- History through Film at San Diego State
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 3, September 1974
- pp. 47-49
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- Additional Information
trilogy, but here the details ofdeath are marshalled with great emotional intensity for a different purpose - to sell war bonds. ("Let's have the men back instead ofthe souvenirs . . . Work, sweat . . . and buy bonds.") Incidentally, its actuality footage ofAmerican soldiers killed in battle violates one ofthe conventions ofpropaganda - usually only enemy soldiers die on screen. The critic may also note how quickly style deteriorates into cliche: The poetic rhythms of Pare Lorentz's innovative narration for The River (shown in an earlier program at the Archives) soon turn to prosaic repetition in later depression documentaries like People ofthe Cumberland and Men of Dust. These two films, about the plight ofunorganized mill workers in Appalachia and mineworkers suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis, exude the liberal fervor ofAmerica's depression culture. Heartfelt, but full ofvisual stereotypes, they call to mind Robert Warshow's remark, written a decade later, that "the most important effect ofthe intellectual life ofthe 30's and the culture that grew out of it has been to distort and eventually destroy the emotional and moral content ofexperience, putting in its place a system of 'conventionalized responses'". The process Warshow described is central to the notion of film as propaganda. Yet, for all their deficiencies as art and truth, many ofthese films convey their messages with considerable fascination and emotional force — even today, when so many oftheir concerns seem dead issues. HISTORY THROUGH FILM AT SAN DIEGO STATE By Paul Vanderwood Dr. Paul Vanderwood is ajournalist turned historian who has been active in the HFC since its beginning His interview with Sydney Pollack wasfeatured in the last issue. "History Through Film" at San Diego State University focuses upon changing American values, tensions, ideals and attitudes as reflected in full-length fictional motion pictures. The specific theme ofthe upper division course, which may also be taken for graduate credit, changes each semester. It is presently, "The Roots ofAmerican Alienation." Former studies have included "The Underside of U.S. History," and "Changing American Values: 1930 to 1970." Definitions ofalienation are discussed in concert with such films as Blow Up and The Loneliness ofthe Long Distance Runner. Increasing alienation is traced from Our Daily Bread, through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Best Years of Our Lives, East of Eden, and Midnight Cowboy. Alternatives to alienation will be considered through Jeremiah Johnson, Triumph ofthe Will, and others. Students see the films one-day and discuss them the next. Appropriate readings accompany the movies. On alienation, for example, students read, Camus' The Stranger, Josephson's Man Alone, Cawelti's Self-Made Man, Slater's The Pursuit ofLoneliness, Sillatoe's The Loneliness ofthe Long Distance Runner, and Thompson's At the Edge of History. 47 Guest speakers are an integral part ofthe course. Gary White discussed the screenplay he wrote for Scarecrow. Director Sydney Pollack visited to answer questions about Jeremiah Johnson and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Three World War II veterans, who are now counseling returnees from Viet Nam, talked about the Best Years of Our Lives, and cadets from the Air Force and West Point Military Academies came when patriotism was under review in connection with the film, So Proudly We Hail. Speakers for the "Underside" series included the chairman ofthe local White People's National Socialist (Nazi) Party, and the national director ofthe Happiness of Womanhood movement. Fortune in Men's Eyes, shown in conjunction with the "Underside" series, attracted Jim Park, assistant warden at San Quentin. The course regularly fills the first day ofregistration. Until this semester, it was limited to 40 students, plus a few "crashers." Student pressures, plus some nudging from the Dean of Arts and Letters this semester, doubled the size ofthe class. Four students who have had previous "History Through Film" classes are now acting as teaching assistants and lead discussion groups. The course draws from a broad spectrum ofthe campus. This semester some 25 different academic majors are represented. Because ofthe registration priority system, most ofthe students are seniors or graduates. But a dozen lower classmen have been allowed to "crash" and are adding a certain naive spontaneity to the discussions. Evaluations of the class have been highly favorable. For example: "I've been...