20th April 2001 at 01:00
HOW TO MAKE YOUR MOVIE:an Interactive Film School. BFI Education pound;75. FILM AS PRODUCT IN CONTEMPORARY HOLLYWOOD. By Nick Lacey and Roy Stafford. BFI Education pound;14.99. DOCUMENTARIES: a Teacher's Guide. By Jo Wilcock. Auteur Publishing pound;15.99. Classroom Resources pound;22.50. UNDERSTANDING FILM TEXTS: Meaning and Experience. By Patrick Phillips. BFI Education pound;10.99 (pound;9.98 for educational institutions). THE MOVIES AS HISTORY- Visions of the Twentieth Century. Edited by David W Ellwood. Sutton Publishing pound;14.99.

Remarkable neither as art nor as commercial cinema, Pasta Paolo is unlikely to win an Oscar, or any other award for that matter. Yet it could be one of the most important films some students will ever see. The central focus of the three CD-Rom set, How to Make Your Movie, Pasta Paolo is the finished work of the freshman year students in a film school somewhere in the US. By tracing a path through assorted classrooms, users follow the production process from initial idea to final cut.

Taking care always to emphasise the value of preparation, the program scans such activities as screenwriting, rehearsal, lighting, editing and, of course, shooting the film. This is the best of several impressive features. As scenes are screened, animated diagrams indicate camera movement in relation to the actors' changing positions. This is what teachers have waited years for. Less inspiring are some overlong text passages and self-indulgent inserts, but the whole is far better than just these parts suggest.

The films that commonly walk off with the Oscars are "event" movies, the blockbusters that cost millions to promote and to make. Film as Product in Contemporary Hollywood, a well-researched work pack by Nick Lacey and Roy Stafford, examines industrial practices in Hollywood past and present with referenc to "high concept" movies.

For real howlers you have to go to Jo Wilcock's Documentaries: a Teacher's Guide, where the presentation of the landmark BBC television series, The Ascent of Man, is attributed to David Attenborough rather than Jacob Bronowski, and where Peter Watkin, rather than Watkins, is said to have made The War Game in 1965, a docu-drama "based on the battle of Dresden". Nobody "battled" for Dresden in the Second World War; the city was devastated by Allied bombers in February, 1945. There are other errors. Ignore these, and you have an interesting and fairly thorough review of the history and forms of documentary cinema.

The photocopiable companion booklet, Documentaries: Classroom Resources, is more reliable and offers rewarding exercises.

If howlers are scarce in Patrick Phillips's Understanding Film Texts: Meaning and Experience, there are screamers by the dozen. The effect is of too many sentences ending on a slightly hysterical note. Over-anxious writing lessens the pleasure of a book that examines the fundamentals of film-making and film theory through close and critical reference to features familiar (The Matrix; Sliding Doors) or not (A Chinese Ghost Story; Secrets and Lies). That said, a text that so frequently prods students into closely examining the nature of and reasons for their own reactions to films still merits a wide audience.

So does David Ellwood's The Movies as History: Visions of the Twentieth Century, a collection of essays by different authors on 21 different films of either greater or lesser repute. The sheer awfulness of some of the films makes them no less fit subjects for socio-historical comment than acknowledged masterpieces. The essays make essential reading for anyone not afraid to revise their opinions.

Laurence Alster

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