The Teacher and Student Gap

The Teacher and Student Gap in Film Understanding

One day, I was teaching about a film, “It Happened One Night.” I was trying to explain the apparently ridiculous custom of showing people driving against a background screen. It looks tacky and breaks your acceptance of the film. It’s the problem with sound. I’ve seen silent films where they took film of people driving in cars and interacting in cars. But sound equipment is bulky. What’s more, the background noise of the automobile and the surroundings play havoc with the recording. So, we have to have a controlled environment. Modern film has access to much more capable equipment and that’s one of the reasons my students prefer to avoid the classic black and whites.

026I suppose one of the hardest things about teaching with film is the enormous disparity in understanding between teacher and student. They don’t get jokes, miss symbolism, never seem to look at the background and, worse of all, have trouble staying interested for more than twenty minutes. Their hands drift inexorably toward their electronic devices to check text and e-mail, an electronic reality more important to them than the Joseph Campbell style myths conveyed by film.

The way they talk, touch, perceive love and honor, choose their life goals and what they choose to believe in their version of reality are all shaped and shaped dramatically by these brief hours of concentrated talent. Sometimes they seem to get it and often not. I shouldn’t blame them too much. It has only been in the last few years that I began looking at film in terms of ethics, business ethics in particular. And worse, the films that have been important influences in my own life didn’t become apparent to me until I reflected long and hard while watching films I’d seen in my youth.

I wonder what they think about themselves from what they saw growing up. There were scant few special effects in my time and now they’re present in most films sometimes dominating them to the exclusion of all other factors. Could it be that lives seem humdrum and banal compared to an episode of Transformers? And because special effects take up so much time, do they live lives where conversation and relationships are de-emphasized just as in the films?
I know that for a good number I am planting the seeds of what someday will be a strong knowledge and appreciation of film culture and its significance in our lives. Future success is the rough equivalent of dry bread for dinner. You know it’s probably good for you but you’d rather not eat it.

James Pilant

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