Author Topic: Reeducation  (Read 1618 times)

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ono

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Reeducation
« on: February 22, 2009, 10:44:19 PM »
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So, like, hi and stuff.

Yeah, I love movies, but been away from most of them (seriously, anyway) for a good long while, and figure I need to relearn some stuff.  I was a creative writing minor in college, and it was said there that you had to read a thousand books before you'd be ready to write one.  It only stands to reason it's true for films too.  A lot of you have forgotten more than I know, and that's exacerbated by my hiatus from both my Netflix account and cinema in general (last movie I saw was Vicki Cristina Barcelona).

So yeah, this thread is to create a curriculum.  Say, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, half a year, whatever you like.  Required reading, listening, viewing.  Either to refresh someone, or to have someone new become truly cinema literate.  I may post my own once I get the wheels a-turning again, but I'd rather listen and soak it all in.

Stefen

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2009, 10:22:12 AM »
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Hey Ono. Welcome back.  :bravo:

I like the idea. I just think that the userbase of this forum lacks ambition and something like this might be tough to get off the ground.

Post your curriculum to give some ideas, then maybe that can get us rolling. Were you talking about maybe watching a filmmakers essential filmography to refresh yourself, or just to get some ideas of things you've missed in your absence?
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SiliasRuby

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2009, 11:40:21 AM »
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Stefen is right...could you be more specific?
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Gamblour.

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2009, 09:22:31 PM »
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First of all, welcome back. It's good to see so many coming back (is Xixax like the island on Lost? And are the Oscars the catalyst bringing everyone back??).

I was just thinking today actually that it would be nice to have some sort of film that gets suggested and selected, and then discussed. There are so many essentials that I haven't seen, it would be good to have those who have and haven't viewed it debate and discuss its merits.
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Gold Trumpet

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2009, 11:35:56 PM »
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I'm going to do a few posts for this thread. I'll start with just the books I consider to be essential reading for cinema. I can't say my list will be better than anyone else's, but it is my list and I came to make it after years of wadding through many other film books. I doubt my selections would be coherent for a film course, but I want to recommend essentials that give a broad viewpoint of everything film.

The Art of the Moving Picture (1915) - Vachel Lindsay. This is a slim book, but important because it was the first book to give identity to the state of commercial films, in that they were becoming products of different genres. 1915 is the year Birth of a Nation was released so Lindsay was writing this book before that film's existence so his key ideas of the action and suspence genre is pretty interesting and shows a lot of foresight on Lindsay's part. A lot of Lindsay's names and characteristics for genres feel outdated, but it is important to read this book because it is good coverage in how quickly film aligned itself as an entertainment vehicle and essentially in the capacity we see it today.

American Film Criticism: From the Beginnings to Citizen Kane (1972) - Edited by Stanley Kauffmann. Interesting question, but why isn't film criticism more documented in the first forty years of filmgoing? It's like we believe criticism wasn't invented until the 1960s, but the truth is that there was no professional identity to film critics at the beginning. They came from all fields and most of the magazines or newspapers that published film criticism became extinct.

This book is hugely important because it publishes major reviews of older films from dead publications and shows that criticism was very healthy before 1940. In fact, it was more interesting in certain ways because newspapers were getting professional writers to comment on films. They would get experts of a certain field to comment on a film that was sort of related to it. It's a lot of fun seeing a professional dance teacher talk at length about Fred Astaire's skills. The writers leaves out all cinematic convention talk that is normal today and really goes into interesting aspects of the film. Some writers in this collection are unkown and probably were just staff writers, but all of them seem to approach film from angles and viewpoints that look alien today but do feel refreshing to read.

Film Theory and Criticism: Edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. I would recommend any essential collection to have a good overview book of all the major theorists and critics over time. Most people have heard of David Bordwell or Andrew Sarris, but what about Hungo Munsterberg? He was in his 70s in the late 1910s and writing foundational theories about film art. His criticism haunted the first thirty years of film art but he's hardly known. This book is a good overlap of people like him and others who are essential to know. This book also comes in many editions and is meant for colleges, but can be found pretty cheap online and used, I think.

Underground Film: A Critical History (1969): Parker Tyler. Essential book not only on the underground movement of film in the 1960s, but also on the idea that the film image was meant to be liberated from its documentarian form. Some theorists teach us to respect film's ability to see the truth in documenting reality, but Tyler (through analyzing a lot of experimental films) explains that there is a bigger idea in how a filmmaker can manipulate imagery and really broaden the horizons of viewing in general. Parker Tyler has to deal with these abstract ideas to navigate through all the films he talks about, but every review in the film is a general idea about the purpose of film turning into a truly expandable art where the possibilities of image, editing and other things are totally limitless. This could be my favorite book on film.

The Compound Cinema: The Film Writings of Harry Alan Potamkin Harry Alan Potamkin. Oh man, I get giddy when I think about this guy. He was a critic in the 1920s and the early 30s, but he was the anti critic at the time. He broke down films into complex structural parts and elaborated on details that most others would consider small potatoes. He wrote about film with a seriousness that many didn't understand. Munsterberg was serious and an intellectual, but he didn't have the imagination to expond upon films the way Potamkin could. Every piece by Potamkin was a dense essay. Every film that came out was an opportunity by Potamkin to write about a larger issue in the film world.

Potamkin had this skill because he had ties to numerous fields. He was a poet so understood the structural similarities film editing had to poetry, but he was also a Marxist and wrote for the top communist journals. The structural framework of all of his essays reveal a Marxist structural approach, but it was amazing the way he did it. And more amazing was that he talked about cinemas of numerous countries when people only could imagine a few other countries at best. He explained so much about film at the time that a lot of his work should be considered good documentation of the time period. I also liked that he was for the oncoming period of sound in cinema. Most theorists (at the time) believed in the purity of silent cinema, but Potamkin had this comeback, ""To force the movie constantly into its simplest form is to keep it forever simplistic, a lisping, spluttering idiot."

I don't know, he's a personal favorite of mine and for someone who wrote about film for less than 10 years, it's amazing what he was able to do.

ono

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2009, 12:33:00 AM »
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Hey Ono. Welcome back.  :bravo:

I like the idea. I just think that the userbase of this forum lacks ambition and something like this might be tough to get off the ground.

Post your curriculum to give some ideas, then maybe that can get us rolling. Were you talking about maybe watching a filmmakers essential filmography to refresh yourself, or just to get some ideas of things you've missed in your absence?

Thanks for the welcomes.

Well, it's my understanding that the lack of ambition thing is because there's really no reward here and no penalty.  You're on your own, much like in college, so it's a much intangible much more long-term thing.  (Reminded of my own shortcomings in saying I'll write more about film, then don't.  It's merely an exercise at this point.)

Anyway, to clarify:

One curriculum: sensory deprivation.  Avoidance for as long as possible.  Meditate on it.  "Go home and write a page tonight," as Philip Sydney said, and see what comes when you *aren't* influenced.  It would be good for me, except I've been way too immersed in teevee lately.  I learned more about myself in a period of time, say about four years ago, when I changed what my intake was as far as media goes.  It wasn't necessarily a catalyst, but an illustration: one assignment in a intro media criticism class was to go a day without partaking in any kind of media.  Definitely harder than it looks.  Even on the bus to class we're bombarded with advertisements.  During that time, say, three months after the class, I subconsciously started to tune certain things out.  I stopped watching teevee, listened to music more (more eclectic, too).  That was the brunt of it, but the results were I found I was more in tune with everything.  Teevee kind of hypnotizes [1].  It's projected towards you and kind of lulls you, creates an illusion that you aren't alone, whereas film is projected away from you, sans beta waves [jury's still out on dvds of movies ... uh, yeah].  One could argue that trying to glean from a vast number of sources hampers creativity anyway, and to produce anything original, you can't allow yourself to have these influences.  Learn the rules, then go off on your own.

So first, it's important to learn the rules, which is why I've taken this two-pronged approach: given a "clean slate" (someone who's enthusiastic about film who you want to turn into an aficionado or right snob), or given someone who's away for a while and wants to reeducate them (not necessarily me -- just say, film school in a box), devise a curriculum for them to best get them up to speed.  Think: broad strokes first, then narrowly, thinly, fill in the details.  So pay less attention to the scope of one artist's career, but hit the high points of the past, say, what has it been -- 120 years now?

I'd go Maya Deren, Meshes of the Afternoon, first (there might have been another one; it's been too long -- the knife->key transition was key there).  Then there's that other Soviet film from the 20s, replete with the first, best juxtapositions.  It's been so long I can't even conjure up its name.  It was a film we viewed in that aforementioned media criticism class.  Sure, you've gotta hit on Un Chien after Deren.  At least I would.  Then go to Metropolis, City Lights, then maybe Kane.  I'd avoid Birth of a Nation if possible, but that's just personal bias.  Welles invented cinema better (refined, really, and why touch on that if not necessary)?  Singin' in the Rain of course, then probably 2001.  Don't want to give too much attention to Kubrick which is why you'd have to overlook everything he did after that if in an introductory class.  Just stress that he hit all those notes for the next three decades, much like Bunuel and Dali did before him.

There's an inkling of what I know/hand in mind, but what I'm looking for are other less conventional routes that would perhaps allow for unique, valid conclusions.

Thanks for the book mentions, GT.  Will look into them more tomorrow.

Gamblour, yours is a good idea.  My plan is to at least follow through with what I can here and post my thoughts, and hope others will do the same.  I will try to be more vigilant about seeing movies and posting about them, much like I did when I first found this place in good ol' aught-three.

[1] http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/247802/your_brain_waves_change_when_you_watch.html among others.

Chest Rockwell

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2009, 07:36:16 PM »
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Here's a really brief and incomplete list. I ended up focusing almost entirely on American films and directors with a few French and German, but I thought it all up as I was going, in about 20 minutes. Also, I'm too tired to think about readings. Laura Mulvey comes to mind, as does Jean Baudrillard, and of course Walter Benjamin.


I'd start way early. See some Hepworth & Co. silent shorts, as you can easily see the transition from cinematic experiments to films that started to define cinema as a narrative medium and not a toy. Rescued by Rover is the essential one; it was a very early use of editing to create spatial relationships between places. Your silents are all good. I think the Soviet movie you mentioned is Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstein. Either that or October.

How about animated films? The silent period (so pre-Steamboat Willie) had some crazy stuff before Disney took over the market and made transparent narrative the standard for all of animation. Early Disney is actually really good stuff, like the Oswald The Lucky Rabbit cartoons. Also Max Fleischer cartoons: the Out of the Inkwell series, Betty Boop, Koko the Klown. Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat. Windsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur and The Sinking of the Lusitania. All good stuff and a lot of it's on YouTube.

The thirties was an important decade because that's when self-censorship began; I want to say the Hayes Code started being enforced around 1934. Look at a Busby Berkeley film like Dames or 42nd Street (musicals were becoming hot shit, too, since sound had recently hit the scene), and a Josef von Sternberg like Morocco. Really awesome viewings if you're at all into issues of gender. Also the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) and Howard Hawks (Only Angels Have Wings) and John Sturges (Sullivan's Travels)

The 40s. Watch some noir (Double Indemnity is the one I'd see), watch Citizen Kane, watch Pinocchio.

The 50s. I can't think of much. Breathless and 400 Blows were '59, right? See those, the start of the French New Wave.

The 60s. This is when things get interesting. Bonnie & Clyde, Easy Rider. Direct cinema also started here. See Primary (Robert Drew), Salesman (The Maysles Bros.), and High School (Frederick Wiseman). Titicut Follies, too. Oh, and John Cassavetes, gotta see Shadows. Agnès Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7.

The 70s. Blockbusters - Jaws, Star Wars. Cheap Horror Movies (16mm influence) - Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween. Trash Cinema - Anything by Paul Morissey, anything by Russ Meyers. Other necessaries: Annie Hall and Manhattan, A Clockwork Orange, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Enigma of Kaspar Hausen.

The 80s. The Shining. It's sad that the only other thing I can think of is John Waters, but Pink Flamingos is pretty important.

The 90s. the new Indie movement - Tarantino, Soderbergh, Linklater, Sayles. Documentaries - Errol Morris, Michael Moore. Also Eyes Wide Shut.

If you want to see some avant-garde: Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Stan Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving, Bruce Connor's A Movie, everything by Kenneth Anger, Su Friedrich's Sink or Swim, Craig Baldwin's Tribulation 99.

SiliasRuby

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Re: Reeducation
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2009, 09:36:53 PM »
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If you want some straightforward decent romantic comedies or comedies in general that are actually funny and have a decent structure, you can look to the 80's and one name: John Hughes. Just to look at capturing a time and place and how cheesy films did get. There's also plenty of romantic comedies

As far as foreign films go, Breathless has already been mentioned. I'd also look at Pierre Le Fou. My fav. filmmaker of the french new wave is Truffaut. If you want your foreign film to really pack a punch though, I'd look to Ingmar Bergman. Anything he has done will give you a emotional punch to the stomach and a artistry that is sorely lacking these days. Also, he can seriously scare the shit out of you when he wants to do it.

As far as films in the 1950's here's what comes to mind: All About Eve, Sweet Smell of Success, Some like it hot, north by northwest, rear window, rebel without a cause, roman holiday, vertigo, to catch a thief, day the earth stood still, black orpheus, rio bravo, from here to eternity. cat on a hot tin roof (Liz taylor will make you shiver with her sexiness), and invasion of the body snatchers.

The 50's cinema was a bit different. It was an array of different genres that splashed onto the silver screen. The war had ended so there weren't very many amazing noirs that came out of the 40's like the big sleep and the maltese falcon. Two noirs that everyone should see. Lana turner at her most gorgeous and both have Humphery Bogart in his prime. No, the 50's had many things going on and those films mentioned above, are gems. But other than that, there was a lot of campy movies that really made the money during the 1950's, most notably The Blob. Its early trash cinema.

If you want something to really scare you, other than the aformentioned Berman and of course the exorcist and the original texas chainsaw massacre I'd look to the films of David Lynch. H's one of the very few filmmakers working today that can give you nightmares if he so decides. I love him to death, so I'm biased but you have to at least see Blue Velvet. I buy it for all the dates that I know will go nowhere. Also, I mentioned a lot of hitchcock movies in the previous paragraph but you have to see the original psycho.

If you want some challenging films also look to bergman but check out lars von trier. Get yourself into some 70's film making and check out anything you can from that decade. 85% of the cinema that came out of that decade is quite amazing.

If you want crime films, again look at the noirs of the 40's like the previously mentioned the big sleep, maltese falcon, double indemnity. There's also kiss me deadly and key largo. There's also some great crime paranoia films that were made in the 70's by Alan J. Pekula, such as Klute, the parallalex view and of course, all the presidents men. Also throughout the 1950's to the 1970's Jean Pierre Melville made some of the most revealing and suspenseful crime films ever.

As far as 90's cinema: of course PTA, tarantino, soderbergh, and kubricks last one but there are two little underrated classics that have gone under the radar as gems from the 1990's. They are Sneakers and Radioland Murders. I can't recommend those two enough.

Chew on that. More later.
The Beatles know Jesus Christ has returned to Earth and is in Los Angeles.

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