Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Personal viewing blog for Thursday

For Thursday, you can write about a specific film if you want, or anything film-related, really. I'm leaving this one wide-open to see what you guys come up with. For mine, see below:

My favorite movie blog is Scanners by Jim Emerson (linked to the right under "Film Blogs") -- he discusses a great mix of contemporary and classic films, he posts pretty frequently, and I always feel like I learn something from his writing and the comments from other readers that follow them. A post that is near and dear to my heart is right here -- I won't quote ad nauseum, but I'll provide this excerpt, which comes after Emerson wonders why people always ask him, "Why do you like old movies and foreign movies so much?"
I like to counter this narcissistic question with another proposition: "Think of the new music you've heard that's been issued over the last year. Is more of it "better" than what's been made over the last 100 years? Would it be "elitist" to say that it's more likely you'll find more favorites from the last 99 years than from the last one? Even in purely statistical terms, it just makes sense.

I hate to get too defensive over this, but considering I get the same attitude from my family and friends as I do from students, it gets a bit tiring to continually defend watching movies I genuinely like. If you're wondering why we're watching old movies like Citizen Kane instead of 300 in class, I hope you'll remember Emerson's quote about music.

Recently, he participated in a poll of online film writers to "determine" the best foreign-language films. You can read the whole post here, but for funsies, here's the list the 174 writers came up with. See how many titles you recognize:

1. "The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir)
2. "Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa)
3. "M" (Fritz Lang)
4. "8 1/2" (Federico Fellini)
5. "Bicycle Thieves" (Vittorio De Sica)
6. "Persona" (Ingmar Bergman)
7. "Grand Illusion" (Jean Renoir)
8. "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Werner Herzog)
9. "The Battle of Algiers" (Gillo Pontecorvo)
10. "The 400 Blows" (Francois Truffaut)
11. "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman)
12. "Tokyo Story" (Yasujiro Ozu)
13. "Rashomon" (Akira Kurosawa)
14. "Ikiru" (Akira Kurosawa)
15. "The Seventh Seal" (Ingmar Bergman)
16. "Ran" (Akira Kurosawa)
17. "Jules and Jim" (Francois Truffaut)
18. "The Conformist" (Bernardo Bertolucci)
19. "La Dolce Vita" (Federico Fellini)
20. "Contempt" (Jean-Luc Godard)
21. "Breathless" (Jean-Luc Godard)
22. "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Kenji Mizoguchi)
23. "Playtime" (Jacques Tati)
24. "Au Hasard, Balthazar" (Robert Bresson)
25. "Andrei Rublev" (Andrei Tarkovsky)

For the record, we're watching two titles that are in the Top 10 in The Art of Film I: M and The Battle of Algiers. The director of the film at No. 9, Werner Herzog, is the subject of the documentary Burden of Dreams, another film we're watching here. We'll watch Ran in The Art of Film II. Also, the 400 Blows is also part of the English 10 curriculum. What I'm trying to say is that we as English teachers have impeccable taste in film.
Kidding. Relax.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Journal #1 sample

Don't forget: journal #1 (critique the critic) must be posted on your blog by class time Tuesday. Be sure to include a link to your review, a picture or other image, and some relevant excerpts from the review (use the block quote feature -- the quotation mark button). Here's something (600 words, to be exact) I wrote up on a review of the new Western, 3:10 to Yuma.

J. Hoberman of the Village Voice is one of the few critics I read regularly who seems to offer different takes on film than mainstream critics, yet manages to avoid being a contrarian (just taking the opposite view of the majority in order to be different and, therefore, smarter). He does that again in this review of the recently released 3:10 to Yuma -- his review still makes me excited to see the movie, but he ratchets down the expectations enough so I won't go in thinking I'll be watching the greatest Western since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.

Hoberman lets readers know they're in capable hands right away by establishing his knowledge of both the Western genre and the 1957 original upon which this film is based:
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma had an obvious kinship to High Noon, which appeared five years earlier. In both, a lone citizen is pitted against an insouciant criminal (and his gang), as well as confounded by a social order too craven to defend itself: The various moral issues are subsumed in the 11th Commandment that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
This breadth of knowledge is important to me, because a Western is never just a Western -- so many have been made throughout American cinematic history that each new one is, in a way, having a conversation with scores of other Westerns that came before. By placing the new 3:10 to Yuma in a historical context, Hoberman lets the reader know that this isn't a paint-by-numbers review. This especially comes across in sections of the review in which he compares this version, directed by James Mangold, with the original, directed by Delmer Daves. Although Hoberman thinks the story still works in the new Yuma, he clearly has an issue with the pacing and the scale, which he implies is too much like the typical Hollywood action flick. After a few references to the big battle scenes, he says:

What's lost in Mangold's rough-hewn exercise in barroom-brawl baroque is the original one-on-one ... The original's argument becomes purely situational here—per the dictates of contemporary ADD entertainment, moral judgment is always in the moment.

Another way in which Hoberman shows his knowledge of the Western is the fact that he acknowledges that there was more to them than just showdowns and whiskey drinking. They were made to help resolve conflicts that people could relate to:
Back in the day, America used the western to ponder certain things—among
them the nature of right and wrong and the basis of the social contract.
Hoberman goes on to say that Mangold's explorations of themes like this are "louder" than Daves', but it was heartening to hear that this film stays true to the nature of the Western by examining weighty issues -- so many people still think of the Western as mindless entertainment, when in actuality it tells us so much about how Americans view themselves and their history.

I like that Hoberman saves his comments about the acting until the last few paragraphs. Too many critics devote too much space to discussing the actors, basically playing into Hollywood's shallow celebrity culture. Yes, acting can sometimes make or break a movie, but so can every other element of film. I also have to admit that I like the potshot Hoberman took at Russell Crowe, who I think is kind of overrated, save for his performance in The Insider.
This review reinforced my earlier thoughts about seeing the film: rent the orignal first via Netflix, then watch the remake.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to Do Stuff

How to embed a video from YouTube:

1. On YouTube, when you've found the video you want, click inside the box that says "Embed." Right-click and select "Copy."
2. On your blog, while you are creating the post, click on the tab that says "Edit Html."
3. Right-click and select "Paste."
4. If you want to add text above or below your video, you need to click the tab that says, "Compose."
5. When you are finished, click "Publish Post."

How to do everything else like edit your post, create links, add pictures, etc.:

Go here. It's the Blogger help section. Know it, love it.

"Why is my blog under review?"

I've been getting this question a lot. It turns out that if you didn't create a long enough post (or didn't create a post at all) when you created your blog, Blogger thinks you might be spamming. So here's what you do if you're told your blog is under review:

1. Sign in to Blogger
2. Click "Create a Blog"
3. Start over (I know, this sucks). You should be able to keep everything the same except for your URL. Consider just adding a number to the end of your URL so it stays mostly the same.
4. Make sure to post a longer entry this time -- at least 100 words. It can be about anything film-related. Or it can be your first journal entry
5. Lastly, repeat the final step from the first time around -- post your first name and last initial, hour, and URL in the comments section of my latest blog post.

Shift Happens

Monday, September 3, 2007

"I've been teaching the same class for the last five years, and in no way is that depressing."

I really mean that, too, because it's not the same class every year. Not only do you, the students, change, but every semester I tweak at least a few things in a never-ending effort to create the best possible class experience for you. I alter assignments, I swap out films, and this year, for the first time, I'm adding a class blog. My Edline page will be the home for checking your grades and the assignment calendar, as well as printing out assignments if you (perish the thought) lose your first copy. But this is the place to go for regular updates about the goings-on of recent classes, important links, polls, and sometimes, just fun posts that I whimsically add. The most important feature of this page, though, is that it will house the links for all of your blogs. This way, you'll be easily connected, not just to the blogs belonging to students in your class, but all The Art of Film I classes. The goal of the blog project is to generate an ongoing, illuminating and fun conversation about film. In order to do that, you'll have to check back here frequently. For now, check out some of the links, participate in the poll, or even comment on this entry. Stay classy.
EDIT: Post your blog info in the comments to this post, just like I and several students have already done. Don't use your last names, just first name and last initial. Don't forget to title your blog, too.