Most teachers are familiar with Criterion and its high-end series of DVD and Blu-ray releases of classic and important contemporary films. In 1984, Criterion pioneered the genre of supplements, working at the time with laserdiscs. The team are 100% cinephiles, and they continue to set the standard for a rich array of bonus materials, all the making-of films, interviews, and documents that are of such interest to fans, scholars, students, and aspiring filmmakers. Now, with Criterion’s kind cooperation, we have produced a series of online examples tied to Film Art that will use scenes from several of their classics.
I’ll admit that in college I had a chip on my shoulder about the film text books by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. This had little to do with the books themselves and everything to do with my being a cocky teenager unconvinced that book-smarts were in any way a vital part of my film education. Watching and doing would be enough for me.
Of course, I’ve grown up since then and have since come to find their texts indispensable. One thing that has surprised me (and I’m guessing a few others) since school is how well the duo has adapted to blogging with their prolific site, “Observations on film art.” Without giving up their scholarship, which traditionally is reserved for prestigious (and paid) publications, they have found a way to stay on the cutting edge of modern cinema studies. David’s “Pandora’s digital box” series, for example, is perhaps the best writing available anywhere on the international transition from film to digital, simultaneously an act of journalism and a critical rumination on what cinema history will remember as a vital moment.
So I was pleased this morning when I read that Bordwell and Thompson (as collegians affectionately refer to their tomes) have updated their textbook, Film Art, to include content from the Criterion Collection. This is a milestone for film education and one that will be an incredible boon for students and teachers alike. I wrote a bit about modernizing textbooks back when iBooks Author was announced. While Film Art doesn’t go quite as far as I had envisioned in terms of integrating film clips and exercises into an ebook, it essentially provides the easy access to specific film illustrations that I wished I could have had in school. Here is a sample video, titled “Elliptical Editing in Vagabond”:
When I was in school, one of my professors relied on an ages-old VHS tape with clips roughly edited in the order of his lecture notes. Static would roll by between clips, that is if the VCR would even track well enough to make the thing watchable. Of course, I still was capable of learning the basics of film language, but better availability of high quality clips would have been preferable. Bordwell and Thompson and the Criterion Collection have done a great thing here.
One last thing. I think my favorite part of Kristin’s announcement of the new edition of Film Art is this part:
Central as the Criterion extracts are, we’ve made other changes. We’ve done a top-to-bottom rewrite of the text, trying to make it more conversational, more like our blogging.
A thousand times yes please. Their blogging voices are the ones I wish I could have read in school. Students, rejoice.