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

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Nov 30 2008 - 11:33:10 PST

Thanks to Patricia and Craig for some fine comments.

I think Patricia is right to put the problems of higher education in a
larger economic context. Pushing almost everyone into college is maybe
not the best idea, even though it would appear that our developing
service economy favors this. Some students have always taken some film
classes in the hope of obtaining easy credits toward a liberal arts
degree, and as the intellectual level of the overall student body
declines, so will the level of the average film student. I doubt that
the technical schools that many German students attend to in lieu of
college offer courses in avant-garde film alongside lathe operation.

Also, the career oriented focus of education and students today, quite
different from the late 1960s, doesn't tend to favor "useless" topics
like avant-garde film, even though one could make a case (a case I hate
making) that their influence on mainstream media such as commercials has
been vast.

I also understand that contemporary film study has a certain
"scientific" bias, and insofar as one is doing sociology, examining how
established film codes affect most viewers, this is arguably legitimate.
And certainly the kinds of opinions that many undergraduates want to
have about movies ("That actress wasn't slutty enough for her role."
"Not enough explosions in this flick." OK, I exaggerate, but perhaps not
that unfairly) are not things anyone can learn from. But for me the
aesthetic experience is private, individual, deeply subjective, and
ultimately transcendent, and it resists logical analysis. Plus,
avant-garde film works quite differently from mainstream narrative, and
though it by now has conventions I think they function in a way that is
less susceptible to logical analysis. And the transcendent aesthetic
experience is exactly the kind of thing that the greatest avant-garde
films foster, whether through the massive light poetry and rhythms of
"The Art of Vision" or the "tiny" completion epiphany of the final cycle
of the central section of "Zorns Lemma."

I agree with most of what Craig wrote, but I'd argue that surely
students bear some responsibility for their own education. For example,
if you already love avant-garde film, and take a poorly-taught course in
it, well, then, look into the field more on your own!

My more point about the "personal growth of the student" is that you are
going to grow a lot more, and in more meaningful ways, by trying to make
the best film you can, and by being challenged to do so, than you will
by focusing mostly on fostering your own "personal growth." The best way
to truly enhance a student's self-esteem, as a now retired teacher I
have long admired used to say, is to teach him something.

Fred Camper

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