Teaching film [Was: Experimental films showing at various Universities]

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Nov 28 2008 - 12:19:52 PST

Beth Capper wrote:

> The main problem, in my humble opinion (as a student at the Art
> Institute of Chicago) is that art schools don't require that students be
> intellectually challenged.

I'd say something related but not identical. The majority (not all) art
students are shockingly, stupefyingly ignorant of the history of their

Oh, a painting student might have to take a few art history courses, and
thus some might actually be able to identify Giotto or Direr or
Delacroix or Cézanne or Mondrian on a test -- but how many have the
genuine aesthetic knowledge that comes from a deep involvement with
looking, and looking again, at the actual works?

In cinema it's even worse. How many MFA film students have a deep
awareness of and involvement with, say, Méliès, or Griffith, or
Eisenstein, or Dreyer, or even Deren or Anger? Yet these are among our

A true story I like to tell involves a young man who, in the early
1950s, having decided that poetry and theater, which he had been
involved in, were not for him, decided instead, at 18, to become a
filmmaker. The first thing he did, before actually trying to make films,
was to read everything he could find by Eisenstein. (Sound like anyone
you know today? Not likely.) Later, he obtained a print of "Potemkin"
and viewed it again and again and again.

His name was Stan Brakhage. And in fact, one can see echoes of
Eisensteinian montage in his cinema up through "Dog Star Man." And guess
which four filmmakers from my list above were the subjects of his early
lectures, when he was hired to teach, collected in the book "The
Brakhage Lectures"?

> ...The problem is the school...

I'm not sure I agree with this. I think one could make a case for
blaming the students themselves, or some of them.

Were I to design a filmmaking MFA program, it would take three or more
years, and include extremely extensive film viewing, reading the
writings of filmmakers, and viewing their films again and again. Some
films would be required of all, while each student would have the option
to also choose others to explore in depth. And there would be an
alternative way to do the program in two years, by seeing and studying
films on one's own, IF one could past a difficult test before entering.

I doubt that my program would do very well competing for students (who
see themselves, as has been correctly said here, as customers rather
than students) against those caring and nurturing programs that stress
not the quality of the work but "the personal growth of the student" (a
long-ago quote from a professor in the filmmaking department in Beth's
own school) and that feature critiques with questions like "Tell us how
your work has evolved since last semester" (a quote from an MFA
photography critique I once attended).

Of course, people whose last names begin "Ca" are almost invariably
profound artists and thinkers who are exempt from my above comments...

Fred Camper

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