* 2007 : new directories = doc + forms
11.26 -- this is the last live film class I teach. At least, in USA. see Teatr Lul Academe [ AA, Ethiopia ] Film School? Not next year, 2010?

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A - achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements.

B - achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements.

C - achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect.

D - achievement that is worthy of credit even though it fails to meet fully the course requirements.

S - achievement that is satisfactory, which is equivalent to a C- or better.

F (or N) - Represents failure (or no credit) and signifies that the work was either (1) completed but at a level of achievement that is not worthy of credit or (2) was not completed and there was no agreement between the instructor and the student that the student would be awarded an I (see also I).

I - (Incomplete) Assigned at the discretion of the instructor when, due to extraordinary circumstances, e.g., hospitalization, a student is prevented from completing the work of the course on time. Requires a written agreement between instructor and student.

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Reviews ("200 words" samples):

Meghan Powell
Pianist Review

The Pianist ended up being pretty different than what I had expected. Never having watched Schindler's List I walked into it fairly naďve. I felt that Polanski did a great job conveying the drudgery and terror from the Jews point of view.

I found the film to be surprisingly sparse when it comes to speaking parts; most of the film has Szpilman moving through the ghetto, avoiding close calls with the Nazis, and surviving on his own in relative silence. However, it was effective to convey the isolation and sadness that the character underwent.

The Holocaust involved so much darkness and death, I felt that it would be hard for a director to convey this onscreen but Polanski did a terrifyingly good job. Some of the scenes were very shocking, such as when the man in the wheelchair was pushed off the balcony, and the disregard given to killing whole families at a time. The primary motion of those herded into "death camps" was effective in the slowness, and their faces. They were walking into uncertainty and it was evident.

Much of the secondary motion of the movie seemed to try and place the viewer into the shoes of Szpilman. By using crevices, hiding places, and abundant windows and secret spots to shoot, it allows the viewer to get a tiny glimpse of what his viewpoint would have been.
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Tarkovsky -- Aesthetics

playsChekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare

[ I have to come back to this page! Spring 2007? Fall 2006 -- film directing -- new pages. Make use of "support pages" -- I'm about to make "hub" pages; like EYE... The page are overloaded! ]

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I am not working on a textbook, based on this directory webpages (not now); do not expect must changes. There are many good books on film analysis an, of course, you can get any DVD ot tape to watch the movies (use the htmlgears listing ocnnected to Amazon). Remember, do reading and screening in advance! Before, not after the topics in class! The "A" secret is in your homework: spend more time studying outside of class and you will get it!

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Next: 2007
.... Writing about Film

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2005-2006 Theatre UAF Season: Four Farces + One Funeral & Godot'06
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"200 words" assignment (sample):

Darren Johnson
Movies and Film
Spring 2003

Kurosawa’s Dreams: Crows

Each of the dreams in Kurosawa’s masterpiece shows his genius in film language to express the essence of the human experience as no other filmmaker has. I have chosen to write about one particular sequence entitled “Crows,” based on the painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

Kurosawa begins the segment with an artist, canvas and paints in hand, admiring the works of the great Dutch artist. Van Gogh’s paintings, and Van Gogh himself symbolize the very genius of art for the sake of art. The young, struggling artist (whom we take to be an autobiographical symbol of Kurosawa) actually enters into the paintings in search of Van Gogh, or in search of the true artist within not only the works, but within himself.

Incredibly, Van Gogh’s paintings come to life, and the search takes the pupil to the river, where some local women are doing their laundry. He asks for directions, which he receives, but the women warn that Van Gogh has been in an asylum, and they all laugh at Vincent’s expense. This doesn’t fade our Kurosawa, and he searches on.

He finally finds the master in a field and asks him if he is indeed Van Gogh.

“Why aren’t you painting?” he asks our seeker. “This amazes me.”

With an economy of dialogue that belies the depth of communication, Van Gogh (Martin Scorcese) explains the drive he feels when he sees the beauty around him, and how the sun itself compels him to work “like a locomotive” even though the scene “seems to paint itself.” This apparent paradox is easily understood by anyone who has tried to create art, whether through painting, film, or the countless other art forms mankind has taken to.

Van Gogh tires of the student artist’s questions, as he doesn’t have time to talk; there is so much to paint and so little time.

As Vincent disappears over the horizon of the field in his painting of the crows, the student-artist continues his quest for inspiration, all the while immersed in the various masterpieces of Van Gogh, who died unappreciated and penniless, mocked and misunderstood. Years later, there is hardly a person on the planet who wouldn’t recognize the Dutch demigod of the canvas. And though Kurosawa displays his humility and awe to the master before him, I have no doubt that in years to come Kurosawa will be among a small handful of masters of film that will be known to all the world.

(*) sample paper:

[ film & movies ]

The Auteur from the North: An Analysis of the Themes and Visions of Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman is often recognized as one of the geniuses of film and can be credited with many advances in film language. Even though there are many directors that I both respect and admire, Bergman is one of the very best. It is fitting that for my final paper I have chosen to write about Bergman and what I think are three of his best films: The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and Cries and Whispers. There are of course other films that I could have picked, not least of which is a film such as Persona, but I feel that the three aforementioned films demonstrate Bergman’s range and versatility in the creation of his art.
The first film that will be discussed is The Seventh Seal. Basically it is a film about a knight named Antonius Block who while returning from the crusades encounters Death. The Black Plague is raging across the land and in order to stave off inevitability Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess. One of the first things that should be noted is that much of Bergman’s storytelling is done through capturing the feeling expressed on the actor’s faces. Max von Sydow, who plays Antonius, has many close-ups that give us a window into his thoughts. It is amazing how we can see his struggle with the inevitability of death and how throughout the film he tries to make sense of it all. Beyond the performance of the actors, Bergman also understands the impact of well thought out mise-en-scene. A prime example is the recurring image of Antonius playing chess with Death. First of all the simple setup of how the game is played gives us insight into the meaning of the struggle. Chess is separated into white and black, life and death. Antonius plays the white pieces and Death plays the black pieces. The chess board with the pieces is always between them when they play which seems obvious, but when you think about it there is more meaning that can be gleaned from this. The chess game is the only thing separating Antonius from Death. If he didn’t have that as a “buffer” he would have died in the very beginning. The chess game also represents the inevitability of death, and how as the film progresses, Death comes closer to winning until finally the time has come.
Another scene that sticks out is when Antonius is confessing to Death, but thinks it is a priest. The shot is framed such that we can see Death and on the opposite side of steel bars is Antonius with the sharp shadow from the bars on his face. This scene almost mirrors the type of separation that is in the chess scenes. Antonius is brightly lit but Death is in shadow, light and dark. In the beginning of this scene there is a part where Antonius is looking up at an icon of Jesus on the cross. The way that Bergman positions the camera is almost seems that Antonius is trying to understand something of which he can never attain. The Lord is an enigma to him just out of reach of human knowledge, and his game of chess is his chance to get to know himself before he can know God through death.
The scene with the flagellants is something that stands out as being a symbol of the futility of trying to please God with suffering while at the same time demonstrating how desperate the victims of the plague were for an answer. When it comes right down to it most of this film is about people seeking answers to things that only God would know. They look for the truth in different ways, but in the end they are all trying to find the same thing. As the flagellants come into the village the camera is positioned very low to the ground and their procession comes straight toward the camera. As they walk by lashing each other there is a very distinct feeling of revulsion and the crowd reacts to this by staring in disbelief and horror. Antonius and his squire, on the other hand, look on stoically, hardened by their participation in the crusades. The people thought that through suffering they would be helped by the Lord but Antonius sees the futility in this. In the opposite sense there is a scene where they make a woman the scapegoat of their problems. They believe that she has the devil in her so they are going to burn her at the stake. This scene is actually set up in much the same way as the flagellant scene. When they show the girl the camera is very low to the ground showing her in her pitiful state. It is almost as if Bergman was trying to emphasis the debasement of these people with his use of the very low camera angles. In this case, however, I would think that he was more likely trying to capture the face of the woman has she sat helplessly tied to the wooden pole. As Antonius and his squire leave the presence of the woman it is interesting to note that she is framed in a stone archway and we can hear moans of suffering. The framing of the shot highlights the absurdity of blaming a single individual. The fact that Antonius and his squire leave through the archway demonstrates that they disagree with the blaming of the woman for the problems of the populace.
The final and probably the most memorable part of the film is the final scene when Death finally comes for Antonius and his companions. When Death approaches the group stands before him. It is shot so that they are all facing the camera and this approach greatly accentuates the fact that this is their final judgment. When the girl kneels before Death we see a distinct look of reluctance and fear in her expression, but as the shadow of Death moves over her the expression on her face changes to that of relief and almost joy. It is then that we see Mary and Joseph who were spared death. They are alive to live another day and then Joseph sees the procession of people being led by Death across the field. They are silhouettes being led by Death in a dance to the next world. It is one of the most memorable scenes in filmic history.
The next film that I want to cover is Wild Strawberries, which Bergman made soon after The Seventh Seal. This film is very much about memory and what it means to each and every one of us. The main protagonist is Isak Borg who 78 yrs old and is traveling to receive an award at a university. In his travels he begins to reflect on his life and goes through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences.
There is a dream sequence in the very beginning of the film that is quite significant because it symbolizes many of the problems that Isak is confronting in the final years of his life. An important part of his dream is the presence of a clock that has no hands and a man that has no face. It is as if he is coming to the realization that he doesn’t really know himself very well and there is not any time left to find out. This is accented by a runaway horse trailer that a casket falls out of and when Isak looks at who is in it he sees himself. The dream sequence does a good job of setting up the rest of the film because Isak goes on a journey of self discovery.
Much of the film consists of dream/flashback sequences in which Isak remembers events from his earlier life. The important aspect of the dreams is the fact that Isak is old in them. The title of the film actually refers to his memories of picking wild strawberries as a young man. It is interesting to note that in The Seventh Seal Antonius mentions that he will always remember eating the wild strawberries, which I take to mean that he will remember all that he has done in his life. I don’t know if this connection is intentional or not but it is interesting none the less. The dreams/memories that Isak has are composed mostly of picturesque shots. I think that this accentuates the fact they are not reality. The transitions to and from dreams are also distinct and work as book ends keeping the reality distinct and separate from the memory/fantasy.
The important part of this film is how Isak deals with his memories whether he wants to remember them or not. Like I have alluded to earlier, his dreams may not be perfectly accurate but they are nonetheless what Isak sees. This film uses Isak’s expressions to tell much of the story and his expressions speak volumes in the sequences. Through much of the film it seems as if he is feeling a regret and loss of what he missed out on in his earlier life. In one scene he sees his wife with another man and it is obvious that it is a memory that he would rather forget. Every shot of Isak in this scene shows the struggle on his face and there is even an observer in this dream that mentions the fact that this is a memory that Isak has been unable to forget. The actual primary movement in this scene mostly takes place deep in the background of the shot. Given the distance that Isak is away from his wife and the man it is a wonder that he ever even heard their dialogue. Because of this fact, it seems that maybe Isak is able to distance himself from the memory as more time goes by.
The beginning of the previous scene I discussed has Isak being presented before a classroom in a test of his capabilities as a doctor. This scene is lit so that Isak is the main focus and the examiner and the observers are more in shadow. It is a scene that is reminiscent of the judgment scene toward the end of the film M in which the killer is brought before his criminal peers for judgment of his guilt. This scene represents all the insecurity that Isak has had as a practicing physician and possibly even the guilt associated with his detached relationship that he has had with his patients.
The final scene that I want to mention in this film is the final one. It starts out with Isak falling asleep. The shot is composed of a close-up of Isak’s face that is strongly lit and surrounded by darkness. As the scene transitions into his memories of childhood the change is cued by the sound of a strummed harp. This memory of his is on of the most picturesque of the film and has beautifully composed shots. All throughout the transitions are all marked with the harp strumming. The people in his memories are all dressed in white while he is in dark clothes. This contrast is quite reminiscent of The Seventh Seal and could be also thought to represent some of the same thoughts. The white represents life and youth, and his dark clothes represent his old age and death. The final shot of this dream has him looking out at his parents fishing in almost a postcard perfect scene. Then it cuts to a close-up of Isak’s content face and holds on it. That is another aspect of Bergman’s films that is so powerful, the length of his shots. When he does a close-up it isn’t quick like other filmmakers. He holds it until every nuance can be taken in and understood. I think that it is this aspect of his films that make them so much more impressive.
The third and final film that will be discussed in this paper is Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Unlike the previous two films that I discussed this one is in color and Bergman uses this fact to great effect. This film is basically about three sisters who are brought together because one of them is dying of cancer. This film is basically about the memories of the three sisters and how it brings them all together.
For simplicities sake I will not go too in depth into all the aspects that I find important in this film and instead just focus on a few that I find important. The first thing that is important to note is how this is another film about death and dying. We are presented with this fact right away in to the film with shots of clocks ticking away. We know then that the time is running out for all of us and it is important to appreciate what we have. It is also a symbol of the time that is running out for Agnes who is dying of cancer. This theme is also presented in Wild Strawberries but in that film the clock has no hands. Almost as if time was stopped within the void of dreams/memories. Throughout the film each main character has flashbacks to important things that have happened in their lives. These flashbacks are marked by a close-up of the characters face with strange whispering sounds in the background. These close-ups are unique because one half of the face is dark and the other is light. This shows the fact that the characters all have something to hide and it is through the flashbacks that we will see what that is. Bergman is fond of presenting this type of duality in all his characters and this technique is prevalent in all three of the films in this paper. This type of close-up is effective in this film because Bergman uses it to bookend the flashbacks. It wouldn’t work as well if he would use them as just the intro and leave it at that because then we wouldn’t know the present from the past. Some filmmakers don’t bookend their shots like this and it really just works to confuse the audience. I think that this is sometimes intentional so that the shallowness of the film can be obscured and instead the audience is forced to unravel it all.
Another aspect of this film is its fade to red between scenes. I can’t say that I have ever seen this done before but it breaks up the scenes well. I wish that I had an idea of what it truly represents but I’m really not sure. In general the idea of seeing red reflects anger, but I’m not so sure that would apply in this case. Red is seen throughout the film and even the walls are painted red. Bergman pays special attention to the camera angles while the characters are walking around the house and tries to always have their background be the red walls.
In the scene that Agnes dies there is also a great use of symbols. The scene starts off with a shot of a ticking clock. It then cuts to a long shot of Agnes in her bed which starts out as a shot with a low amount of light but then light begins to stream in through the windows and it cuts to a shot of the sisters waiting. They are looking out the windows at the light when Agnes wakes and cries out. In this scene the light represents God coming to take Agnes away. I find it interesting that the sisters are looking out the window at the light and waiting, almost as if they are asking for God to come and take their sister away. Right before Agnes dies she looks out at the light, which is the last thing she does and then the light goes away.
I find that Bergman is a true genius of the filmic language. With each viewing of his films there is something more to be gleaned from their message. He has a unique perspective of both life and death. The fact that he is able to focus on subject matter that mankind continues to struggle with shows the importance he placed on the pursuit of understanding. I think that every one of his films was created so that he could better understand both himself but also his relationship to God. It is something that he knew he would probably never know until he died. His use of close-ups, color, symbols, and mise-en-scene has influenced a generation of filmmakers and hopefully will continue to do so for many more to come.

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