Spring Classes Postmortem

The spring term is done, grades are in, and so here is my regular, quick post looking back on how the courses went, an epilogue to the January post looking at the courses just before they began.

Currents in Global Literature went pretty well, though I certainly missed Petals of Blood. But having three short books after Sentimental Education and Burger's Daughter was an improvement over Petals of Blood followed by two short books, and The River Between was popular with the students. If I were teaching the course again, I'd probably redesign it from the ground up, but we hired a great person to take over the course, so she'll get to make it her own now. I find our whole curriculum structure annoyingly nationalistic, which makes teaching this course very difficult because it has to accomplish more than any one course possibly can. I hoped to give the students some glimpse of the richness of literature outside of the U.S. and Britain, and to give them some tools to seek out such literature for themselves in the future.

Introduction to Film continues to be a course that perplexes me. I think the students liked it well enough and certainly found that it broadened their perspective of what movies have been and can be, but I felt very unorganized teaching it, despite all the effort I put into organizing it. The challenges of the course have a lot to do with some incoherence in our curriculum, which makes this class, much like Global Lit, too much of a catch-all. I could have defined it better myself, and should have. At a small school with no real film program (film is a "concentration" within two different majors, English and Communications & Media Studies), Intro to Film has to function as a course in film history, film analysis, and film theory, and that's just too much for any one class to do — indeed, the ideal would be to have separate courses in Hollywood history, non-Hollywood history, and film analysis & theory, but I don't see us having the resources or organization to be able to accomplish that any time soon. So there's Intro to Film.

In the future, I think I'm going to cut the screening list down to maybe 10 movies at most, because by the end of the term it just felt like we'd watched too much, so what could be said about any one film was superficial. I may have to reconsider the textbooks, too, because as much as I like them, I think I need a book or book(s) that are more specific and less broad. I was disappointed in the updates to The Film Experience in the new edition, because there just isn't enough close analysis of specific films, so the book ends up leading us away from the sort of specificity that will, perhaps, make the class more coherent. Something like Film Moments might actually be a better bet. (Among textbooks, Film Art has more of the kind of specificity I'm looking for; I just wish it were balanced with Corrigan & White's more ecumenical view of cinema history and theory.)

Outlaws, Delinquents, and Other "Deviants" in Film & Society was fun, and would have been even more fun if it weren't at 8am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a schedule that made most of the students less than lively. Nonetheless, and if I do say so myself, the choice of materials worked very well together. Even though there were a lot of movies, it didn't feel like an overwhelming group, unlike Intro to Film, and I think this is because the course is much more focused and so I was able to create a set of films that spoke well to and through each other. As for the textbooks, I'm not sure I would use The Cinema Book again, because as good as it is, it just didn't end up having quite enough that was relevant to what we were doing.  One of the problems is that The Cinema Book doesn't have a chapter on war films, and we really needed one. (That said, the chapter on New Queer Cinema was extremely helpful when it came time to talk about The Doom Generation and My Own Private Idaho, and the chapter on "teenpics" was helpful with just about everything in the second half of the course. What's in the book that was relevant was great; it's just that the book spends way too many pages arguing about auteurism and not enough pages investigating other things that we needed for this course. I knew that would be a possibility when I first decided to use it, but I underestimated how much of a handicap it would really be until we were putting it to the test in class.) This is a course that can work really well, and I hope to be able to teach it again to further refine it.


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