Movies: Why, When, Who and What

When I was in college, part of the requirements for my BS was that I appear to have an area of concentration unrelated to my degree program. My favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey (it still is), and in my second semester a course was offered called "The Films of Stanley Kubrick." It seemed a shoo-in for me. It was no "gut" course, one that someone could pass by just going on gut feelings, but a serious film analysis course. And Kubrick films are deep.

The course was taught by Mark Crispin Miller, a serious film critic and analyst. If you know his work, kudos to you. If not, go find a book called Boxed In, on the artistic and cultural impact of television and especially advertising. You'll never watch television the same way again. Miller also taught (and presumably still teaches) a course on advertising rhetoric, so people could see, in a historical progression, just how advertising has subverted and consumed modern media. He's now the chairman of the Writing Seminars department at Johns Hopkins University. Other books of his include Mad Scientists, a study of U.S. propaganda, forthcoming from Norton in 1997, as well as Seeing Through Movies and Spectacle: Operation Desert Storm and the Triumph of Illusion. See his article in The Nation about the money trail in the media super-conglomerates for a taste of his opinions.

Anyway, for the Kubrick class, in addition to taking the class, I was one of two projectionists. This meant I got to see the films twice as much as the people merely taking the course. Miller firmly believed that a serious movie should be watched at least twice. Once just to see the movie, and once again to start reading it in detail. Thus, one shouldn't try to analyze a film on the first viewing, because not only will you have missed much subtle content, but you'll have missed just watching the movie. Your focus would not be the movie itself, but merely about the movie. It's important to remember that whatever film you want to analyze is first and foremost a movie, and should be appreciated in that context first.

We showed each film four times to accommodate as much of the class seeing it twice as we could. The other projectionist and I split the time equally. Even though I was a little distracted by reel-changes, seeing each film that many times meant I really got to read into them. And for the mid-term and final movies, we showed them twice as much. That's a lot of The Shining. I credit The Shining with finally, really enabling me to read film. It finally dawned on me how everything came together.

It turns out that Mark Miller is also a really engaging, bright and pleasant man. He knows his stuff, and isn't susceptible to fluff and snow, so a lot of people who only had fluff and snow found him difficult to approach. But I was lucky, since I always met him with his two graduate students who were TA'ing (TA means Teaching Assistant) the course, and I learned quickly to just shut up and listen to the three of them. I learned a lot.

And I came back and took his course the next year, "Visions of America," a course looking at the portrayals of American culture within films throughout this century, including such things as Rebel without a Cause and Nashville. And later, I projected for his "Films of Alfred Hitchcock" class, which I wish I had taken, but I had too much degree-work to do that semester. Sometime around then, the requirement for a non-degree concentration evaporated when I changed majors to Computer Science, but the damage had already been done. I could never just watch a movie again.

So that's why movies are important enough to me to collect. I haven't taken the big plunge into videodisks yet, but I will, most likely when my oldest tapes start to decay. Below is my list of videotapes, organized by director when I can remember them. The tapes aren't nearby right now, so I can't go look. I've taken the liberty, also, of including links to the Internet Movie Database where available.

And I also have some, but not all, of the episodes of the British surreal spy series The Prisoner on tape. Finally, anyone who collects things invariably has a list of more that they want. This isn't a place for you to tell me you have some to sell me, just a place for me to remember what I'm looking for.
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