Casablanca. Citizen Kane. The Searchers. These are the films that made up the first year of my film studies education, but they are also the films that made up everyone who I know’s Introduction to Film Courses. My mom watched them in college. My dad watched them in college. Marlayne, a girl I met while studying abroad in Dublin, watched them in college. Every textbook that is meant to be read by people who have passed their intro courses references them.
What is it about these films that leads them to span decades and oceans of film studies students education?
At Muhlenberg, Film Studies is an interdisciplinary major taught by teachers across academic designations, but the canon of films that we are prompted to explore in our classes are still handpicked from the catalog of “good films.”
I’ve never met someone who made it through even two years of their film degree without watching Birth of a Nation. Why is that a film that after it has been debunked that it pioneered some of the techniques that it touted, that film scholars still hold in such high regard?
What is problematic what this way of teaching film?
It excludes almost the entirety of the last 20 years of filmmaking in favor of focusing exclusively on the past. While keeping an eye in the past makes sense for a class like Film History 1 and 2, a class like “Intro to Film Analysis” should cast a wider net when it comes to date range. They should pepper films like Her into the film canon. Her is a beautiful film that has immediate societal implications and plays with unique film tropes that are often glossed over in film classes like having a character that’s body is unseen. Similarly, Moonlight (Barry Jenkins), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki), Boyhood (Richard Linklater) are all films that have been around long enough to have published scholarship about them circulating around the film discourse community that emerging film scholars would benefit from watching.
I think by enriching the film studies cannon with some newer films will only make the students dialogue with the films stronger and will help strengthen emerging film scholars’ idea that films that are coming out now are still pieces of art and narrative that beg to be viewed through a film scholars lense.
Now, nowhere in this argument am I saying that we should throw away the classics. Films like Citizen Kane are important to show emerging filmmakers and scholars; they are exemplars of the genre. I just think our idea of what films should be celebrated and studied should be more global and inclusive and less limited and standardized.