Stories help us understand ourselves and the world around us. The insight into human nature that a good novel provides is often invaluable, and this is one of the reasons we read and study good literature. Kathryn Stout argues that movies should be treated in the same way, and that a good movie is just as capable of shedding light on the human condition as a good book. Her Movies as Literature course for junior high and high school students is designed to help parents guide their students through thoughtful and careful analysis of several classic films.
Mrs. Stout is the author of the Design-a-Study materials for helping parents map out good unit studies. There is a distinct unit study quality to Movies as Literature, assignments directing kids to research the time period of certain films, compare the movie under consideration with films like it, or read the novel or play the film is based on.
There is a teacher guide and a student workbook containing 17 lessons for 17 different movies. Some of the titles may have content some parents won't want their kids exposed to (none are rated higher than PG-13), but Stout has chosen pretty safe films, especially for middle and high schoolers. These are all classics, from Shane and Rear Window to E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark; they should be easy to find at video stores or the library.
After students have watched each film closely, they discuss it with their teacher and write an essay. Movies are analyzed primarily for plot. Attention is sometimes paid to technical considerations, though usually only to understand how they relate to or affect the plot. This is not a film course—it is an analysis course that happens to use movies instead of books as its texts.
Students are encouraged to understand content in relation to Scripture. To some extent this is a worldview course, though it doesn't specifically address opposing perspectives. The teacher guide includes plenty of discussion topics and commentary on each film's content, though parents can do further research. Model answers for written answers to essay questions are also included.
This a teacher-led course. The key is interaction, both with the films and through student/teacher dialogue. These are all familiar films, so generating conversation shouldn't be too hard. While this is a literature course of sorts, it probably shouldn't substitute an actual literature or composition course. Students are expected to be able to write a good essay, something to keep in mind if you're intending to use this for middle school students.
This is a good idea, and fairly well executed. There are a lot of courses available that teach students how to analyze literature, not many that address film even on a cursory level. The use of recognizable movies (many of which students may have already seen) is useful for generating responses and good conversation. Because it relies on dialogue, this course may be a good choice for use at a youth group or Sunday school.
The main drawback is that films are not dealt with extensively on a technical level. Just as the technical elements of a novel or poem reveal a lot about the author's viewpoint or central theme, how a movie is filmed and acted reveals a lot about the director's understanding of his material. The familiarity of the films (though in one sense a benefit) can also be a drawback. We tend to take for granted that with which we are most familiar, and analyzing a film you've seen five times is often more difficult than analyzing one with which you're unfamiliar. There isn't much controversy in any of the movies studied, and while some parents may appreciate this, this is primarily intended for use by high schoolers, who ought to be ready to deal with more mature and controversial themes. Overall a good course for those who aren't used to film analysis, it certainly leaves room for more in-depth study.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.