Issue 8 | March/April 2015 (Philadelphia, PA)

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)

New Media Pedagogy

This week I’m heading to the Society for Cinema and Media Conference, held this year in Montreal, and thus I’ve been reflecting on contemporary trends in and technologies for teaching media studies – sure to be a headlining feature of this year’s conference (I’ve already received this notification about a Participatory Pedagogy collaborative event). In thinking about how I myself rely on on-line sources in the classroom, I thought I’d list just a few of those that have proven most valuable to me, with additions undoubtedly to follow.

1.) Senses of Cinema Great Directors database: Irritatingly alphabetized by filmmakers’ first rather than surnames (I notified an editor about this a year ago, was informed it was a glitch and in the process of being corrected – I’m still waiting), and idiosyncratically curated by contributors and thus by no means comprehensive (still no entry on Atom Egoyan!). Yet those entries that are included are cogent, insightful profiles with useful supplemental bibliographies and filmographies, and function particularly well as undergraduate readings by providing theory- and jargon-light primers on notable auteurs.

2.) Videographic criticism (aka video essays): We write about audiovisual media so it’s only natural to include video within our scholarship, and even to turn our scholarship into videos! Fair use deniers be damned. Video essays vary widely in quality, but some of my recent favorites include Tony Zhou’s riveting essay on the quadrant system using Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), and Kevin B. Lee’s beguiling look at “Rohmer’s Guessing Gazes” using the recently (re)released A Summer’s Tale (1996). See also the Indiewire-sponsored site Press Play, which has a Video Essay Archive. I’m hoping to be able to hone my skills in this burgeoning critical form by attending this workshop at Middlebury next summer.

3.) Media Commons: This self-billed “digital scholarly network” continues to develop, though I remain partial to its initial feature In Media Res, which brings critic-scholars together to share brief essays on contemporary media texts grouped around weekly themes. I’ve contributed on topics as disparate as the penis as feminist tool, theorizing “queer time” in respect to Orange Is the New Black, the dearly departed HBO series Enlightened, Lena Dunham’s body politics, and a lesbian wrestling website, plus my upcoming post on Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009). The resulting comments and conversations have proven an invaluable sounding board as I develop those topics into fully-formed articles. Not to mention how scintillating I’ve found others’ posts to be as well; just a few of my favorites include Kelli Marshall’s post on Louie’s God episode, Bridget Kies’ post on The Golden Girls and marriage equality, and the recent roundtable on the Sony hack.

My most significant implementation of new media pedagogy has been designing a trio of media-making assignments that I have included on a few syllabi to date. The first option students have to choose from is an audio commentary, which they write and record over a sequence of their choosing from a list of films supplementary to our course screenings. A particularly successful model by a former student, on the final sequence from Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, can be viewed here (I’ve kept this student’s identity anonymous because my attempt to locate her was unsuccessful). The second option is a video montage, edited together from clips taken from our class screenings and/or supplementary viewing options, exploring a particular motif, theme, or style. As another model, I’m happy to share this also memorable meditation by my former Wellesley student Emmanuelle Charlier on the theme of sexual fluidity in the films of Lisa Cholodenko. The third option is a video mash-up, in which one or two films are re-edited to produce a re-envisioning of the original work(s). Though it’s not by one of my former students, the viral sensation that played a sizable part in starting the mash-up craze, Brokeback to the Future, still stands as an exceptional example.

The advantages of these projects are fairly self-evident: they give students an alternative to writing academic-style critical analysis papers, they’re representative of the burgeoning new types of film and media scholarship and criticism, and they’re a joy for me to view (and grade). The sole disadvantage that I’ve encountered is that, as with any undertaking requiring technological tinkering (however basic), resources are needed and technology instruction is vital. Ideally the library has DVDs on hand of any films the students can choose to work on, since streamed versions aren’t able to be edited (though students do seem to have their own, no doubt illicit, sources for acquiring downloadable movie files of the less obscure films they have to choose from). Also ideal is a small enough class size that can accommodate the inevitable one-on-one troubleshooting, and that permits me to schedule individual presentations: a work-shopping of “dailies” and/or a screening of final work.

The first step of the project-making process, ripping clips from DVDs, can be done using free open-source software as explained by Professor Jason Mittell in his recent blog post for The Chronicle of Higher Education. The next step, the editing process, requires a bit more preparation and finesse. I was first able to put these projects into effect during my time teaching at Wellesley, and it was in no small part due to the wise, generous consultation that Instructional Technologist extraordinaire Rebecca Darling extended me and my students. It’s been a more uphill venture at my current institution, where the media support staff is less available for instruction and consultation on student projects. There’s the added issue of rapidly evolving options for non-linear editing software; my Wellesley student projects were created using iMovie, which is blessedly simple if basic, but in today’s face-off between Final Cut Pro and Premiere it’s more challenging to get everyone (including myself) up to speed and on the same page. In my present circumstances, because I don’t feel confident enough that students will receive the necessary instruction/support and because I can’t assume they already possess the necessary technical skills, I feel it’s only fair to provide a non-media-making option for this assignment.

In the interest of being a participatory pedagogue, I’m attaching my prompt in full here. And I invite anyone who would be interested in sharing his/her own go-to websites, on-line teaching tools, and inspired media assignments to contact me; perhaps another “Spotlight” feature on Digital Pedagogies is in order.

Speaking of collaborating with and being inspired by colleagues, my UCLA classmate and friend Maya Montañez Smukler, with whom I’ve enjoyed endlessly stimulating film/TV talk since our first chat, back in 2004, about 70s Hollywood, has created this fascinating tribute to the movie-going mecca both past and present that is Berkeley, CA. I thank Maya for this generous contribution to the Itinerant Cinephile, and I thank Maya’s parents for all the (especially R-rated) films they took her to see, or dropped her off for, while she was growing up in Berkeley.

Exhibition Spotlight: Berkeley, California

With just over two months to go before my European film research extravaganza, I will be focusing in the upcoming weeks on locating the not-to-be-missed cinemas (and hopefully making initial contact with those that run them) and navigating the ticket-buying process for the five film festivals I’m planning to attend (see Issue 7’s discussion of that rather traumatizing experience at Sundance). But first things first: editing down to 20 minutes and delivering my paper on the politics of representing gay male sex and nudity in HBO’s Looking. My panel at last year’s SCMS, on the theme of time in the films of Richard Linklater, generated a special dossier just published in the new issue of Film Quarterly, so I hope this year’s conference experience will be equally stimulating and productive.

Coming attractions: Curating Spotlight: New Greek Cinema; Exhibition Spotlight: Santa Fe, NM; one-month countdown to Cineuropean expedition.