Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Warner's archive and contextualizing masterpieces

On Slate, Mark Harris has an interesting article about a new program Warners has where they're making available obscure old movies for made-to-order DVDs. Here's Harris's argument as to why this is valuable:

For movie lovers, this is heaven. Anybody can adequately take the measure of a century of film by leapfrogging across decades, countries, and genres from one masterpiece to another, and this is pretty much how we all do it, Netflixing our way through the Criterion Collection (great, but not for American movies) or checking off Oscar nominees from decades past (great, but only as a barometer of what people thought was great at the time). But movie history is also written in what happened between the great movies—in the ambitious and the mundane, the half-hearted and the forgotten, the unjustly overlooked and the justly dismissed.
I've been of this opinion for a very long time. I assemble a large collection of British Invasion also-rans, not because I'm tired of the Beatles and the Stones, but because listening to Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, Sounds Incorporated, the Swinging Blue Jeans, and all the rest helps me appreciate the Beatles and the Stones more. If all we know is the masterpieces, it's hard to know why they're masterpieces; to know why something succeeds, it helps to know how it could have failed, and so you have to study failure, too (not that I consider any of those groups failures - but that's another issue).

How to bring this into a classroom, though? As a sometime teacher of literature, this is the question I'm naturally led to, and I don't know the answer. Is it okay to assign crappy books next to the great ones, so students can learn to tell the difference? I'd like to try someday.

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