Just as fair warning, I think at this point it might be best to branch this off into another topic...
foggy eyes wrote:
When I brought this up in conversation, one of my lecturers voiced the problem of having to introduce film studies to first year undergraduates who had not even seen Citizen Kane or Casablanca.
We have (or had, the professor died) an excellent introductory course to film history that was also a major elective for the entire school. It was a class of about 300-400 students and covered a number of major important American directors and films, including Porter, Griffith, McCarey and the more obvious works like Casablanca and Kane. Yes, I will shamefully admit that this was my first introduction to a majority of these, because I grew up on genre (whatever era) and had little background in classic drama. My knowledge in film grew a thousand fold during that semester as I began devouring Criterion and Warner releases. I fell in love with Welles and have been exploring his work ever since. I'm also just around the corner from a Curtiz binge.
So many film studies courses thus rarely progress beyond mere broad and conservative introductions to cinema itself.
Luckily, the UCF film department had a number of fantastic cinema studies courses that grew well beyond the introduction courses. The film history and theory courses exposed students to more filmmakers than is worth listing right now, most of which would surprise the hell out of you. Even though his lectures were a mess, Samuel Rhodie (yes, the one who contributed to Criterion's Amarcord) shoves Godard down people's throats like nobody's business.
We had astounding classes for Avante-Garde and Black Cinema, taught by my favorite professor Christopher Harris (Reckless Eyeballing) who also managed a one-time only experimental film production class. If you didn't know who Stan Brackhage was, you probably wouldn't last very long in a conversation with him. With the help of another student, he was able to arrange an amazing 16mm screening for Puce Moment and Eaux d'Artiface, where I was first exposed to Kenneth Anger.
I also attended a Women in Film course where I we screened works by directors varying from Howard Hawks to Jafar Panahi. Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of the Sundance Institute, ran another one-time class that was all about the history of the horror genre. Honestly, I think the only arena of filmmaking that I didn't see enough of was Asian cinema, but then I did see one of Anh Hung Tran's films before having to drop out of World Cinema.
Whatever we didn't screen in classes, my friends and I would arrange to be screened at the film club we put together. There were probably around 8-10 of our year who were pretty adament about exposing the younger students to as much as possible. The nice part is some of them thanked us profusely before we left. I just wish we had more than 5 people show up when it wasn't a film from the last 10 years. Whenever we had a recent film, the number would grow to 25 or 30.
However, enthusiasm for exploration and a broadening of horizons just isn't there in the vast majority of students in the first place - so the safer the choice of texts to study is, the higher the intake for the institution will be.
I don't know if I buy that. I don't think the students who lack patience would care if the book had recognizable elements or not. Those kinds of people just want to be told they are brilliant, given free camera equipment and mock the teacher to his/her face. I remember one incident where two students were drawing Conan during a film theory lecture. They even had the balls to explain to the professor what "Crom!" was a reference to before he walked back to his ledger and probably wrote "Fail!".
On a more personal note, my undergraduate course offered films by, amongst others, Sturges, Vigo, Powell & Pressburger, Sirk, Godard, Ophuls, Tourneur, Lubitsch, Dassin, Hawks, Ozu, Tati, Sternberg, Siodmak, and Murnau. I can safely and sadly admit that I met not a single person during the degree who felt enthused enough about a single one of these directors and their films to investigate further.
Well, then I can only say my experience was a lot better with many of those same offerings. Though I did spend several hours in a futile attempt to explain the subtext of Sullivan's Travels to a classmate, I know a few people who reacted favorably to it. There's a younger student I'm friends with who worships Murnau and the occasional Dassin, and he makes a concentrated effort to keep the influences on his work limited to pre-60's formalism. His final project was a striking homage to Sunrise that contained some awkward dialogue only because he was not allowed to shoot a completely silent film.
What we (the more passionate student body) tried to do before/after classes and at film club was promote the idea of discussions so students wouldn't feel oppressed and too intimidated to open up to these films. I think we were pretty successful in that our numbers grew over time, but just about anyone who announced that "Pulp Fiction" was their favorite film disappeared by the next meeting. With all my potential bias, I'm not exaggerating when I say it became such a cliche that other people began to expect it.
It's a constant battle that many universities appear to have given up on.
I don't know what's going to happen with UCF. We lost some significant people over the last few years, but there seems to be a genuine improvement that came too late for our graduating class. I keep trying to come up with a letter I could send to the professors who haven't given up yet, because I'm afraid that all they ever see are the complaints and willfully disruptive students.
I just don't want to see them go through the same self-destruction I've seen ruin the careers of many other faculty members. The one who introduced me to Dusan Makavejev was so apathetic toward the end... the only conversations he would have were tongue-in-cheek lectures regarding conspiracies about the aliens and vampires that rule the Earth. This was his lecture.
But I absolutely agree and I myself am guilty of stealing shots, etc, from other directors in film school. One cannot almost help but do that when they're starting, especially if they haven't touched real equipment before.
Please don't take what I said as an attack on filmmakers who borrow. Listen, I'm the last person in the world who would come down on a burgeoning filmmaker for utilizing shots that exist, as the medium is inherently derivative. Historically, most talented directors out there started off as this way because they didn't have their own experiences to build off of yet. They started from the framework of their influences and have to build out from there. Scorsese's Who's That Knocking On My Door owes everything to Shadows, while Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It owes much to Door. It's not that I automatically have a problem with borrowing, it's just the context in why or how it's used.
These people I'm talking about use these elements in the most superficial ways possible. Their only interest is to sell completely unrelated material that they put little thought or effort into with an easy trick they read as exciting or attractive. They don't know or care why Wes Anderson's dolly work or production design exists, but they like it so here it is again... and again... and again... for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Scorsese and Lee had underlying themes and exploration of character, exposing their uncomfortable insecurities and darker aspects. If they didn't grow, they were at least forced to face their weaknesses. I would argue that Anderson shares Renoir's respect for staging and art, but the contrasts he attempts to compose between his film universe and the stage or canvas are completely lost on the average film student, Anderson fanatic.
Imagine watching film after film of people just wandering aimlessly from scene to scene with vague actions taken by their parents and absolutely no structure whatsoever. I'm not talking about time-image, just a complete lack of regard for having to think about what is exactly that you're trying to do. A lot of the time, part of the what these students think is theraputic is just a very long session of incoherent whining. You can see what's wrong with them, but they have no interest in addressing or defining it because exploring those problems mean facing them in some fashion.
Also, in general, I see a lot of people who go to "film school" and mostly want to go into audio, maybe some post-production but others just hip-hop. So these students I can understand if they 'have a life' and whatnot. It's unfortunate for those who want great class discussions, and to arrive at topics at a swifter rate.
That's interesting, I never ran into that. We did ocassionally end up with people who didn't want to do anything (literally) and somehow got past the acceptance process.
Anyway, great thread!