Reflecting Through Film
By Aaron Frigard
One of our primary goals in College Writing is to get our students to think about both the compositions that they write and the compositions that they read as the result of conscious decisions on the part of the author. This exercise can be tailored as a reflective activity or as an activity designed to get students to think critically about a text they are reading.
As an example of an artist reflecting on his or her own choices, you can utilize the director's commentary option on a DVD. (The Royal Tennenbaums comes recommended, as it has excellent commentary.) Show the first 5-10 minutes of the movie without the commentary and have your students write down the choices that they notice. Then, show the same 5-10 minutes of the movie, this time with the commentary on. Typically, the commentary will focus on small-scale choices that the students might have completely overlooked (the color of a vase, for example, or an actor's makeup) and will also link those choices up with the big-picture aesthetic or ideological aims of the film. This can lead the class into a discussion about reflection: Why did the director focus on the things he or she did? How did the director talk about his or her own work? Why do we even watch directors' commentaries? What is to be gained by understanding the process behind a particular film?
This discussion can then launch the students into some in-class writing.
If you choose to use this exercise as a reflective activity, have the students write the commentary for their own draft. How would they explain the choices that they made to an audience? How do the small-scale choices they've made (punctuation, word choice, detail) link up with their larger ideas? What was the process that led to the creation of the draft as it is?
If you choose to use this exercise as a way to get students to think more critically about a reading they have done, have them put themselves in the shoes of the author. What would Jamaica Kincaid's commentary on "A Small Place" look like, for example? How would she explain the choices she made in writing that essay? And so forth. This will hopefully serve to move students beyond their initial reactions to the essay and on to a more critical examination of the author's context and intentions.