Tuesday, November 07, 2006


A quick ramble on my film class--

1st quarter was kind of, well, crappy. (Crappy, if you don't know, is a professional term we educators use.) I found some great curriculum guides, and ordered them, but, because they are put out by a Canadian company, and thus didn't have a US zip code, our school district's purchase order computer had an aneurysm. It took, literally, months for the powers that be to address the problem, and I didn't end up with the stuff until last week. Plus, attendance was really hit and miss, and--although I know better-- it's hard for me to get revved up and super prepared for a class when only 2 kids are showing up. This was a huge problem when screening the films, as 1/2 of the class would show up one day, then totally different kids would show up the next.

We did, however, make some progress. The movies we've seen so far are Modern Times (which they loved), Singin' in the Rain (which they hated), Moulin Rouge (loved), Some Like it Hot (Loved), and North by Northwest (HATED), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (lukewarm). I've been a little surprised by the kids' responses to some of the movies, but frankly, I expected even more bitching than I've gotten.

As far as our study of the art/science of film making, we had a pretty good time with art direction and music/sound, but have been foundering a bit with editing/cinematography--probably because I'm just learning about editing myself.

Now that 2nd quarter has started, I have about 5 new kids in class. I mentioned before that the class was all girls--with the exception of one guy whose attendance was pretty spotty. Now I have a pretty even mix.

The next genre on our agenda is the western. Frankly, the only westerns I've ever seen are fairly modern--Tombstone, Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven. I've never once sat through a John Wayne western, or an old Clint Eastwood one. I even thought of just throwing the western out of the mix, but it does have its place historically and otherwise in the study of film, and just because I'm not a huge fan is no reason to skip it, I guess.

Originally, I had planned to show Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but after watching it, I changed my mind. I don't think my kids are ready to embrace anything that was scored by Burt Baccarat (sp). Instead, I'm probably going to show The Searchers (A 1956 John Wayne/John Ford about a fanatically racist man searching for his niece who was kidnapped by a Comanche)--even though I haven't seen it yet. (That's my plan for tonight.)

Another reason I have been a bit hesitant about addressing the western with my kids is that the class has both cowboys and Indians in it. But--I decided to just jump in and use the western and The Searchers as a vehicle for addressing racism and racial stereotyping in film, and to extend our discussion of how the change, over time, of individual genres, reflects change in our society. This quarter I'm going to try to have a movie night once or twice a month, and I'd like to show Dances with Wolves and then compare it to The Searchers and have the kids write a paper about the evolution of the western--with particular emphasis on the portrayal of Native Americans. We'll see.

I also came across a bunch of stuff that argued that the connection between the release date of the last "great" western, The Wild Bunch (which I also haven't seen), which came out in 1969, and the the lunar landing--also 1969--is absolutely not accidental or incidental--that the western, with it's major symbol of the western frontier, simply morphed into modern science fiction as the "final frontier" shifted to space. An interesting thought--and one that does seem to hold water in many ways. Plus--now I have a really good reason to show either Serenity or the pilot for Firefly (which I'm leaning toward) in class.


thelyamhound said...

The Searchers is a great pick, historically (I can't speak to it aesthetically because, shame of shames, I haven't seen it [rental alert!]). It's cited as an influential film by filmmakers the world over; John Ford was a major inspiration to Akira Kurosawa (who, if I haven't made this clear, is God of all things cinematic).

The Wild Bunch is EXCELLENT, and also touches on issues of racism, misogyny, and the "shelf-life" of rugged individualists. It's also a little rough in the language and violence column, so you may want to give it a look before showing it to your students.

patrice said...

holy crap, dude. you sound like a fucking pro. seriously. like you totally know your shit and stuff. I'm in awe.

makes me think you ought to do that full time.

amandak said...

I just bought Serenity Sunday. LOVED IT. I've been meaning to drop E a line to thank him for reccomending the series and movie, even though it did take me awhile to get to them, they were both great fun.

It is a little hilarious that you do indeed have both cowboys and indians in your class, and having graduated from Cedar, I can remember the types.

Sounds like it's coming along pretty great.

lonna said...

I hated the Searchers when I had to see it for class. I couldn't get past the racist crap coming out of John Wayne's mouth. He's got a ton of baggage in my mind anyway. Sexist pig.

I had to see N X NW in both of my film classes. My friend and I actually focused on the fasion. She looked fabulous.

We had to storyboard and include specific shots in our film noir. It was crazy, but it was very helpful in terms of seeing someone else's editing.

NME said...

Have you started writing your movie about the beautiful brassy teacher instructing a class of n'erdowells in film, and thus transforming their lives? It'll be a huge hit!

Anonymous said...

Fort Apache is good, as are the spaghetti westerns. Randolph Scott was also in some good westerns, but I can't think of any right now.

If you're going to do the Western-to-sci-fi angle, Soldier with Kurt Russell is a perfect example of that.