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

Syllabus Description:

 

 

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

https://washington.zoom.us/j/94293971888

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.

 

Films:

____________________________________________________________________________

 

List below of some of the types of films we may watch.

So, too, of course, you’re encouraged to watch as many of these films on your own. Some of these films I’ve watched; some I’ve watched over and over; others have been recommended to me, but I have yet to watch them.

Happy to watch as many of these films with you as we can.

  

  • Chantal Akerman, Là-bas
  • Khalik Allah, Field Niggas
  • Thom Andersen, Los Angeles Plays Itself
  • Michael Apted, 7 Up
  • Shari Springer Berman & Robert Puccini, American Splendor
  • Jonathan Caouette, Tarnation
  • Eleanor Coppola, Hearts of Darkness
  • Adam Curtis, It Felt Like a Kiss
  • Ava DuVernay, 13th
  • Ezra Edelman, OJ: Made in America
  • Ari Folman, Waltz with Bashir
  • Sacha Gervasi, Anvil
  • Jean-Luc Godard, Two or Three Things I Know About Her
  • Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia
  • Todd Haynes, Superstar
  • Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man
  • Steve James, Stevie
  • Andrew Jarecki, Capturing the Friedmans
  • Nicholas Kahn, My Architect
  • Abbas Kiarostami, Close-Up
  • Penny Lane, Nuts!
  • Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke
  • Jørgen Leth & Lars von Trier, The Five Obstructions
  • Guy Maddin, My Winnipeg
  • Chris Marker, Sans soleil
  • Albert Maysles & David Maysles, Grey Gardens
  • James McBride, David Holzman’s Diary
  • Ross McElwee, Bright Leaves
  • Brett Morgen, Montage of Heck
  • Errol Morris, Gates of Heaven
  • Göran Olsson, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
  • Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing
  • Raoul Peck, I Am Not Your Negro
  • Ed Pincus, Diaries
  • Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell
  • Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi
  • Alain Resnais, Night and Fog
  • Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied
  • Ross Sutherland, Stand by for Tape Back Up
  • Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler, A Film from Germany
  • Agnés Varda, The Gleaners and I
  • Dziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera
  • Wim Wenders, Pina
  • Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People
  • Frederick Wiseman, Near Death
  • Ed Wood Jr., Glen or Glenda

 

Jan 4.  Intro.

Jan 6. Discuss one of the films and how it might serve as a model for your own writing and/or filmmaking.

Jan 11. Same.

Jan 13. Same.

Jan 18. No Class. MLK Birthday.

Jan 20. Same.

Jan 25. Same.

Jan 27. Same.

Feb 1. Same.

Feb 3. Same.

Feb 8. Same.

Feb 10. Same.

Feb 15. No class. Presidents’ Day.

Feb 17. Same.

Feb 22. Same.

Feb 24. Discussion of your essays and/or cine-essays.

Mar 1. Same.

March 3. Same.

Mar 8. Same.

March 10. Last class. Same.

 

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.

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Last updated: 
February 23, 2021 - 10:50pm