Teaching a course on film can be one of the major joys of the educational process as long as both instructor and student are on the same page of expectation. You cannot spend class time watching the assigned movies. You must use that precious class time together to discuss and dissect the films frame by frame — but you cannot do that unless and until the students have watched the movies on their own time beyond the classroom.
When I was an undergraduate at UNL, I was fortunate to take an upper-level film course with Dr. June Perry Levine. She died a year ago and I miss her. She founded the Film Studies program at UNL. As I ponder back to my undergrad days, I recall we didn’t have streaming movies or films on DVD. VHS and Beta videotape were just starting to become available for renting and purchasing and the emerging local video store was a great place to discover new movie releases. Classic movies were harder to find.
June’s film course required we watch every movie on our own. She had each week’s classic movie lined up to be shown for free at the Sheldon Art Gallery on campus. The movie theatre in the art gallery was beautiful and air conditioned — but you couldn’t eat or drink in the theatre and no concessions were offered.
Through a halo of unfiltered Camel cigarette smoke that she continuously puffed in class and in the hallways and in her private office, June always told us the hard work of the class was done on our own while watching the films. The best part of the class was when we came together each week in class to discuss what we had witnessed apart. Attending the movies outside of class with friends created an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Of course, many students complained to June they didn’t have time outside of class to watch movies — and she was always firm in her belief that we must not waste class time watching movies. Class was devoted to conversation and analysis.
As I leap back into the reality of education today, I see so many movie courses offered at major universities — masquerading as actual for-credit transcript classes — where the students eat and drink and watch movies when they should be discussing the films with their instructor.
Unlike my UNL movies past, where I had to watch movies in an actual theatre — today, students can stream movies online to their computers and cell phones, and they can rent movies from iTunes, and they can even watch classic movies for free on YouTube and On Demand cable networks — but that’s too much work for some of today’s students. Many students of film now want to watch the movies during class time instead of “doing their homework” and watching the movies on their own time and, unfortunately, too many instructors allow that seeping bad behavior to infect their film courses.
The great thing about studying film is that every frame is the same no matter when where or how those frames hit your eye. Film is immediate and timeless. The live stage is unpredictable and changing. You never know from one instant to the next what will happen and that is the beauty of a live and dangerous Art.
There’s no excuse not to spend every moment of a film course discussing film and not watching film that can, and must be, viewed outside the classroom. Instructors need to stand up for a memeingful learning dyad if they ever hope to bring the student mind into the bright light of the night from the dimming day of the in-class movie theatre.