Saturday, November 26, 2011

PBA, Book VIII

I almost forgot to mention that one summer while at Palm Beach Atlantic I took a course called "Understanding Motion Pictures". Seeing as a majority of the entries in Lamplight Drivel concerns films, I feel it deserves a mention.

I was excited about the class. Students were expected to write several page reviews of a film screened each week. I don't believe I had done so before that class. Many times I had scribbled a paragraph here or there about a movie I'd seen. I was greatly influenced by the cinematic rants of Pauline Kael, Herbert Swope, Vincent Canby, Michael Mills, Archer Winsten, and especially of the yearly Leonard Maltin almanacs (in terms of their entries' brevity and content). It was always fairly easy to knock off a few sentences summarizing a movie. A full-length analysis that doesn't ramble, repeat, feel bloated, or seem otherwise incoherent is another matter. I still struggle with all of that in the current reviews I write. But they're just for fun. If I wrote professionally, I would adopt the adage: "write drunk, edit sober." And then edit some more.

The college's drama instructor oversaw the class. He was a jolly fellow, known quite well to me as I had had him for several speech and communication courses (my minor). He loved cinema, loved discussing it. He had a very memorable, hearty laugh that often edged over into a coughing jag. But....he also pronounced mise-en-scène as "mize-en-seen" which made (likely only) me wince each time.

And...he directed a version of "The Glass Menagerie" for the PBA stage later that year that, ahem, borrowed an idea from Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (the film we screened for our final): using a line of dialogue to be uttered by an actor in the following scene as a title card for that scene. That made me wince, too. I tried to ignore my disgust and treat it as an homage. I was partially successful.

What other films were featured in "Understanding Motion Pictures"? I remember: CITIZEN KANE, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, CASABLANCA, GHOSTBUSTERS, DR. STRANGELOVE, and HANNAH..I think there were others. Somewhere, I still have my review for GODS. Our class would discuss each film after its viewing. Less debate than you might think, but then most of the class seemed to be in agreement that TOP GUN was great cinema. Is that unfair? That's my recollection. What stands out most vividly now is another wince-worthy memory - a girl who ripped DR. STRANGELOVE to shreds. I remember feeling my neck get warm! I took this all very seriously. I was too polite to fire back. When I was younger I was worried about popularity. Nowadays? Ha! But before you write me off as unapologetically crusty: I still care deeply about people's feelings and would take caution not to let my opinions become attacks. Somewhat like today's version of political discourse. Stop laughing now.

Our prof. also explained how he had thought about screening Robert Altman's M.A.S.H. for us, but reconsidered as he felt that the film was blasphemous (likely because of, in part, a Last Supper spoof therein). PBA is a Christian institution. Do I agree with that the film is "blasphemous"? To a certain extent I do, actually, and somewhat agree with the prof's decision to omit it from the syllabus. That doesn't mean I dismiss the film because of my spiritual convictions. I think M.A.S.H. is quite brilliant. It would've provided a great example to examine a worldview very different than what most Christians usually expose themselves to in the arts, but it still may have been inappropriate for the class. Young, impressionable minds and all.

You could make the argument that viewing films which espouse a very different religious and/or political viewpoint from your own is very healthy, allowing you to not only become more educated, but also a better critical thinker. I've made such an argument many times over the years, especially when other Christians have questioned why I've watched certain movies. For many believers, film choice is often considered in light of "offensive content": language, sexuality, nudity. Violence? Not so much in this culture. That is totally accepted. Truly warped, in my opinion.

Where was I? Class, yes. The professor would go on to teach at PBA for several years after I graduated. He was also in the church choir with me during those years, taking a role as a greedy king in our annual Christmas pageant. These days he is teaching at other colleges in Florida and writing books. He even made a film of his own. I would be so curious. Perhaps I'll screen and review it and ask him to grade it?!

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