The Movie Assignment

March 21, 2005

A week or so ago I blogged about assigning the kids a classic movie, any classic movie.

This is what I came up with - paraphrasing what I remember telling them. It comes with the added bonus of capturing my teaching rhythms.

The short version:
Watch a movie MADE before 1950
Be ready to talk about how the world that made that movie differs from our own.

I should have added, make it a movie that you have not seen before.

I plan to start class on Tuesday by listing the movies on the board and then spending about half an hour talking about them. I am watching The Blue Angel myself - never give a reading assignment you can't or won't do.

Choosing 1950 as the cutoff date removes a lot of Hollywood classics from the table. I already said no to someone who wanted to watch 1952 Singing in the Rain, yes to some movies made in 1950 exactly.

We have an extra assignment over spring break. It is not on the syllabus, so it can't form part of your grade, but we are sharing the assignment and anyone who does not take part will be publicly shamed [grin].

I want you to watch a movie. You can do that. But, it has to be a movie MADE before 1950. I have some suggestions - anything by Charlie Chaplin, anything by Buster Keaton, Casablanca, Citizen Kane but you can watch anything you want to.

We will talk about the movie on Tuesday. Look for any differences between the world that made that movie and the world that we live in today.

Let me point out a couple of things that you will almost certainly notice and that have more to do with the history of movies than with the changes in society.

First, movies made before about 1980 tend to be cut more slowly than movies made after MTV. They may take a minute or more for establishing shots - showing someone getting out of a car and walking up to a house while a modern movie will show them just walking in the door. This gives the older movies a slower feel - it might seem like it is podging along - but much of that feel is the difference in cutting styles.

Secondly, movies made after about 1977 have more and fancier special effects. Don't expect to see a lot of special effects, and expect the things you do see to be less than flashy by modern standards.

Thirdly, movies made before the gaming generation tend to have slightly different plot structures. The current pattern in movies, especially action movies, is to use the same basic plot as a video game. Our hero goes through various actions and events, all leading up to a one-on-one confrontation with the boss, ending when the hero murders the boss. Expect less violence, more story.

Now, lets get back to urban life in the early nineteenth century.

Posted by Red Ted at March 21, 2005 07:50 AM | TrackBack