Friday, February 02, 2018

Life-Long Learning

Film Societies and More



"As much as I love books and the theater, I think the cinema is a uniquely modern medium that we look to for the stories of our times." - Christopher Nolan



In these days we have Netflix and on-line downloading of movies.  Because I subscribe I was recently delighted and very deeply moved by Everlasting Moments, a film directed by Jan Troell.  

However, more than forty years ago when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison we had film societies. It was the age before home video, in that era student film societies were all the rage. Classic and foreign films were shown in classrooms after hours, hosted by groups such as the Wisconsin Film Society, Fertile Valley, Praeteorius, Phoenix and El Dorado. Graduate student Russell Campbell even started his own film journal to cover the phenomenon, "The Velvet Light Trap", which has become a leading peer-reviewed journal for film and television studies.  The Wisconsin Union presented films as well, and they continue to do so today under the aegis of the WUD Film Committee. 

This was the environment in which I "discovered" foreign films.  I remember attending many of Ingmar Bergman's greatest hits and one, The Seventh Seal, remains a top favorite of mine decades later.  But there were the French films of Chabrol (who outdid Hitchcock), Renoir, Truffaut, and the director that was to become my favorite, Eric Rohmer.  
The film societies did not neglect the American cinema and my memories include shockers like "Wait Until Dark" with Audrey Hepburn and "Night of the Living Dead" directed by George Romero.  There were also literary adaptations like "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" with Alan Arkin.  This was part of my education as much as the formal classes, the Badger Marching Band, and Saturday mornings listening to LPs of Shostakovich and others at the Madison Public Library.  It was a wonderful place to be young and learn.  It was the beginning for a life-long learner.

4 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I once called myself a film buff. Sadly over the past 15,years or so I have not kept up as life has been too busy to engage in this interest along with my others interests. Nevertheless I still love all kinds of film. Around the time that I graduated high school VCRs were just taking off. I remember thinking that they were wonderful and magical machines.

Stephen said...

I envy you that experience! I encountered a few foreign films at uni, but they were always in the context of a class -- I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Das Leben der Andern in German history and language classes, for instance. One of my profs had an entire French History through Film class, which to me seems like a suspiciously fun way to get some summer credits. I have an active interest in 'foreign' films, however...a favorite is "Offsides", set in Iran. Most of my foreign-film collection in German, though, a consequence of the several classes.

James said...

Brian,
I guess I must be a few years older than you because when I first moved to Chicago in the summer of 1973 there were still movie theaters that specialized in replaying older films. But I got my start at UW-Madison where culture and the arts were everywhere. Today with the advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime you can screen most films in your own home.

James said...

Stephen,
Thanks for recommending "Offsides". I'll check it out. I look for the best from many countries. A couple of my favorites from recent years are "Tell No One", a French film based on an American mystery novel; and "The Lives of Others", a German film set in East Germany during the Cold War.