Saturday, January 19, 2008

Films about film

Usually blissfully unaware of his surroundings, it perhaps begins to dawn on Marcello Mastroianni that he's being followed. Federico Fellini is at left (Click to enlarge; image originally found here).

This semester, as in the fall, I'll be teaching seven classes (a full load for full-time faculty is five, just so you know). Also, I'll be tutoring on Friday mornings. But as I began to survey my academic life for the next 16 weeks, I concluded that I don't have nearly enough to do.

So I've initiated a film series at school.

Actually, this has been going on rather informally for the past few semesters: folks would volunteer to screen and lead a discussion on a film they especially liked or found interesting. And though that worked more or less well, I've made the unilateral decision that the semester's selections could be more focused (no pun) on a theme or genre or director's or actor's work so attendees can, over time, obtain a context for discussing what we see. Maybe.

This spring, we'll be watching films about film-making. I'm calling them "meta-films," though, strictly speaking, that wouldn't accurately describe all the films in the series--that is, not all these films are about themselves. They are, though, about various aspects of the activity of film-making. This would exclude a film like Sunset Boulevard, which strikes me as being more about film-making culture (what people refer to as "Hollywood"), as well as films that are more "about" the genre in which they participate, such as Quentin Tarantino's most recent work.

Anyway, since you're just dying to know, here's the list in the order that we'll see them:

January: 8 1/2 (1963; dir. Federico Fellini). In which a film-maker doesn't know what his next project is going to be and is hounded by agents and actors and a wife and a mistress and memory and fantasy.

February: Barton Fink (1991; dir. Joel Coen). A self-absorbed playwright gets an offer to write for the pictures. This one is something of an outlier in that (I think) it's less about film-making per se than a meditation on what happens when an artist theorizes himself into a box. But Judy Davis has a brief but memorable speech about the nature of the movies that leads me to want to shoe-horn it in here.

March: Adaptation (2002; dir. Spike Jonz). In which film-maker Charlie Kauffman, with an "assist" from brother (and aspiring screen-writer) Donald, draws the task of adapting Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief into a film. Films often have trouble believably blurring fiction and reality, but this one pulls it off pretty convincingly.

April: The Five Obstructions (2003; dir. Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier). In which Leth is asked to remake his short film The Perfect Human five different times, each time in accordance with a different "obstruction" or requirement placed on its making.

May: Lost in La Mancha (2002; dir. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe). A documentary about a film that did not get made, Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote."

and, if we go on into June . . . Sullivan's Travels (1941; dir. Preston Sturges). Allegedly the first film about film-making ever made. An idealistic film-maker wants to make a film about Depression-era workers that he wants to call O Brother Where Art Thou? The Coen Brothers film of the same name would be "homework"--admirers of the Coens' work will find watching the Sturges film fascinating and instructive.

Readers of good old Blog Meridian can expect, for good or ill, to see posts on these films in the coming months.

So anyway: Between classes and tutoring and the film series, I think that'll be enough.


Winston said...

So... what do you plan to do in your spare time?

Be careful, John, that you don't get trapped into letting work become your mistress. It is so easy and natural that most never even realize it is happening. Voice of experience here... been there, done that. Sudden singleness tends to do that to a guy. Maybe to a gal also, though most of the ones I have known tend to maintain a better balance than do we of a priapic persuasion. Of course, they also hold that bitter edged grudge which they maintain forever...

John B. said...

I appreciate your concern. There's actually very little involved in this: once a month, I make sure I have a room reserved, I send out e-mails, we show up and I turn on the DVD player, and that's about it. And, to be honest, it's self-indulgent: I get to see my colleagues in a non-academic setting but act like we know stuff. So, it's both socially and intellectually healthy, I figure.

There's also this blog to keep me out of the office . . .

R. Sherman said...

Seven classes?

Seven English classes?

With writing assignments?

Hats off.


Pam said...

Hey, not all women hold that bitter-edged grudge forever! And some of us work too much too.

Now, as for films: I really liked Adaptation. Alot. The scene at the dinner table, where the Meryl Streep character is realizing how truly passionate her life is (at least that was my take) was a powerful one. I'll have to remember this list - when I move into the Airstream, I've decided to join Netflix. So many I can catch up on the past several movie decades. I'm abyssmally behind (and now that I think about it, in just about everything).

Paul Decelles said...

Pace yourself! Loads like that can be a path to burn out and lead you to ignore the important stuff-blogging for instance.

John B. said...

IMHO, all these are worth watching, but you're right about Adaptation's poignancy as it explores the idea of the passionate pursuit of something.

This will be the last semester of this foolishness. Also, I'm hoping to be granted a sabbatical in the fall, which will be most welcome.

Pam said...

*I think I meant to say 'how lacking in passion' her life was...

But you hopefully knew what I meant. (One should not pack and leave comments).

John B. said...

You did mean to say that, which is why I phrased my comment as I did.