August 29th and 30th

Why We Watch Movies

We discussed why people watch movies and came up with three particular reason, each of which conveniently starts with "e."

1) escape
2) entertainment
3) empathy

As to escape, when we watch movies (at least really good movies), we lose track of ourselves. Me personally, I get tired of myself. I am around myself all the time, so it is nice to get away sometimes. Other examples of things that can create this escape that I used in class included playing sports, basketball in particular (not that I play it well), playing a musical instrument, shaving, cutting things up while cooking, and, in a negative sense, the use of drugs and alcohol. Movies (particularly in this class through the use of the auditorium, which totally makes the class) offer that escape, both in the positive and negative sense. If one uses movies only for an escape from the monotony of day to day life, then just returns to one's life unchanged, I find that less valuable than returning from that escape with a changed perspective about the world around us - I think really good movies do that (sorry for the unwieldy length of that sentence/run-on thought).

Entertainment is pretty straight-forward - people go to movies sometimes because they can be enjoyable experiences. It is good to laugh and be entertained. I would not want every movie to be just about entertainment though. The other question is about movies that are not "enjoyable" to watch, in the sense that they are not ones that will make you laugh - Schindler's List, a film I've shown in Christology before, would be a relevant example here - it is not a film that the word "enjoy" seems to work for. This leads into the third category ...

I am very hesitant to say this, but tentatively might claim that watching movies can increase our sense of empathy, can broaden the way we view the world and lead us to questions about what makes me me and makes you you. The last film of the trimester, Hoop Dreams, is a particularly strong example of this trait, this giving to us the sense of (to use an overused cliche) what it might be to walk a mile in another's shoes.

We then talked about the value of watching movies closely. For the rest of class, instead of talking about why we watch movies, I showed a number of clips of different movies and moments I love from them.

We watched Pride & Prejudice for a brief moment - at beginning of the movie there is a lovely shot of Keira Knightley reading a book. We saw a funny clip of mistaken identity from L.A. Confidential, then watched it a second time and focused on a character not at the center of the frame. We talked a bit about the value of watching something a second time - the first time one often focuses on the narrative, the what is happening, where the second time round, one is better able to focus on how things happen. We saw a few minutes from You Can Count on Me that showed a couple good characters. As an example of physical comedy, we watched the diner scene from Dumb & Dumber. We also saw a minute from Big Lebowski for the same thing - we picked specific moments and focused on the details. The last two clips we watched involved music, both of which were nice lead-ins to Almost Famous. We watched the second scene from Once - I really like the camera work in the scene. We finished by focusing on a moment from Nirvana's Unplugged in New York.