hey cinephiles, i’m currently teaching an english course and i wanted to have a class devoted to film and film language. i wanted to ask for any suggestions for great examples of how intelligent film language really add depth to the storytelling. i’m working with kids in high school who love Transformers and Twilight so you see what I’m working with. I want to expose them to something that actually took some thought, skill, and care to make.
I know Citizen Kane is an obvious choice, as well as any Kurosawa or Hitchcock, but even with the regulars, which specific scenes do you feel would be best to teach on how the use of lighting, blocking, mise-en-scene, sound, etc. most effectively portray the story/emotion/character?
Run them “The Searches”. It will hold the interest of the little scamps, and it will allow you to hit all those checkpoints. They’ll love it!
The Wild Bunch
Last Of The Mohicans
Good luck. I really don’t know how you teachers manage. You don’t get paid enough.
Ummm..I’m a teacher too. If they like Transformers…they’re not gonna be into Citizen Kane. You might have use films, better films, within that genre perhaps?
I suggest you show A Clockwork Orange and GoodFellas.
What about Alien and Aliens. Lots of thought and care put into art direction, photography, creating atmosphere etc..
I’m no teacher, but I’d argue that you’d want to offer them something that exemplifies the most basic elements of cinema grammar. I would choose even any classical Hollywood film. If you don’t want to use Kane, choose a noir, or John Ford, or even Griffith. If you want modern, I’d stretch for something like “The Godfather” or “Jaws” – most Spielberg films trade in classical grammar.
I had a class taught by a teacher similar to what you are doing, One of the first films we saw by Kurosawa, was DREAMS, also I would suggest you show “WINGS OF DESIRE” by Wim Wenders or The City of Lost Children by Jean Pierre Jeunet, it clearly demonstrates a constructed Mis En Scene.
Any good movie can demonstrate excellent mise-en-scene. It’s all how you teach it. And remember who your students are.
I might try Hangover Square in such a circumstance. It’s only 77 minutes long and melodramatic enough to keep even a high schooler entertained. John Brahm, while not a particularly famous director, was highly adept at the very things you mentioned; lighting, mise-en-scene, music, and blocking. I would think it an excellent teaching film.
Harold and Maude? It’s easy to love (even for young people who have little exposure to non-blockbuster cinema), Hal Ashby is a great but under-appreciated director. The mise-en-scene, the writing and the actors are all great in the film. (Love the opening hanging scene)
Plus, they can relate to the teenage angst (and it’s hilarious).
The waiting room scene in Ikaru, has some great examples of what you are asking for, and it is a short scene.
Perhaps you should consider showing scenes or clips rather than full films, to hold there interest.
Yeah, i don’t think i plan on showing an entire film. I am mainly looking for clips and specific scenes.
I feel that a great film to show them would be this clip from AMELIE, since they are really into MAINSTREAM AMERICAN film they will probably somewhat enjoy this because though it is artistic it is also connectible to most Americans. It has TONS of great things dealing with everything you are looking for.
It would not let me embed the clip but here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T9dUBO4pv0
I would highly recommend Shunji Iwai´s All About Lily Chou Chou which has a wonderful visual style and complex cinematography, but also a topic most youths who grew up with internet and modern pop culture can relate to.
In Rules of the Game the scene with the chasing round the kitchen or the one with the toing and froing in and out of rooms in the corridor. But of course the greatest master of mise-en-scene is Mizoguchi. That should go without saying. The best book on the subject is Figures Traced in Light by David Bordwell, which studies the staging skills of Feuillade, Mizoguchi, Angelopoulos and Hou…
I would suggest the scene in Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu where Oharu’s mother brings her a devastating letter from her lover Katsunosuke who is to be beheaded, she is heard sobbing then rushes out of the house with a knife, chased in and out of trees by her mother and then crumples on the ground. This will show skill with off-screen space, glimpses of information for us, use of apertures, body language, smooth camerawork, careful control of movement by the characters, expression of emotion caught by Mizoguchi at a discreet distance etc. You can see Mizoguchi’s mastery of the long take in all sorts of films. There’s the unobtrusive crane shot bringing us down to the beach in the final scene of the great Sansho the Bailiff, and the tilting up at the very end to give a sense of a wider universe beyond the story. Or the long tracking shot early in Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, following the two central characters’ walk along an embankment, seen from a low angle. Mizoguchi preferrd long takes as editing breaks up “the psychological weight or density that the audeince experiences”
As Bordwell says, “we could do worse than to treat this oeuvre as an Academy for the study of staging”. Yet many film students don’t even get to see his work and most filmgoers have never heard of him.
I am a teacher and I find no better example than Renoir’s The Rules of the Game
Here’s a tremendous Bordwell paragraph that should help towards identifying and appreciating Mizo’s supreme mastery.
“Let every young film-maker take any late Mizoguchi film and watch. Let the student see how what is most significant can arrive effortlessly before us, often by the smallest resettling of figures or the simplest panning movement. Let the student observe how what is most dramatically important can shrink or hide itself- sometimes unobtrusively, sometimes in full view. Let the student plot how earlier phases of the action leave their traces in pathways and pigeonholes, to be reactivated when needed (often when least expected). If the student wants the camera to move (as all do), let him or her observe the timing by which a simple tracking shot permits figures, setting, and framing to align, swerve apart, and reconverge: a compact choreography of delicate changes, with no pictorial dead spots and none of that hurly-burly of today’s walks and talks. And above all let the student consider how almost every image grasps our attention as a splendid composition (which you want to explore in fine detail), a vessel of dramatic conflict (which you scan for glances, facial expressions, compositional confontations, imminent arrivals), and a tensely contained emotional field (which may erupt into violence or crumple into a zone of private feeling). The “enormous suggestive intensity” that Mizoguchi admired in Japanese art lies coiled and waiting for us in scene after scene of his late films. In an era when “visual literacy” means taking for granted those burts of pointless cutting that purportedly energise a scene, Mizoguchi (like Ozu, but in a different way) gives us time to see everything. We could do worse than to treat this oeuvre as an Academy for the Study of Staging"
p.s, yes Rules of the Game as a whole is a brilliant example, Christopher. If they like Transformers are they ready to appreciate such greatness, and Mizoguchi, i wonder. Still, why show them second rate stuff? All lovers of films should be able to gaze in awe at the Taj Mahal of cinema, Sansho the Bailiff.
I must be an academic darwinist, Kenji, because ready-or-not they get it from me, and “the fittest” survive. I believe in throwing them into the deep end of the pool head-first and yelling sink-or-swim.
At first, a lot of the students are a little shell-shocked, although it’s fun to watch their “transformation” over the course of the first year. One of the initial humors is when so many of them begin to realize they like b&w movies that are longer than two hours.
I would not use the childrens’ professed love for something like Transformers as a barrier to introducing them to something like Rules of the Game – they are there to be taught, after all; most of my reading consisted of science fiction novels in my early teens, and when I was first introduced to Shakespeare in school – “Julius Caesar” – I thought “what the fuck is this shit?”; but then I was taught to appreciate it.
I’d show them the scene from The Searchers where Ward Bond first calls to the homestead, not knowing that Ethan Edwards has returned – good example of blocking, use of a long take, a telling closeup when Ethan appears, etc.
Teaching fast food/Brett Ratner/Michael Bay loving teenagers can be daunting but having a good friend who taught film courses on both college and HS levels said it’s all about how you approach the films. Granted, the high school my friend taught at was a prep school and the film course was an elective but 60% of the kids (according to the teacher) wasn’t passionate about films and really only took the course because it seemed like an “easy class.”
The films he taught, however, became immediate favorites among the students. If I remember correctly, he taught Vertigo, Blonde Venus (as an example of Hollywood and gender; sp. the role of women as symbols both sexualized and rebellious yet holding on to a rare level of integrity), Broken Blossoms, The Seachers (as an example of classical Hollywood and race), Hero (as an example of fascist cinema), Night of the Living Dead and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (as examples of liberal and conservative ideology in genre films).
Christopher, in my book (and it so happens i’ve just been reading a couple of my books on him- Alfred Russel Wallace that is) it’s Wallacist not Darwinist. Anyway, yes, aim high.