Sources for Film Discussion Guides


As I learn of online sources posting discussion guides for specific films, I’ll list them here.

Here are sites that feature movie guides:

Residence Life Cinema has created film clips to help college and university students manage residence life. One section of the site is titled Movie Discussion Guides, where discussion guides are organized into categories of general interest to students. On this page there’s also a link to a complete alphabetical list of films for which there are discussion guides. To download discussion guides in PDF format, you have to have an account with Residence Life Cinema.

teach with movies is another site that specializes in the use of film to educate. Access to discussion guides requires a subscription that costs $11.95 per year (as of August 2008). But one page—here—that is accessible for free lists excellent questions for exploring ethical issues in almost any film.

Movie Learning Guides provides discussion guides for parents and teachers, focusing on character development.

Quotations: On Writing


“If you don’t feel like writing, you can always read about it.”

—Doug Geivett (title of my post here)

“All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I’ve wanted to leave the room.”

—Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson Writes a Story

“The process of writing is an adventure; you never know how things are going to configure themselves. When I begin a book, I know it’s going to transform my life.”

—Charles Johnson, in his interview with Diane Osen for The Book That Changed My Life

“Writers write for two reasons. One is that they have something they want to say. The other, equally compelling motive is that they have something they want to find out. Writing is a mode of exploration.”

—Margaret Lucke, Writing Great Short Stories Read more of this post

Quotes on Fiction


“. . . one discovers that an authentic sermon even within the confines of fiction [as in John Updike’s novel Of the Farm] can have a kerygmatic quality: one feels addressed, in a fairly direct way that collapses in part the illusions of fiction. Updike is able here to fix a receptive mood in which the reader is led to respond to the message as well as to the fictive situation.” —Robert Detweiler, “John Updike’s Sermons,” chapter in Breaking the Fall: Religious Readings of Contemporary Fiction

Quotes on Culture Warfare


“We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment, and of verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? Maybe it’s because deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know . . . anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.” —John Patrick Shanley, Preface to his play Doubt: A Parable.

“No matter what side of an argument you’re on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.” —Jascha Heifetz

Quotations: On Pain and Suffering


“No, God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. . . . A Son is better than an explanation.”

—Austin Farrer, “The Country Doctor”

“Every war movie, good or bad, is an antiwar movie.” —Steven Spielberg, “Of Guts and Glory”

“. . . after all, the manner in which a person dies, the little details of an autopsy, say, whether the corpse has spots on its liver or lungs, doesn’t in any way cancel the loss.”

—Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.”

—Tennessee Williams

Football and Philosophy: The Book


My friend, Michael Austin, has just announced at his blog that his latest book is now available. This is an edited book called Football and Philosophy: Going Deep (University Press of Kentucky). Congratulations Mike! I’m pleased to have a chapter in the book, titled “Inside the Helmet: What Do Football Players Know?” A look at the list of contributors and the chapter titles has me anxious to get my hands on a copy.

Finding Films for Courses


More and more college and university professors are using film in their courses. Makes sense. Students like film, and film can be an exceptionally stimulating way to introduce students to complex issues in the various disciplines.

My field is philosophy, with specializations in epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and philosophy of religion. I use film in my courses in two ways. In some courses I use film to illustrate concepts, arguments, and the popular expression of “big ideas.” I also teach a course on faith, film and philosophy, which is all about the intersection of these three things. My primary textbook for that course is my own edited book Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen (2007). But I’m always trawling for new film connections for my courses and public lectures.

Today I read Chris Panza’s plea for suggestions for a philosophy course that he’s been planning. His question is very specific: What films from an Asian perspective would complement a course on Asian Ethics? My first thought, naturally, was to recommend a chapter in my book. Chapter 13, written by Winfried Corduan, is called “Bottled Water from the Fragrant Harbor: The Diluted Spiritual Elements of Hong Kong Films.” Win writes about specific films in this genre, and his analysis of spirituality portrayed in representative films touches on ethical issues. But Chris’s question is a special case of a more general question: How does one find films that serve the specific purposes of a course? Here are a few suggestions.

Since I know others who teach using film, I ask them about their practices and experiences. I also have a growing library of useful books:

  1. There are several books on film with material by philosophers or on philosophical topics. My own library includes the following examples: Philosophy Through Film, by Mary M. Litch, and Movies and the Meaning of Life, edited by Kimberly Blessing and Paul Tudico.
  2. St. Martin’s Griffin publishes an annual collection of essays on The Best American Movie Writing. The essays tend to be written by popular film critics and journalists of various types. Some are filmmakers. The 1999 volume was edited by Peter Bogdanovich and contains essays by Martin Scorcese, David Denby, Molly Haskell, Gore Vidal, Douglas Brinkley, Steven Spielberg, Phillip Lopate, Andrew Sarris, William Zinsser, Roger Ebert, E. L. Doctorow, and others. Titles sometimes provide clues about the potential philosophical relevance of specific essays and the films they discuss.
  3. Some books deal with a specific film or range of films from a philosophical perspective. A noteworthy example is the book Mel Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy: The Cross, the Questions, the Controversy. Open Court and Blackwell have published popular culture book series with other titles like this one dealing with a specific film or film series.
  4. For films on religious themes with philosophical overtones, there is, for example, Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston’s Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith. The authors are Protestant ministers and theologians, with interests that overlap those of philosophers. Several books fall into this category.
  5. Some textbooks make use of film as a complement to the exposition of philosophical themes. Dean Kowalski has composed a textbook that is part exposition, part anthology, and part film criticism: Classic Questions and Contemporary Film: An Introduction to Philosophy. Nancy Wood makes topical film suggestions in her textbook (designed chiefly for nursing students) Perspectives on Argument.

It goes without saying that search engines will turn up valuable resources on the web. I’ve been collecting URLs for websites and blogs about film and films.

I also keep track of my own associations between philosophical themes and the films I watch. While viewing a film, I’ll often make notes in the small Moleskine notebook that I always keep handy (using my Bullet Space Pen, of course). With a little practice, I’ve even been able to make notes in the darkness of a movie theatre and find them legible later in the light of day. And I don’t mind pausing a DVD to make a note now and then.

I store my notes using a software application called Scrivener. For Mac users it’s a great improvement over word processors (like MS Word) for this sort of thing. With the application open to my film file, I can enter notes on separate “pages” under different headings that I can later arrange in any order I like. (The virtues of Scrivener deserve praise in a separate blog some other time.) In my Scrivener film file I have folders for individual films, and in each folder are individual notes of various kinds. Additions to existing notes and the creation of new notes are simple activities. Note categories include: General Impressions, Themes, Quotes/Favorite Lines, Pedagogical Ideas, etc. I’m not limited to my own observations when making notes with Scrivener. I can add anything that has turned up in my research, including informal film discussions, lecture ideas, class activities, contributions by students, recommendations by colleagues, web links, and citations from books, journals, and magazines.

Because of my book on film, people often ask, “Have you seen such-and-such a film? It’s loaded with philosophically interesting ideas.” When that happens, I encourage them to write a short piece that I can add to the website for my book: www.faith-film-philosophy.com. Now I find myself with essays to edit for eventual posting there.

Our students have fertile imaginations. They frequently come up with philosophy-film connections that I wouldn’t have dreamed of. For a paper assignment earlier this year, one student told me he wanted to write about the film Ratatouille. I asked him what kind of philosophical essay he thought he could write about this entertaining animated film. He made a compelling case that the film expressed deep ideas in the realm of taste and aesthetics. I approved, he wrote a great essay, and I learned something valuable from what he had to say.

I can’t conclude this post without inviting you to post comments with (a) your own methods of dredging up films that complement the goals of higher education (beyond the film studies department), and (2) specific suggestions for films and their philosophical content. And I want to thank Chris Panza, whom I’ve never met, for raising the question that became the subject of this post.

“John McCain Owes Michelle Obama an Apology”—Not


Barack Obama is disappointed in John McCain. In the ensuing months, he may have to get used to disappointment. Especially if he’s going to use his media opportunities to demand apologies from McCain for things he hasn’t done. First time at bat in this game, Senator Obama is disappointed that Senator McCain has not denounced the rumor and innuendo that Mrs. Obama (do we still call our First Ladies “Mrs.”?) used the racist word “whitey” in a speech some years ago. But rumor has it that it was someone close to Hillary Clinton who threw the first pitch, presumably in an effort to discredit Senator Obama during the Democrat primaries.

So what has Senator McCain done wrong in this inning? His sin is one of omission rather than commission: he hasn’t had the decency to denounce the scurrilous rumor. Must McCain now monitor every negative thing that’s said about the Obamas and use his own media opportunities to distance himself from the source of each rumor? Come on—this is the Big Leagues. Champions don’t play ball in the sandbox.

Whether he should be the next President or not, it surely is clear that McCain does not owe the Obamas a public expression of sympathy in this matter. McCain should ignore the other Senator’s challenge. Here’s why:

First, McCain’s credentials as a man of fairness do not depend on what other people say about his political opponents, unless those other people speak in some suitably official sense on his behalf.

Second, Mr. Obama has insinuated that Mr. McCain is comfortable with putting families under the microscope during Presidential campaigns, and Obama assumes that this is a no-no. But this tactic is misleading. Certainly, there is a tradition of respecting the privacy of a candidate’s children, especially if they are young children. Older children who campaign for a parent deservedly come under closer scrutiny. But in Big League campaigns—like campaigning for President of the United States—spouses naturally come under public scrutiny. There are several legitimate and important reasons for this:

  • A President’s spouse is, presumably, an intimate life-partner and a reflection on the President’s values and wisdom when making substantive decisions.
  • In recent years, it’s come to light that Presidential wives influence policy through their relationships with their husbands. (We’ve also seen the potential for a Presidential spouse to blackmail her high-profile and politically powerful mate, should he violate a sacred trust.)
  • Presidential wives have exercised considerable independent leadership on issues of national interest, exploiting (rightly or wrongly) the opportunity created by virtue of nuptial relations with the President.
  • A President’s spouse is a key ambassador to the world and a barometer of what is best about America. American citizens have a vested interest in how their First Lady represents them.

That last point leads to a third reason why McCain should not swing at Obama’s pitch. It’s likely that a non-trivial number of Americans would like to know whether Michelle Obama actually spoke (or mis-spoke) as alleged. And public opinion has to be respected by candidates for high office.

The influential role of public opinion isn’t some necessary evil made inevitable by democracy. The influence of public opinion is a public good, especially when it is well-informed opinion. It is one of the few means available for the electorate to hold its leaders (or would-be leaders) accountable. Some political leaders have been remarkably obtuse about this. Ours is an open society in ways unimaginable just decades ago. Still, an astonishing number of politicians today behave in an impolitic manner, as if no one will notice.

Barack Obama’s decision to bait John McCain may prove to be a strategic error, for it’s likely to encourage the electorate to make more deliberate comparisons between Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain. Who can be predict what that will mean? The two woman are conspicuously different in many respects. Polling the electorate on this point probably won’t be very illuminating, since many people would consider questions about potential First Ladies to be indelicate, even if their Presidential preference is influenced by impressions they have of candidates’ wives. And Obama’s recent comments suggest that he prefers to re-direct focus on his wife.

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