Tagged: Pratt Institute

Remembering Agnès Varda, Considering Kenneth Anger

Show a film in the basement of a century-old library and the filmmaker dies.

This might resemble the premise of a horror movie, but it’s something that actually happened last Thursday after I screened Agnès Varda’s 1962 film, Cléo from 5 to 7 in class last week. The doyenne of the French New Wave passed away last Friday at the age of 90.

My History of Film class at Pratt Institute meets in the basement of the Pratt Brooklyn library. The library was built in 1896 and is a pretty exquisite building. It is one of the oldest buildings at the Clinton Hill campus, and it features Tiffany stained glass throughout the building. Another ornate feature is that the book spine labels in the stacks are handwritten in a pretty distinct yet clearly standard style.

The day after I screened Varda’s best known film I heard on KPCC’s The Frame radio program that Varda had passed away in Paris.

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Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 is an existentialist exploration in life and death.

When our class met this past Thursday, a student remarked that he had heard that Varda had died, and it struck him that he was familiar with her work due to our screening Cléo in class days earlier. The timing was eery for him and for me.

This past week’s class involved a survey of eight American experimental films, and sensitive to the timing of Varda’s death, I noticed that of the eight films, the filmmakers of seven had already died. These are the films and the filmmakers:

Manhatta1921Charles Sheeler
Paul Strand
Rose Hobart1936Joseph Cornell19031972
Meshes of the Afternoon1943Maya Deren19171961
A Movie1959Bruce Conner19332008
Wonder Ring1959Stan Brakhage19332003
Bridges Go Round1958Shirley Clarke19191997
T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G1968Paul Sharits19431993
Scorpio Rising1964Kenneth Anger1927

As you can see in this list, of the films I screened on Thursday, only Scorpio Rising‘s filmmaker Kenneth Anger remains alive today.

Symbols of death recur in Anger’s best known film, Scorpio Rising.

Being a superstitious fellow, I worried that we would somehow curse Kenneth Anger. He is far from a young man, aged 92 years old and as old as Scorpio Rising is, he actually completed his first film in 1947.

So far, forty-eight hours after our class, Anger appears to be alive, and I wish him many more years.

Pardon My Dusty Experimental Film Course

From L’Age d’Or (Luis Buñuel, 1930).

Over the last year or so, a few people have told me that they stumbled upon the syllabus for my Experimental Film at Pratt Institute and have adapted it as the basis for their own similar courses. I imagine that for each person who has gotten in touch, there must be some order-of-magnitude more that have used the syllabus but didn’t alert me to that fact. Let me be clear: I don’t mind anyone using my syllabus. This is why it’s available on the open web, and not hidden behind some walled-off LMS.

However, I would like to know how others have used this syllabus so that I can improve my own course. As I’ve noted before, the syllabus for this course draws heavily on an undergraduate course I myself took in the 1990s, taught by Constance Penley at UCSB. I made a few adjustments in designing my own course. For example, I added more New York-centric films to reflect the fact that I teach these courses in New York City. Another change is dealing more directly with the early days of video art. This in turn was to reflect what I learned in a graduate course on video art at NYU, taught by Chris Straayer. Ending the class with video art allowed me to wrap up one major narrative thread about my approach to studying experimental film: video in the 1970s was like film in the 1920s, generating great enthusiasm among artists to create new visual works that were previously impossible with other forms of art.

As much as I like the narrow focus of the course, especially in its one-semester, weekly format, I feel there are many improvements that I can make, and I’d like to know how others have approached teaching this material. First, I know there is a ton of great work that has emerged since the 1970s—nearly fifty years ago at this point—that should factor in to a survey course like this one. Second, there are a lot of titles in my current syllabus that are similar to each other. I would welcome some diversity to this course. Third, how should I incorporate experimental “film” that is born digital? This question has nagged at me for decades now, but honestly, there’s so much work out there—of varying quality and subjects—that the mere thought of figuring out how to summarize even some of it seems overwhelming. For example, does Fortnite count as a born-digital experimental work? (It doesn’t, but these are the kinds of questions that haunt me in revising this course.)

In the spirit of academic collegiality and cooperation, I request anyone who has used my Experimental Film syllabus to please contact me and share your syllabus with me. You reach me via email or via the contact form on this website.

My Fall 2018 Classes at Queens College and Pratt Institute

The weather in New York right now is very hot— the temperature has reached the mid-90°s on Tuesday and will continue through Thursday. And although it seems like I should be packing for the beach, the fall semester is upon us. This semester, I am teaching two classes: one at Queens College and one at Pratt Institute.

Contemporary Media

This class acts like a sequel for Media Technologies, where we survey various media forms. However, this class sets aside the mechanics and the history and instead focuses on the how contemporary media industries function. One theme that I hope to address throughout the term and across all the modules is digitalization and how that changes what we mean by “media.” It’s not like the record industry sells records, that people read newspapers on newsprint, and that television programs are necessarily watched on televisions.

I’m teaching this class on two separate days: Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/contemporarymedia

There are two textbooks for this course:

  1. Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2016.
  2. McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: New Press, 2013.

Documentary Film

This is the first time I’ve taught this class. When I was a cinema studies graduate student at NYU, I always wanted to teach a documentary film survey. Most of the classes that graduate students did were very narrowly focused—often closely related to his/her dissertation. I felt that this was a disservice to both undergraduates taking these class and the graduate students teaching them. It was unfair to undergraduates because they didn’t get a good foundation in cinema studies. And it was bad for us budding teachers because we didn’t get to develop classes that might be useful to teach after we graduated, especially if we didn’t get hired by a big film program.

Like a decade-and-a-half later, I finally get to do a survey of documentary film. However, as I’ve been working on this class, I can see why it’s tempting to avoid surveys. There is so much material to exclude. I literally have to prune my list of ninety-plus films to about twenty. I would feel a lot less guilty teaching a class like “Binging Truth: Documentary Films in the Netflix Age,” “Beyond the Interrotron: The Films of Errol Morris,” “WPA, FDR, and NYFPL: Interwar American Documentary and the New Deal.”

I remember an NYU professor teaching a whole semester’s seminar on the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Can you imagine how deep you could get with a topic like that? My class however is breadth over depth.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/documentary.

There is one textbook for this course: McLane, Betsy. A New History of Documentary Film, 2nd ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2012.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

Textbooks for 2017 Winter and Spring Courses

Are you enrolled in one of my courses for Winter 2017 or Spring 2017?

Here are the textbooks required for your class. Most of these titles are available in print and as ebooks and are also available for sale or rental. Buy early to ensure your best pricing options.

Please note that the course websites are still not live, but I’m linking to them now for when they are ready.

Contemporary Media

A survey of contemporary media institutions and their economic, social, political and cultural implications.

Media Technologies

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture and electronic media, and the digital revolution

Film History

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

History of Broadcasting

The history of radio and television broadcasting from the 1920s to the present. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course focuses on broadcasting institutions, issues, research trends, and program format analysis.

The above links to Amazon are an affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

A Quick Note on Lighting in Eyes Wide Shut

In Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which I screened earlier today in my Ways of Seeing class at Pratt in support of teaching mise-en-scène, I observed a use of lighting that I didn’t get to cover in class.

In the scene where Bill and Alice are in the bedroom and begin the conversation about the sexual appetites of men and women, the are shown in a single shot, embracing each other.

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The lighting cast on both Bill and Alice in this shot is the same. However, the background has two distinct colors to it:

  1. a warm light cast by an incandescent light in the bedroom, presumably from the lamp on the bedside table, and
  2. a very cold, blue light cast from outside, visible behind Alice, that washes over the bathroom in the background.

At this point in the scene, the two begin their debate which escalates to the point that Alice leaps up from the bed, away from Bill. The two continue their disagreement but now are framed in separate shots, stitched together through editing.

Bill is still on the bed and primarily lit by the warm incandescent light from the lamp. The entire shot glows like that light.

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However, Alice is now opposite Bill, over by the bathroom, and though she is still illuminated by the lighting cast from the bedside lamp, the shot glows in a much colder, blue color.

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The visual differences between warm and cool lighting illustrates the split that Bill and Alice have encountered in their relationship. This split will activate the crisis throughout the rest of the film and will only get resolved when they are both cast in similarly cool light after both sharing traumatic experiences.

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Spring Breaks, Compared

The middle of March is upon us, and all around the New York area, many college students and faculty are preparing for Spring Break. The break is always welcomed because it “breaks” up the extended slog of the spring term, which usually lasts for four full months.

This semester, I’m teaching at two colleges: at Pratt Institute and at CUNY Queens College. For my film history class at Pratt, I was able to schedule the midterm exam today, on March 11, just before spring break starts on March 14. However, I couldn’t do the same for the students in my media technologies class at Queens College. Their midterm exam will take place on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), but their spring break doesn’t take place until April 28. That is a very late spring break, taking place between the twelfth and thirteenth weeks of class.

Here’s a comparison of spring 2016 semesters at four area colleges where I have worked (Pratt, CUNY, and Fordham) or studied (NYU).

Week NYU Pratt CUNY Fordham
Jan 18 Week 1 Week 1
Jan 25 Week 1 Week 2 Week 2
Feb 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 1 Week 3
Feb 8 Week 3 Week 4 Week 2 Week 4
Feb 15 Week 4 Week 5 Week 3 Week 5
Feb 22 Week 5 Week 6 Week 4 Week 6
Feb 29 Week 6 Week 7 Week 5 Midterm Exam
Mar 7 Midterm Exam Midterm Exam Week 6 Week 8
Mar 14 Spring Break Spring Break Midterm Exam Week 9
Mar 21 Week 8 Week 9 Week 8 Spring Break
Mar 28 Week 9 Week 10 Week 9 Easter Break
Apr 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 10 Week 10
Apr 11 Week 11 Week 12 Week 11 Week 11
Apr 18 Week 12 Week 13 Week 12 Week 12
Apr 25 Week 13 Week 14 Spring Break Week 13
May 2 Week 14 Studio Days Week 13 Week 14
May 9 Reading Day Final Exam Week 14 Final Exam
May 16 Final Exam ?
May 23 Final Exam

NYU and Pratt both schedule their spring breaks in the middle of March, just after Week 7 at NYU and Week 8 at Pratt. That’s ideal because you can schedule a Midterm Exam the week before and have it wrap up the first half of the course. Fordham schedules their spring break a week later but, because it’s a Jesuit university, it adds an additional Easter Break. For some reason, Fordham dictates that faculty schedule their Midterm Exams in late February. Whereas courses at NYU and at Pratt are divided into halves, the semester at Fordham is broken up into (unequal) thirds: before the midterm, between the midterm and breaks, and after the breaks.

The CUNY schedule, on the other hand, is a mess. As I’ve complained in the past, CUNY should stop scheduling spring break around the spring Easter/Passover holidays because it’s not conducive to learning. My students will endure twelve consecutive weeks of class before they get a break. Once the break is over and they will have emptied their minds of everything I taught them, they will have only two weeks to recover that knowledge before heading into the final exam. Moreover, the students in my class will also bear an additional burden: our final exam is scheduled for two weeks after our last class, despite Finals Week starting on the week of May 16.

My own undergraduate experience was quite different from that of these students. My university was on the quarter system, and spring break was the week between the winter and spring quarters. Once we finished our winter-quarter, final exams in late-March, we were off until classes started again in early April.

It was a true spring break.

Free Museum Admission for Pratt Institute Community

One of the best yet under-advertised features of being an NYU student–or a member of its faculty and staff—is the free admission to New York City–area museums. Some of the highlights include the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the New York Historical Society.

Last week, Pratt Institute announced that its students, faculty, and staff can enjoy free admission to the following museums:

    • Brooklyn Museum
    • Brooklyn Botanic Garden, plus one guest
    • Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
    • The Frick Collection
    • Guggenheim, up to 3 guests
    • Museum of Arts and Design
    • MoMA, students-only as of January 2019
    • New Museum
    • Whitney Museum of American Art, plus one guest

Admission is also extended to alumni at the following museums:

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Whitney Museum of American Art

As the weather gradually begins to warm, it’s really tempting to visit a few museums before cycling and softball occupy my free time come spring.

Related: See my earlier blog post about NYU’s Museum Gateway.

A Little Secret About Me and Laura Mulvey

Teaching this past semester has been a bit different than it has been recently because I’ve been teaching two non-intro classes: New Media and Media Criticism. Although New Media is technically called “Introduction to New Media,” I’ve always run it like an undergraduate seminar with a lot close readings. The same goes for Media Criticism, where the students and I criticize criticisms of media.

One of the results of doing so many close readings this semester—especially ones that I have not read since being an undergraduate, if at all—is that I’ve become self-reflexive about some academic practices and rituals.

For example:

  • Why does seemingly every essay start with a premise that the author immediately challenges? I prefer the illustrative case study.
  • Why must we literally turn a page before we get to the author’s central method for challenging that premise? My advisor indoctrinated me that a reader should know your topic and approach before turning a page.
  • Why does seemingly every argument take a twist or turn about 60-70% through the text? What’s wrong with sticking what you outlined in the methodology?

One of the stranger practices in academia, especially among film scholars, is to say…

I’m not sure I’ve seen that film all the way through.

Allow me to decode that. That’s academese for…

I haven’t bothered to watch that film, and I’m too ashamed to admit it. Also, I can’t have a conversation with you about it because I must have missed the part of the film you’re describing.

Why not just admit that you haven’t seen it?

It’s a clever trick, and I’m guilty of having used that once or twice. In fact, I kind of did that when, back in November, I announced that filmmaker and scholar Laura Mulvey was coming to Pratt. I said that I had wished I had scheduled her film, Riddles of the Sphinx, for my experimental film class, but didn’t because it was “too long” for our class. Truth be told, I didn’t schedule it because I never bothered to watch it “the whole way through,” which is to say not at all. But, in my defense, no film we screened in class was longer than ninety minutes, and I was not going to speed up this film.

Laura Mulvey Riddles of the Sphinx

To atone for my scholarly and pedagogical sins, I’ll be heading to Pratt on Tuesday, March 10, for the screening of Riddles of the Sphinx, with introduction and Q&A by scholar-in-residence/filmmaker Laura Mulvey. You should go, too.

She will also be giving a public lecture, Gleaning, Détournement and the Compilation Film: Some Thoughts on Un’ora sola ti vorrei (Alina Marazzi, 2002) the following day. Alas, I won’t be able to make the lecture because I teach a class at that time.

Riddles of the Sphinx Screening and Q&A

  • March 10, 2015
  • Pratt Institute, Higgins Hall
  • Info

Laura Mulvey To Visit Pratt in March

Earlier today, the Social Science and Cultural Studies department at Pratt announced that Laura Mulvey, one of the best known film scholars and experimental filmmakers, will be a scholar-in-residence this coming spring semester.

Professor and Chair Gregg Horowitz:

Laura Mulvey has accepted the invitation of the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies to visit Pratt in the spring as our scholar in residence. We are still working out the schedule of lectures and seminars for Professor Mulvey’s residence, but we do know that her visit will fall March 10-12, 2015.

With this news, I wish I had scheduled Riddles of the Sphinx (1977) to this semester’s Experimental Film class screening list. However, it would have been tough to squeeze in such a long film into a class that meets only once a week for less than three hours.

16mm: “A Thing of the Past”

16mm film canister

16mm film canister. From Wikimedia Commons.

This fall, I am teaching Experimental Film at Pratt Institute. It’s one of my favorite classes because many of the films we screened in class were life-changing for me. Last year, when I taught the class, I relied mostly on DVDs to screen the films. To me, that seemed remarkable because a decade ago, many of the filmmakers of the American avant-garde refused to transfer their films to DVD, preferring to rent and sell 16mm prints. However, by the early 2010s, the situation had changed and many of them had embraced the format for reaching a wider audience, although many remain steadfastly opposed to releasing their films on video… so they end up as poor quality transfers on YouTube instead.

The New York film world is going crazy for the John Waters retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which starts today and continues into the following weekend. Although I was a rabid fan of Waters’s earliest work and loved screening VHS copies of his films to confused and disgusted friends in college, I don’t consider his work experimental, per se, though it certainly had many anti-commercial tendencies and influenced scores of filmmakers.

In a recent interview with Gothamist’s Rebecca Fishbein, John Waters discusses showing some of his earliest work at the retrospective, including a 16mm print of Mondo Trasho (1969):

I’m going to show one of my very last prints of Mondo Trasho. They might burn up in the projector, but that would be okay because even if they ever even come out again, they’ll never be made on 16mm prints. That’s a thing of the past.

What struck me is his characterization of 16mm as a “thing of the past.” I understand his point: it’s very difficult to find facilities that process 16mm film anymore and the film stock itself is just as scarce. However, many of my students in the experimental film class complained that we watched too many videos of these films and that we should screen actual films in a film class. Last night, I screened a DVD copy of Entr’acte (1924). It was horrible. One of the students jumped into action, verified that Pratt owned a 16mm copy, and we screened that. It was a much better experience.

However, it’s sad to think of 16mm as a dying form. It’s true that we can still screen it in a university course, but it’s also true that we can still study Latin in college, too.