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March 2001, Week 2


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mon, 12 Mar 2001 12:04:35 -0600
TEXT/PLAIN (86 lines)
Ed O'Neill comments:

> I very much appreciate Susan Crutchfield's suggestion of _Psycho_ as a text
> that's a good compromise between classical and contemporary, us and the
> students.
> Do other people have experiences of this middle ground?

PSYCHO is a good example of a "classic" film that's still popular.  In
one context or another, I've found that such chestnuts as THE MALTESE

I often lead off the term with either the original 1937 A STAR IS BORN
or STAGECOACH.  Both are still engaging to most of the students
(although somehow, many students still call A STAR IS BORN a
"black-and-white" film!), but both raise aesthetic and cultural issues
that can be the basis for the rest of the semester.  (I use Bordwell
and Thompson for my textbook.)

ASIB has a number of interesting properties: it's (for the most part) a
good example of "classical Hollywood cinema"; but it's also
self-referential; it specifically engages issues of gender identity.

STAGECOACH, of course, is a classic example of the Western as genre--a
form that is (maybe not surprisingly) unpopular with most students
nowadays.  The humor and populist class conflicts of the film are
useful points--and again, it engages not only gender and class issues
but, obviously, race issues as well.

I usually try to use a range of films in class, some directly using
B&T's examples, some not.  I often show lots of clips, figuring that a
taste of more unusual films that the whole class would not sit through
might prove tantalizing.  (For example, Bertolucci's THE SPIDER'S
STRATEGEM is very useful for showing marked alternatives to continuity
editing--in the interviews with the mistress and the sausage smoker.)

More contemporary films like TOOTSIE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and
GROUNDHOG DAY make interesting uses of editing and narrative form,
among others, while still being entertaining.

> My own experience is that when students see _Citizen Kane_, most have the
> reaction "so what?"  They literally ask me "Why is this film such a big
> deal?"

If you want to use KANE, it is useful to foreground that problem of
reaction.  That was in fact my own reaction when I first saw CK on TV
many years ago, and I let them know that.  I also let them know that I
lost track of the number of times I've seen it (including shot-by-shot
on a Steenbeck) and still find new things in it.  Challenging *them* to
figure out why "it's such a big deal" might help. (I try to point out
the Hearst controversy--some students have seen RKO 281 or read other
accounts of the conflict--is best known but not most important reason.
I use slides and clips from laserdisc (or DVD) in future weeks to point
out the film's use of various film techniques.

> _Vertigo_ can also be a letdown.  A recent group of very well-educated
> undergraduates at an elite liberal arts college found it impossible to
> identify with Scotty because he is so clearly a misogynist.   All the
> psychoanalytic arguments in the world couldn't convince them:  they didn't
> "go there."

I've had similar reactions to VERTIGO (which, after all, flopped when
it was released) although it works a bit better in tandem with Terry
Gilliam's THE TWELVE MONKEYS, which overtly plays on the Muir Woods
scene (as does LA JETTEE--a short film I've used fairly often).

> On the other hand, a colleague suggested using _Edward Scissorhands_ to
> teach and analyze mise-en-scene, and that worked wonderfully.

Don Larsson

Donald F. Larsson
English Department, AH 230
Minnesota State University
Mankato, MN  56001

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