Over the course of blogging, my relationship with film will become very clear. For now, I’m going to focus on what it was like to briefly study film in college.
Almost immediately after I registered for a film course my first semester of college, I heard a joke about college kids studying cinema and thinking themselves to be the next great film critics and creators. I felt a bit silly, knowing that I was about to almost unknowingly become a part of this stereotype. But, I insisted, I had a justification to study film: my mother went to film school and it was only right that I take at least one film class to honor her legacy.
Anyway. The class I took my first semester as a college freshman was titled “Film Art in Global Society“, with the following as its course description:
Comparative study of a variety of film traditions from around the world, including cinema from Hollywood, Europe, Asia and developing countries, with a stress on different cultural contexts for film-making and viewing.
I was disappointed because the other film course taught by this professor was more focused on the art of film-making, but as a pre-med, it was out of the question for me to prioritize that class over organic chemistry. So, this international films course was what I took and I am so glad that I did. To this day, it remains of my favorite college courses that I had the opportunity to take.
The class met twice a week: on Tuesday for 3 hours so that we could watch that week’s film, and on Thursday for one hour in our discussion sections. 3 key cinema buzzwords I remember:
- First vs. Second vs. Third Cinema
- Magical realism
- Neorealism (Italian vs. Indian)
While I enjoyed the class immensely, I will admit that the first few films were a serious struggle. Our professor would spend the first 30-60 minutes of our Tuesdays talking. The reviews online indicate that many students hated this, but this was my favorite part of the class. He was a little bit nutty, sure, but he had things to say that were worth listening to. His essays and test questions were based on his interpretations of the films that he would show us; obviously, it was very helpful to listen to what he said and to take notes. (Or, as I would do, just listen really intently and remember as much as I could, as he often spoke with such fervor and speed that trying to write it would’ve been fruitless.)
But upon showing the actual films… I’ll admit, I slept through many of them. In particular, I definitely slept through most of:
- Caché (2005)
- Killer of Sheep (1977)
- Battle of Algiers (1957) (I later watched this without falling asleep for another class)
And those are the feature films I distinctly remember sleeping through. I can’t even name all the films we watched that semester, and I don’t have the syllabus anymore. I may have to ask the professor if he has the list from the year he taught me. (He probably doesn’t… he was a bit nutty.) I definitely remember being proud of myself for staying wide awake for my first feature-length film in that class: My Neighbor Totoro. (Fun fact: Totoro was the first, and last, Miyazaki film I watched. I’ll write about that later.)
I really loved this course. Even though I slept through several films, I learned enough that I can almost hold my own in a film conversation. Those buzzwords I mentioned earlier? Basis of my final paper, which I aced, which helped me to further ace the class. I ate that class up, especially our nutty professor’s lectures. He was brilliant, if a bit manic. I loved sitting in his class.
My favorite film that semester had to be Eréndira (1983), based on the Gabriel García Márquez story of a sad girl and her cruel grandmother. I wrote my final paper on this film and I wrote essays on our exams on this film as well, even though I wasn’t particularly taken by the magical realism of it.
There are a few other films that stick out to me. Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) was a close second favorite of mine. I loved the allegory and the cinematography. The scene of Jof and Mia eating strawberries and milk while Block waits blindly for a sign of God’s existence. The eerie dance of death at the end. SO GOOD, I definitely recommend this film. I also very distinctly remember struggling through Pather Panchali (1955), the Bengali film influenced by Italian neorealism (specifically the 1948 film Bicycle Thieves) that Satyajit Ray created to launch Indian neorealism. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) was interesting, and according to my professor, it was partially filmed on the massive expanse of land that is Tommy Lee Jones’s Texan estate.
Did I love every movie? Obviously not. Do I prefer Second Cinema neorealism to First Cinema blockbusters? Nah, neorealism doesn’t really hold my attention usually, to be honest. Hence, why I fell asleep for almost all of Killer of Sheep. Am I snooty about movies now? No more than I was before taking the class, I think. (Which was plenty snooty, I’ll be real with you guys.)
IN. ANY. CASE. It was a great class. I highly recommend most of the film that I watched, and please feel free to comment if you want me to list out any more of the films that I can try to remember watching that I would recommend.
I also highly recommend taking a film course to anyone who has the opportunity. It exposes you to different movies that you might love, and it teaches you to watch movies differently.