Monday, August 14, 2006


Long story short:

Our art teacher left over the summer. We now have no fine arts classes to offer. Our principal and counselor informed me on FRIDAY that I'm going to be teaching an intro to film class, as, according to NCLB, it's the only fine arts class that, as an English teacher, I'm "highly qualified" to teach. Guys--school starts on THURSDAY!

Now--I did a mini unit on film for my applied communication class, but a year? Can't fake that.

So--put yourself in my shoes. Help me out. If you found out you were going to be teaching an intro to film class in, you know, a few days, what would you do? Would you structure the class chronologically or by elements of film? Or maybe in terms of specific directors, producers, etc.? What films would you show? What kind of assessments and goals would you have for your kids? How would you justify the class to parents who don't want their kids to "watch movies"?

Oh--keep in mind that you're limited to G, PG, and PG-13 movies, and that most of your students are at-risk teenagers who read and write at about a 5th grade level.

Report on Soph's bday party soon.


Kat said...

Start small by teaching elements of film and how they've changed over the years. Camera angles, editing cut aways, and lighting are excellent things to look for during a movie so that you're doing more than just mindlessly watching. Your culminating project could be a music video directed by the class.

patrice said...

that's a good idea that kat has. I was gonna say that you could find movie versions of classic books (to kill a mockingbird, uh...other ones...?) and talk about how they make a book into a movie, but that is probably only good for a class or two. but how to start? maybe get all of the kids to talk about what movies they like and why and see where that takes you.

OldMotherHubbardSharesAll said...

I was thinking through December you could do the 3 versions of "Miracle and 34th Street" and hve them compare the differences in them. Like how the first one that was in Black and White was state of art at the time and how far they came in the most recent one. You can do it with lots of the remakes - Yours Mine & Ours, Cheaper by the Dozen etc........

Just a thought. I also liked Patrice's idea - maybe get the book on tape to listen to first and then see the movie and compare how "creative licenses" allow them to change so many things. I don't know what "The Firm" was rated but they rewrote the whole ending from the book on that one so it might be a good one for this.

BTW - I would be freaking with a 1 week notice for a year long cloass.

Katy said...

I think starting off with a comparison of remakes would be great. King Kong is the first one that readily comes to mind. Maybe try and find a list of the Emmy winners of the past couple years for things like editing, sound, effects, watch the best film of the year and discuss what made it the best compared to those that lost.

As for convincing the parents, I would talk about understanding the media and the changes that society has wrought on the film medium. You could throw in a "know your enemy" spin. If parents don't want their kids to watch TV because they think their's no redeeming value, teach them why film's important. I could go on, but I won't.

~A~ said...

If you were doing concept elements of art I could help you there. I have tons of stuff from being an art docent last year.

I'll look in my magic bag and see what I can pull up for film.

Now that I think about it, the same concepts in art could be applied to film, you just need to find movies that would be where Rob and netflix could come in handy.

You could combine the ideas of the art docent lessons and show clips of films, and have the kids also do projects. Perhaps using a frame from a movie as a "still life".

thelyamhound said...

Original/remake comparisons could be a good, interesting place to start, and I agree that King Kong represents a worthy example.

Patrice's idea about finding movie versions of classic books got me thinking about exploring the way cinema addresses other art forms. If you wanted to play with chronology, all of the great silent film comedians came from theatrical backgrounds; it'd be a great way to get some silent film in there, show how early film was largely an affair involving pointing cameras at theatrical conceits brought out into a bigger arena. You could also show some concert films (Jonathon Demme's Stop Making Sense, with Talking Heads, would be a good one) or music documentaries to deal with the relationship between music and film, or maybe trace the careers of artists who began in music videos and went on to features (Alex Proyas, Guy Ritchie, David Fincher . . . I think at least ONE of those guys had to do at least ONE movie that isn't rated R).

I like Kat's idea; I'm thinking of how that starting point can blossom into a discussion of film evolution, the way minor changes create whole new movements, new genres.

How about a study of film in social context? The Hollywood Renaissance of the '60s and '70s reflected the turbulent political times; even innocuous fare like The Bad News Bears reflected the anomie felt as the idealism of the '60s waned; if you think your kids would have any patience for subtitles (a long shot, I know; plus, a lot of European films were already showing a good bit of nudity by the early '50s), you could show how the American counterculture of the '60s and '70s looked to the European films of the '50s & '60s, particularly the French New Wave, for inspiration.

OK, I could go on for days. But if you'd like me to clarify, simplify, or expand on any of those, you know where to find me.

the beige one said...

I keep forgetting that you are in UT, where "at-risk" means something entirely different than what I'm used to, I imagine.

However, you could also spend a month of documentaries, and how they tell the stories of people they may not know. There's one about at-risk kids from Baltimore who are placed in a highly regimented school that took them to Kenya; amazing by all accounts. There's also the one on Krumping.

Along the remake angle, you can touch upon things like the Kurosawa/Western phenom (Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were turned into Magnificent Seven and Fistful of Dollars. Hell, the Hidden Kingdom was turned into Star Wars).

Kurosawa alone could be a topic, but then we're talking about a steady diet of subtitles.

I kinda envy you, really. I'd love to undertake something like this.

the beige one said...

though, not on top of everything else you got going on, if ya catch my drift.

thelyamhound said...

The possibilities of showing these kids Kurosawa or Goddard kind of makes me rethink my position on dubbing (though adults should always try to muddle through with the subtitles).

It's actually The Hidden Fortress upon which Star Wars is partially based--at least in terms of the R2D2, C3P0, Princess Leia and (arguably) Han Solo characters--and it's excellent, featuring one of my favorite Toshiro Mifune performances (and I ADORE Toshiro Mifune).

I really like Beige's idea about exploring cross-cultural remakes (as long as you avoid the J-Horror genre, the remakes of which range from "eh" to "eeesh!"). And I, too, am envious on the same terms (and with the same caveats).

Stine said...

I second the documentary idea. And I think that selecting a very basic film cannon as your outline, and then using all these ideas to create branches from this outline, is a great idea. Film as social commentary, film and the technical aspects, film and acting (for those interested in that - and there were a few if I remember that yearbook you showed me) etc.

Perhaps you could even do a film where you have them write a critique. Maybe the best 2 or 3 can be published in a little film publication.

Anyway, I think having a basic outline, and a few basic off shoots of that outline, is the safest way to go with as little notice as you've been given.

And please, look at all the online resources you have. My husband could type you pages and pages of any and all film information you could EVER want to know.

JJisafool said...

I think there are a lot of great ideas here, but that they are missing that one of the most difficult things will be getting and keeping student attention. Documentaries, cross-cultural analysis, foreign film - until they care, these could all be yaaaawns and that will just make your job harder.

I'd advocate to make it as student-centric as possible. Start with discussions of what movies they do and don't watch and do and don't like, and then start pushing on the why. Maybe focus on having them create movie reviews first, and move toward criticism, giving them some of the tools mentioned here along the way. But, definitely start with the easiest, most-accessible, get them to try and look at the most-accessible differently, and then keep drawing in more interesting and difficult material as you move the discussion along.

Very much the inquiry model of class is what I am seeing.

Good luck. My hats off to you once again for tackling a student population that I'm just plain afeared of.

Missuz J said...

Great. Great stuff people, but MORE MORE MORE!

Come on guys. What movies should everyone see? Why? What is the difference between a good movie and a great one? Give me some film "family trees" So and so begat so and so kind of stuff.

Choose one movie from each decade since "Birth of a Nation" that can't be left out.

Oh--and ladies? (and dudes) Female directors and producers? I'm a huge tard, but the only one I can name off hand is Penny Marshall.

Oh--and should TV have any play in all this. Can one hold certain TV programs up to certain films and say, "This does the job as well as, or better than xxx?"

Great movies in specific genres?

Western (are there great westerns?)
Noir (What the fuck is that anyway. Ly? 50 words or less)
The obvious ones I left out.

Oh--and studio vs independent.

The rise of digital film making and what it's done--is doing--will do for film as an industry.

Please remember I'm begging here.

Email me, if you don't want to comment. rebeccajorgensen at hotmail dot com.

Missuz J said...

Oh--or, equally helpful:

Film resources, crash courses, "for dummies" kinds of film stuff.

I have about a $200 budget for movies and resources. I have "How to Read a Film" and a couple of others, but frankly, don't have the time to distil the stuff down to my kids' level.

thelyamhound said...

What movies should everyone see? Why? Give me some film "family trees" So and so begat so and so kind of stuff.

I'll email you a list, but I'm not sure how useful it'll be for your class; many will be foreign, many will be R-rated, etc.

Oh--and ladies? (and dudes) Female directors and producers? I'm a huge tard, but the only one I can name off hand is Penny Marshall.

There's Katherine Bigelow, whose crowning achievements (IMO) are a vampire film called Near Dark and the highly underrated, James Cameron-penned sci-fi/political thriller Strange Days. There's Rose Troche, director of talky lesbian indies like Go Fish. Lavinia Currier's sole picture was Passion in the Desert, an odd, compelling adaptation of a Balzac story of the same name, about a quasi-erotic relationship that develops between a Napoleonic soldier lost in the desert and a leopard with whom he "shares" an oasis.

France has Catherine Breillat and Clair Denis, both of whom do fascinating--if highly alienating--work about gender, sexuality, beauty and nihilism. Not entirely useful for your class, since their stuff is all either R or NC-17, but worth a mention. England has Sally Potter; I didn't like Orlando, but it has its defenders, and her whole body of work is always interesting, if sometimes a little heady and sterile. I'd definitely look her up on IMDB.

Caroline Thompson used to co-write with Tim Burton quite a bit, and directed Black Beauty in 1994.

In historical terms, Leni Riefenstahl directed a number of Nazi propaganda films, the most famous of which is Triumph of the Will, which is satired freely in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers. Both an early female director and a controversial political figure (and she lived to be 101!).

Oh--and should TV have any play in all this. Can one hold certain TV programs up to certain films and say, "This does the job as well as, or better than xxx?"

That's a judgement call. Because of its episodic nature, I'm inclined to say that TV constitutes a separate--if not unrelated--art form that would actually be better served by separate analysis.

Western (are there great westerns?)

That you would even ask that . . .
most of the great modern/postmodern Westerns (The Wild Bunch, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, The Proposition) are R-Rated, but you could probably get by with Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado, anything from the John Ford canon.


Coen Brothers, Marx Brothers, anything in the "screwball" category, particularly Bringing Up Baby, Ghostbusters (sentimental favorite), Monty Python (if you can get away with it).


Tough within the ratings limitations, but I can give you some directors, and you can see if they've got sub-R work: Sam Peckinpah (personal fave), Sergio Leone, John Woo (particularly any of his Hong Kong work), Tsui Hark (ditto), Luc Besson, John Frankenheimer (early).


Say Anything and Edward Scissorhands are personal favorites. I can think of a lot of movies where the romantic element is important, but many fall outside our boundaries. Not so much my strong genre . . .

Noir (What the fuck is that anyway. Ly? 50 words or less)

The fall of a morally dubious but essentially ordinary character into a "shadow world" wherein he encounters violence, deception, fall from innocence. OR a formalized aesthetic utilizing shadow, indirect lighting and subjective camera work. The definition is elastic; "shadow" and "deception" are key words, whether describing aesthetic or themes.

John Huston's your classic man for this; I really like Key Largo, but The Maltese Falcon is considered the classic example of the form. Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a great flick (with Humphrey Bogart) that's both a Western AND a Noir. Polanski's Chinatown or Lynch's Blue Velvet are great, but pretty far outside our boundaries.


So broad that I literally can't think of anything. Take your pick, really.


The Manchurian Candidate--original AND remake--really is the gold standard. The tough thing is separating this one from horror, action, noir . . . I'll think on this and email you a list.

The obvious ones I left out.

Yeah, I'll get to those later, too (I kinda went off, and now I'm running out of time).

Oh--and studio vs independent.

I'll get you on email for this one, too, since I think the relationship is becoming increasingly complex.

The rise of digital film making and what it's done--is doing--will do for film as an industry.

The hope is that it will democratize the industry. We'll see. But it's already lead to some visual innovations--Robert Rodriguez films exclusively on digital now, as does Michael Mann (well, and George Lucas, but . . . ). Interestingly enough, as digital technology becomes more ubiquitous, I'm noticing that documentaries are becoming more popular. Coincedence?

What is the difference between a good movie and a great one?

Yeah, too much. Watch for an email later this week.

Missuz J said...


That you would even ask that...

Look smarty-pants. I'm freely admiting my ignorance here, so don't make me feel dumber and more mortified at my lack of background in this area than I already am. :)

Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you.

thelyamhound said...

Oh, I didn't mean to point out ignorance or dumbness, so I'm sorry if it came out that way. I thought you meant the question the way I would mean the question, "Are there ANY good Celine Dion songs?" Which is to say, I assumed you already had an answer, that answer being "No."

In other words, I read dismissal, rather than lack of expertise. My bad. No mockery intended.

the beige one said...

to follow up on Mr. Hound's stuff:

Female Directors

you should IMDB both Nicole Holofcener, and Miranda July, one has been around since the mid-90s, and the other just made the transition to film recently. They both specialize in character studies, and are fairly tame in ratings, if not in content.


I think you could hardly miss with anything in this category, but I gotta recommend two involving Orson Welles: The Third Man and Touch of Evil.


Hitchcock, 'nuff said. Kubrick, also 'nuff said, but unlikely due to ratings.

Also worthy of looking into are some of the 70s scifi/thrillers like Logan's Run, Rollerball and West World. That last one features a great performance by Yul Brinner, and is one of the few Western/SciFi blends to exist pre-Serenity/Firefly.


If you want to give the kids a pretty clear indication of what kind of work goes into even an indie, John Sayles' Thinking in Pictures is about as close to a bible as you can get.

I'll continue thinking, and if anything comes to mind I'll send an email as well.

the beige one said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the beige one said...

oh, and for the love of all that's holy, John Sayles alone. You could cover his work as a writer (he wrote Piranha once upon a time) and as a director...

More Documentary Stuff:

The works of Errol Morris, especially Gates of Heaven.

Paradise Lost: About a group of teenagers accused of a grisly triple murder only because they always wore black clothing and listened to heavy metal.

Missuz J said...

The name of the Kenya one?

thelyamhound said...


If you don't mind, Beige . . .

Krumping is hip-hop dance style that involves a lot of shaking and flailing; it's very fast, a little violent, occasionally quite erotic, and really, really visceral. The doc you'd be looking for is called Rize, and it's excellent.

The name of the Kenya one?

Boys of Baraka. I haven't seen it, but I hear it's outstanding.

CC said...

I lurk your blog but never comment- so finally Im speaking!
I found this article
When you said film class- I was thinking more along the lines of kids making their own films. I thought, you could do a background on the making of films, a little history, watch some, then they would make some. I think this would be great for at-risk kids as it would be a great way for them to express themselves. Also, I think it is great that you would be "learning with them". I find that kids are empowered when they realize they can teach another person something. When they all know that you are all learning together I think they will get a lot out of it. That means, if the final class ends with a "film festival" of sorts, you should have to make a film too.
My idea would be to have the kids get involved and pick a subject/ topic etc and then base the class around that. Everyone interprets things differently, which is also a great lessons for children.