We all have our favorite film critics. Maybe we gravitated to them because they write well or because they share our tastes, but the very best of them — the critics we read even on genres and directors we otherwise wouldn't care about — make us see movies in a new way. Specifically, they make us see them the way they do, and the point of view of a professional critic steeped in cinema history and theory (not to mention the thousands and thousands of hours of actual film they've watched) will always have a richness that the casual moviegoer can't hope to enjoy on his/her own.
Unless, of course, you take The Film Experience, a 23-lecture course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you don't need to enroll at MIT — or even show up and surreptitiously audit — to take it, since the school has made those lectures, their accompanying materials, and even supplemental media (just like the DVD extras that have inspired a generation of cinephiles) free on their OpenCourseWare site. They've also assembled the videos, starring MIT's Film and Media Studies program founding professor David Thorburn, into a single Youtube playlist.
Thorburn's lectures begin with the introduction to film as a cultural form at the top of the post, which itself begins with the question "What is film?" He then launches into a journey through film history, from the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (see also our Keaton and Chaplin collections) to the Hollywood studio era and Alfred Hitchcock (for whom we've got a collection as well) to American film in the 1970s and Italian neorealism to François Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa. When you come out of the course possessing a newly heightened ability to decode the language of film, you may or may not hear the calling to become a critic yourself — but at least it'll make your next trip to the multiplex more interesting.
The Film Experience will be added to our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.