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Ebert, how to read movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2008

Roger Ebert talks about how to read a movie.

This all began for me in about 1969, when I started teaching a film class in the University of Chicago’s Fine Arts program. I knew a Chicago film critic, teacher and booker named John West, who lived in a wondrous apartment filled with film prints, projectors, books, posters and stills. “You know how football coaches use a stop-action 16mm projector to study game films?” he asked me. “You can use that approach to study films. Just pause the film and think about what you see. You ought to try it with your film class.”

I did. The results were beyond my imagination. I wasn’t the teacher and my students weren’t the audience, we were all in this together. The ground rules: Anybody could call out “stop!” and discuss what we were looking at, or whatever had just occurred to them.

This article also contains the most information-rich paragraph I’ve ever read online…it’s like an entire film class in 12 lines. Fascinating stuff. One of the points is that, generally, the right side of the screen is more positive. In a later comment, Ebert adds:

In all the years with Siskel and on all the incarnations of the show, I always quietly made sure I was seated on the right. When Roeper came aboard, the producers insisted I “belonged” in “Gene’s seat.” Sentiment won over visual strategy. Did I really think it made a difference? Yes, I really did.

Also, he should do this online…post film stills and let people leave comments, discuss, etc.