Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Once upon a time I was an animation student at SVA where, in a film theory class, I was introduced to such filmmakers as Truffaut, Antonioni, Ozu, Bergman, and Eisenstein. I found these foreign films more than challenging. In fact, more often than not, I slept through these films, letting the subtitles lull me to a slumber. Students are a frustrating bunch. On one hand they believe that they are fully formed adults. In reality very, very few students truly take advantage of their school years. One only has to look at the attendance of the average art student. The majority of them miss as many classes as they are allowed to miss without it affecting their grade. Think of the money wasted per each class. What a waste of an education! Most students are simply not ready to absorb their craft and understand how it fits into the world of art and the history of cinema. What a curse that the time in our lives when we have the most potential energy and resources geared towards learning, we choose to squander it.

The saddest students believe their education ends upon receipt of a diploma. As a New Yorker, I’m lucky to have access to foreign, independent and retrospective cinema each and every day. Each film I see fires me full of ideas and inspiration, continuing the education that I was too young to appreciate while at SVA. I live in close proximity to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), where there is a playhouse, an opera house, and a world class cinema showing new run art house films as well as a generous amount of retrospectives. In the last year I’ve caught BAM screenings of film noir gold (Double Indemnity and The Seventh Victim), foreign films (Loves of a Blonde, Breathless, 400 Blows, Pierrot Le Fou, Last Year at Marienbad–pictured above), and even a guilty 1980s-era pleasure (Desperately Seeking Susan).

Outside of Brooklyn, I was recently dazzled by a screening of the silent film masterpiece, Beggars of Life, at the Walter Reade Theatre. I’m currently working my way through Goddard’s 60s at The Film Forum, where I recently bumped into cartoonbrew’s Amid Amidi. Amid spoke of an animator friend that would only go to one Goddard film per week because she found the films too frustrating. I would use the word, “challenging," instead. Anyone who’s visited a non-English speaking country knows that you use more brainpower looking for the bathroom than you do in your homeland on the same task. Similarly, the sheer foreign-ness of these films makes your brain work harder.

A film education shouldn’t start and end with Star Wars. I am no longer that gangly twenty year old who had trouble sitting through film theory class. Today I have trouble sitting through typical multiplex garbage such as Transformers.


BMan said...

Great post. I agree (though I wasn't any type of art major) w/ the wasted time in school. I yearn for days when people were available for teaching me (I guess if I paid, they still would).

And I too do what I can now especially in film.

BTW, I found your blog through another blog but happen to have your book! Great stuff! It was very personal, encouraging and challenging at the same time. Very readable and accessible but still great info. Good stuff and thanks, therefore, for teaching me! How's that for completing a circle on teaching/learning!?

David B. Levy said...

Hey Bman,

Thanks for the kind words! Hopefully there are still mentors lurking about that can teach you things outside of the classroom setting..., but the great part is that the whole world is our classroom. We can experience all we choose to take in. Go for it!

BMan said...

Yeah, they're out there and I'll find one.

And you're so right! The world is full of learning opportunities from great books and blogs to online video tutorials and schooling (animationmentor.com).

The only limiting factor really is time. ;) Thanks!

George said...

now, years out of school, i find myself reading much much more than i ever did in school (typically, listening to lectures substituted for actually reading), and also getting much more out of the reading that i do. the same is true with music, film, and visual art.

i think it's a function of having that much more experience with things, and thus being able to make mental connections that were not available in college, even if i did the reading.

stephen said...

Hmm. I finally watched Masculin Feminin after having it on-loan from netflix for about 2 weeks...

That's netflix guilt for you. Studying film takes the right state of mind. It's tough after a long day of personal and professional work to sit down and watch the 10-minute traffic jam scene from "week end." You've got to consider what you'll get out of it. For some, even me at times, it's not always worth the time you put into it (just to be the bad guy here).

I had this awesome professor who would always tell us, "kids, you're living in a day and age when you can actually view every film ever made. Technology has made that possible." Hearing him say that was always inspiring.

But facing all those films alone is a little daunting. It helps me to have someone else, someone to point out to difference between Renoir and Altman. If it's not obvious what I'm looking for, it's going to take me a lot longer than 2 hours to really watch any film.

Dagan Moriarty said...

Great and insightful stuff as always, Mister Levy :)

You're post reminded me of my college days as well, in the mid-nineties... I had a GREAT (in retrospect!) film class where we were being taught to film live-action in 16mm... The class was a bit more on the technical side; light-meters and traditional film editing...

And i absolutely HATED it at the time, as anything not directly involving animation was a REAL turn-off!... I showed up for the class about 1/2 the time, just so I could pass... what a FOOL i was!

Mannnnnnnnn, i would LOVE that class now! But at 20 years old i had little-to-NO appreciation for film... Just wanted to "make cartoons!"

Now I am absolutely ADDICTED to film... And when I'm not watching movies I'm listening to an interview on 'YouTube' with one of my favorite actors, or reading the biographies of the great directors.

And it all FEEDS animation, which I think is sometimes tough to realize when you're fresh outta HighSchool and rabidly yearning to just "draw cartoons!"

But man, once my eyes were open to Scorsese and Nichols and Lumet and Kurosawa and Coppola... It was ALL over! ;)

Great stuff, Dave!

David B. Levy said...

I find I have better ability to sit through foreign films when I see them in the theatre. That way I'm forced to deal with them and stay focused. And, I'm always glad I did. There's always inspiring aspects of these films to take away and bend to your own devices.

I think we had very similar experiences in school. And, I love that you enjoy Lumet. I just revisited Dog Day Afternoon and was blown away. What is it about 70s cinema that was so special? I'm crazy about that decade of filmmaking. It has a lot to teach us, especially in this second age of independent filmmaking that is upon us.