Part of the fun of teaching and watching films with students is that they see things that I haven’t seen, which prompts me to think about the films in a different way. Working with their ideas is great.

Ken Eisenstein

There is a scene between Jim and Judy in Rebel Without A Cause, just after Buzz has driven off the cliff at the Chickie Run, where a car moves in the background. It is a very small detail, yet a recent student of Ken Eisenstein proposed in an analysis of the film that the car was driven by Buzz's ghost. The film/media studies professor was captivated.

"This is a film that I've seen and taught nearly 10 times, and that car had never registered in my mind as having significance," says Eisenstein, who asks his students to closely watch the films he shows. "The student wrote a persuasive argument about why the car moves in the background and how sound was applied to the movement. Part of the fun of teaching and watching films with students is that they see things that I haven't seen, which prompts me to think about the films in a different way. Working with their ideas is great," he says.

Eisenstein enjoys discussing a film's discrete details with students. "I talk about the color of a character's collar or a brooch that a character is wearing, or paintings in a character's room that will be shown, and then hidden, depending on a camera's movement or the lighting in the room. The best filmmakers use very small elements as part of the telling of their story," he says.

His research focuses on American avant-garde film of the 1960s and '70s, particularly the films of Hollis Frampton and Ernie Gehr. Eisenstein says that in general little is known about these filmmakers, which is one of the reasons for his interest. The filmmakers were devoted to the power of cinema as a fully creative force, rather than as commercial entertainment. Some of the films are obscure, with lengths ranging from one second to 371 days.

"These types of films challenge the way we typically think about cinema. They are made by great artists who approached their work from a purely fine-arts perspective. It's exciting to me, and hopefully to my students, to watch and ponder the images they've produced."

Posted Oct. 7, 2015

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