Directors are the new 'writers' in Film Studies class
Elective course at high school teaches students to 'read' films as critically as they do literature
In his English and AP literature classes, Grandview Heights High School teacher Kevin McCarthy leads his students in discussions about works by such writers as Shakespeare, Kafka, Heller and Joyce.
In a class he is teaching for the second year, McCarthy's students "read" works by Scorsese, Hitchcock and Allen.
"Film Studies is a course I've created to help students better appreciate films and to approach movies as they would a literary text," McCarthy said.
The goal is for students to become competent "readers" of film who will recognize and analyze the choices of style and theme a director has made as an expression of his or her artistic vision, he said.
"It's been fun to see how the students make progress in becoming more observant in how they watch a film," McCarthy said.
Some of his students have joked with him that he has "ruined" movies for them, he said.
"They tell me their friends get mad when they go to the movies over the weekend because they're taking notes during the movie or wanting to discuss them," McCarthy said.
Film should be taken as seriously as a mode for artistic expression as literature, he said.
"For most of today's students, movies are more relevant and meaningful to their lives than literature," McCarthy said. "I'm a literature guy so it breaks my heart to say that, but I think it's true."
McCarthy said he chose films by about 12 to 15 mostly American directors who have displayed a particularly artistic vision in their work.
"It's a group of directors who work as an artist or writer would," he said.
The elective semester class is open to juniors and seniors only and is being offered twice this school year, McCarthy said.
Students are graded on papers and shorter writings they are assigned for each film as well as homework assignments, quizzes on assigned reading and participation in the class discussions.
"I make it clear right from the start that this isn't a class where you can goof off and have the chance to watch movies in school," McCarthy said. "It's a serious class. I've been pleased with how my students have approached the class."
He hopes the class will turn the students into lifelong "readers" of films, he said.
Junior Luke Henningsen said he has always been interested in movies, but taking the Film Studies class has changed the way he watches them.
"I'm starting to pay attention to the choices that the filmmakers are making," including the cinematography, editing and how the action is presented, he said.
"The class is giving me a real understanding of the style of film," Henningsen said. "When I'm choosing which movies I want to see, I'm more aware of the bad aspects of movies."
Senior Allie Meyers said she already considered herself a "serious film watcher" before she took McCarthy's class, "but now I have a better understanding of what to watch for.
"I'm a more-intelligent moviegoer," she said.