ENGL 581 B: The Creative Writer as Critical Reader

THE SELF-REFLEXIVE DOCUMENTARY FILM AS MODEL AND MOTOR FOR THE CONTEMPORARY PERSONAL ESSAYIST.

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
Location: 
* *
SLN: 
14341
Instructor:
Headshot of David Shields
David Shields

Additional Details:

THE SELF-REFLEXIVE DOCUMENTARY FILM AS MODEL AND MOTOR FOR THE CONTEMPORARY PERSONAL ESSAYIST.

The crux of the course will be for us to watch as many documentary films as possible (in and out of class, entire films, portions of films, etc.) and then use these works as progenitors for you to write your own personal essay (or make your own short film, if you’d like). I have found these films extraordinarily provocative for my own literary work, and I hope you might, too. At the very least, we’ll get to watch some amazing movies.

 As the child of two activist-journalists in the Bay Area, I grew up watching a lot of politically oriented documentary films. For instance, Hearts and Minds (1974)—a good film, but one that makes no pretense toward being a groundbreaking work of cinematic art. In college and grad school, I focused on fiction writing and wrote three novels during my twenties and early thirties. While working on what I thought was my fourth novel, I watched Ross McElwee’s Sherman's March (1985) and everything changed for me.

 I realized that what McElwee was doing was what I wanted to aim for in my books. A pseudo-unartiness: “raw” material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional. Randomness, openness to accident and serendipity, spontaneity. Artistic risk, emotional urgency and intensity. Reader/viewer participation. An overly literal tone, as if a reporter were viewing a strange culture. Plasticity of form, pointillism. Criticism as autobiography, self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography. A blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.

My fourth book became instead my first work of (self-reflexive, collage-like) nonfiction, and over the last thirty-five years I’ve watched and studied and taught hundreds of self-reflexive documentary films, which have been a major motor—maybe the major motor—of my books. I have sought to do in prose what these documentarians (anti-documentarians?) have done with film. Of late, I’ve become an apprentice documentary filmmaker myself.

Credits: 
5.0
Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
November 2, 2020 - 11:00pm