Criterion in the Classroom

by Reeves_Library

Created 07/10/13

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Cinema can be an undeniably powerful educational tool. Here is a list, certainly not comprehensive in its scope, of Criterion films that have potential for use in a university-level curriculum.

  • A re-telling of King Lear set in 16th-century Japan, Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece would prove a real treat for students in a course on Shakespeare, especially if paired with his Macbeth-inspired Throne of Blood.

  • Billy Wilder’s cynical portrayal of an amoral reporter and his exploitation of a mine cave-in would fit nicely into any course on Journalism, Ethics, or, better still, Journalistic Ethics.

  • Arguably the best film ever made about race in America, Spike Lee’s masterpiece could be shown in any Sociology course on Race or Urban Studies.

  • Haskell Wexler’s dazzling documentary-style depiction of the life of a television cameraman should be mandatory for any course on Media Studies, and its chronicling of the riots at the Democratic National Convention would make it invaluable for a course in 20th-century American History.

  • With the potential to be paired with Claude Lanzmann’s epic landmark Shoah, Alain Resnais’s powerful documentary short is indispensable for any course on the Holocaust.

  • With its unique glimpse at the life and mind of underground artist R. Crumb and his dysfunctional family, Terry Zwigoff’s biographical documentary could be used most effectively in courses on Modern Art or Psychology.

  • Truthfully, many foreign films in the collection could provide students in a Non-Western Cultures course with an illuminating glimpse of life in a foreign country, but these masterworks from Ozu and Ray have a particular allure.

  • Unique in its meticulous depiction of the daily life of a middle-aged widow and sometime prostitute, Chantal Akerman’s feminist opus would be an eye-opener for students in a Women’s Studies course. The potato-peeling sequences might even work well for courses in a Culinary Arts program (well, that may be a stretch).

  • With its unsentimental dissection of the athlete's competitive mentality, Michael Ritchie’s film about a winning-obsessed American skier should be mandatory viewing in any course on the Philosophy of Sport.

  • With its moving depiction of immigrant siblings struggling to achieve the American dream, Gregory Nava’s film would greatly benefit students in Sociology or Business courses focusing on the immigrant experience and migrant labor, perhaps in a pairing with Louis Malle’s still-relevant 1986 documentary And the Pursuit of Happiness.

  • Steve James’s documentary about the lives of two inner-city African American Chicago teens, both of whom dream of professional basketball glory, should be required for any course in Urban Studies or the Sociology of Sports.

  • David Mamet’s masterful film, focusing on a Jewish police detective who must come to terms with his own identity during the course of a murder investigation, would be right at home in a course on Jewish Studies, or a Sociology course on Ethnic and Racial Identity.

  • With its sweeping depiction of life in 15th-century Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic would be useful in a course on Medieval Studies or Russian History, not to mention Art History.

  • Honestly, is there a more revealing and entertaining look at campaign strategy and modern politics in the United States than this documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid? This is essential viewing for any course on American Government.

  • Robert Epstein’s groundbreaking documentary about the activist and politician should be shown in any Gay Studies course.

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