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Introduction to "Hispanic Culture Through Film"

“Why on earth did he do that” “Why did she say that?”

We have all asked those questions. Maybe we took a trip to another land. Maybe we met someone from another region in our own country. Maybe we just went to some friends’ houses and saw that they cooked or talked to each other in ways that are strange to us.

We can be very critical of people when we don’t understand them, and we often judge them harshly. Even if you and I are pretty nice, we are never going to understand everyone who crosses our paths, and much less so if we travel to a foreign country where the language, food, sleep schedule, dress, and childrearing techniques, are completely new to us.

A fundamental thing that film can begin to do is answer the question “why?” We only live one life, but movies have a profound ability to help us imagine what it feels like to be someone else. Imagine if we could all do this more often! Watching films from other cultures can help us understand our fellow man and woman.

But another key thing we will consider while will consider in this class is, “how does a film mean?” You may be used to hearing a film reviewer tell you what a movie means. But if that were all there was to films, who would go to the cinema? You could just read about it in a review on Facebook. In this class we’ll talk about how the audiovisual and external aspects of movies come together to create meaning.

In the three weeks of our class, you will meet three iconic Hispanic film directors who are radically different from each other and find out why they are such a big deal. Along the way, you’ll train your eyes and ears so that you’ll enjoy movies more when you are done. You will learn more about how to recognize and interpret cultural and ideological messages in film.

Now, these particular directors have talked a lot about their own work, and they do it well, but we will never forget that the director is only one witness to the meaning of a film; our interpretations are negotiated from all of our life experiences and all that the film offers to our ears, eyes, and imagination. Film is the ultimate collaborative art form, and every person who works on a movie contributes.

The director and actors are essential, but movies can’t speak to us without the people who design and execute the sound, photography, lighting, costumes, make-up, sets, props, special effects, and choreography of the characters. And what about the people who help scout the locations, stop the traffic for a shot on a street, and make sure that the actors and crew eat? A film of any size is also a business, and someone needs to do the payroll and file the tax forms and cut the checks for all those people you see in the credits. No film could happen without them. Every piece of the mosaic has to be there for the director to bring her or his vision to the screen.

But let us not forget that the last, indispensable member of the crew is…you.

Without a viewer, a film does not exist. In our digital world, without you and all the life experiences you bring to a viewing, a film is nothing more than a series of 1s and 0s.

In this class, we will share our informed interpretations. Given the international make-up of the learners, your interpretations are bound to be widely different. The MOOC will allow us to crowd-source a wealth of reactions that we couldn’t collect by sitting in scores of university film classrooms. Faced with this diversity of life experiences and deeply-held beliefs, in our discussions we are going to absolutely need to be kind to each other.

I should mention that these films have grown-up themes. If you will feel too uncomfortable with discussions of ideology, drugs, sexuality in all its variety, love, and death, then this class is not for you. There will be a little nudity.

So what will you learn if you stay?

In Week One, you will meet Luis Buñuel and be introduced to surrealism, censorship, the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship of Generalísimo Francisco Franco.

In Week Two, you will meet Pedro Almodóvar and learn about the wild Movida period of the late 70s and early 80s and the transition to democracy after Franco. You will study Kitsch and camp.

In Week Three, you will meet Guillermo del Toro and learn about ghosts and fantasy films as a way to come to terms with painful history, especially the Spanish Civil War.

Every week there will be a quiz. You can take it as many times as you like, and in fact, I hope that you will click through all of the answers, as each one will teach you something.

In order to round out the activities, I have included several general lectures on film from the regular undergraduate “Introduction to Hispanic Film” course from Purdue University. You are getting for free something Purdue students have to pay for! For this reason, occasionally there might be a reference to something we are not discussing in this course.

When you finish this course, you will be able to explain why these directors are so important, and, you should get a little more out of all the films and television you watch from now on. You will also certainly want to go right to the physical or online store, library, or streaming service to choose liberally from the many films these three have directed.

Enjoy!

FOR DISCUSSION:

What made you want to take this class? List some of your favorite directors and movies?

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This article is from the free online course:

Hispanic Culture Through Film

Purdue University