My term started in early September when I began teaching my class of Pittsburgh students about the films of Stephen Frears. I’d chosen this subject partly as preparation for a complete retrospective that I am preparing with Larry Kardish for the Museum of Modern Art in 2012 and partly because Frears’s oeuvre offers both three great films on London and a array of genres which form a very good introduction to the cinema. The course has been very enjoyable.
I have been astonished how good the films have been and how much the class has liked them. Of course, many of Frears’s films I know backwards, I teach the three London films (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Dirty Pretty Things) most years However, I must admit that when I sat down to watch Gumshoe after 38 years I was a little worried about how it might have aged. Luckily not only did I find funny and affecting but so did my class of American twenty year olds. And they are smart; each week I learn something new about the films.
The class has also had a great stroke of luck. Stephen is shooting a new film, Tamara Drew, from a Posy Simmonds script, and Tracey Seward who is producing the film is kind enough to allow the class to spend a day at Pinewood as extras. They enjoy the day immensely, particularly the food and I think learn a great deal about the way a film is actually made.
Frears himself comes to the last class and is quizzed about everything from where he puts the camera to how he chooses his projects. Frears is always interesting but I am most fascinated when he says that he started off shooting Dangerous Liasons with wide shots and then moved into close up when he realized that his American stars acted with a degree of subtlety which could only be caught in close up.
After the class we go for a farewell lunch. I have always enjoyed teaching but in the last ten years it has become more and more of a delight. This class is a particular pleasure. I watch my students bloom each year. I hope my class plays a small part in this but I know that much more important is that almost all of them are away from home and in a foreign country for the first time. Above all they are in London. All my academic knowledge is of little importance beside the fact that I can talk to them of London over the half a century of my life.
Next term I will meet them in the Cathedral of Learning and walking up and down Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh. They are always incredibly pleased to see me; or rather they are incredibly pleased to be reminded of their time in London.