It Came from Aristotle: Teaching Film with Rhetoric
LESLIE A. CHILTON
Teaching a film class, or incorporating a commercial film into a literature class—or any other text-based class—can be a wonderful experience for teacher and students. As the title suggests, combining centuries-old methodology with today's popular entertainment gives the instructor a feeling of peacemaking between two alien cultures. Also, the student benefits highly. “Going to the movies” still summons embedded cultural notions of being out with friends for fun and relaxation. Even better, students frequently have strong reactions to film—at least, far stronger than they might have about more literary texts and certainly all other written texts! Benefits of film viewing are great; student interest and involvement with the material is high, writing improves, ideas blossom, and the arguments that develop are strong and persuasive.
Of course, this is not always the case, and students are not always the ones to blame when this fails to happen. Frequently films are not used well, such as when they are screened as a source of information about some theme or point of the class. Even when film is an intrinsic component in the course—if not the entire subject of the class—the film can still be misused, or underutilized. For example, one of my colleagues was looking forward to teaching a Jane Austen course with a film component. The students read selected novels and then viewed their film and television adaptations. The course proved a disappointment; the resulting essays were desultory comparisons of the films and their novels, stating more or less the obvious: the books and the films were different but similar. Some students, more sincere, still found themselves suspended between film and literature, and never knew where to direct their focus. All