Ever wondered what it was like on one of our evening courses? Simran Hans shares her experience
I am a movie-goer. I am the person that flips through the TV guide and circles the movies they haven’t seen, the person who tells you where you’ve seen (insert actor/actress here) before, the person who refers to the seasons by their concurrent film festivals. I can’t resist the siren call of opening weekend, and I will judge you by your DVD collection. Sick and tired of my family and close friends teasing me incessantly about my little obsession and refusing to listen to me monologue my love for The Social Network, I decided that this year, I was going to meet people who cared about cinema. When Cornerhouse tweeted about openings for their bi-yearly Introduction to Film Studies course, I jumped at the chance to meet fellow film-lovers and to become a smug student of cinema.
Armed only with a passionate interest in film, and my GCSE in Media Studies, I took a seat in the informal, charming Annexe, ready to be humiliated by a class of nearly 50 film experts. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Introduction to Film Studies is a pleasantly mixed bunch of ages, genders and nationalities, beginners and buffs, led by the exuberant Andrew Moor, of Manchester Metropolitan University.
In weeks one and two we covered basic terminology, equipping ourselves with the language to talk about cinematography, lighting, camera angles and the rationale behind the ubiquitous use of the ‘long-shot’ in opening sequences. We also discussed the anatomy of a shot, and the power of the mise-en-scène. The class is carried out in the style of an informal lecture, peppered with lots of references to Orson Welles and plenty of opportunities to volunteer our queries, opinions and knowledge of obscure film trivia.
Following weeks one and two was a screening of the 1952 classic, Singin’ in the Rain. Seeing this Technicolor masterpiece on the big screen was a delightful way to spend a gloomy Tuesday evening and a definite highlight of the course so far. Week four took a refreshingly academic focus, examining the history of the musical and the concept of utopia within cinema. We also grappled with some fancy sound-related terms, concentrating on the relationship between sound and genre.
The last four weeks have been a relaxed, useful foray into film studies, easing us into engaging with popular films from a more critical perspective. The gentle pace of these classes has proved to be a pleasant surprise; I have been able to enjoy the benefits of learning something new, without the pressure of essay deadlines and compulsory further reading! The mixed cohort of ‘students’ too surprised me, making for a lively but balanced spread of ideas and tastes. Over the next four weeks, I look forward to learning more about the world of cinema and whether or not Goodfellas is the greatest gangster movie of all time…
So, Goodfellas. I know you’ve been waiting with baited breath to discover my verdict; is Scorsese’s revered classic really the greatest gangster movie of all time? The answer is, unequivocally, YES! My experience of the genre is pretty much limited to The Untouchables, which also stars Robert DeNiro and Nicolas Winding Refn’s slick offering from earlier this year, Drive, but week five’s screening proved that Goodfellas is more than a mere genre piece. Cinematically sumptuous, thematically provocative and often downright hilarious, Scorsese’s depiction of the Italian-American experience in post-war New York is perhaps one of the greatest movies of all-time. And it looks amazing on the big screen. Joe Pesci is particularly magnetic on-screen as Tommy DeVito and I feel, deserves a separate mention for the famous ‘Funny, how?‘ scene alone.
Whilst I described the first half of the course as a gentle introduction, the following four weeks have been more of a crash course. Week six’s class allowed us to examine (read: gush about) Goodfellas in-depth, exploring the mythology of the gangster genre and looking at the film in context. We also looked at the importance of editing, the Kuleshov effect (am I a fully-fledged cinephile yet?) and the montage, complete with ensuing Team America clip.
Other themes covered in weeks seven and eight were the narrative style, chronology, the difference between plot and story (a noteworthy subtlety) and performance. In a seminar-style discussion, we tried, with limited success, to discern what constitutes a ‘good’ performance. The experience was much like sitting around a campfire sharing childhood memories, except of course, the film enthusiasts that we all are, the memories shared were of performances that had left a lasting impression on us. My pick happened to be the same as course leader Andrew’s; Daniel Day Lewis’s searing performance as oil tycoon Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, though many different opinions on the matter were offered.
Over the past eight weeks, my knowledge of cinema and my confidence with the language of film has increased exponentially. I’ve also enjoyed dropping these newly-learned terms and their uses into everyday conversations with friends. Ryan Gosling gave such an integrated performance in The Ides of March! Oh, but editing is important, didn’t you know that Kirk Baxter and Angus Waller won an Oscar for their work on The Social Network? However, what I really loved about the course was the exposure to a must-watch list that differs from blockbuster-laden IMDB Top 250. Watching Luis Buñel and Salvador Dali’s bizarre, compelling surrealist short Un Chien Andalou was my personal highlight; how often do you get to watch weird and wonderful 1920’s avant–garde cinema? Previously being a student of cinema from within the confines of my own bedroom, this eight-week introductory course has both reconfirmed my unyielding obsession with all things film-related and assured me that I am not alone in my plight. If you’ve ever had even the slightest inclination to learn, listen and discuss movies with an eclectic bunch of like-minded individuals, sign up for this course. You might even get to watch Goodfellas.