Film List… Thoughts, Anyone?

So, I have just had a lit class dropped from my schedule and a film classes added, and while I cannot complain — the film class is an interesting opportunity, and a block of 3 hours which makes watching and discussing a film in a single go quite a lot easier — I am hurrying to put together a list of films we’ll be watching. It’s a mix of British and American films, through which students are supposed to be able to get a better handle on culture, history, and the commercial context of films. So far, my list includes (and this is in order):

Week 1: Introductions, Paperwork, etc.
Week 2: Reading a Film — a reading of The Host / viewing The Great Dictator
Week 3: The Muppet Movie (plus a few episodes of The Muppet Show* and clips from The Dark Crystal*) — Jim Henson and “Family Entertainment”
Week 4: You Only Live Twice (James Bond 007) and The Manchurian Candidate* (1962 version, not 2004) — Asia, the Cold War, and the British-American Imagination
Week 5:  American Zombie — Radical Politics, Power, and Protest
Week 6: The Godfather* and Brighton Rock– Does Crime Pay?
Week 7: Jungle Fever — And When the Twain Shall Meet?
Week 8: Midterm Week
Week 9: A Scanner Darkly — The Sixties, Sort Of
Week 10: Scream*, Rosemary’s Baby*, and A Nightmare on Elm Street — Everything We Need to Know, We Learned from Horror Films
Week 11: His Girl Friday and Jackie Brown* — Blackness, Masculinity, Femininity, Marketability
Week 12: 2001: A Space Odyssey — Science, Religion, Art, and Human Destiny
Week 13: Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail — History as a Barrel of… Laughs?
Week 14: Brassed Off — Britain’s “IMF Crisis”
Week 15: The Lady Vanishes and The Birds* — Hitchcock and the Language of Film
  • The Great Dictator
  • The Muppet Movie
  • You Only Live Twice (James Bond 007) & The Manchurian Candidate* (1962 version, not 2004)
  • American Zombie
  • The Godfather* & Brighton Rock
  • Jungle Fever
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • The Stepford Wives
  • His Girl Friday & Jackie Brown*
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail
  • Brassed Off
  • The Lady Vanishes & The Birds*

Films individually marked with an asterisk (*) are to be watched outside of class. The list is unbalanced, to be sure: far too few British films, even if we count 2001 and the James Bond as “British” to some degree (Clarke’s involvement in 2001; Bond being of British origin). Some might seem unlikely choices — The Muppet Movie, for example, though I want to use it to get a discussion going about kids’ entertainment in the English speaking world; or A Scanner Darkly as a way of getting at subculture, counterculture, and drugs in an American historical/cultural context — and there are other films I’ve considered  including, but haven’t done. Are my students better served by being shown Almost Famous or The Godfather? Should I swap in one of the Star Trek films — or even Harold and Kumar Go To white Castle —  for A Scanner Darkly? Some part of me really wants to show them The Revenge of the Nerds or Police Academy or maybe Airplane or something. American Zombie seems minor compared to many films, though it opens up the possibility of talking about politics differences between protest culture and “issue” politics in the US as compared to Korea. Finally, some part of me wants to show them one of those crazy Beatles movies, maybe during the same week as A Scanner Darkly. But I’m also wondering whether I wouldn’t prefer to include, say, Brazil in place of A Scanner Darkly… which would up the content of UK films in the list, but would also mean missing the whole 1960s drug culture/counterculture thing.

It’s a tough job… I rather wish I had a  full year of classes in which to show films. Year-long courses do exist at the Universities I attended in Canada, but in Korea they seem not to — perhaps because of the long break between each semester, I’m not sure. I can think of many more films I’d like to show, but cannot. In one sense I’m approaching this the way the film class I took as an undergrad was taught: my prof, Don Kerr, selected a bunch of films most of us would never have gone and seen outside of the context of his class, including some on my list: Wings of Desire, His Girl Friday, The Lady Vanishes, and Brassed Off. Part of the point of the course is giving students a chance to watch films they likely wouldn’t otherwise look at, hence the inclusion of, say, Brighton Rock and Brassed Off and Jungle Fever. There is a bit of idiosyncracy — I mean, as with a reading list in a lit class, I’m going to teach films I like and think are worth seeing because they are exemplary films, while also being useful windows into culture and history — but I think that’s natural.

Anyway, I’m curious what reactions people have to this list… feel free in the comments section.

12 thoughts on “Film List… Thoughts, Anyone?

  1. If you want to talk about US culture, you might consider including a western. “Cowboys & Indians” is a huge part of the American mythos…and a huge part of film history… and with huge range for discussion about Americans’ belief in “Manifest Destiny”. Some of the earlier films are also short — easy to show during a lecture period — but I couldn’t name any names.

    World War II movies were another cinema staple that seems to be somewhat forgotten now, and were also part of the cultural mythos throughout the 2nd half of the 20th C. You might also be able to find a British entry for this genre.

  2. The omission that stands out to me is the lack of documentaries. Something like “Roger & Me”, “The Fog of War”, or maybe one of Werner Herzog’s recent English-language docs (“White Diamond” and “Encounters at the End of the World” are fantastic).

    Herzog might be an interesting pick for another reason — he’s a case of a non-Anglophone director who has come to make his movies in English, for Anglo-American audiences. Having said that, he narrates his own documentaries and his accent might be a little difficult for students who aren’t completely comfortable in English.

    Yes! to a western.

  3. I think Students would enjoy Almost Famous more than The Godfather, which is slow and a little dull for a lot of people – personally I love The Godfather and have plans to buy it on DVD.

    Monty Python – OMG that will be incredibly difficult for Korean students. I showed some clips in class to near native students and I could hear crickets chirping in class.

    ONe of my personal favorites that I would definitely teach is Stand by Me – a classic coming of age film.

  4. Based on you list, I am not sure what the goal of the course is. Is it to show a “representative sample” of superior US and UK films; or show films that represents (or had a lot of influences on)US and UK culture; or is it just some films you want to discuss in the class? All three topics are fine, but I can’t help feeling that it is not focused at the moment.

    Some suggestions:

    If the subject is US and UK culture, then consider:

    “To Kill a Mockingbird”
    “Animal House” (though I wonder whether you can get away with it if you show it in class)
    “The Commitments”
    “Running Man” (not an obvious choice, but neat media criticism, and stars not one, but two US governors in leading roles…)
    And a Brit film, that is somewhat from out of nowhere, (gruesome, but in the best tradition of Shakespeare, British theater, Hammer horror, and American gore…) “The Theatre of Blood”?

    If the subject is influential movies, then consider:

    “Citizen Kane”
    “Clockwork Orange” (over 2001)

  5. The lack of Westerns and Song & Dance style musicals, at least if you want to illustrate US history, also sticks out for me. Westerns show how a country can mythologize its past (and badly), while Musicals would give you chance to talk about escapism if you pick one made during America’s Great Depression.

    So maybe add: Shane/High Noon/The Ox-Bow Incident/or even Stagecoach – for the Westerns (unless you’re going for a Revisionist angle).

    And for musicals add Singin’ In the Rain and 42nd Street. A Busby Berkeley picture would blow the mind of any student into K-Pop Girl/Boy bands.

    Also possibly add “The Third Man”. It’s enough of a WW2 picture, a mystery, and addresses the soon to develop Cold War to cover a lot of bases.

    You might also want a more taut crime/Film Noir picture – The Killing/Pick-Up on South Street/Asphalt Jungle (though maybe the original Manchurian Candidate would cover this.)

    And a Hammer Film, something with Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee except for the Frankenstein movies. They’re the most boring. One of the Dracula pictures (I’m partial to the Quatermass ones, especially the third one, but can understand when people say they’re dull). There’s a decent Hound of the Baskervilles with Cushing as Holmes and Lee as Lord Baskerville.

    One’s enjoyment of A Scanner Darkly seems directly linked to one’s own experiences in a counter-culture.

    Hmmm.

    1. Folks,
      I should have been clearer about the point of the class, so since Junsok asked:

      I want to:
      (a) expose the students to “worthwhile” (not necessarily award winning, not necessarily artistic, not necessarily influential — my scale is movable) films they are unlikely otherwise to see,
      (b) help students to develop their repertory of critical approaches to narratives in general, and films in particular, and instill in them a habit of viewing films critically in and of themselves,
      (c) use the films (and supplementary readings) as a springboard to the discussion of US/UK cultures, to help students learn more about specific issues and themes running through those cultures (especially in contrast to Korean culture), and
      (d) help students to figure out ways in which mass media or entertainment can be used as a tool for talking about or studying culture and language, beyond the critical reading of films.

      (B and D sound similar, but are a little different: b is more litcritty, d is more cultural study and language study.)

      The films are actually related to weekly themes, such as “Does Crime Pay?” (the fascination with outlaws, rebels, and so on), or ”

      So,

      Okay, a few of you suggest a Western, I’ll buy that I should show one. I don’t know the genre all that well, but I’ll track down something from your recommendations. I think besides historical revisionism, the mythos of conquest, of the Western expansion, of law, of Cowboys’n’Indians, it’d be a great springboard for discussing ideas of masculinity. I’m thinking something with John Wayne.

      WWII — yeah, though they seem a bit familiar to students, and I touched on that somewhat in my Popular Culture course last semester, too. (I also touched on blackface in Hollywood and before, which is why I’m not getting into African-Americans in film so much here — we spent half a semester on constructions of race and blackness in American popular culture.)

      Jack — documentaries, yes! I wonder if they would “get” Erroll Morris’ Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.; that documentary blew my mind. Fog of War is another great recommendation. I also can’t help but be tempted to show them the sermon in Vernon, Florida — that film seems to bore most Koreans in general, but the dictionary consultations in the sermon they seem to love. Or maybe Standard Operation Procedure?

      Sean,
      Actually, my experience with Almost Famous has varied. One class loved it, one class was bored to tears. I dunno. If I were to show them a rock-focused movie, I’d almost be more likely to show them Spinal Tap… which is funny, ha ha, and I think they’d get it being funny. Then I’d ask them to develop a theory of WHY it’s funny.

      Monty Python’s The Quest for the Holy Grail is something I’ve shown Korean friends before — people of the same approximate level of English as the majority of my classes — and they got it and liked it… Life of Brian, no so much, and the TV show not at all. The Argument sketch? They have tended to be baffled. But The Holy Grail seems to go over well, at least for the level I usually teach.

      I do like Stand By Me. I kinda wish I knew of a girls’ coming of age film I could show, though: most of my students are female, and in addition, looking at the recommendations in this comment thread, a lot of it is “guy films”… another reason I wasn’t so big on Westerns, and was thinking of dumping The Godfather.

      Junsok,

      Citizen Kane and To Kill a Mockingbird — uh, I can’t do it. I myself have never gotten through Kane — I always, without fail, fall asleep. I don’t know why. And To Kill a Mockingbird I just don’t like. I don’t think I could get away with Animal House, and I’m leery about showing A Clockwork Orange — though it’s a wonderful recommendation — because of the rape scene. (In PC-netspeak, I am leery about “triggering” someone who’s been through it for real, and statistically, the demographics in my courses suggest someone is likely to have been.) The Commitments is a great recommendation, something I’d forgotten about but was wonderful when I saw it. Ha, Running Man… I forgot about that one… heh. Not sure…

      I haven’t seen the Theater of Blood, though I’ll get my hands on it and have a look.

      Justin,

      Oh, musicals, right. Thanks for the recommendation on Busby Berkeley, I definitely want to use something like that. I was thinking about a Josephine Baker film, but we spent a lot of time on the depiction of African-Americans in American popular culture in my pop culture class last semester, and I would prefer not to rehash what I’m not an expert on anyway.

      The Sherlock Holmes is a good idea, too… Cushing’s. As for A Scanner Darkly, it is definitely one of the weaker ones — though I feel like I should include at least one “animation” (as I loosely consider it) and think it’s worth talking about the counterculture. It’s one of those things I think knowing more about might be useful to my students. (And though I have almost no personal experience in counter-cultural movements or whatever — unless you count grad school, ha! — I enjoyed it just fine, but then I like PKD and SF. Anyway, I’m trying to think of an animation I’d like to show, and come up with only that, or Waking Life (which I daren’t show — way over-the-head, that one)… all the more recent animations, I assume, they’ll have seen. The prof who last taught this class did Mulan, which is an interesting choice — Western perceptions of Asia/Asians, etc, though I’m doing that with the Bond film. I’d be happy to show an older animation, but all that really comes to mind Bakshi’s Wizards (which is kind of a mess), and Fritz the Cat, which, well… no. Hmmmm. More thought needed, I guess… Maybe Watership Down? Lots to talk about there in attitudes towards gender, nature, culture, politics, children’s entertainment/literature, and so on…

      I don’t think I want to have a “war movie” per se, like Full Metal Jacket or The Great Escape (though I’d definitely show the latter over the former) but it is a hole. The problem is, there will inevitably be holes, and I’m worried if I fill the generic holes, the thematic ones will loom large. (Almost every genre mentioned in these comments, musicals aside, are ones that my students are likely to feel are male-centric, quite understandably, and I do wonder whether (and what) to include in terms of “chick flicks”).

      Oh, and Sean: I’m puzzled. There’s no new captcha system — at least, I’ve not installed anything new. Has it changed lately? Maybe an update did something?

  6. I forgot to mention — I can add a few more films, not just cut some of these… I’ll be having students watch I think 3-4 films outside class, independently, as well as 2-3 Korean films, and writing about them in their film-blogs.

    (Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the ones on my list for that; I’ll be asking them to read a post or two about the controversy of “whitewashing” that film before watching and posting. I myself will be seeing the film — in 4D, which means with the newfangled jiggly/tactile seats — this evening.)

    And one more thing: the hole that troubles me most in my selections is a relative lack of UK films, though, given my relative familiarity, it’s a hole I can sorta live with…

    Oh, and:

    – This is Spinal Tap?
    – Up in Smoke?
    – what “teen” movie would you recommend? The Breakfast Club? Lost Boys? Something else?

  7. “Theatre of Blood” is about a hammy Shakesperean actor (played by Vincent Price) whose career has been followed by bad reviews from London’s theater critics. After he is trashed by the critics after what he feels is his greatest performance, he accuses the critics of not knowing ‘true art’, and then he kills himself (or does he?) Then the critics are killed one by one, and the methods of their deaths (which are pretty grisly for a late 60s movie) are all based on scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. (Who knew ol’ Willy S. was so bloody?) Price’s daughter is played by Diana Rigg (not only Mrs. Peel, but a great Shakespearean actress, off-and-on part of RSC) and many of the critics are played by fine British character actors.

    (There’s also a dog boiling scene reminiscent of the Korean movie 301/302).

    Great fun – and it (along with Kurosawa’s Ran) did a very difficult job of getting me interested in Shakespeare in the first place. Other than having Price as the main star, I think it’s a British production. The culture of the film is definitely British / Hammer horror.

  8. Adjusting my suggestions to your class having more female students:

    I think “42nd Street” would go over really well and spark a lot of discussion.

    “Secret of NIMH” is pretty corny (which isn’t to say I don’t love it), but it has a strong female character who is fighting to save her family. But it might possibly not be as good for discussion as “Watership Down”.

    “Johnny Guitar” is an old western where the main conflict is between the two major female characters. But if you’re going the classic route and want John Wayne, “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers” might be the best. You could also work in the “captivity narrative” especially with “The Searchers”.

  9. If you’re looking to assist with establishing a dialogue with common cultural references, those are the droids (or, er, movies) you need to find. Mixing in a few modern blockbusters probably wouldn’t hurt, although I would ask several priming questions to keep them focused on the salient points.

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
    The Music Man (features the classic ‘barbershop’ genre, which is distinctly American).
    Seconding ‘This is Spinal Tap’ – help students establish fact and fiction, instead of suspending disbelief TOO far…

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