Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Well, I have survived the first day of classes -- that calls for a cuppa! Right up until I stepped into the first class, I was moaning and dreading it. I always forget it can be so much fun, a chance to be silly, to try to get their bored faces to light up with surprise and, sometimes, interest. Pity I had to end the day with a meeting, but there you are. Since people always ask me, I might as well tell you what I'm teaching this term:

This is a freshman level course that introduces non-English majors to the subject. Emphasis on making it accessible, showing clips of medieval films, lots of group work making sense of the texts, and fun presentations -- they have to come up with their own Beowulf movie pitch and perform a medieval drama.

This is the intro course for people to get their feet wet, try different genres and see whether any genius burns. A lot of fun except when someone decides to focus on poetry -- well, there are the occasional exceptions. I had a couple of students at UHD, Pamela Andino and Edgar Fuentes, who were simply brilliant. It can happen.

This is the film topics course and I chose to look at how writers are portrayed in film. Yes, a chance to share movies I love (mostly) and get students to read film more carefully. We tend to take the medium for granted because film allows us to be passive absorbers of its narrative. Well, we spent half an hour talking about Damien Hirst's 40 second film of Beckett's "Breath." That seems promising.

To celebrate surviving the first day, we indulged in pizza and our on-going wallow through the oeuvre of Johnny Vegas. I think this current mania came out of catching up with old episodes of Shooting Stars, where he was a regular with Vic and Bob and Ulrika and wordy-wordy wordsmith Will Self and where he occasionally gave in to his tendency to go off on rants. He also guested on QI; while Stephen seemed a tad trepidatious, he did find himself helpless with laughter at one point (was that when Johnny accused him of subsisting on "swan caviar" available only a select folk like Fry, Noel Edmonds and the Queen?). In Who's Ready for Ice Cream, he says he doesn't do comedy, but pathos. The two stand-up sessions that are extras on the DVD are a really good illustration of that (and yet, funny as hell). In 18 Stone of Idiot, you can see, well, just what the title suggests. It can be gut-bustingly funny and cringingly painful alternately.

On the publication front, I'm thinking about my Valentine issue essay for Up Against the Wall and I've just heard from the editor of the American Horror Film Today, that that collection is moving along mostly on schedule. I don't have a table of contents yet, so I can't tell you what will be in it apart from my essay on Terry Gilliam's Tideland. Now, it's time to go back to campus.


Jennifer Lynn Jordan said...

Oooh you wrote an essay on Tideland? I would love to see it. I'm a huge Gilliam fan and I finally saw the movie six months ago. My brain still hurts from it, and I still don't have an opinion on it.

C. Margery Kempe said...

It's entitled "Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children: The Case for Terry Gilliam's Tideland. Here's the opening paragraph as a teaser:

While the so-called torture porn films continue to grow in popularity, there is a small strain of the fantastic that plays upon the powers of horror but skirts the edge of mainstream. Sometimes these films meet with stupendous financial success -- as in the case of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth -- but more often they turn out to be astounding failures -- as in the case of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. At the center of both these films is a young girl who faces all-too-real horrors by delving into a fantasy world that becomes more vivid and sustaining than those daily terrors. While del Toro’s film has won awards the world over, Gilliam’s film has been dismissed as “ugly, disturbing and misguided” (Josh Rosenblatt, Austin Chronicle) and “a no-man’s land…between the merely bad and the indefensible” (A. O. Scott, New York Times). In an era where The SimpsonsHelen Lovejoy’s cri de coeur seems to be on the lips of everyone in public life and private, the link joining children and horror seems stretched to an airy thinness.

C. Margery Kempe said...

oooh -- here's the full two minute version of the PG Tips ad.