After teaching students the works of esteemed literary and film giants such as James Joyce and Orson Welles, English professor Morris Beja is now sharing the filmography of another esteemed film legend with students: director Stanley Kubrick.
Beja’s English 578 class, “Special Topics in Cinema: Stanley Kubrick,” meets at 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at Gateway Film Center.
“In recent years, the filmmaker that I’ve been most fascinated with has been Stanley Kubrick,” Beja said. “I just find myself so intrigued by his work that I want to now expose myself to it as much as possible and teach it.”
Most weeks, one day of class is devoted to a screening while the other day is for discussion. The films screened in the class are “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”
“Every one of his major movies has an element of mystery about them, intrigue, controversy, down to his last one, ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ which was very controversial,” Beja said.
Presenting the films of Kubrick to a college class works because the films are “teachable,” Beja said.
“There are things to ponder,” he said. “There are great movies out there, fabulous movies that are almost a little hard to teach except to talk about how nice they are.”
Though Kubrick films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” are noted for ambiguity in their themes, Beja said he tries to teach students other aspects of the film as well.
“I like to stress the technique,” he said. “I don’t want to ignore those technical aspects for the sake of just talking about themes, but obviously you also have to do that to ponder just what is being suggested.”
Because of the complex nature of Kubrick’s films, Beja does not expect students to fully unpack Kubrick’s ideas in the course of a class.
“I don’t expect them in just one session to know all about [a film], any more if I were teaching a Shakespeare course, I would expect them to know everything there is to know about ‘Hamlet,’” he said.
Some of Beja’s students, including Brice Patterson-Blight, a fourth-year in English, said they enjoy the class’s learning environment.
“I think Professor Beja is definitely a very studied man and he knows the material he’s working with very well,” he said. “I really like that it’s held in the theater. I think that’s the perfect environment for a specific course study on a director.”
Kubrick died in 1999 shortly after filming “Eyes Wide Shut,” leaving Marie Chirico, a fourth-year in psychology, longing for more.
“He seems like he’s very good at what he does, but kind of someone that was taken a little too early,” she said. “I think he could have done a lot more good work.”
Meanwhile, Beja said he wants students to walk away from his course with an understanding that cinema is a multifaceted medium.
“Cinema is worth studying and not just watching,” he said. “It’s worth thinking about, and Kubrick is a prime example of how that can be true.”
[This story ran in The Lantern on April 27, 2010. Click here.]