How to Learn the History of Film?

One of the key ingredients in the success of the modern or post-modern filmmaker is that he or she has a familiarity with the history of film, and when considering film programs, you must ask yourself if film school is the best place to learn the history of film. In order to make the best movies, a filmmaker must be able to draw upon images, themes, storylines, and visual tones from movies that have been made from locations and by cultures around the globe, and to draw upon the films of earlier times, stretching all the way back to the first kinescope. This means that an aspiring filmmaker need know far more about the cinema beyond the scope of his or her particular interests.

A certain amount of discipline will be called for in your effort to integrate the wildly different cinematic styles that have appeared throughout times and cultures both foreign and of our own making. The importance of familiarity with the history of film in all its diverse forms is an essential element, so where, then to gain such a familiarity? Again, one naturally thinks of film school, but is film school the best place to learn the history of film? In reality, film school offers a number of courses that will focus largely on a particular genre, era, or cultural period and can indeed expose you to a wide variety of styles . . . and so can Netflix.

The elements to look for when considering film school are not so much about the history of film and what has already been done, but the present world of film, and what is being done now, and even more so it should be about the future world of film, and how things will be done then. These experiences can be found at film schools that stress a more hands-on approach and the opportunity to engage in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. By finding work in the real world of film, you can gain the on the job understanding of how the film world works.

As far as its history goes, you can spend your time in classrooms overanalyzing the greats of the cinema, or just devote a couple of hours a couple of nights a week to watching the same films in the comfort of your home, and letting them work their inherent magic upon you. In summary, if you ask “Is film school the best place to learn the history of film?” the kindest retort might be, “Yes, if you wish to waste much of your time.”

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