Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Following Along with Film and Narrative

I haven't posted a classic movie review here in several weeks because the pandemic means that my movie watching is more a group activity than my choice alone. Normally I have Monday nights to myself to watch old movies and weeks together when the spouse is away on work travel, but right now we're all at home and trying to make the most of family time! That means a lot of more recent movies that appeal to the spouse and kid and fewer films that make good blog posts for Virtual Virago. We are, however, watching movies together, especially because one of the kid's classes this term is Film and Narrative, with a different movie assignment each week. Watching a college student work through someone else's course has been really interesting to me as a former college professor, and I've enjoyed - but sometimes really questioned - the choices for this film course.

We've watched Hot Fuzz (2007), Smoke Signals (1998), Jaws (1975), Rashomon (1950), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014) together as part of the kid's film course, with the last one being the only odd choice of that lot. Sure, it's got the whole non-linear, time looping story line set against a sci-fi version of the Normandy invasion, but it's still a Tom Cruise movie and not the most original or provocative example one might have chosen. The spouse and I had seen all of these films before, of course, but they were all new to the kid, who really liked Smoke Signals and Jaws but was wishing the syllabus had more comedy to balance to out the drama and action.

The professor had the students pick a final film on their own, preferably something outside their "comfort zone," and the kid asked me to suggest some comedies for the assignment. Off to the DVD closet we went! We ended up watching The Women (1939), which was a huge hit thanks to the gleefully awful performances of Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford. It definitely provided something different from the films on the syllabus, and it gave the kid plenty to write about for the assignment. Sadly, we're now at the end of the semester, so we don't have any more movies to watch for the course.

Following along with the kid's film class got me thinking about what movies I would put on a syllabus for a similar course. This happens to be the second college film and narrative class the kid has taken; the first was as a dual enrollment student at the local university. The first class provided the students with a list to choose from for each unit, which I think worked better and created a lot more opportunity to delve into different interests, while this second class only had the one open option and all the rest assigned (which they normally watched in class as a group). I wonder if a film and narrative class works better if it sticks to a theme as opposed to being a little of this and a little of that, all over the cinematic map, but I realize it's an introductory level course and not a special topics section.

The kid's most recent class watched:

The Cameraman (1928)
 Cat People (1942)
 Batman Returns (1992)
Hero (2002)
The Way Way Back (2013)
Creed (2015)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Smoke Signals (1998)
Jaws (1975)
Rashomon (1950)
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
(WALL-E from 2008 was also on the original syllabus but got dropped due to the pandemic closing campus and sending students home.)

Most of this list is pretty good, really, but I would definitely make some changes. For one thing, I'd like to see a little better representation of women as protagonists here, not just supporting characters. There are obvious boxes being checked in terms of minority and international representation, but some of those choices could be better (why come in with Creed for a bunch of kids who probably haven't seen any of the earlier Rocky films?). Here are the substitutions I might make:

Batman Returns (1992) - Change to Blade (1998) because it's not a sequel, features a black comic book hero with a great female lead, too, and taps into the enduring interest in vampires

The Way Way Back (2013) - Change to The Breakfast Club (1985) because I feel like John Hughes needs to be in here somewhere and the ensemble cast gives lots of teen types to explore. I also don't love having really recent movies in the mix because 1) kids are more likely to have seen them anyway and 2) they need more time to shake out into "important" and not so much.

Creed (2015) - Change to The Color Purple (1985) because Blade gets you a black male superhero fighter and this list still needs more women's stories in it. Even Hidden Figures (2016) would be great if one is just determined to have really recent films on the list.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - Change to Dark City (1998) because it still has lots of mind-bending weirdness and sci-fi cred but also tech noir cool and was Roger Ebert's favorite film of 1998. It's more original but less obvious than The Matrix (1999) and offers lots of opportunities to talk about film noir and science fiction and the nature of identity and memory. I will probably put Dark City on any syllabus where it makes any sense to have it because it's just that fantastic. I used to teach it as part of my film noir unit, and it always went over really well.

What 12-13 movies would YOU put on a film and narrative syllabus? I'd love to see your lists in the comments section!

1 comment:

  1. To me it looks like quite a random selection of films with too much diversity box ticking. If the course was called "Film and Representation" or something, then that might make sense. But Film and Narrative suggests different modes of storytelling, doesn't it? Not "You should watch this film because it stars a black guy / a Chinese woman / a native American", etc

    There's only one token silent film and nothing from continental Europe. I also don't like all those recent films, for the reasons you mentioned.

    If they must study an American blockbuster from the last two decades then it should be The Matrix. I know the students have probably all seen it already but it's ripe for film class dissection.

    I love Hot Fuzz but don't really know why it's here. Actually on second thoughts maybe it has a place because of its genre bending.

    Rashomon is OK. I like Jaws well enough but if they must watch a 70s blockbuster then Star Wars is more interesting, as long as its the original version. Or maybe Alien.

    If the course is meant to be an introduction to cinema then there are nowhere near enough oldies. There should at least be a western and a noir.