Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Film History Suggestions

As some of you may or may not know, I'm currently employed as a high school teacher, mainly teaching their film history and editing classes (it's a charter school that specializes in film). Last year I taught two separate film history classes, one pre 1950's and one post 1950's. This year they're having me teach a beginning class, and then later teach an advanced class that will be more like what I did last time. So for this beginning class they'd like me to show the most important films. "If they only take one film history class in their lives, these are the films they need to see" is how the principal discribed it to me. So, that's where I need your input. What are those films that these kids need to see the most?

Here's the guidelines:
1. the class is nine weeks long, 70 minutes a day every day, so we have time for 1-2 features a week along with a bunch of clips, which means approx 12 features for the term.
2. no rated R movies, although I can show appropriate clips from R movies.
3. I'm considering organizing the class by film component: Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, etc. And then showing historically important films that are prime examples of that component.

So what are your suggestions and why?


Blogger Drew said...

I think you should show Coppola's "The Conversation" when studying sound. Not only is sound used esthetically, but thematically as narrative as well. Walter Murch does some amazing things with manipulating sound almost like a production designer might manipulate color or light. There are also some great ethical issues raised in the movie which contribute greatly to your scenario of molding young minds.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

I would should show Jules Dassin's "Rififi" (1955) for directing. This is the kind of film that I wished they would have shown in film school. The film works well on many levels and incorporates supreme examples of using sound, cinematography, and editing, to tell story. It was made outside the hollywood system as a result of Dassin being blacklisted as a communist. It is currently being remade with Al Pacino and Harold Becker directing.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Matt Schramer said...

Here's some important films viewed during my BYU film history classes:

1. The 400 Blows - One of the best examples of New Wave cinema/deals with youth rebellion/poor parenting - perfect for your class

2. Pather Panchali - Third World cinema(Indian): part of one of the earliest trilogies.

3. Aguirre the Wrath of God - Werner Herzog, filmed on remote jungle locations with non-actors, like Italian Neo-Realism.

4. Modern Times - What would film history be without Charlie Chaplin (A Buster Keaton film is good too)

5. Sunrise - the most overlooked, yet innovate film of the silent era.

6. Touch of Evil - Citizen Kane is outstanding visually, but this has Welles' sweat and blood all over it

7. Tokyo Story - Simple, restricted camera, but a poignant family drama.

8. Night of the Living Dead - horror laden with political themes and social issues of the times

9. Double Idemnity - Film noir influence so many other movements, and this is one of the best. (Or Sunselt Boulevard - both Wilder).

10. Wild Strawberries - an early example of surreal cinema experimenting with time.

(Runner ups: Rome Open City, Badlands, The Birth of a Nation, Nosferatu, The Searchers, Dr. Strangelove, 8 1/2, Seven Samurai, or Raise the Red Lantern).

3:46 PM  
Blogger Matt Schramer said...

Films in the technical categories:

1. Sound - I agree with Drew on The Conversation, but here's two others. The Jazz Singer (first recognized talkie). Or the 1933 King Kong (creation of SFX tracks)

2. Cinematography - The Last Emperor (Storaro), just plain amazing depth, contrast, and use of color. Or Days of Heaven - use of natural light only.

3. Directing - This is a tough one . . . Lawrence of Arabia - epic proportions, well executed, though on the long side or Greed by Erich von Stroheim (actors and director lived on the set).

More categories to come later.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

I like Matt's list.

I haven't seen Pather Panchali so I'll replace it with Jaws. I reckon many high school students have never scene one of the best horror/thriller movies ever made. Changed the whole hollywood system of mass distribution, mass marketing and wide release. Basically started the blockbuster age of movies (for better or worse). Plus it's got great acting.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

nice to have you aboard Matt.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Great Suggestions from everyone (and please keep them coming those of you who haven't posted yet...). I haven't seen Rififi, or anything by Dassin. I'll need to check that out. And the Conversation is a great idea. I watched it about 7 years ago and have been avoiding it since then because it made me feel so terrible. But I should probably look at it again and at least show some clips from it. I've been reading the interviews with Walter Murch called "The Conversations". The man is brilliant.

Great list from Matt as well. I showed either clips or entireties of pretty much everything you mentioned in my 2-part advanced classes. And Jaws would definitely be one of them, but I think most of these kids actually have seen it. I showed it last year for the cinematography section and more than half the class had seen it before. They still loved it, though. That and Night of the Living Dead seem to be two of the favorite films around there.

What about for editing? I know what I can show for clips to show the history of editing. Lumiere and the one take one shot, Melies and the one shot per scene but connecting scenes together, Birth of a Nation and the beginnings of continuity editing. Potemkin and the collision montage (or is there a better example of Eisenstein's ideas?) But what about the feature? Editing's a hard one because it's hard to tell what the editor actually did without knowing what the state of the materials was beforehand. I guess that's another reason Murch's book is so good, he goes into so much detail about each film he worked on and exactly what went into it.

Also looking for Production Design, Music (in addition to sound), and Acting.

Keep em coming

5:55 PM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

For Editing I'd do Un Chien Andula Buenel and Salvador Dali's masterpiece where a woman's eye get's cut with razor and then a man drags a dead horse on a piano. The audience assigns a story even though it is just random images.

And it's only 20 minutes long.

Here are the movies I'd love to introduce to a group of kids just starting to learn film history.

1. Rio Bravo. I watched Rio Bravo with a big group of people and it played like gang busters. Biggest belly laughs I've ever seen at a theater. I was smiling goofily as I left. (Everybody I know thinks they hate John Wayne until they see this movie.) (Also Quentin Tarrentino shows this to every woman who he dates seriously. If they don't like it, he dumps them.

2. Duck Soup - The greatest masterpiece of surreal cinema. Buenel's good but he's no Marx Brother.

3. The Big Sleep

4. Singing in The Rain

5. Swing Time - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

6. The Apartment - Billy Wilder's best and funniest film. (Production design.)

7. Bride of Frankenstein. (This would be great for production design. Son of Frankenstein would be even better but it's not as good of a movie. Still good though.)

8. Angel's with Dirty Faces - The students should be introduced to James Cagney at some time.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

duck soup is hilarious. i always avoided the marx brothers but then when i finally watched duck soup i was laughing the whole time. great choice for a film history class.

we're missing a hitchcock film though:

stranger's on a train
rear window
the trouble with harry

gotta show one of those.

also fritz lang's M is a great one.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

on the waterfront. brando, malden, and cobb are amazing.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

great list there, Bryan. I've still never seen Rio Bravo or Angels with Dirty Faces. I'll have to check them out. Chien D' Andalou would be an interesting choice. And will probably be popular with the kids. Singing in the Rain is another great choice for music/sound because of it's historical setting. And then follow it up with the uppercut of 2001: a space oddysey.

Thanks for bringing Hitchcock into this, Jordan. I'll probably deal with him when we're talking about directing, auteur theory and stuff. Rear Window and Psycho are my favorites of his. But some of the lesser knowns could be cool, too. I showed strangers on a train last year, with much success.

I love Duck Soup as well, but have seen it about five times now and still haven't seen anything else from the Marx boys. Have you? I hear good things about A Night at the Opera.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Also, props to On the Waterfront. That's a must see for Acting.

What about Documentaries? What are some awesome ones that will appeal to the kids? Especially ones that are more than 10 years old.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

A Night at the Opera is good, even great. If there was less of the romantic lead it would be even better.

My favorite Marx Brothers after Duck Soup is Horse Feathers.

For documentaries - I haven't seen Grey Gardens but I hear it's excellent.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I realize that in a film history class you really have to show certain influential films even if they are not that good. I just think there is too much tradition in film schools. I've only had three teachers who got me to think about cinema in a new way. Dean Duncan at BYU and Alex Nibley at UVSC, and I don't remember the name of the other teacher but he taught the absolute best film class I ever took at BYU and it was not in the film program. It was "French and Itallian cinema" and it was in the French department. We did watch films from Lumiere, Lang, Buenel, and Griffith, but we also watched films like Chris Marker's "La Jette" which will never show up on a list because it's a short. We watched Antonioni's "Blow Up" which inspired me greatly. I wished someone would have showed me Tarkovsky's "Stalker" which might be my favorite film of all time. I personally can't find any value in "High Noon". Sometimes I think the films that film schools agree on are the worst because they share the wrong common ground, which is that everyone agrees on them. Somehow the students need to be challenged to discover the importance and relevance of a film without seeing it on a list. I wonder if you could show clips of films and then have the students pick which one they would like to see in full. They might feel like they are shaping their own opinions.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

I couldn't agree more about High Noon. Howard Hawkes and John Wayne hated it also, that's why they made Rio Bravo - sort of an anti-High Noon.

For sound or production design maybe show the first half hour of Great Expectations.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

salesman is another good doc. one of my favoirtes.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...


Thanks for the comment. That's exactly what I loved about Dean's classes, how he'd show these movies you'd never heard of before and aren't on most of the top 100 lists or whatever, but were so cool (32 short films about Glenn Gould, Decalog, Places in the Heart, Ordet, Babe: Pig in the City). Kind of the same reason I showed Kubrick's "The Killing" for our film noir unit last year. Not the most famous example, but it's my favorite that I've seen so far.

And yeah, why doesn't anyone show Tarkovsky in class? Stalker goes into my top ten most spiritual movies ever. Kind of like 2001, how it seems so intimitading before you rent it, but so compelling, terrifying, and beautiful while watching it.

11:21 AM  
Blogger seefilms said...

Wow...ask a stupid question get a stupid answer.
Ask a relevant one... get enough answers to kill a small horse.

A lot of really great responses here...
ready for a long response?

Sound. Adding to what's there:
Don't Look Now. Ordet, for how startling silence can be.
And come on, pick your favorite scene from a recent blockbuster.
The opening sequence to Once Upon a Time in the West. Final sequence of Last of the Mohicans. The Elephant Man (or most anything by David Lynch)

Lawrence of Arabia. Ordet (this is a transcendant film that, though your students may not need to watch it, you should.). City of Lost Children (or anything or Darius Khondji's). the opening sequence to Once Upon a Time in the West. Final sequence of last of the Mohicans. Citizen Kane.

Don't Look Now: wow. Pulp Fiction. Battleship Potemkin (this is MANDATORY for editing). Ordet. show them any Budd Boetticher B western with Randolph Scott. They are all under 80 minutes and they are edited very well (Seven Men From Now is the best pick). The Graduate.

Art Direction: The Wizard of Oz. Ordet (a wonderful contrast to any hollywood film).

Directing. Citizen Kane (by the way, if they don't see this, whether you dig it or not, i think you may have cheated them). Ordet. Lawrence of Arabia. Los Olvidados. Casablanca. Double Indemnity. BRIEF ENCOUNTER.

Writing. Marty. Some Like It Hot. Chinatown. Citizen Kane. Pulp Fiction. All About Eve. To Kill a Mockingbird. It's a Wonderful Life.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Acting. Anything with Marlon Brando in it. From "I coulda been a contender..." to his ramblings in Apocalypse now. To Don Vito. To his mesmerizing performance in Last Tango in Paris. Or Orson Welles in the Third Man. Or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Or anyone in To Kill A Mockingbird. Bette Davis in anything. Some Like it Hot.

Music: Anything by ennio morricone form the man with no name trilogy. Or The Mission....or countless others. John Williams Star Wars score. Psycho. Jaws. Last sequence in Last of the Mohicans (it's a great sequence to show off all sorts of stuff in filmmaking). Pulp Fiction (for both non diagetic and diagetic music)
(by the way, this doesn't count as sound and stuff)

Some of my favorite films...

de Sica's Shoeshine
Roeg's Don't Look Now
Dreyer's Ordet, Day of Wrath
Buñuel's Los Olvidados and his short documentary Las Hurdes (by the way, Dali had very little involvment in Un Chien Andalou)
Lean's Brief Encounter and Lawrence of Arabia
Hitchcock's Psycho and Notorious
Boetticher's Seven Men From Now
Calvalcanti's Dead of Night
Murnau's Sunrise (wonderful)
Keaton's The General
Griffith's Broken Blossoms
Coppola's Apocalypse Now
Tarantino's Pulp Fiction
Lynch's The Straight Story

Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will
Nanook of the North
Hoop Dreams
Bowling for Columbine
Winged Migration
Born into Brothels
Supersize Me

i'm tired. are you?

1:28 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Great to have another Dreyer fan around here. I actually did show them Ordet (along with other "transcendental style" clips from Winter Light, Kundun, and Raging Bull) in the advanced class last year. Some of them even liked it. "Straight is the gate and narrow the way" I guess....

Tell us more about yourself, Seefilms.

7:15 PM  

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