I love movies. I mean I really. Love. Movies. Especially good ones. Especially really good ones from the 30s and 40s, with wisecracking dames and fedora-sporting guys. I’ve never studied film formally, but with movies I really love, I always make a point of watching it several times, watching it with the commentary, and watching any bonus features that tell me about how the film was made or what attracted the director and actors to the material.
Earlier this year I started hearing about MOOCs – massive open online courses – being offered by universities from around the world. These courses can be taken through a few different platforms, but I started with Coursera, since it was the one I was hearing the most about. I started poking around their course list and found this: The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Colour. Music to my ears!
Then I looked at the syllabus: starting with two silent films, moving to sound films (including one by producer Val Lewton – one of my favourite film makers!), then progressing to colour (including the classic Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, and the much more recent Punch Drunk Love with Adam Sandler). This was the class for me.
We’re now in week 4, and it’s gotten to the point where I check multiple times on Mondays to see if the new lectures are up. The video lectures have been really informative and the movies have been a joy to watch. We learned about the language of silent film, how nowadays we tend to think of them as missing something, when in fact they should be considered as a unique art form, with their own language for storytelling. We learned to watch silent films and consider what would be lost if they had sound.
Then we looked at some early sound films, and how they were limited in their storytelling because of the limitations of the technology at the time (no such thing as sound mixing or boom microphones yet). Personally, sound is not something I generally pay a lot of attention to in a film, but there are incredible ways to use sound to tell the story, to create tension or dissonance, or to influence how the audience feels.
This week we will be watching our first colour films. Unfortunately I can’t find the first one anywhere: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). If anyone happens to have a copy they’re willing to lend me, I’d be eternally grateful.
Through this class, I’ve discovered new directors whose work I’d love to delve into more deeply, like Josef von Sternberg, and I’ve developed an appreciation for the Marx Brothers. (We watched Monkey Business in week 2. They’re not my favourite comedians, but I have a new appreciation for their work and how they took advantage of this new technology – sound – in their movies.)