Lesson Plan: Cinematic Editing—from Bricks to Collisions to Un-linkage

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Ian here—

When teaching cinema studies at a whirlwind pace, my next stop after the lesson plan on basic terms I posted a few weeks ago is to devote a class to montage. The particular lesson plan here is one I used in my Avant-Garde Film and Video Art class, so it’s geared toward giving students a vocabulary for digesting for some of the more striking forms of associative cutting we’ll see over the course of the class.

This particular permutation on my usual lecture occurred following a screening rich with films composed either in whole or in part from found footage: Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (Bruce Conner, 1976), The Exquisite Hour (Phil Solomon, 1994) and Is This What You Were Born For?, pt 7: Mercy (Abigail Child, 1989). The readings I had students do were “Montage as the Foundation of Cinematography,” a chapter from Lev Kuleshov’s The Art of Cinema, Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram,” and Abigail Child’s “Locales” interview with Michael Amnasan, reproduced in her book This Is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film.

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Joana Pimenta’s An Aviation Field

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Ian here—

So I’ve done a couple dispatches now from the University of Chicago Film Studies Center’s “Troubling the Image” series. I’ve especially like the recent material that Julia Gibbs and Patrick Friel have pulled together from filmmakers and video artists around the world. As it turns out, 2016 was an especially good year for experimental cinema.

In fact, although there’s a truly embarrassing array of films I need to catch up on from 2016 (been playing too many games …), I think it’s likely the case that my favorite film from 2016 will be an experimental short: Portuguese-American filmmaker Joana Pimenta’s video An Aviation Field.

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Lesson Plan: Basic Terms of Cinema Studies + Their Relevance for Avant-Garde Cinema

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Ian here—

I suspect that every cinema studies teacher has their own favorite examples to use when teaching key vocabulary terms, and I would not be so presumptuous as to prescribe my own favorites! Nevertheless, though, it’s an important part of the job, so I wanted to share my own approach here.

Over the past couple of years, I have gotten used to teaching these terms in a very specific context. At the School of the Art Institute, I teach first-year seminar courses. They are courses designed so that all students have some basis in college-level writing as they go through their time at SAIC. Instructors are given enormous freedom to teach whatever they like. This makes it a great venue for testing out new and interesting course ideas, but the flip side of that is that your courses never have prerequisites, and there’s no telling the level of expertise students who enroll will actually have.

What I do, then, is devote one day early on in the semester to a quick-and-dirty Intro to Film in a single lecture. I take a lot of the examples and explanations I first started using when I taught Intro to Film at U Chicago in 2015, but I condense them down into something that can fit into an hour or so. It’s potent stuff.

You can access my go-to presentation here. I’ve set the privacy and sharing settings to their most open, so if you’re a Prezi user you should feel free to copy it if you like it, subbing in your own preferred definitions and clips as you feel necessary! I’m here to share, and not here to impose.

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Lesson Plan: Deren, Anger, and Their Films Today

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Ian here—

This is not a full lesson plan. It is only a few remarks, which I made at the beginning of my class before moving on to the lesson proper, which was much more discussion-based.

I consider these remarks to be necessary in the current moment, and I plan to continue delivering such remarks during future lessons. Many filmmakers associated with North American avant-garde cinema are wild fabulators, building up grand mythologies for themselves and their careers. The figures examined here are certainly no exception. However, it is important that, as instructors, we do not get too caught up in telling these stories. These filmmakers were not just Great Geniuses. They were people, human beings living in a particularly historically-situated time, within the realities of a certain political regime. Acknowledging this reality is crucial, as it helps us better understand our own era.

It is useful to keep the following things in mind, and to repeat them whenever possible:

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren with Alexander Hackenshmied, 1943), often considered the precipitating film of American avant-garde cinema, was made by two immigrants.

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Arash Nassiri’s Darwin Darwah

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Ian here—

Another quick reflection on something screened for the Film Studies Center’s so-far excellent “Troubling the Image” series. This time, Arash Nassiri’s video Darwin Darwah (2016), screened as part of their “Tales of Sound and Vision” night, last Friday. The screening was full of great stuff—including The Inner World of Aphasia (Edward R. Feil, 1958), which I would recommend to anyone who always wished Sam Fuller and Owen Land had made a film together—but Nassiri’s piece left me with the most coherent thoughts.

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Preview: Avant-Garde Cinema and Video Art

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Ian here—

The School of the Art Institute spring 2017 semester begins tomorrow, and I wanted to take a moment this week to introduce this term’s classes, as you will likely be seeing posts related to these classes in the near future. First up: the section I’m teaching for SAIC’s First-Year Seminar II course, “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art.”

Now, I’ve taught this course before, and in fact this blog is littered with previous lesson plans I’ve used for it. But I decided to shuffle my syllabus up considerably this time around.

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Janie Geiser’s Flowers of the Sky

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Ian here—

Any occasion to see a new film by Janie Geiser is a happy one, but I am especially lucky in that the context in which I saw Flowers of the Sky (2016) was during the inaugural screening of “Troubling the Image,” a series of recent (or recently-restored) avant-garde/experimental films being put on at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center. Programmed by Julia Gibbs and Patrick Friel, the series promises to be a stream of delights, and I’m hoping to post some more dispatches from it in the future.

There was plenty of great work on display in this first screening, entitled “Color My World.” (I was especially glad to see more videos from T. Marie, whose work I had fallen behind on in recent years. 2014’s Panchromes I-III certainly did not disappoint, together forming one of the greatest examples of “cinema as painting” that I can think of.) But I’ve decided to limit my thoughts here to Geiser, and Flowers of the Sky.

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