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First my credentials. I have been teaching a variety of film-related courses for close to eight years, and I have been lecturing on film to lonely crowds for close to fifteen. My classes have ranged in size from a seminar six to a semaphore six hundred in such institutions as The School of Visual Arts (1965-67), New York University (1967-69), Columbia University (1969-72), and Yale University (1970-72). I have spoken with films and without them, before films and after them and even during them (the last a practice guaranteed to foster lingering resentments). In the course of my academic career I have received many inquiries from other educators about my method and my message, and I have never known exactly how to respond. I happen to depend too much on improvisation, Socratic stimulation, and contemporaneous involvement ever to freeze my curriculum into the mold of preconception. Hence, this brief rumination is not intended so much to supply permanent answers as to define some of the problems that arise in the teaching of film history.
One of the problems that does not concern me is the feeling shared by many nonfilm academics and many non-academic filmites that film should not be taught at all. Since film courses are here to stay, some one or other will have to teach them. If not I, then thou, and who is to say that thou is any more qualified than I, or I than thou? Not I certainly.
Having disposed of the ontological problems of teaching film history, let us now proceed to the pedagogical options available in a relatively uncharted field. Among these options are purely chronological (Edison, Lumiere, Melies, Porter, Griffith and all that), the technological (Kinetoscope, Panoptikon, Vitascope, Vistavision, Cinematogranpe. CinemaScone. Cinerama. wide-angle lens. deep focus. jump cut, fade, dissolve, iris, wipe, traveling shot, parallel editing, tilt, pan, zoom and all that), the stylistic (montage versus mise en scene, documentary versus fantasy, medium versus art form, movie versus film, objectivity versus subjectivity, realism versus expressionism, analysis versus acceptance and all that), the thematic …