Saturday, January 7, 2012


On Wednesday, the second day of Film Studies, I showed the class a clip from Them!, the film that has been called "the Citizen Kane of giant ant movies." I think my friend Xan said that. It really is a movie about giant ants, and it is one of the better horror/science-fiction/unlikely monster movies of the fifties. I believe it was nominated for an Academy Award for its special effects.

Anyway, I told the class to watch carefully, and I played the clip, and then asked them what they had seen. "Giant ants!" someone said. "Soldiers rescuing kids from the ants," someone else added. "Two boys," someone else clarified.

"You're wrong," I said. "There were no ants, and there were no soldiers. There were only actors, on a set, with special effects." Some of the kids groaned. "But that's not true, either . . . you never saw those actors. Most of them have probably been dead for a long time. The actors performed their roles, and someone filmed their performances, and you saw the film, right? But you didn't . . . the film was digitized, and burned onto a DVD. What you saw were lights flashing on the television screen, tricking your brain into thinking you were seeing moving pictures. The whole thing was an illusion. When you go to the  movie theater, or watch a DVD at home, it's good to accept that illusion, get pulled into the story, and imagine that what you're watching is real. But here, in this class, we will peer behind the curtain and analyze what's really going on."

Or words to that effect. It was a nice bit of rhetoric, I thought. Nice bits of rhetoric only go so far in the classroom--I doubt I made a dent in any student's thinking about movies--but you have to indulge yourself every now and then.

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