Long-time Frequency instructor, Victor Wildman, answered a few of our questions about his upcoming course and using cinema to become a more attentive writer.
Victor, you’ve taught numerous classes at this point where you incorporate the study of cinema in order to stimulate student writing. This one is focused on the figure of the Solitary Woman. Do you see this course as a meditation on character, setting or both those things?
“Meditation” might be the right word here in so far as it necessitates a certain openness, a withholding of judgement, a holding back, and ultimately a capacity to stand before a character, not with the mindset of an all-powerful creator, but as a witness. It’s about learning to pay attention, to wait for things to happen, or not happen. Observing a single character in a specific cinematic setting focuses your attention in a way that allows you not only to look, but to see.
How have you noticed your courses that braid cinema with literature affect student writing?
In a number of ways. Normally, it’s been about developing certain techniques for handling material. I often have students mimic in their writing something that a film is accomplishing on a formal level. For example, for Image into Text, one of the assignments was to generate, as Bergman does in Persona, a whole piece from a selected number of individual images, and just as Bergman brings the movie projector itself into the film, to make the physical process of writing the piece an element of the text. It was also about thinking about the kinds of things that, seemingly, only film could do, and to try to do them, in a formally approximating way, in the writing. I often use film to make students more viscerally aware of form, and this often leads to writing, that while initially restricted in its means, is surprising to the reader and the writer alike. In this way students often succeed in writing something that is awake, i.e. that feelsboth necessary and real.
Is there a particular text (novel or short story) you return to again and again for its cinematic quality or cinematic attention to detail?
The novel students will be reading during the six weeks of the course, along with watching and discussing the movies and doing the writing, Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gaddis. I see this book as the perfect literary analogue to the films we will be watching in that at the center of it is a solitary female character, Elizabeth Booth, who we come to know very well, not through any dominating authorial expositional intrusions but, much more cinematically, through observation. One of the most beautiful things about the book is how intimate we become with Elizabeth Booth by paying her the respect of our attention. And Gaddis makes our comprehension of even the minutest plot points dependent on precisely this attention. Moment to moment we are forced to give it to her, for otherwise we lose the sense of the entire book.