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Posts Tagged ‘Manohla Dargis’

Still from Charles Burnett’s classic Killer of Sheep

For Black History Month, film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times have compiled an interactive list of culturally, artistically, and historically important motion pictures.  This resource is quite valuable and can also serve as a springboard for interesting discussion.  Along with the movies they have chosen — one per day for the month of February — there are many others noted in their comments and footnotes.  Many directors and other figures from film history who are featured in Moving Images, such as Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, and Charles Burnett, are highlighted among the selections.

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Yes, the title of the movie being projected here is "Cock of the Air," a rediscovered Howard Hughes production from 1932. (Photo: Emily Berl for The New York Times)

Yes, the title of the movie being projected here is “Cock of the Air,” a rediscovered Howard Hughes production from 1932. (Photo: Emily Berl for The New York Times)

In a series of articles on mediateacher.net, the importance of how, where, and why media artifacts are accessed and preserved has been discussed from a variety of angles, not only in terms of films from the early years of cinema (or more recent examples like Lawrence of Arabia or the efforts of Christopher Nolan) but also related to students today and their own productions.  An article in today’s New York Times —The Race to Save the Films We Loveprovides a current update by Manohla Dargis on the state of film preservation, which includes topics related to economics, sound recording, chemistry, digital technologies, and a variety of other issues.

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Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

This week, there was a post on Yahoo News comparing the Hunger Games movies and offering an explanation as to “why Catching Fire is superior to the first Hunger Games movie”— which is that it was shot in 35mm. with “old lenses!”  (I have to add that I have been astonished at the degree to which it has become a meme that the second Hunger Games movie is infinitely superior; literally every adolescent that I’ve heard talk about the movies says this, and some then go on to describe the first movie as if it were shot by a detoxing wedding videographer with a Fisher-Price handycam.)

jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-TrailerSince issues concerning evolving platforms for image capture (both digital and celluloid-based) are addressed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images and a few of my mediateacher.net blog posts, I had to laugh when I read this article and thought, “It’s nice to see this much passion about cinematography in a Yahoo article!”  At the same time, I remarked, “Hmmm, the writer needs a few lessons — after all, the first Hunger Games movie was shot in 35 as well!”  This is why an understanding of Storytelling with Light from Moving Images can be so beneficial: One must look at all the decisions being made by director, cinematographer, and the lighting and art direction personnel on the movie that craft its look (and vfx too!).  It’s how you create and work with the light and all of the things that it’s bouncing off of.  In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out the clip from the Catching Fire Blu-Ray: it includes many interesting observations by cinematographer Jo Willems and director Francis Lawrence about visual communication, including selecting aspect ratio, working with film negative, devising approaches to shot selection through choice of lenses (such as the effect of using wider lenses on a project), and going “old school” in general.

aviatorAs an additional note, for those interested in the craft of acting, there was a superb piece on Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence by Manohla Dargis in this past Sunday’s New York Times, while for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, a paired article by A.O. Scott was just as compelling.  Both essays from the Times “Awards Season” series provide excellent discussion points for thoughtful debates about contemporary movies and American culture.

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Dee Rees, director of "Pariah" (Chad Batka, NYTimes)

Dee Rees, director of “Pariah” (Chad Batka, NYTimes)

One investigative project that I often assign in Introductory Media Literacy courses is to have students present the work of a contemporary filmmaker, including thematic, biographical, and artistic analyses.  Here’s a useful article by critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times in which they offer a list of 20 young filmmakers singled out for the value of their recent work and the promise of more movies to come, including Dee Rees, Sarah Polley, Andrew Bujalski, J.C. Chandor, and others.  It can be very informative for teachers and students (great for college students, but with caution in regards to high school classes where editorial oversight for content is advised) and can bring fresh perspectives to most average viewers.  The point is that there are many great movies out there, even if they are not getting to your local megaplex.  And for those of us who are teachers, bringing a little bit of the big, enlightening, provoking, questioning, enriching world into our students’ lives is cause for exploration.  Check it out.

(Note to Ms. Dargis and Mr. Scott: many of these directors are 40-ish years old.  For us educators, we can tell you that for our students that’s not even close to being young.)

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dark knight baneFor decades, debates have raged about the relationships of media and violence.  For discussion in media literacy or psychology classrooms, I would like to point out a highly useful and relevant new op-ed in the New York Times by a group of physicians who established an initiative titled Broadcast Thought to provide expertise on depictions of mental health matters in entertainment and news media.  Doctors H. Eric Bender, Praveen Kambam, and Vasilis Pozios highlight recent scholarship that indicates that the most common popular opinions on violence and media – essentially, that watching lots of violence in entertainment does not lead to being violent in real life, as reflected in recent comments by Mark Millar, creator of the Kick-Ass franchise, about the widely scrutinized movie Kick-Ass 2 – are not supported by research or sound reasoning.  The authors state, “There is now consensus that exposure to media violence is linked to actual violent behavior,” and they provide examples of case studies that show exposure to violent imagery to be a strong risk factor in demonstrating violent behavior.  Meanwhile, much of the critical reaction to Kick-Ass 2 can be summed up in the opening quote from Manohla Dargis’s review of the movie: “There isn’t anything good to say about Kick-Ass 2, the even more witless, mirthless follow-up to Kick-Ass.”  Or listen to Cinefantastique.

Earlier, I wrote about Tackling Difficult Topics Through the Lens of Media Literacy, and this new op-ed piece also made me think of a unit in one of my media literacy and production classes, linked to Chapter 5 of Moving Images, in which students investigate questions of who creates media? / why do they create media? / how is media created? and how do messages reach audiences?  For this investigative unit, we look at the FrontLine pieces Digital Nation and The Merchants of Cool, as well as other sources.  As one component of their work, students have a task that implicates them more fully in the learning objective: They must work in collaborative groups to develop a proposal for a documentary, television series, or interactive moving image-based website that explores a selected theme or issues from one of these research pieces.  Each student must individually develop one part of the portfolio that will be presented to the class in a pitch session.  Among topics explored have been ones including issues related to teens (societal roles, driving, peer pressures, etc.), various impacts of digital communications, and violence and the media.

Media antidotes to glorified or flippant depiction of the impact of violence: recent Ken Loach films such as "The Angel's Share" and "Sweet Sixteen"

Media antidotes to glorified or flippant depiction of violence: contemporary Ken Loach films such as “The Angel’s Share” and “Sweet Sixteen”

In one example of a pitch related to media depictions of violence, four students presented examples of how there is “violence in the media” and the presentation initiated by the first two students generally consisted of showing YouTube links to “Jackass”-type viral videos.  In the second half of the pitch by the other two members, the concept itself became less vague and unconvincing to their peers as one group member showed a prezi with research and graphs depicting the influence and pervasiveness of violence in the media, as well as a resource list including the documentaries The Mean World Syndrome and The Bro Code.  The last group member showed a storyboard for the opening of their proposed piece in which they would dramatize a violent incident in a school linked to various popular media, including a current hit song.  Meanwhile, it is what can happen next that is vital to consider: The most important parts of the learning experience can be the follow-up discussions and further inquiry from research and the investigation of reliable, competent resources such as those presented in the “Does Media Violence Lead to the Real Thing?” op-ed.

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Director Sarah Polley Preparing a Shot

Director Sarah Polley Preparing a Shot

A movie from this spring that offers abundant possibilities for learning is Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (PG-13), and in this video from the New York Times, she and her family discuss its genesis and driving questions.  This film is an excellent companion to the portraits paired with the themes of Chapter 5 and 6 of Moving Images, particularly This Unfamiliar Place and Looking Back.  Sarah Polley has directed a number of other movies, including the award winning Away from Herand she is a well known actress who has been featured in many films including one of my personal favorites, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (directed by Terry Gilliam).    

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Iron MandarinAs the school year winds down, it can be fun to open up discussion a bit to “big picture” topics.  And one doesn’t get much bigger than the summer blockbusters that have been booming across our screens and into our ears in recent years, or that implode (at least at the box office, when compared to the truckloads of money that were spent on them); whatever the case, we tend to love debating what’s hot, what’s not, and what there is to discover.  Right now, of course, the biggie is Iron Man 3, which opened to a relatively predictable huge first weekend.  I highly recommend this superbly written New York Times review by Manohla Dargis for what could be a lively discussion about the state of the movies — and the state of the nation — because it reads at least as much as an editorial or an impassioned “state of the cinematic arts” mission statement as anything else.  She skillfully integrates Steven Soderbergh’s inspiring talk at the San Francisco Film Festival from a week ago into the review and provides many provocative angles for students and teachers to consider about this movie.  In the meantime, J.J. Abrams‘s Star Trek Into Darkness is right around the corner…

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