Feed on

I’ve really enjoyed this seminar and I want to take a moment to discuss my impressions of it and the various details pertaining to the syllabus and the structure of the class that I thought were most relevant to my academic experience. First of all, let me say that the general idea of the class – and its incarnation as a senior seminar instead of a regular film course – worked particularly well, and I think it is important to be familiar with these concepts and with narratology in general before we graduate as film students; although I had been exposed to some of these notions in my Screenwriting I and II courses, I feel much better prepared now and I think that my general knowledge (as opposed to just film-specific knowledge) has benefited from this class almost as much as from taking Theories of Popular Culture in the past (which I still insist was the most influential class I took at Middlebury College, and the one that has made me most hungry for cultural studies, and most clear about what I want to do in the future).

In terms of the methods of evaluation, I really like the freedom that we had in choosing the topic for our final paper according to our own interests and passions, and I appreciate Prof. Mittell’s flexibility in terms of relevant topics (which should not be taken for granted, because I feel that in other courses, in the film department and otherwise, the guidelines are rather strict and there is little room to follow your own research interests). I also liked the video editing project, not only because of the creativity involved, but also because I think it’s important that no film major graduates without at least being exposed to Final Cut Pro – even if you will never use it in the future or if you are strictly interested in a more theoretically-oriented career like film criticism, film history or even screenwriting, it is still vital to be familiar, first-hand, with the editing process, because it really enhances your comprehension of media production in general, and thus allows you to better understand the texts themselves.

Regarding the blog, I do think it is an important component that definitely works to encourage everybody – even people who are shier about voicing their opinion in class – to participate, but I also found that it somehow “competes” with the discussion component of the course. Of course, this is an absolutely personal point of view, and I realize that other people might see it differently but I much prefer to bring out my most interesting points in class discussions (I think that engaging the whole class in a live discussion is much more important and rewarding than counting on students to post virtual comments on each others’ blogs – comments that they often force themselves to come up with and post, as part of an academic requirement, rather than a heartfelt impulse to engage with the topic). Thus, after blurting my points out in class so often and so exhaustively, posing them in writing in my blog ex post facto – after they’ve been discussed “live” – seems redundant and useless. At some points, before raising my hand to speak, I even found myself thinking in my head “should I say this now, or should I shut up and save it for the blog?” Of course, there were very many fascinating insights and questions that came out of the readings and the screenings but, given the fact that this seminar is so discussion-intensive, I can’t help not bringing them up in class and I found that oftentimes I had to think really really hard about blog topics that I hadn’t already mentioned in discussions. I guess one conclusion that comes out of this is that I like talking. Yes, I really like talking. But most importantly, I like talking about cultural texts that I like with people I like. Which brings me to my next two points.

Number one: cultural texts that I like.

I cannot emphasize enough how well both the readings and the screenings were chosen for this class. The readings (perhaps surprisingly, given the advanced theoretical level of this seminar) were quite accessible and they didn’t feel heavy or as heavy as I had expected them to be. Rather, instead of representing just another academic chore I had to do on a weekly basis instead of hanging out with my friends or watching Project Runway in bed on my laptop, I felt I was doing the readings for my own knowledge and for my own good. In general, these were things I would have liked to read anyway, for pleasure and personal interest. I think they were very well chosen, and I especially liked Murphy’s Me and You and Memento and Fargo, Bordwell’s Narration in the Fiction Film (which had a kind of “a-ha” feeling, as these were concepts and narrative techniques we were all familiar with as cinephiles, but it was nice to see them categorized and explained so eloquently) and Foucault’s essay, which was inspirational and which remains a classic in the field.

The same goes for the screenings. There wasn’t a single film or episode that I didn’t enjoy (even the Glen Gould movie, which gradually grew on me, as I discussed in my previous post) and I appreciated the fact that, while some of them were definitely classics that most of us were familiar with or had seen before (The Sixth Sense, Memento, La Jetee, Annie Hall, Lost, etc), there were many that were more obscure or less mainstream, but equally relevant and qualitatively impressive. There are many examples I can cite for this second category, starting from Fooly Cooly – which was so interesting and innovative that it completely dispelled my self-fueled conviction that I would never find anime appealing – to The Singing Detective, which, in spite of the relative disappointment that grew in us as the series went, I really appreciated as a highly original and interesting show that has definitely broadened my exposure to global television. I also really enjoyed Stranger than Paradise, perhaps due to my own immigrant condition in the United States, and I was deeply affected by the soft, heartfelt portrayal of its protagonists and the relationships between them. Really, in general, I think that the screenings could not have been better chosen, because they were both pleasurable to watch (Wednesday night was a midweek treat) and highly illuminative of the concepts we were discussing in class.

Number two: people I like.

One of the most pleasant and fortunate outcomes of taking this seminar was just how well I got to know the other members of the class – including Prof. Mittell, whose open and personable nature made discussions flow easily and encouraged us to feel really relaxed and friendly towards him, in a way that is very rare with other professors. As I mentioned before, I always thought that the film students in the department were very cliquey (yes, myself included, with my posse of international students who didn’t grow up with Sesame Street and don’t understand the whole fuss about The O.C.). In view of this social fragmentation, it was great to notice how close we got as a group of senior film majors, how we say hello to each other in the dining halls, exchange DVDs amongst ourselves, and even buy each other drinks at Two Brothers on Thursdays. I know this sounds corny, and yes I do feel a little hypocritical after religiously objecting in class to any trace of corniness in the movies we watched, but I have to end by saying how happy I am to have gotten to know these people in the context of the seminar, because I really think I made new friends. 🙂

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