, so it's almost like a hurdle you have to make it over in order to get to the really interesting stuff. I think it carries a lot more weight and impact after you have more of an overall appreciation for filmmaking and seek it out on your own.


1. Speed - Ha, you signed up for film class and we're watching SPEED! WTF. I think it's a perfect introduction. Levels the class. People who generally don't like cinema or generally exclusively like art house cinema alike will see that Speed actually offers a lot more than a popcorn flick. It's a fast, smartly written action film. The side characters on the bus are actually pretty well developed. And it starts to introduce the idea that every line of dialogue or action will play into something later: the gun on the mantle. It's kind of ridiculous and not without its share of cliche crap, but it's actually a different way to jump start film analysis where you least expect it. Plus I'm guessing most people in a film class will have seen The Avengers and will be interested in the fact Joss Whedon worked on this script.

2. Touch of Evil - The only "old" movie on my list. Besides the famous opening sequence, I think it serves as a good follow-up to a crazy movie like Speed while also showcasing a lot of shots and plot-points that will come up in the next 8 films. Coming to it with a more open mind after realizing that movies already you sorta-watch on TV actually are cinematic might help make it more meaningful.

3. Primer - So we established action movies and a classic as a basis for appreciation, why not jump off the indie deep end? This scrambles up the expectations of structure and story. Nothing is linear and nothing is clear. It challenges you, and you may not like it. And whether you people like it or not, it serves as the scifi in my class.

4. Back to the Future - A time travel contrast to Primer that shows two different films built around the same basic idea. And BTTF is another film that rarely wastes any dialogue or action that doesn't come back later in some way. It can contrast direction and audiences.

5. Run Lola Run - I think a good way to round out a couple weeks of screwing around with structure is to jump into another story with a very specific and unique form. It pulls the audience out of the story in between each act, talks about it, and plops them back in.

6. The Five Obstructions - Surely the least favorite film of the class to most people, and also the only documentary. The film is basically a challenge from Lars von Trier to Jorgen Leth - remake Leth's "The Perfect Human" in five ways, with five different "obstructions. Like the dogma 95 movement, these obstructions are almost completely arbitrary. It introduces the idea of film as an experiment and film as a limitation. Watching a director trying to tell his story in a new way with some bizarre constraint at LEAST makes you think a little more about what goes into developing a story.

7. Pulp Fiction: I love french new wave and I'm tempted to put Breathless in my class, but I think there are better ways to learn what those films have to offer you than starting with that. Pulp Fiction is sorta in that ballpark. Plus it's a great look at weaving narratives where the characters and dialogue are most important.

8. Oceans 11 - The one with George Clooney, obviously. Another look at weaving a lot of characters and narratives, but the plot seems much more important at first. After analysis, you realize that the heist isn't really what the film is about at all.

9. Jaws - I think most people will have seen Jaws, but looking at it from an analytical perspective would be new. Thinking about why it is actually successful, and when it becomes less so. It also represents the horror genre on my syllabus.

(Tempted to finish up with Speed 2: Cruise Control, to show that you ARE too good for SOME crazy films. But I'd rather end on a high note.)

10. Wall-E - Animated films are films too. You can tell stories that aren't possible with live action. Including ones about adorable robots. Also, most of my syllabus is very heavy on talky scripts. How about a whole hour of almost NO talking? Congratulations, you graduated from my film class.

I would consider swapping The Five Obstructions for a class with a series of short low budget independent films. Don't make me decide.

To me, a film appreciation class is more about showcasing what is great AND entertaining rather than what is important. If you want to know what is important, you'll take a film history class and I think they should be completely separate. An introductory film appreciation class begins to open your mind up to what you should be watching for in a film, and why you should care that a choice was made. To split weeks into focusing on "structure and editing" or "mis-en-scene" or whatever is way too boring to me. The main takeaway should be: film is intentional, difficult, and awesome, yo.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 3:44:18 pm

As an Olde' Farte', I would make some different choices than you did. No Fellini or Goddard? No Un Chein Andalou? No Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? No Japanese classics? NO FRAKING BATTLESHIP POTEMPKIN!?!?!?

(sits back down on fainting couch, takes pulse, tries slow, deep breaths).


Hey, everybody's going to suggest different films, for different reasons, and at least I like that you put some Welles in there with "Touch of Evil".


If you show "Jaws", you need to show "Duel" first. At least excerpts from it.


For your sci fi movie I would suggest "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" instead of "Primer", though both are great.

If you're going to show "Speed", you should show it after they have seen "Stagecoach".


If they really know NOTHING about the structure of film editing, then you probably DO need to show "The Great Train Robbery" and something by Griffith and/or Eisenstein/Kuleshov.

THEN you show how Tarantino plays with structure, otherwise, I don't think your "kids" are going to "get" what's truly underpinning these films. I would show older films they have never heard of, the ones that invented the conventions in the films they DO know. You're trying to give them a language and a reference frame for appreciating the films, and that's why I suggest a wider sample range in terms of time.

AS far as "Kane", I think it's a mistake to show Kane first: to appreciate it better, you FINISH the class with it.

My 2 cents.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 3:49:12 pm

Fair points, this curriculum does not include discussion points and supplemental readings and viewings. :) But I want to hear yours. What's your Old Person™ Film Appreciation Syllabus?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 4:33:05 pm

I mentioned most of it in my last reply.

You don't seem to have any comedies (well, BTTF notwithstanding, which is to my mind more a comedy/adventure mix). I'll have to think about a suitable one that also teaches something about film writing or film narrative structure thru editing.

Film is such a broad field, you really could do a hundred different courses, each concentrating on one thing. But let's restrict ourselves to the requirement that this be ten films to show someone aged 18 or more, who knows nothing of the history of film or anything about visual language. And for a practical result, from seeing and talking about these ten films, they should be able to compare and contrast what makes each of the ten examples "notable" as a film that in some way advanced the art of telling stories though a motion picture, something that later film makers patterned their own work from.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 4:47:06 pm

Ah, I thought you were just fixing mine, not committing to your own. Good choices, many of which I haven't seen.

You're right. No real comedies. Sup with that? Trying to think of a true comedy that serves a greater purpose to introduce someone to film appreciation. That's tough. I'd definitely consider BTTF and Pulp Fiction as covering about as much comedy as I'd personally want to get into. This may be blasphemous, but I think one of the best comedies ever is Dumb and Dumber. I'd love to hand out a syllabus that included Dumb and Dumber. To me it's a great mix of physical comedy and actual clever jokes.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is another of my favorites that would probably teach more about structure and editing.

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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 5:13:21 pm

What's that Kylee? No Lars? LOL

I agree with your idea that there's a difference between Film History for film nerds, rather than Film Appreciation for general audiences.

For example, I would most definitely NOT include Kane for general audience, but for film HISTORY, I think that it's importance is generally understated, and the reasons for its importance spoken about too rarely. But no way should a general audience get anywhere near this. At least for me.

I'm not sure I'd include ANY black and white movies, even though my top 5 includes a couple of them (Grapes of Wrath and Hard Days Night, the latter of which spent many years at #1 before being displaced by...a movie in color LOL), with Kane not far behind. But for a general audience? Meh.

I WOULD however include the documentary Visions of Light, which covers a lot of ground about how movies look, including great scenes for Kane...and Grapes, Touch of Evil, The Killers, Lawrence of Arabia, The Black Stallion and a bunch of others. I do think that an appreciation class should include something about craft, and this is a highly entertaining look at it...and a pretty good example of a documentary. Gotta have one of those in my class.

Jaws is an interesting example of an adaptation that vastly improves on the source material. The book is a ridiculously fast read, but I'd include it as part of the assignment to show the ways in which Spielberg made it NOT about the shark, notably, with Quint's soliloquy about the Indianapolis, but also the theme of masculinity throughout, which Benchley's book didn't even attempt.

I'd also underscore that he was 26 at the time. LOL

And 25 when he did Duel, which is a great example of a TV movie. Not a bunch of those around anymore, but Steven definitely linked them in his own mind.

I like the idea of including a remake, and I think Oceans 11 is a pretty good one...but you HAVE to include the original. Have you seen it? A gas, the Rat Pack at their meta-pinnacle (meta, not mega), and another example of a remake improving the source material.

I think you need a musical. It doesn't have to be an oldie...although I really like Singing In The Rain, with bonus points because it's a movie about movies.

I'd always put Die Hard ahead of Speed because it created a new breed of hero, as well as a new genre -- of which Speed is but one example (aka, Die Hard on a bus) -- and certainly one of my top 5 all-time (yes, a little ahead of Kane) but you're on the right track by including a popular action flick. I take that back. IT HAS TO BE DIE HARD. NO EXCEPTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED.

In fact, on this entire list, Die Hard and Jaws are the only ones that I don't think are worth talking about alternatives. None.

For reasons I already included at stupid length, I'd want to include Blade Runner, or another similarly iconic sci-fi feature.

As I think about it, that's kind of where I'd want to go: covering the genre bases. Comedy, drama, doco, musical, sci-fi, action, epic (Lawrence...although it'd take 2 classes to watch, so maybe not), remake, book adaptation, so on. Noir belongs in there, so yeah, probably a black and white example...although wouldn't Brick be a fun kick in the head?

So lemme get back to you on how I'd lay out the genres and what I'd plug into them....definitely some of the same choices you've made, but some differences. LIKE DIE HARD. LOL


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 5:29:14 pm

[Tim Wilson] "What's that Kylee? No Lars? LOL"

The Five Obstructions is Lars! No Lars-only films. That'll be Appreciation 201. I want people to LIKE film.

[Tim Wilson] "I like the idea of including a remake, and I think Oceans 11 is a pretty good one...but you HAVE to include the original. Have you seen it?"

I haven't but I refuse anyway. The original can be extra credit. Or sections for comparison. Not the whole damn thing. This is supposed to be fun!

[Tim Wilson] "Noir belongs in there, so yeah, probably a black and white example...although wouldn't Brick be a fun kick in the head?"

That would be fun, but I think Brick requires more film appreciation/history background to appreciate. I tried to cover multiple bases with Touch of Evil - old, noir, black and white, but not boring. Maltese Falcon or Casablanca could fit this category too. Or kill the noir AND scifi birds with one stone -- Blade Runner. Yay!

And yeah, Singin' in the Rain for a musical. One of my favorite movies, but such a cliche film appreciation pick.

[Tim Wilson] "IT HAS TO BE DIE HARD. NO EXCEPTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED."

I like Speed because everyone talks about how great Die Hard is, so having Die Hard on your syllabus isn't shocking. Speed is like WTF, the movie with the bus? YES THE MOVIE WITH THE BUS, IT IS AWESOME.



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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 6:09:12 pm

[Kylee Wall] "I haven't but I refuse anyway. "

That's crazy talk. Maybe the best comedy of the first half of the 60s. Superior to the remake in many ways, including LENGTH, it's SHORT, so excerpts is ridiculous.

Perhaps revisit when you've SEEN it. LOL

[Kylee Wall] "I like Speed because everyone talks about how great Die Hard is, so having Die Hard on your syllabus isn't shocking. "

Neither is Speed...except that, as much I loved it -- and I do -- it's second tier AT BEST. Die Hard is launching point for an entire genre. That's the appreciation part: taking a movie that you think you know what it is, showing what you've missed all along, and using it to expand on the appreciation of two dozen more. Absolutely pivotal in the entire history of film forever after it.

And really, if you're leaving out movies that are well-viewed and already acknowledged as great, you have to leave out Jaws and Pulp Fiction, which absolutely should be included. There's no reason that Mona Lisa should be left out of an Art Appreciation class, and a thousand reasons why it SHOULD be included.

I'm not kidding man. If you miss the point of Die Hard, I'm not sure you're qualified to teach this class. Notice the absence of smilies or LOL. I'm not laughing, and I'm not kidding.

Okay, maybe LOL-ing a little, but still not kidding, even a little.

Perhaps revisit when you've SEEN it. LOL


I realized an entire genre that I left out: animation. You definitely need a little survey somehow, taking in both technology and art...but I can't think of another movie I'd include in the discussion besides Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings. A fantastic compare-contrast with a familiar movie and genre -- and before Pete's LOTR considered one of the peaks of said genre.

Also hilarious (what? LOTR as a comedy?), with truly frightening rotoscoped battle scenes, classic 70s exploitation (and sexploitation), a genre mash-up (Middle Earth as Vietnam? plus all the other stuff), and yeah, something they won't have seen before but will never forget as one of the coolest things they saw in the class.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 5:43:57 pm

Tim, I agree with you on Die Hard being a seminal genre' film for the modern action-adventure. Even though DH itself builds on earlier action tropes, it is one of the most tightly-written and best-executed versions of the genre'.


You know, it could be worth your time to go look at the various top ten lists on the AFI website. There's little there that I'd quibble over, but also they are missing some genre's in their top tens.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 4:56:25 pm

I'm thinking "The Great Dictator" for Comedy, but would entertain other ideas.

To show a film that fits the Joeseph Campbell mold of classic story-telling, ( "The Hero's Journey", you have your choice of Star Wars 1977 AKA "A New Hope", the original Karate kid, or "Rocky".

For Editing, I think Jaws and Duel work great as examples.

For cinematography and framing the camera, there are too many choices... but I would include Welles and Milosz Foreman here, as well as Kurosawa.


For action films, I think you want a Frankenheimer film in there somewhere.


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Scott Roberts
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 6:07:07 pm

When I first started thinking about what to put in my class here, I assumed that it would just end up being a bunch of violent genre pictures, and that's basically what happened... I'm 99% sure I'll never be teaching an actual class (in anything) at any point in my life, and there's probably a reason why.

1. Alien. Just feels like a cool choice to introduce the class. And sad but true, probably most kids in the class (assuming they're 18 now) probably haven't seen it. I think this would be a good way to suck them in from the get go. Some kid taking an elective film class his freshman year, and he watches Alien in the first class? He'll be pumped.

2. On the Waterfront. Ha! Well, now I've taken you back a couple years, suckers. But at least it's a good one. I'd use this as my go-to "old" movie any day of the week. But probably primarily on Tuesday, because that's when the class is scheduled.

3. Dr. Strangelove. Serves a dual purpose of including a hilarious comedy, and introducing these kids to Kubrick, to which I will show several other clips during the discussion portion of the class. I don't see anything wrong with a whole week spent on Kubrick.

4. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Yeah, I'll do a whole class on westerns, so?

5. Dog Day Afternoon. Should probably spend some time telling them about the awesomness of the 70s. Dog Day Afternoon is one of my favorites, and a good example of how to write an epic minimalist screenplay. Jaws would work great as well, as you all have pointed out, but I assume more people have seen Jaws than DDA.

6. Evil Dead 2. I think horror should be included. During the discussion class, we can go over some history of horror, but Evil Dead 2 is a great stopping point to watch an entire film, because of the influence it has had on everything after it. Plus, as much as people talk about Evil Dead 2 in film school, does any class actually watch it?

7. Paradise Lost. Documentary week. Let's get serious, people. Plus, after watching Paradise Lost, I'm going to assume at least SOME people will watch the sequels on their own time. It's a great discussion on the impact of film on real life consequences. Thin Blue Line would work as well. That's you're homework!

8. Do the Right Thing. I think this is an essential 80s film, as well as a great film to have a discussion about. It doesn't take many easy ways out, and has style to boot. Plus, I started to get the feeling like this class was too obviously designed by a white suburban dude.

9. Drive. We can talk about the present state of film, and have a nice style over substance debate.

10. Boogie Nights. A great way to talk about Robert Altman's influence on film without actually having to show a Robert Altman film. Plus, it's sort of a personal goal at this point for me to end the class with a shot of Mark Wahlberg pulling a fake penis out of his pants. It will symbolize what most of the kids learned while taking my class. But at least we had fun...! ...I'm a horrible teacher...


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 6:47:19 pm

I would substitute "In the Heat Of the Night" for "On The Waterfront".

For Documentary, I think I would go with "The Kid Stays In The Picture", because it is also a capsule history of the film business and a little bit about the behind the scenes of how films really get made. And a rip-roaring yarn, told especially well. it also shows how to make a film out of a bunch of stills and one very good interview subject.

Instead of Dog Day Afternoon, I'd go with "The French Connection".


A film I would try to cram in there somewhere to connect to today's media madness would be "A Face In The Crowd", maybe in a double-feature with "Network", or "Broadcast News".


Ten is just not enough:-)


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 28, 2013 at 6:59:24 pm

Another Documentary that doubles as extra film education would be: "Lost In Lamancha".


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 1:36:17 am

[Mark Suszko] ""Lost In Lamancha"."

Great choice. I heard Terry Gilliam speak recently, and he's still trying to make it.

He said that every film has been a struggle to finance. Everybody says "I LOVED your last film!" and, not always, but he regularly hears "I love ALL your films," and almost all of them also say, "Sorry Terry, I don't think this one is going to work at all." Like THIS is where he forgets how to make a good movie?

The other issue is that he no longer has anybody in mind to play Quixote. They're either too young, too old, or just plain gone. He invited the audience to suggest somebody, but nobody could really come up with anyone compelling that fit the bill.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 2:21:40 am

Eli Wallach is 97. But if you hurry...


F. Murray Abraham might work now...

Or Hopkins...

Von Sydow...

Plummer...



But I think an unknown would work better.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 3:01:41 am

Part of the issue is that they have to be comfortable on a horse. Plummer is the only one on that list, and he's not interested in actually working with a horse at this point. Probably not going to work again anyway. To me, he's also too short. LOL Connery came up - also not interested in spending time on a horse at this point in his life, even though he had a great bit on a horse in a previous Gilliam pic.

The guy I like is Christopher Heyerdahl. Way too young (49), but can play older, and has the chops.

In general, though, he said he's ready to think about making a new pitch when he has an actor, but it's been a year since any studio people have actually been willing to meet with him anyway!!!

Even Kickstarter would have to wait for the right actor, and for Gilliam, at 72, to have the energy to put into not only Kickstarter, but making a movie without any support. It was hard enough for him to have to scrape for every penny in 1998. That's a young man's game I think.

BTW, he also told the story of JK Rowling wanting him to direct the first Harry Potter picture. She's a huge fan of his, and she tapped into a lot of his work via both inspiration and homage in the book. He felt it was right in his wheelhouse, and couldn't wait to get started -- but the studio chose the Home Alone/Mrs. Doubtfire dude.

He was furious at the time, but conceded later that he'd have chafed under the amount of studio supervision that would have been called for (and actually appropriate) on a tentpole of that scale.

Anyway, it all sounds easy. None of it is.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 3:06:41 am

Abe
Vigoda


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 12:24:17 pm

Terry Gilliam is a lot like Orson Welles in several ways, and I would suggest to Terry what I would have suggested to Orson in the end stage of his career, wanting to make films but lacking the huge budgets:

Consider doing the project as animation.

For Gilliam, this can solve a number of problems of location and actor availability, yet let his vision otherwise run wild. Could you imagine a Quixote' directed by Gilliam and animated by Studio Ghibli, the folks that do Miyazaki's films? Or done in the style of Linklater, perhaps with the animation crowdsourced?

Orson might have loved it: no need to travel, any real or imagined locations, he could voice as many parts as he wanted, using his radio experience, he could do an entire master cut in pre-vis and then leave it to the animators to fill it in. And you could do multiple films in parallel production flows, a trilogy, or completely different projects.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on May 29, 2013 at 12:20:13 pm

[Scott Roberts] "But at least we had fun...! ...I'm a horrible teacher..."

I would take this class. Evil Dead 2, for real? Let's do this.

[Scott Roberts] "Yeah, I'll do a whole class on westerns, so?"

I would also take an entire semester on westerns!

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Sandeep Sajeev
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 4, 2013 at 11:22:21 am

Can I chip in with some foreign films:

Three Colors: Rouge - Kieslowski's masterpiece, brilliantly directed, masterfully photographed and painstakingly edited on film by one of the all time great film editors. The trilogy is fantastic, but if you only have time for one film then this is it.

Chungking Express - Wong Kar-Wai's best film, imaginative, funny and poignant - superb cinematography by a young Chris Doyle, and the best use of 'California Dreaming' ever in a film. Also featuring a Cantonese/Mandarin cover of the Cranberries 'Linger'.

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior) - Tom Tykwer's follow up to the dynamic Run Lola Run, is richer, slower paced and more compelling. Frank Griebe's best work to date, his reveal on Benno Furmann's 'Bodo', is one of the greatest set piece camera moves ever. Some of the scenes in this film still give me goosebumps today when I think of them.

The Road Home - Zhang Yimou's best film, from the now so-distant past when he wasn't making special effects heavy martial art films. Set in a village, the film deals with love, death and the passage of time and cultural change. It's a beautiful film, the kind that never gets made these days and is an especially poignant reminder of just how magnificent the Chinese 5th Generation of Filmmakers was.

I'll stop now, as I've just realized that I can keep going for the next couple of hours atleast. :) Try and catch some of these films if you can.

Best,
Sandeep.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 4, 2013 at 10:37:34 pm

These are all great Sandeep!

I'd add M, Grand Illusion, Seven Samurai, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Killer, La Dolce Vita, The Last Wave, Tsotsi (maybe The Battle of Algiers), and Talk To Her (or, although not necessarily a GREAT film, I'm inordinately fond of Like Water For Chocolate)...and something Indian. LOL Suggestions?

But this raises the question that has stymied me: what's the actual goal of the class? Or to put it another way, what's the NARRATIVE?

A pile of Movies I Really Like is fine, but the class that really shook me up in school was a film survey class that walked through the basics of visual storytelling: formalism/realism, editing (movies weren't always edited, you know), cinematography's visual vocabulary, the auteur theory, story structure (linear/non-linear/classic literary forms), etc.

At the end of it, I had the tools to break down everything I wanted to, in anything I'd ever watch. Or at the very least, appreciate more deeply when I just wanted to sit back and enjoy.

It's like wine that way. Even when you're not in full on "I taste currants" mode, your palette is more sophisticated.

So there you go. The narrative for that class was Cinematic Storytelling.

Okay, so how you gonna break a class down?

I liked my original impulse of taking it by genre. Here's some of everything of what movies can be. And then of course, you'd take genre-busting and genre defying films into account, as well as compelling combinations (BLAZING SADDLES).

Comedy
Drama
Western (The sole American-originated genre. Not a genre I LOVE, but one I could teach a killer class on)
Horror
Sci-Fi
Romance
Musical (Not uniquely American, but the one genre besides Westerns that nobody ever did consistently better.)
Documentary
Action
Epic
Die Hard
Animation

Wait - how'd DIE HARD slip into the GENRE pile? LOL

And btw, back to my first genre impulse, I'd have to go with Wizards as my animation pick, hands down.

You could obviously do SEVERAL classes on each of those genres

I can definitely see an auteur approach. Off the top of my head, it'd be something like

Chaplin
Welles
Fellini
Truffaut
Wilder
Sam Fuller (Don't know him? Look him up. Maybe the biggest single American influence on the heart of the French New Wave, as well as a bunch of Americans like Marty S. And his stuff is soooo good.)
Scorsese
Spielberg
Spike Lee
Tarantino

-- but you'd definitely need a chapter or two for the studio as auteur. Casablanca is really the only example you need to support the argument that assembly by the machine can turn out truly wonderful movies. Throw in Gone With The Wind, and you've actually got the foundation of a great course in studios as auteurs, ie, you'd go to a Warner or MGM feature without caring who was in it, and how so many great, edgy, even dangerous movies came out of a system that seemed designed to prevent them....but was clearly nothing of the sort.

Then there's a great class that would use Peter Biskind's book as its primary text (conceivably, it's ONLY text) to look at blowing the studio system to pieces, Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. Oh. My. God. I LOVE THIS BOOK. More than delivers on its premise, and written as smooth as silk. One of the great history books of the second half of the 20th century, period.

AND, it's only $2.99 on Kindle. Please don't make me beg. If you care about any movies at all, ANY of them, between 1967 (Bonnie & Clyde - as I mentioned before, the Sgt. Pepper of American movies) and 1980 (Raging Bull), this book is not an option. It is a moral imperative. Read it. Don't make m...

But a class like this would ratchet the presence of people like Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet and Peter Bogdanovich way the heck up on your list of crucial filmmakers, where they probably wouldn't make any of the other lists I've mentioned otherwise.

Wouldn't a class on Oscar winners, losers and controversies be a gas? We've talked about that often enough in this forum. Show 'em both to kids, give them the context to understand what the Academy is trying to say about ITSELF with these choices, then turn 'em loose and don't pull the leash again until first blood or last bell.

A Ratings & Censorship course suggests another class on Movies & Society -- still a 90%+ balance of movies to talk, mind you...but movies like All The President's Men, China Syndrome, An Inconvenient Truth, Midnight Cowboy (whose rating went from X to R over the years - why?), The Naked Spur (the first positive re: Native Americans western), Birth Of A Nation and a whole bunch of others that wouldn't make a list of mine otherwise...but really, sooner or later, a movie that touches a society is worth talking about every bit as much as a movie that touched ME, and might touch YOU.

Even if it's just a barest introduction of the absolute basics, though, I don't know the narrative. If "these" are the basics, it begs the question, basics of WHAT.

So that's where I'm stuck. I have no freaking idea what course I'm writing a syllabus for.

And just as a reminder, the department head would make you fill in the following:

-- The Course Title
-- Prerequisites (the class I took was juniors and seniors only)
-- What students will achieve/be able to do upon successful completion
-- Catalog description that will make people actually want to attend

More broadly, what kind of school are we talking about? I obviously did the 4 year liberal arts thing, but three of my very best classes of all were things that I took as throwaways at the local community college, but were taught by passionate people whose sole focus was shattering the worlds of students who really, truly wanted to be anywhere else on earth than this crappy dump of a school in the middle of summer. They had pride like I've never seen.

It also raises the question, would your outline change if you knew the students didn't want to be there? LOL

Throw in a night school/extension course, where older students very much want to be there but likely lack any recent -- or any EVER -- liberal arts foundation that you'd take for granted in a 4-year college, and you have three or four completely different audiences. Even if I could settle on a specific narrative, I'd have fun tweaking the mix for each of them.

I guess that's my contribution, then. A contribution of why I've frozen myself out of contributing. Maybe you kids help me narrow something down about what we're talking about...or maybe we start some threads for several of these.

Anywayyyyy....this is the short version of this post. LOL


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Mark Suszko
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 5, 2013 at 12:03:31 am

I was trying to keep it simple: Exactly ten films, each of them a Milestone in either Editing, Photography, Lighting, storytelling technique, Direction, Technology, Business, Sound, acting technique, Art Direction, etc. Ten perfect example films, each of which broke the mold in some way, and gave filmmakers a new way to see and make films from that point forward.

I'll save the making of my version of this list for a less frenzies time, maybe the weekend. But to get an idea for comparison, I suggest each entrant stick to that mold: Ten films that changed All film in some way.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 5, 2013 at 12:59:01 pm

Dang, way to make this into legitimate work. LOL. If it wasn't already, it's becoming more apparent which of us in this forum are actual educators, and which of us are…not. Heh.

My intention with the original question was asking what kind of film appreciation class you would LIKE to teach. Sure, the curriculum would change based on a lot of factors. Mine was based on the college experience I had, but in a parallel universe where they let me teach a class and don't care what I do. So mine was looser, meant to generate a conversation based on each film rather than focus on one facet or genre or auteur at a time. I guess my thought was "here are movies you've probably seen, now I'm going to show you why they're more interesting and important than you ever thought." Each film inherently displays everything you want to show someone, but in a less rigid fashion. In that way, I guess my class could be called film appreciation for the skeptic. I don't want to show classics that changed film forever every week. I want to show things that are common and enjoyable for the most part, not just to people who like cinema. When you realize the cinematic importance of things you already like, you can appreciate the classics that established the language to begin with.

(Example: I did a film class in 8th grade. We watched classics. I hated all of them. And I LOVED movies! But I didn't know why, and these didn't give me any context. Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca -- they seemed important, I read why they were important, but they didn't make me care.)

I do like the idea of splitting up by genre, just to make sure you have focus. That kind of structure is still loose enough for my new age feel goodery, but not like "NOW WE'RE TALKING ABOUT EDITING AND ONLY EDITING." My college film class was based around the idea of focusing on a storytelling thing a week (formalism, directing, whatever). I didn't like that much. Some genres would be better at displaying different devices, so the genre thing works without being a total bore. I'll concede that my list should be reconstructed around this so it has some kind of structure I GUESS. I probably won't ever teach a film class, but I definitely won't if my list is "I dunno, these are fun LOL".

I would have taken any and all of these film classes. Especially the Oscars one. That would be great. My history of television course was obviously split up roughly by decades in chronological order, but I think an appreciation course could be built upon a similar concept: still 90% film, but with historical context over the years.

My university only had two actual film classes. I took the introductory one. The other was a variable topic course that always had a really boring sounding topic. I'm sure I would have gotten a lot out of it, but a syllabus of movies from before 1965 doesn't sell me on anything. Hence my wacky class where the rules are made up and the grades don't matter.

Side-note: My film class was also the first college level course I ever stepped foot inside. It was at 7:30AM twice a week in the worst building on campus. So I know a few things I'd NOT want out of teaching a course.

I lean toward limiting yourself to 10-12 films (one per weekish for a semester) and a course that needs no prereqs. Freshmen can take this. It's the basics of film appreciation: what coursework would make people more savvy (but not necessarily critical) viewers? The rest is up to you. Unless you don't want it to be.

[Tim Wilson] "it's only $2.99 on Kindle. Please don't make me beg."

This forum needs to stop giving me homework...

In all seriousness, I appreciate the challenge here to make this a deeper exercise.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 5, 2013 at 10:17:16 pm

[Kylee Wall] "(Example: I did a film class in 8th grade. We watched classics. I hated all of them. And I LOVED movies! But I didn't know why, and these didn't give me any context. Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca -- they seemed important, I read why they were important, but they didn't make me care.)"


To me, that's like a kid asking for Juicy Juice and the teacher feeding them martinis while explaining that gin is made of "botanicals." I'm delighted that you overcame the obstacles of your education to ever watch another movie.



[Kylee Wall] "I appreciate the challenge here to make this a deeper exercise."

Yeah, well I appreciate the challenge to make it not so deep. LOL I really am overthinking this, and I'm still kind of stuck. If I can figure a way to just pick 10 good movies to provide a rounded experience of great stuff and get on with my life, I'll let you know. I'm offering no better than even odds....


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Kylee Peña
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 7, 2013 at 1:17:14 pm

Not sure if that first part was sarcasm, but yes I overcame it against all odds LOL.

I can offer constraints. As this thread was your idea originally, I'm going to continually harass you for your list until you actually tell me to leave you the %#># alone.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 7, 2013 at 5:02:56 pm

[Kylee Wall] " I'm going to continually harass you for your list until you actually tell me to leave you the %#># alone."

I'll only do that if you try to tell me that Adobe is as bad as Apple. LOL

I hate to prolong this, because my list is going to suck. It's going to be not at all sophisticated or lofty. In other words, not at all worth the wait. LOL

I've talked my way into part of it already: Die Hard, Apocalypse Now, Grapes of Wrath and Bonnie & Clyde, right? Six more and I'm done. Maybe by the end of next week. LOL


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Sandeep Sajeev
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 5, 2013 at 10:54:24 pm

I think context, environment and emotional maturity have a big role in our first real connection with cinema as a vehicle for more than just entertainment. When people around me discuss films they like, most of the conversation deals with 'how cool' (I'm paraphrasing) something in/about the film was.

It's rare to hear someone say that 'the reason this is my favourite film is because it was the first one to really move me' (and have it not be about Star Wars!). I think that's the difference between film as entertainment and film as Art. Die-Hard is ageless precisely because it's mostly shallow. But Casablanca is unlikely to resonate with an 8th grader because it's not.

I remember the exact moment that made me fall in love with Film. I was watching Baraka, and the baby chick montage started. That's when I realised that it could be something bigger.







So if I was teaching this class, that would be the spine of the entire semester - what is it that moves you? If it's a scene from Die-Hard, that's ok too!

As an aside, I think having a good library on campus can make a world of difference to a student's film education. So you're not restricted to what you can screen in class. Mine at USF let us check out 5 films a week for free, and I took full advantage for 4 years. When your library has films like Zhang Yangs Quitting and Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies alongside Taxi Driver, you know there's someone there who gives a serious f...


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 6, 2013 at 1:29:07 am

[Sandeep Sajeev] "Die-Hard is ageless precisely because it's mostly shallow. But Casablanca is unlikely to resonate with an 8th grader because it's not."

Hmmm....not sure about this. Casablanca is ageless AND deep, and it was made 46 years earlier than Die Hard. Twenty five years since 1988 may be too early to call something ageless. So maybe we can revisit this one a little later. :-)


[Sandeep Sajeev] "I remember the exact moment that made me fall in love with Film. I was watching Baraka, and the baby chick montage started. That's when I realised that it could be something bigger. "


Dude, thanks for reminding me why I'm a vegan.

I also remember the moment when I fell in love with film, and it WAS in 8th grade, watching Grapes of Wrath. I've written about that before, but for this conversation, it was two things: the gorgeous visuals, and the compassion the filmmakers had for EVERYONE. I hadn't really thought it about it exactly like this before, but compassion is a major theme, too.

There's barely a frame of Grapes of Wrath on YouTube, and precious few stills, but this is a pretty nice summary:





I should note that I wouldn't have considered myself a big movie fan at the time. I wasn't allowed to see many, and only an hour a day of TV -- and yet, movies and TV have occupied the overwhelming majority of my days since....hmmmmm..... Nor was it like I hopped on it because I was so deprived. I'd already seen Singin In The Rain, The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey, Wizard of Oz, A Night At The Opera, and a bunch of other classics, and liked 'em a lot....

...but Grapes of Wrath is the one that turned me into a movie LOVER. I was always looking for THAT level of experience.

The next place I found it was A Hard Day's Night, but that's another story.

Anyway, I don't even remember the context in which they showed Grapes of Wrath. It was in English class, but we definitely weren't reading the book. (I didn't get to the book for many years.) But I definitely remember that movie, and how it made me feel about MOVIES, and about the kind of life it was possible to lead.

I certainly don't remember them telling us a whole lot about it, or about movies in general....but I know that if they'd try to throw Citizen Kane at me, somebody woulda gotten hurt, and it wouldnta been me.

If Grapes of Wrath worked for me at that age, though, it seems like Casablanca oughtta be doable for 8th graders. The love story is admittedly sappy (even by the writers, one of whom called it "five cans of corn"), and the whole idea of giving up love BECAUSE you love someone was a bit of a stretch for me in the 70s. I can't imagine that it flew any better in the early 2000s when Kylee was in 8th grade. LOL


[Sandeep Sajeev] "I think having a good library on campus can make a world of difference to a student's film education. So you're not restricted to what you can screen in class. Mine at USF let us check out 5 films a week for free, and I took full advantage for 4 years."

Now THAT's cool! The very first American VHS machine hit stores the year before I started college, and the LAST thing the studios wanted was anybody puttin' movies on 'em. THEY sure weren't gonna do it. So we were still watching movies on film, and when we wanted to rent something for class, or for the film society or whatever, we had to come up with the dough to do it. Sometimes it was hundreds of dollars, which at the time was REAL MONEY.

Peter Bogdanovich sure figured it out. He was an actor in New York, not getting a ton of work, so he went to movies -- 400 of 'em a year. For years. He wound up programming movies at the Museum of Modern Art. He read a lot of critics, especially French ones (in French, I'd wager -- liberal arts nerds, I'm tellin' ya), and starting writing reviews and critical pieces.

Determined to become a director, he and his wife skipped town without paying the rent, moved to LA, and he...went to a lot of movies. At one screening, Roger Corman was sitting behind him. As they got to talking, it turned out that Roger really liked one of the pieces that Peter had written and offered him a job on the spot.

So yeah, watching movies, reading about them, writing about them -- that'll work.

Anyway, back to thinking about all this....


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Jeff Breuer
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 20, 2013 at 2:37:00 pm

This was a really great topic to post Kylee, and I loved reading everybody's responses. I had so many thoughts I just couldn't whittle them down into a post that was worth anybody reading. I finally had this one thought that is worth sharing.

I would absolutely show one silent film. I think that silent films are very intimidating to watch now. "What?! No words? Black and white? No robots or explosions? Mostly locked down shots? Ugh..." I have had friends over a couple times to screen what I think is the funniest movie ever made, Buster Keaton's "The Navigator." It takes people a little bit to adjust, but once they do they laugh and love it. And silent films are so paramount the the architecture of film history, it would have to take up a little bit of space. So I would choose one of the following:

"The Navigator" Buster Keaton (Great Comedy)
"City Lights" Charlie Chaplin (Should be in the top 3 of any Best Romantic Comedy List)
"Sherlock JR" Buster Keaton (VERY clever, inventive and entertaining. And as a bonus, you get a bit of film education within the movie. You can also find this movie with a contemporary soundtrack which is great and really helps to bridge the gap)
"Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" F.W. Murnau (Sight & Sound has made this a Top 10 pick for years and AFI is slowly loving it more. Made at the end of the silent era, this is really the apex of the craft that takes you on a roller coaster of emotions, shows a great arc and makes you care)


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Tim Wilson
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 20, 2013 at 5:11:57 pm

[Jeff Breuer] ""City Lights" Charlie Chaplin (Should be in the top 3 of any Best Romantic Comedy List)"

Your point about silent movies is very well taken, and City Lights would be a great choice. Certainly my favorite.

The one that blew my mind in my own film appreciation class was Metropolis, which created THE look of the dystopian future until Blade Runner blew it apart.

Oops, though: robots. :-) Still. There are a bunch of prints, but for a class with college freshmen, I'd probably use the print with the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder. LOL Why not? Nothing of the original soundtrack survives, and I really enjoyed the modern sounds underscoring the still-fresh pictures.

I'd follow it with David Fincher's video for Madonna's Express Yourself. It's still one of my favorite works of Fincher's, and very obviously (and lovingly) uses Metropolis as a visual framework.

You can't run the entire movies, but I'd want to include at least a few scenes from Gance's Napoleon, which created a widescreen epic with three projectors, and Murnau's Nosferatu, still one of the most iconic horror characters.

(Terrific fun: 2000's Shadow Of The Vampire, a fun twist on the making of the film that reveals the secret behind Max Shreck's performance: that was REALLY a vampire. Willem Dafoe is a wonder in the role.)

But gotta have at least clips of Keaton, Ben-hur (in fact, TWO silent versions of that one), a short or two from Georges Méliès, and The Great Train Robbery, the short that had audiences diving under their seats.

Good call, Jeff.


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Jeff Breuer
Re: Your Film Appreciation Class Syllabus
on Jun 21, 2013 at 8:28:27 pm

Good call on Méliès and Train Robbery. I think understanding how we all would have crapped our pants at the end of that movie is important. I think of that movie as the Jaws of it's day (And FYI I like how they used it in Tombstone, one of my favorite movies).

I'm not sure where the line blurs between a Film "History" and "Appreciation." In college I had "History" and "Contemporary Cinema." Loved them all. Whatever you call it, I loved them all and I still learn on my own unlike Algebra or Chemistry. Someday I should talk a desperate college into letting me teach a class. I don't have my Masters, but when I was at the Community College, that didn't seem to be stopping anybody.

But, yea, Great Train Robbery, Trip to the Moon along with some early Lumiere and Edison stuff. I also love the idea of not just showing the work, but showing how that work has influenced future films. The Metropolis/Madonna connection is great, and as long as we brought up Méliès, we can show Trip to the Moon/Smashing Pumpkin's "Tonight, Tonight" video.

[Tim Wilson] "and Murnau's Nosferatu"
Another great one that has aged very well. Still engrossing and freaky. It's pretty sad though that I still have never seen Shadow of the Vampire. I really need to get on that.


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