Introduction to Film/Media Studies

Monday, August 20 at 7pm


Michael Mann (U.S. 1995) 170 min. DCP. With Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer.

Touted as “a master of the modern urban noir” (BAMcinematèk), Michael Mann is also the director regularly chosen to open the Monday night series presented in Professor Ken Eisenstein’s “Introduction to Film Studies” course. In Heat (arguably Mann’s masterpiece), “a tightly wound professional thief (De Niro) and a high-achieving LAPD detective (Pacino) are locked in deadly opposition as they vector towards each other. With his typically powerful choreography of action, sense of epic scope and dazzling use of Los Angeles locales, Mann transforms a gripping heist yarn into a fugue-like existential opera.” (Adapted from BAM notes.)


Monday, August 27 at 7pm


Fritz Lang (U.S. 1937) 86 min. With Henry Fonda, Sylvia Sidney, Barton MacLane.

Made during the 30’s era of social-problem pictures, You Only Live Once is a prison drama and “a powerful attack on the death penalty and the stigmatization of ex-convicts” (The Guardian). Fritz Lang’s career-long concern with the law, and the struggle between individual will and socially determined destiny, is set within a moving love story; the tragic pair – perhaps the original lovers-on-the-run – are sad-eyed Jo (Sidney) and edgy, three-time loser Eddie (Fonda), released from prison with his lawyer’s assurance that he’ll make good. Harrowing scenes of prison and pursuit are rendered in a starkly expressive visual style; but the bleak atmosphere ultimately gives way to pastoral lyricism, suggesting a possibility of spiritual if not social redemption. Asked about the ending, Lang said, “You may laugh, but don’t forget, I was born a Catholic”(Adapted from Pacific Film Archive notes).


Monday, September 3 at 7pm


Oscar Micheaux (U.S. 1932) 58 min. With Lawrence Chenault, A.B. DeComathiere, Laura Bowman.

In his seminal essay “Bad Movies,” J. Hoberman describes legendary director Oscar Micheaux as the “Black Pioneer of American film — not just because he was a black man, or because in his youth he pioneered the West, or because he was the greatest figure in ‘race’ movies and an unjustly ignored force in early American cinema. Micheaux is America’s Black Pioneer in the way that André Breton was Surrealism’s Black Pope. His movies throw our history and movies into an alien and startling disarray.” Ten Minutes to Live’s milieu is a Harlem nightclub, where a movie producer attempts to seduce a singer with the promise of a starring role.

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Ken Jacobs (U.S. 1977) 24 min.

Ken Jacobs’ structural editing strategy discovers the subliminal image in a found film made for television — a movie based on a painting that hangs in London’s Tate Gallery and hides a powerful sexual event within its banality.


Monday, September 10 at 7pm


Frederick Wiseman (U.S. 1989) 358 min.

In his portrait of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, Fred Wiseman, America’s greatest living chronicler of the systems that move our country, is concerned with how people face death. Or, more specifically, the complexity of the interrelationships among patients, families, doctors, nurses, hospital staff and religious advisors – the people confronting the personal, ethical, medical, psychological, religious and legal issues involved in making decisions about whether or not to give life-sustaining treatment to dying patients.

“Wiseman’s great, fearless and monumental six-hour documentary [presents] the sorts of images that become grimly commonplace during the course of a film that is less a viewing experience than a total immersion. It isn’t the running time that makes Near Death so overwhelming; it’s the subject itself. But at this length, the film has time to carry its audience from an initially raw emotional response to a calmer consideration of the difficult issues raised here, and finally on to some sort of resolution.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times


Monday, September 17 at 7pm


Douglas Sirk (U.S. 1953) 80 min. 35MM. With Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Carlson, Lyle Bettger.

Stanwyck stars as a washed-up actress facing one of her most challenging roles: a successful woman returning to visit the family she abandoned. We quickly see why she left in the first place; as Sirk put it, “she comes back… and finds nothing but this rotten, decrepit middle-class American family.” Yet the dream of home is as powerful as the dream of escape, and the conflicted Stanwyck finds herself inexorably drawn toward a “happy ending” that, in Sirk’s hands, is anything but. As the door swings shut on the family home and the camera pulls back from the bars of the banisters, we can only feel relieved to be on the outside looking in. (Adapted from PFA notes.)


Monday, September 24 at 7pm

THE CROWD – Not available on home video!

King Vidor (U.S. 1928) ~98 min. 35MM. With James Murray, Eleanor Boardman, Bert Roach. With live musical accompaniment!

A story about the common man that encompasses an intensely human odyssey, The Crowd – much of it shot on location in the streets of New York – resonated in its time with an unprecedented sense of cinematic realism, and its use of montageto express the dehumanization of modern life makes it King Vidor’s masterpiece. “It’s hard to exaggerate the fusion of art and business boldness in this great film… while it is an American attempt at the European art film, it actually did well at the box office. It’s the story of a couple living with the anxiety that they will lose their own identity and become just part of the crowd. But what is most fascinating is the way this is reflected in the nature of film itself—the bright screen and the anonymous, huddled mass” (David Thomson for Pacific Film Archive).


Monday, October 1 at 7pm


Lynne Ramsay (UK/France 2017) 89 min. DCP. With Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette.

Scottish auteur Lynne Ramsay roared back into the spotlight with the release of her first feature in six years, the thriller You Were Never Really Here. Joaquin Phoenix plays a hitman dealing with PTSD and his own death drive as he undertakes a dangerous mission to rescue a kidnapped girl. With daring editing and her typically intricate sound design (including a bravura Jonny Greenwood score), Ramsay crafts a gut-punching spectacle that doubles as a psychic X-ray of a scarred mind. Hallucinatory and raw, this was one of the most distinctive films of 2017. (Adapted from BAM notes.)