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mike frank wrote
 
>. . . so now i find myself wondering: do others on the list [among those who
>teach] a) find that star power is an essential ingredient in student
>response, and--if so, b) what can and/or should be done about it? . . . or
>should we revise our theories of cinema to take stardom into account as being
>at least as important as, say, montage?
 
Regarding Mike's question and the concerns that led to it, I am reminded of a
discussion on the cult movies newsgroup several months ago.  In this unmoderated
forum, a heated debate had begun on the "best" movies of all time in which the
generational split among participants was most apparent.  The younger members
(or so it seemed; in cyberspace no one can hear your voice change) were highly
focused on contemporary America, the more grunge the better.  What might be
termed the cinephile element reacted with disdain and trotted out the usual (and
not-so-usual) older and/or foreign films.
 
Mike has raised a teaching concern, to which I think the above story is
relevant.  It seems to me that Mike's teaching concern is not just a matter of
*stars*--there is always likely to be a generation gap of sorts on a whole bunch
of issues due to the way film as art is bound up with film as culture.
 
The most approachable films for most people will always be recent films made by
filmmakers of the same culture as the viewer and in the same language.  Film,
given its history as a medium telling powerful stories about humans, is
necessarily more culture-bound than music, say, or even the visual arts.  I
don't think you can make an absolute distinction here, just that film is
immensely powerful at showing real human lives as lived and that it therefore
runs up against cultural biases earlier than other art forms.  So we therefore
are inclined to see things the way we have been conditioned to see them, whether
in terms of star quality (familiar cultural type), technique (how to tell a
story), production values ("big explosions good! small explosions outdated!")
and even human interactions ("gee, I just can't figure out why those Chinese
people did what they did in that foreign film I saw").
 
So I guess what I am saying is that watching movies that explore new cultural
terrain, like travel itself, requires some sort of mental shift in terms of
expectations compared with viewing Die Hard VII.  It takes more work, it means
you have to go into uncharted territory, it means you have to challenge some of
your own assumptions about what you find enjoyable in a film.  This last part
can be quite hard, I think.  After getting so much enjoyment out of  a
particularly passive approach to watching current releases, "you mean that I've
got to do some work?!?. . .without the promise of  the easy reward I know I'll
get from the new Depp?"
 
So isn't part of teaching pushing the student into uncharted territory while
simultaneously respecting the more limited framework from which the student
starts?
 
Jeff Apfel
 
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