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Showing posts from December, 2009

Introduction to Film Textbooks

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I previously wrote (and wrote and wrote...) about what I was thinking when designing an intro to film class that I'll be teaching next term, and particularly when choosing the fourteen films to show during the 150-minute screening time outside of class.  That post wasn't complete, though, because an important other factor in the shape of the course is the textbook.

When I got the assignment to teach intro to film, I'd never looked at a film textbook.  I'd be tempted to say, "When I was in school, we didn't need none of them overpriced, overstuffed, overacademic behemoths!"  And though it is true that the profileration of such textbooks is a relatively recent event, a handful of them are over thirty years old.  I just tended to get teachers who didn't want us to read much in film classes.

I'm a fan of reading, though.  And I'm especially a fan of reading in an intro class, where a textbook gives interested students more information than they&#…

An Introduction to Film Class

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Because a colleague is going on sabbatical next term, I've been recruited to teach an Intro to Film class at Plymouth State. I suppose they thought of me because I spent three years as a playwrighting and screenwriting major at NYU, so my CV has more film-related stuff on it than most other folks' in the English Department, which oversees this particular class (though it's also a class that's a requirement for the Communications department ... I'm staying happily ignorant of the politics and regulations that, in the absence of a specific Film Studies department, make particular film classes part of one department or another...). I've spent time on film sets of various sizes, know a few writers and producers and such, and even have a couple of friends who were real, live film majors in college ... but academic film study is a world I know only at a superficial level, so it's good this is just an intro class.

And so I've spent more time preparing for th…

Go Underland for the Holidays!

The great and glorious Victoria Blake at Underland Press has created a "Friend & Family" sale and let me know I could share it with all of you.

Here's what you do: Go to the Underland website, order lots of books, and type in the code xmas09. This should get you 15% off your order. The more you spend, the more you save! I would recommend getting at least 5 copies each of Finch, Best American Fantasy, Pilo Family Circus -- well, heck, all of their books. You need at least one for yourself, two or three for various friends and family, one to donate to the local library or school, etc...

Robin Wood: 1931-2009

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The news of film critic Robin Wood's death came as a real shock to me because, in preparation for teaching an intro to film class next term, I've been spending a lot of time with his writings recently.  One of my projects, only vaguely justified by the class, has been to view or re-view all of Alfred Hitchcock's films, and Wood was one of the most important writers on Hitchcock.  Indeed, his Hitchcock's Films Revisited has been the book I've spent the most time with during my journey with Sir Alfred because it is richly provocative and unpredictable, and helped me reassess some films, such as Marnie, that I would otherwise have felt were minor.

Hitchcock's Films Revisited is fascinating, too, because it is multiple books in one, and various parts think about, contradict, and, indeed, criticize other parts of the book.  After the original Hitchcock's Films was published, Wood's life changed considerably -- he had been a married man living in England, poli…

Charlie Darwin, Bewildered

December 18 1832
After passing through the straight of Le Maire at Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle anchored at Good Success Bay. Here Darwin had his first encounter with savages [sic]. He was shocked by the primitive way of life they led but was also fascinated by them. A group of four male Fuegians met the landing party. After an attempt to communicate with the Feugians the party presented them with some bright red cloth and the Feugians immediately became friendly with them. The natives initiated a dialogue by patting the crewmen on their chests. Apparently they had the most amazing ability to mimic the crew's gestures and even the words they spoke, often repeating whole English sentences back to them. Darwin was bewildered by all this.

Directors of the Decade

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The ever-wonderful Matt Zoller Seitz has written a great feature for Salon.com -- "Directors of the Decade: The Sensualists". Actually, this is one of ten features Seitz is writing for Salon about "Directors of the Decade", but for me this is the group that matters most, because it includes Hou Hsiao-hsien, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, and Wong Kar-Wai, some of my absolute favorites, though I had never thought of them as a group before.  Or maybe I have -- I've been thinking a lot recently about why Lynch, Malick, and Mann in particular appeal to me so deeply. (I love some of Wong Kar-Wai's films, too -- 2046,In the Mood for Love, and especially Happy Together, though My Blueberry Nights proved nearly unwatchable and Ashes of Time, in either version, left me cold. Hou Hsiao-hsien I hadn't really thought of in relation to the others, and I'm least familiar with his work, having only seen Flight of the Red Balloon and The Puppetmaste…

Manohla Dargis on Women in Hollywood

ManohlaDargis may be my favorite mainstream film reviewer -- it's not just that she's got great perception of cinema as an artform of its own (too many reviewers treat movies like they're illustrated novels), but she's also an extraordinarily talented writer, one of the few film reviewers I'm happy to read simply for her sense of language and prose structure within the newspaper review form. Plenty of writers' expressive abilities have been deadened by the demands of writing multiple 800-1000-word reviews week after week, but Dargis still turns in more energetic and thoughtful reviews than not, and it's an impressive feat.

In a recent issue of the Times, Dargis wrote an essay about women in Hollywood. The commercial American film industry remains an astoundingly sexist enterprise, and the sexism is systemic, as Dargis shows. Even if you think you know how bad the situation is, the statistics are breathtaking:
Only a handful of female directors picked up the…

Rain Taxi Auction

Rain Taxi Review of Books is a marvelous magazine, and they've just begun their annual auction, which is an event I always look forward to because of the wide variety of items they have to offer, including dozens of signed books.

The new print issue of RT includes an essay I wrote about the work of WallaceShawn, a playwright and essayist whose face and voice many people know from some of his iconic roles in movies and TV shows, but whose writing is vastly less known -- he's one of those writers who is more popular outside of his native country than in it.

Aside from a couple short stories that are currently wending their way through the submission process, my major writings since this summer have been the Shawn essay for RT and the essay on Coetzee for The Quarterly Conversation. The effect of spending so much time reading and re-reading the writings of both men is obvious in my latest Strange Horizons column, "On the Eating of Corpses".

00 Movies

Gawker is totally right -- "The choice of our favorite movie of the decade is one of the most important we as individuals can make." (And here I was thinking it was my choice of underwear that defined me -- but that's so '90s!)

Everybody's making lists of the best of everything from 2000-2009 right now. I like reading such things when they're the personal preferences of individuals -- Richard Brody's film list is the most idiosyncratic I've encountered, filled with films I haven't seen and in many cases have never heard of, and of the ones I have seen, they aren't really films I'd put toward the top of my own best-of-the-decade list, were I even able to come up with such a list. And yet I loved reading Brody's list because his explanations worked together to create a sense of how he thinks about his encounters with art.

Similarly, John Patterson's passionate essay on Terrence Malick's The New World as the single best film of t…

School of Rogue

While listening to this interview with the great and glorious Werner Herzog, I learned of Herzog's Rogue Film School. It has some guidelines I thought more workshops might want to emulate:
The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature. Excerpts of films will be discussed, which could include your submitted films; they may be shown and discussed as well. Depending on the materials, the attention will revolve around essential questions: how does music function in film? How do you narrate a story? (This will certainly depart from the brainless teachings of three-act-screenplays). How do you sensitize an audience? How is space created and understood by an audience? How do you produce and edit a film? How do you create illumination and an ecstasy of truth? Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of b…

Summertime and Coetzee's Countervoices

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An essay I wrote on J.M. Coetzee's autobiofictional memoirs, including his latest book, Summertime, has been posted in the new issue of The Quarterly Conversation. (I'll note here that the title and the section titles in the essay are not mine: my original, preferred title was "Awakening the Countervoices in One Self: J.M. Coetzee and the Authority of the Author", but that's not really very descriptive, so I can see why the change was made. Similarly, I left the sections untitled, but I've titled subsections before, so it's more consistent this way.)

Here's a taste:
In its form and subject matter, Summertime has more in common with Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year than Boyhood and Youth, but some of its central concerns are the same, and it is possible to see the John Coetzee who is the topic of Summertime as an adult version of the John Coetzee who is the protagonist of Boyhood and Youth (if we assume the protagonists of those books are th…

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Stephen King's new novel, Under the Dome, is a tremendously entertaining and often emotionally affecting story about, among other things, cruelty and pity. King has called Lord of the Flies "the book that changed my life", and its influence feels especially strong here, where a Maine town is turned into an island when a mysterious, invisible dome suddenly covers it, and adults begin to behave like the children in Golding's novel. There are political overtones to the book, with the main villain, "Big Jim" Rennie, sounding an awful lot like Big Dick Cheney; with crisis turned into political opportunity; with fear used as a tool for consolidating power; with brutality replacing sense. These connections to the world outside the book are important, sometimes amusing and sometimes even insightful, but they're also obvious (intentionally so, I'd bet). More complex and interesting is the novel's narrative voice and how it relates to the revelation o…