Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Make me a syllabus

Today I went in to sub for another teacher and found a new offer in my mailbox. LA Trade Tech wants to use our campus and our teachers to offer college level courses to our students and members of the community.

You have to have a Masters or a PhD in the subject you want to teach, but you can teach any subject as long as the class fills and it's offered in the course catalog. It's also good money for six hours a week after school. I'd still be getting out of work at 5:30.

So I went - hey! I have an MA in creative writing! Rock!

And I put my name down. There are two courses I'd love to teach - Creative Writing and Literature in Film. Both sound Awesome.

Creative Writing would be easy. I pretty much teach that already.

But I was on the way home thinking about how cool it would be to teach a film analysis class. According to the course description "Literature in Film" just means the study of film as a storytelling medium, not just a study in adaptations. And in my head I was thinking of really cool stuff I could show and screenplays we could study.

Then I got home and looked at my collection. And I panicked.

I don't own all the classics. Hell I only own three films that were shot before 1992. I own three comedies, 13 dramas, one horror, one horror comedy, two musicals, 24 action films and The Princess Bride.

I could make an entire course out of superhero movies, but I'm pretty sure that's not what I'm supposed to be doing.

I do not own Citizen Cane or Casablanca or The Godfather or any of those classic films we're all supposed to know and love.

So if I get this job I'm gonna need to run to Best Buy for a shopping spree. Then I'm going to have to figure out what to teach.

So far I have the three movies I just mentioned above and Rope. And Birth of a Nation. And maybe Glenngarry Glenn Ross. And probably Memento and Hero and Rocky and Brick.

Any other suggestions?


  1. Modern literature into film...

    [I know that's not exactly what you asked for but still important to start with.]

    Sideways. The novel is WAY better than the movie, and the movie is great. Sideways is the only novel I've read twice, like back to back. I finished it and started again.

    Little Children. Another great modern adaptation.

    Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. A classic literary work lauded for decades and only adapted last year by Kate Winslet, still to be released.

    Oh, and Wonder Boys? Michael Chabon, only one of the best writers of our generation adapted for the screen? Got to include it.

    As far as film as literature, meaning film with a unique voice -

    The Godfather, as you mentioned

    Mulholland Drive and other works by David Lynch -- the Tom Waits of the film set, meaning the filmmaker's filmmaker.


    Early Woody Allen. Distinctive voice, even 30-40 years later.

    Bullit. (Steve McQueen) For the chase scene. One of the best in cinema.

    Juno had a strong, literary voice.

    Um, Casablanca.

    And for comedy, Some Like It Hot.

  2. LA Confidential
    The Third Man
    The Prestige
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
    Dead Man Walking
    I second Little Children and Wonder Boys...awesome
    The French Connection (an even better chase scene than Bullitt, in my opinion)
    Shawshank Redemption

  3. wow! saw you at TF, came here....and now I wanna blog. Wah! A nice blog, like this! Teacher and screenwriter here, too.

    I have nothing to add; the suggestions so far are great.
    I envy your chance to teach this.

  4. Anonymous6:41 AM

    Some tips, Not in chronological order :-)

    Easy Rider
    Taxidriver (Or in my book any Marty!)
    Invasion of the bodysnatchers
    (The black and white classic)
    The thing (Carpenter's)
    Rebel without a cause
    Apocalypse Now
    The Craddle will rock (Director Tim Robbins)

    Aye on the Bullit and French Connection.
    And for More Mcqueen Tom Horn, almost an early Unforgiven.
    (Can never have enough Mcqueen, right?)
    12 angry men

    Um, Fightclub

    Amsterdam, Holland

  5. When I was teaching creative writing and we did units on screenwriting, I used to use The Usual Suspects and The Shawshank Redmption.

    Both are great to talk about with people just beginning to think about dissecting why a film works.

  6. At USC film school I spent a semester studying Madonna. In an upper level class.

    Couple of suggestions to add to/round out the others, in semi chronological order:

    Man with A Movie Camera (netflix) -- Russian silent movie that will blow your fucking mind.

    Citizen Kane -- sorry to do that to you, but next to Birth of a Nation, it is the major classic.

    You are stuck with a Bogey movie -- Casablanca, To Have and Have Not (the better of the two), African Queen, etc.

    High Noon -- McCarthyism as film literature.

    Rebel Without A Cause -- the 50s to 60s transition in a nutshell.

    The Graduate (1967) vs. American Graffiti (1974) -- a great compare and contrast assignment.

    High Plains Drifter -- a Clint Eastwood classic that Joseph Campbell could have written.

    Apocalypse Now -- can you do shots in class? Great drinking game in there somewhere.

    Gallopoli -- just in case anyone's all jacked up on war and shit after Apocalypse.

    The Road Warrior -- existentialist despair as action film.

    After Dark My Sweet -- noir in pastel colors.

    ... and that gets you close to 1992.

    Best of luck.

  7. Cabaret
    The Blue Angel
    Cinema Paradiso
    The 400 Blows
    The Philadelphia Story
    Blood Simple
    Taxi Driver
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    Sunset Boulevard
    The Red Balloon
    Citizen Kane
    American Beauty
    The Usual Suspects
    The Thin Man
    Waiting For Guffman
    Some Like It Hot
    Funny Bones
    Rocky Horror Picture Show
    The 39 Steps
    The Pillow Book
    The Sixth Sense

    Man, I could go on and on and on. But I'd never get any work done...

  8. Don't forget some Sci-Fi...
    Star Wars IV
    2001 Space Odessey
    The Matrix

    Maybe a little crazy with..

    Some viewable thrillers...
    Rear Window
    North By Northwest

    Good luck with the class!


  9. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Shakespeare in Love
    The Outsiders
    Saving Private Ryan

  10. Anonymous3:20 PM


  11. I took a "Screenplay as Literature" class last semester. We read two screenplays a week, that were usually connected in some way, and watched a film a week (not always one of the ones we read). I'll ponder and get back to you. : )

    However, I did just read The Big Chill. Almost cried.


  12. Thanks for the ideas. If they give me the class I'll have a place to start.

  13. Another is, you could compare "othello" in the original shakespeare to the movie "O", which has been put into a modern setting. I also have to vote for Star Wars: A New Hope which is a classical setup put into a science fiction setting.

  14. Where are the silent movies in this discussion? Given that movies are a largely visual medium, and that we're always told to "show-- don't tell," it always amazes me when screenwriters today admit to having almost zero familiarity with the classic silent movies.

    Also, watch pretty much any John Ford western with the sound turned off and see just how much of the story is communicated non-verbally.

    Fun older movies to drop onto younger kids today include REAR WINDOW (I have yet to meet a kid aged 10-14 who did not love the movie once they saw it), and the opening few minutes is a tour de force in visual exposition-- you learn insane amounts about the protag just from one leisurely sweep around the room as he sleeps.

    And someone wrote that.

    NORTH BY NORTHWEST also has some great movie moments and teaching points-- the Ultimate Crisis and Denouement and End Credits are something like 47 seconds apart!

    12 ANGRY MEN is a great example of what kind of tension and emotion you can get from a well-matched cast of characters in one room for 90 minutes of real time discussion.

    I took "FILM AS LIT" two semesters in college, wound up talking a bunch of non-lit majors into trying it on my rec, and we all laugh that it's still among the most useful and memorable classes we ever had.



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