Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From Sir Again, Still with Love

Yep, still on this tip, but advertising my other course. Catalogue blurb goes like this:

What is a film review? How have reviews evolved as cinema has evolved? What do film reviewers want, and what criteria do they imply not only for the movies they critique but for the prose, the logic, and the details they enlist to convey that critique? Setting aside stars and thumbs and rotten tomatoes, we will engage with the literary, rhetorical, and stylistic aspects of film reviews as pieces of writing with their own history, considering the ways in which strong reviews require the same foundations as other expository essays (structure, argument, economy, evidence) but with specific and highly diverse relations to their readers, their venues, and their points of view. As an opportunity to bridge the "critical" and "creative" facets of literary study, participants in this course will study and write about film reviews by a host of crucial figures (including Rudolf Arnheim, Carl Sandburg, H.D., James Agee, Manny Farber, Parker Tyler, Andrew Sarris, James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, and Stephanie Zacharek) and will also write and revise their own reviews in response to a wide range of required as well as self-appointed viewings. Neither the films nor the reviews will be taken lightly, and the course expects committed and ambitious students—but wit, style, and esteem for the "popular" are warmly welcomed.

...and I have the same question as in the last entry. You've got nine weeks to cover a breadth of film reviews published originally in English, in the U.S.A. (so no Cahiers, Eisenstein, etc.) And you've gotta leave time for some film screening, some review writing, and some expository essays about the styles and rhetorical habits of other reviewers. Who is indispensable? You can see a smattering of who I've got, but who would you teach? Another way to ask: who, to you, are the "essential" American movie reviewers, past or present?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Colin said...

I am highly envious of your students at Northwestern!!... these are heart-stoppingly enticing courses, and you couldn't make a better (non-)argument for why I wish I were already out of my two-year military term and in college as a bright-eyed undergrad.

I can't add more to your list of essentials, though, since I'm only starting out on my foray into American movie criticism, but I must note that Kael's "Trash, Art and the Movies" was a crucial turning-point for me: a manifesto I keep returning to when I hope to clarify what it is that I love and hate about movies (and movie criticism), and a revealing document of Kael's own glories and contradictions as a person and a movie critic.

(P.S. In any case, how on earth do you intend on taming this open-ended, expansive beast of a course, barring superhuman powers? -- not that I'm doubting you have those)

4:03 AM, December 10, 2008  
Blogger StinkyLulu said...

What a nifty course!

I think I would only want to be sure you were including some self-appointedly polemical reviewers, like Armond White or bell hooks or Michael Medved...

Whenever I teach anything about writing a theatre review, little thrills my students as much as reading some John Simon from the early 1970s (the section I assign shows him calling Sondheim a hack). Simon's often a delicious writer which complicates things delightfully. I just love to critically reflect on the self-consciously outrageous voices.

1:47 PM, December 10, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin: "Trash, Art..." is certainly on there, with corroborating clips from 2001, Petulia, and Wild in the Streets. As for the problem of wrestling this subject, or any subject, into a 9-week course, welcome to the obstacles of a professor facing the quarter system.

@Stinky: bell hooks is in, re: Pulp Fiction. Armond White is in, though for what movie, I cannot reveal. (Sort of a sneak-attack on students, forcing them to react quickly to a film and the burgeoning critical consensus, as reviewers often have to do.) I know just what you mean about John Simon, no less when he writes about movies than about theater, but I don't think he'll survive the 9-week crunch in this case.

3:07 PM, December 10, 2008  
Blogger Dr. S said...

There's that section in Pictures at a Revolution about the passing of the old guard (epitomized by Bosley Crowther) in response to Bonnie and Clyde, in particular. I wonder whether that might not be illuminating to them.

And Nick *does* have superhuman powers, so: that's probably part of how he's going to do it. (Teaching can help one develop superhuman powers--it's called "the accumulation of a roomful of youth under the guidance of a teacher wise enough to have a billion wonderful questions and also to know he doesn't know everything." Oui?)

5:00 PM, December 10, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dr. S: That's a totally great suggestion for a contextualizing excerpt. I had considered a course modeled almost completely on that book, and maybe attempting a duplicated version of its project in relation to another year, where the students would have to do the history and the film analysis. But somehow I hadn't even remembered to use part of Pictures for this class. Dumb. As ever, thank God for you!

5:47 PM, December 10, 2008  

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