For the Love of Cinema: Teaching Our Passion In and Outside the Classroom

For the Love of Cinema: Teaching Our Passion In and Outside the Classroom


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For the Love of Cinema: Teaching Our Passion In and Outside the Classroom by Rashna Wadia Richards

What role does love—of cinema, of cinema studies, of teaching and learning—play in teaching film? For the Love of Cinema brings together a wide range of film scholars to explore the relationship between cinephilia and pedagogy. All of them ask whether cine-love can inform the serious study of cinema. Chapter by chapter, writers approach this question from various perspectives: some draw on aspects of students' love of cinema as a starting point for rethinking familiar films or generating new kinds of analyses about the medium itself; others reflect on how their own cinephilia informs the way they teach cinema; and still others offer new ways of writing (both verbally and audiovisually) with a love of cinema in the age of new media. Together, they form a collection that is as much a guide for teaching cinephilia as it is an energetic dialogue about the ways that cinephilia and pedagogy enliven and rejuvenate one another.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253029959
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/13/2017
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 613,350
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Rashna Wadia Richards is Associate Professor and T. K. Young Chair of English at Rhodes College. She is the author of Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood (IUP).

David T. Johnson is Associate Professor of English at Salisbury University. He is the author of Richard Linklater and past co-editor of the journal Literature/Film Quarterly.

Read an Excerpt


Cinephilia as a Method

Robert B. Ray

Two Examples

Here is cinephilia in action: Truffaut is writing about Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman (1956), a surprisingly dull film, which even the usually generous Leonard Maltin can give only 2% stars. Having acknowledged the script's banality, Truffaut nevertheless finds a moment to admire: "Brigitte Bardot lifting in her arms a little girl who wants to grab a newspaper placed out of her reach." On a previous occasion, when confronted by Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1956), Truffaut had moved from noting the "imperfections and the amateurish side of the undertaking" to something else: "Script, mise-en-scene, intentions, all this remains vague, but what is filmed, Pigalle at daybreak, rings truer than usual, and more poetic, too." Understanding cinephilia depends on recognizing what these examples have in common with Man Ray's proposition: "The worst films I've ever seen, the ones that send me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen marvelous minutes. The best films I've ever seen only contain ten or fifteen valid minutes." The Truffaut examples and the Ray dictum also help make sense of Pauline Kael's initially enigmatic observation that Rossellini was "a great filmmaker who never made a great film." Or, in other words, Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) contains long stretches of melodramatic claptrap, but if you have ever seen Pina's shooting on the cobbled streets outside her apartment building, on an overcast day the color of the Germans' uniforms, you will never forget it. Speaking for cinephiles everywhere, Truffaut said that he liked films that "pulse," but they don't have to pulse all the time.

The Problem

Two years ago, I found myself teaching a graduate seminar on "The Untaught Canon," well-known movies that, for one reason or another (and the reasons can prove interesting), rarely get taught: for example, Bombshell (Victor Fleming, 1933), Libeled Lady (Jack Conway, 1936), Three Comrades (Frank Borzage, 1938), The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940), Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939), Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940), Since You Went Away (John Cromwell, 1944), and The Small Back Room (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949). Each week, the students wrote two-page essays involving close stylistic analyses of particular scenes or moments. After a week devoted in part to Howard Hawks's Air Force (1943), one particularly conscientious student declared defeat. "I can't write about a movie like this," he complained; "the director's not doing anything." When I responded that Hawks's employers, the Hollywood moguls who both paid him well and granted him extraordinary autonomy, apparently thought that he was doing something, the student replied, "Maybe, but I can't see it. It's nothing but standard Hollywood." When he taught himself, he explained, he only used films like L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962) and Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961).

This exchange is instructive. It confirms Stanley Cavell's observation that "the everyday ... appears to us as lost to us ... and grasping a day, accepting the everyday, the ordinary, is not a given but a task." Cavell derived this insight from Wittgenstein's famous definition of that task:

The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose. ... The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one's eyes.)

We can define the work of the cinephile as calling our attention to what Cavell calls the "missable," the ordinary, uneventful moments in the movies that we commonly neglect, the kind Howard Hawks had a special talent for capturing. These events, as my student's response to them indicates, are, in Cavell's words, not only "perceptually missable" but also "intellectually dismissable." For Cavell, however, to pass over the everyday events of life "came to strike me, intermittently, not exactly as revealing my life to be unexamined, but as missed by me, lost on me." His discussion of Henry James's "The Beast in the Jungle" and Max Ophuls's Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) shows that, in Andrew Klevan's words, "experience lost or missed can be a matter of life and death."

Sometimes, missing things can prove literally fatal. In a remarkable essay, "Wonder and the Clinical Encounter," H. M. Evans proposes that the greatest enemy of medical practice is routine, the numbing regularity of familiar illnesses and symptoms that can lull doctors into missing what lies hidden by the ordinary. "The unremarkable patient becomes routine. The routine patient becomes uninteresting. How does one respond fully and attentively to an uninteresting patient ... ?" The routine of ordinary cases, Evans explains, "impedes our full respectful attention" to the case at hand. "The challenge," Evans summarizes, lies in "maintaining respectful attentiveness." "An attitude of intense attention and an active, responsive imagination can transfigure the ordinary."

Easier said than done. The graduate student struck dumb by Air Force's apparently routine Hollywood style resembles the medical practitioner dulled by seeing too many cases of the flu. In both situations, experience has become a handicap, as "pattern recognition" (whether of the flu or Classic Hollywood) discourages our "remaining free to see beyond the expected classification and discern a fractionally yet crucially different 'case.'" If you can only detect film style in L'Eclisse, you resemble a doctor who can only recognize an illness when its symptoms have reached the critical stage.

In medicine, Evans reminds us, "The stakes can be very high." They can also be high elsewhere, Cavell insists. Citing Emerson and Thoreau, Cavell calls for "consulting one's experience and ... subjecting it to examination":

momentarily stopping, turning yourself away from whatever your preoccupation and turning your experience away from its expected, habitual track, to find itself, its own track: coming to attention. The moral of this practice is to educate your experience sufficiently so that it is worthy of trust ... without this trust in one's experience, expressed as a willingness to find words for it, without thus taking an interest in it, one is without authority in one's own experience. ... I think of this authority as the right to take an interest in your own experience. I suppose that the primary good of a teacher is to prompt his or her students to find their way to that authority; without it, rote is fate.

The experience that most concerns Cavell involves the ordinary, the everyday. To that end, he regularly returns to a passage from Emerson's "The American Scholar," in which he finds an "affinity for film":

I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is Greek art, or Provencal Minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body.

Like Emerson, cinephilia has often preferred "the common" to "the remote," Hawks to Antonioni, Boetticher to Bergman. It has understood that "the great, the remote" need no advocates. Instead, cinephilia has called attention to "the form and the gait of the body" of Randolph Scott, walking down a dusty street in Decision at Sundown (Budd Boetticher, 1957), or the food on the officers' table in They Were Expendable (John Ford, 1945). We don't need cinephilia to point out Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939); we need it for the moment in Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (W. S. Van Dyke, 1939) when a schoolteacher returns to her darkened classroom, moving in silhouette through a latticed network of shadows and light, made by the half-open venetian blinds behind her desk (Figure 1.1).

How can a doctor regularly summon Evans's "attitude of intense attention"? How do we take up Cavell's task of "accepting the everyday, the ordinary"? How does a film scholar "learn" cinephilia? These are hard questions. The answer to them lies in method.

The Methods of Wonder

Evans proposes that only by retaining a feeling for the wonder of medical practice, the awesome responsibility of intervening in another person's body, medically or surgically, can a physician maintain the attentiveness her work requires.

Wonder is a very particular kind of special attentiveness (very much an attitude rather than an emotion) ... an attitude prompted by circumstances that may be entirely ordinary yet, through our active and responsive imagination, yield an object in which the ordinary is transfigured. ... The attitude of wonder is thus one of altered, compellingly intensified attention to something that we immediately acknowledge as somehow important ... that we certainly do not yet understand in its fullest sense ... something whose initial appearance to us engages our imagination before our understanding.

Evans's wonder results in what Wittgenstein called "the dawning of an aspect," the sudden appearance of something previously missed — the duck in the gestalt image that had previously seemed to offer only a rabbit. "I should like to say," Wittgenstein commented, "that what dawns here lasts only as long as I am occupied with the object in a particular way. ... Ask yourself 'For how long am I struck by a thing?' — 'For how long do I find it new?'"

Wittgenstein suggests that one can be prompted to notice a previously undetected aspect ("Don't you see the duck?"): "Seeing an aspect and imagining," he writes, "are subject to the will." But how can we summon the attitude of wonder? For Evans, the enemies of that attitude are routine and its institutionalization, especially the protocols of insurance companies and health-care organizations. Is it enough simply to call for a renewal of wonder in clinical practice?

Evans's concern, the institutionalization of routine, affects all established disciplines, especially academic ones. Since at least 1975, the escalating publishing requirements for teaching jobs have turned cinema studies into a duplicating machine reproducing nearly identical books and articles, examples of what Roland Barthes, forty-five years ago, called a new "mythological doxa ... stock of phrases, catechistic declaration." Back in 1988, Meaghan Morris had made the same scathing diagnosis:

Sometimes, reading magazines like New Socialist or Marxism Today from the last couple of years, flipping through Cultural Studies, or scanning the pop-theory pile in the bookshop, I get the feeling that somewhere in some English publisher's vault there is a master-disc from which thousands of versions of the same article about pleasure, resistance, and the politics of consumption are being run off under different names with minor variations.

Fast-forward to the present, and you get this actual description of a lecture in a university film series:

In this talk, Prof. ____ will explore how Hong Kong filmmaker Stanley Kwan's Lan Yu ameliorates the traumatic cinematic topos of Beijing via queer "structures of feeling." The affective topography of this film is queer not so much because it features such an ordinary gay love story (as Kwan describes it). Rather, its synthesis of Beijing and Hong Kong aesthetics creates a sense of queer normativity. The traumatized national subject embraces the abject colonial subject; emotions long frozen within the palimpsest of a Beijing ethos, or commodified within the temporal spatiality of a Hong Kong topos, are expressed in real time in the presence of loving others. As a "parable of renewed Enlightenment," Lan Yu disrupts postcolonial narratives of neoliberalism by queering urban affectivities conditioned by the imperial and the colonized.

Traumatic cinematic topos, queer structures of feeling, affective topography, normativity, traumatized national subject, abject colonial subject, the palimpsest of a Beijing ethos, commodified, temporal spatiality, disrupts, postcolonial, neoliberalism, urban affectivities, the imperial and the colonized — the paragraph might have been written by a machine, using an algorithm derived from routine contemporary cinema studies. Instead, of course, its author is a professor, pressed for publications and in a hurry to produce them. Cavell has spotted the problem: "my impatient expressions do not allow me to know what is on my mind ... a standard formula is ready to take over thinking for us, [so] that what is of distinct importance to us is masked by us."

For twenty years, I have been looking for ways out of this cul-de-sac. In The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy, I found inspiration in Surrealism's insistence on reopening the question of method, presumed settled by the Cartesian tradition. "We have proscribed every way of seeking the truth which does not conform to convention," André Breton announced.

But it is important to note that there is no fixed method a priori for the execution of this enterprise, that until the new order it can be considered the province of poets as well as scholars, and that its success does not depend on the more or less capricious routes which will be followed.

Taking up this challenge, I experimented with ways of studying ordinary movies, MGM's Andy Hardy films. These experiments involved the Surrealist devices of games, fragmentation, and collaboration. Most productive for me was an abecedarian assignment I gave to my students:

Working with one of the course films, produce a text of 26 entries, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each entry must start with a detail from the movie you have chosen. The best entries will use details that you find especially intriguing or enigmatic to do the following:

— first, generate knowledge about the movie at hand.

— second, speculate about classic Hollywood filmmaking.

— third, reflect on the cinema in general.

Avoid initiating entires with ideas imposed on the film (e.g., "intolerance," "the male gaze"). They will inhibit your own discoveries.

By prohibiting ready-made critical templates, this assignment forced students (and me) to practice what Cavell designates as "philosophical criticism," which begins with "the question ... why one is stopped" by a detail and becomes "a matter of stopping and turning and going back over." This brand of philosophy, as Cavell defines it, turns on "responsiveness" and "not speaking first." Rather than ransacking a movie for its confirmation of a pre-existing idea (postcolonialism, generic transgression, globalization, etc.), "we must let the films themselves teach us how to look at them and how to think about them."

Having found a similar idea in the French Impressionists' notion of photogénie (which I took up in How a Film Theory Got Lost), I pursued this method in The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, again using it to study the type of movie my graduate student found unexceptional: Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932), The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940), The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), and Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944). And then, almost simultaneously, I read three texts that made me "stop" and "go back over" what I had been doing: (1) Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, (2) "'What Becomes of Thinking on Film?': Stanley Cavell in Conversation with Andrew Klevan," and (3) Thoreau's Walden. What (besides Cavell's involvement in all three) did these things have in common? Why did they make me examine my own working methods? What do they offer as solutions to cinema studies' impasse?

We can start to answer these questions by noting that Thoreau, Wittgenstein, and Cavell all invoke some version of Evans's wonder. For Thoreau, the task was to awaken himself to "a miracle which is taking place every instant," the everyday details of the pond's freezing, of Concord's bells sounding in the breeze. In "A Lecture on Ethics," Wittgenstein described his own intermittent sense of "absolute or ethical value" as an experience "that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world." Cavell has followed a similar path, acknowledging that his first book on film, The World Viewed, had begun with "a certain obscurity of prompting," intuitions about the movies that, as Emerson insisted, require tuitions. In "A Capra Moment," one of his best essays, Cavell devoted eight pages to a single moment from It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934): Gable and Colbert, with their backs to the camera, walking down an empty highway, en route to the hitchhiking scene. Cavell began with only a hunch: "I knew afresh each time I viewed the film that this moment played something like an epitomizing role in the film's effect upon me, but I remained unable to find words for it sufficient to include in my critical account of the effect." The essay resulted from his having found the words. "I then wrote a brief essay," Cavell told Andrew Klevan, "about simply that shot, simply that shot, which seemed to me to raise every issue in the whole film."


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Love and Teaching, Love and Film / Rashna Wadia Richards and David T. Johnson

Part 1: Theorizing Cinephilia and Pedagogy
1. Cinephilia as a Method / Robert B. Ray
2. Passionate Attachments / Amelie Hastie
3. Cinephilia and Cineliteracy in the Classroom / Thomas Leitch
4. Nearing the Heart of a Film: Toward a Cinephilic Pedagogy / Tracy Cox-Stanton
5. Movies in the Middle: Cinephilia as Lines of Becoming / Kalling Heck
6. Audiovisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema / Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Part 2: Practicing Cinephilia and Pedagogy
7. Teaching Film Nonfictionally: The Reciprocity of Pedagogy, Cinephilia, and Maternity / Kristi McKim
8. Loving Performance: Cinephilia, Teaching, and the Stars / Steven Rybin
9. Go to the Movies!: Cinephilia, Exhibition, and the Cinema Studies Classroom / Allison Whitney
10. Cinephilia and Paratexts: DVD Pedagogy in the Era of Instant Streaming / Lisa Patti
11. Lessons of Birth and Death: The Past, Present, and Future of Cinephilia in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) / Andrew Utterson
12. Cinephilia and Philosophia: Or, Why I Don’t Show The Matrix in Philosophy 101 /
Timothy Yenter

Selected Bibliography

What People are Saying About This

author of Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco and The Female Form - Lucy Fischer

While there have been many recent books on the topic of cinephilia, per se, this is the first one, to my knowledge, to address the subject within a pedagogical framework—examining how a teacher’s own love of cinema may be transferred to students raised in a younger generation with entirely different ways of experiencing moving images.

author of Cinephilia and History, or The Wind in the Trees - Christian Keathley

For the Love of Cinema is an innovative collection that brings important new discussion to academic film scholarship on several fronts. . . . This volume is not just another manual of how to teach film studies (there are plenty of those), but how to bring a certain attitude or demeanor to the practice for the purpose of stimulating student engagement and enrichment. The collection focuses on the act of teaching, both conceptually and practically, which is something that no introductory text on teaching film studies that I know of has adequately addressed.

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