In 1969, Professor Richard Brown’s Movies 101 class began as a tiny gathering of NYU film students examining contemporary film as cultural discourse. Exemplifying the zeitgeist of “the film generation”, Movies 101 quickly evolved into phenomenon unto itself.
Not only did studios begin to take notice and supply Brown with pre-release films to test their market potential, but also, Brown was able to wrangle the stars and directors into his classroom to discuss their respective projects. In the decades since it has snowballed from a 14-student class in an NYU annex into a parish of hundreds (sometimes thousands) at the Florence Gould Auditorium.
Yet, when the DVD begins to spin there is a palpable disconnect between this rather illustrious history and what appears onscreen.
Flashback to the last years of the ’60s and the birth of “the film generation”, when films like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy increased the traction of a cinema culture produced for, and frequently by, the youth. With the decline of the studio system, the death of the Production Code, and the birth of the MPAA, onscreen representations of sex, drug use, and violence, films began to adopt the lexicon of a younger generation who felt increasingly alienated from their elders.
Film-studies began to be built around a medium-specific history rather than that of the theatre, it developed its own art history – and began to be offered as an interdisciplinary course of both undergraduate and graduate study. Coupled with this and the escalating fervor surrounding the plurality of contemporary cultural ruptures embodied in Civil Rights, Counter Culture, and anti-Vietnam actions, film began to reflect a populist and culturally prevalent aesthetic and directors like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese began to develop their signature auteur styles.
So when Brown began teaching Movies 101, he was tapping into a sensibility that quantified the film experience not only in terms of technical aptitude, but also in terms of how the film functioned as a popular commodity. But the locus of this discussion, the university, was integral to the cultural weight this shift carried. Film discourse could no longer be merely plebian or topical if it was being discussed at the site of quantitative cultural production.
Now this seems to be the thread to which Brown clings — using the cultural credibility of the university as an institution to bear the weight of converting popular discourse into cultural awareness – but it is a rather fruitless point of suture. Because what Movies101 offers has very little do to with analyzing film in academic terms and everything to do with reinforcing the cult surrounding the attending star actor or director.
So what is left is a rather amateurish discussion of film potentialities; the sense that academic film-discourse is concerned with little more than the visceral filmmaking experience of the attending actor/ director. But is this devolution of criticality entertaining? Unfortunately, yes.
Movies101 invites you to audit the course with a Special Edition, four-DVD box set with interviews with 16 recent guests including Martin Scorsese, Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Willem Dafoe, and Julianne Moore. The extras are also rather meaty and feature bonus interviews as well as an interactive DVD-ROM feature. While you will leave your couch with a swollen devotion to your star of choice, if you want to go further, you will probably still end up writing a fat check for film school to develop your chops.
The extras include a highlights trailer, each interview contains 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage, exclusive interviews with Professor Richard Brown and a DVD-ROM link with bonus interviews.