New Year, New Venture
I'm teaching a film class for the first time. It's an undergraduate course titled "Philosophy and Film," and I'm doing it in partnership with my colleague Tanya Loughead, who is a Continental philosopher. Rather than being a course that uses films--or slivers of films--simply to illustrate philosophy, we've designed the course to accord equal time and importance to both areas. On the philosophy side, we'll read Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Foucault, Butler, and Derrida. For film, we've picked about 10 well-known, canonical titles including Ray's Pather Panchali, Bresson's A Man Escaped, Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, Denis' Chocolat, Haynes' Safe, and Varda's The Gleaners and I. This being our maiden voyage into teaching cinema, we've chosen (conservatively) films with established reputations, films that have been amply discussed and written about. In addition to exams and papers, we've designed the course to include an in-class, small-group discussion component. My own primary role in the course will be to work to provide students with a basic grounding in film form, style and aesthetics. It promises to be an exciting--and unpredictable--venture.
We'd appreciate greatly any suggestions or advice from film teachers who happen to be reading. We are particularly curious about the experiences of others in using small-group discussions. But, really: any words of wisdom will be most welcome. Thanks!
The recent film I most want to see is Miguel Gomes' Our Beloved Month of August. An excerpt from Adrian Martin's essay on it in the new issue of Indian Auteur:
Is every important, progressive film of today a remake of Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943)? Almost every Pedro Costa film, for instance, seems to return to it; and ghosts or zombies of every material sort seem to stalk or sleepwalk through the work of Albert Serra, Lisandro Alonso, Tsai Ming-liang, Béla Tarr … But Our Beloved Month of August takes us back to a very particular moment of Tourneur’s masterpiece: the scene in which the previously subservient, glad-handing, guitar-strumming, nightclub entertainer with the wonderful name of Sir Lancelot breaks his subaltern role and strides forward to gleefully accuse the drunken, guilty white man with his deceptively lilting ditty: “Woe is me / Shame and scandal in the family …” [...]
The great Czech-born philosopher Vilém Flusser once mused on the difference between a screen wall and a solid wall – for him, the convenient key (like so many mundane, everyday phenomena, of the kind that Gomes also alights upon) to understanding our civilisation and its discontents. The solid wall marks, for Flusser, a neurotic society – a society of houses and thus ‘dark secrets’, of properties and possessions. And of folly, too, because the wall will always be razed, in the final instance, by the typhoon or the flood or the earthquake. But whereas the solid wall gathers and locks people in, the screen wall – incarnated in history variously by the tent, the kite or the boating sail – is “a place where people assemble and disperse, a calming of the wind”. It is the site for the “assembly of experience”; it is woven, and thus a network.
It is only a small step for Flusser to move from the physical, material kind of screen to the immaterial kind: the screen that receives projected images, or (increasingly) holds computerised, digital images. From the Persian carpet to the Renaissance oil painting, from cinema to new media art: images (and thus memories) are stored within the surface of this woven wall. A wall that reflects movement, but itself increasingly moves within the everyday world: when I was a little child and once dreamed of taking a cinema screen (complete with a movie still playing loudly and brightly upon it), folding it up and putting in my pocket so I could go for a stroll, I had no idea it was a predictive vision of the future, the mundane laptop computer or mobile phone.
A couple of links:
-- At the Guardian: "Haiti's only film school was destroyed in the earthquake, but the mini-movies that its students have made since are a living chronicle of the still-unfolding crisis and will serve as enduring testaments to the power of cinema to inform and move."
-- At Sight & Sound, several critics and curators pick (and display) their favorite online videos of 2009.
-- Senses of Cinema World Poll 2009.