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

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Nov 29 2008 - 07:00:14 PST

To Beth, of course I agree with you that the schools could and should do
more. The faculty is *supposed* to determine what it is the students
should learn. It's just that since the 1960s there's been a certain
"lunatics taking over the asylum" tendency in education. I once had a
student berate me for criticizing his writing on a short paper on the
grounds that this was an art course, not an English course, and I sat
there reading his answer (this was 1996) thinking, "How did we ever get
to this point."

Anyway, I think that the film faculty in most art schools simply do not
agree with me. Many didn't themselves study cinema (or theory) in the
intensive ways I'm advocating. That could be OK if they bring other
important passions into the classroom and stimulate the students'
interest. Mostly I'm advocating intensive involvements of the arts in
general, or related fields. But to learn how to use the language of film
it helps to have studied what was done in the past. Otherwise you're
still being influenced, but by the way Eisenstein or whoever has
filtered into those TV commercials James Cole mentions, rather than by
the source.

Absent a disciplined program, make your own program! See films, read
about them, see the same films again. Chicago has some great exhibition
venues: The Film Center, Doc Films, Block Cinema, Bank of America
Cinema, The Music Box, Facets Multimedia, White Light Cinema, The
Nightingale, and others. I especially recommend Doc at the moment.

To Thomas McCormick, I didn't mean to make this generational. Most young
people in Brakhage's era who were interested in cinema, whatever that
may mean, would not have taken his intensive approach. And it's quite
right to point out that he dropped out of college -- after only two
months. And "not likely" did not mean there were no such people today. I
know that there are. But schools have to survive by getting a whole lot
of students to pay tuition; they don't survive on the serious few. That
was kind of my point.

About canons, my approach would be to "impose" a small canon, not
because it is "correct" but because it can give people a reference
point, and even, something to rebel against. I'd stress early film from
the beginnings through the 20s avant-garde and the Soviets and Murnau
and Dreyer, which helped establish the "language," and then be more
selective in later periods, but would include giants like Bresson and
classical Hollywood and the avant-garde movement that began in the
1940s. But then there should also be time and resources for each student
to choose additional areas to explore in depth.

Fred Camper

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