How to View and Appreciate Great Movies

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intelligent and engaging The course was interesting, informative and engaging.
Date published: 2020-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable, light, informative, fun GREAT course!! I don't understand what the negative reviews are about. Can't you deal with something a little different? I started watching this class after a heavy historical class, The Fall and Rise of China. I wanted something fun and light for my next class. This hit the spot! First of all, the intro part that is common to most of The Great Courses was different - a cute cartoon that put a smile on your face. The professor got into different aspects of film making that I had never thought about. He gave an interesting and enthusiastic presentation. Regarding some of the points in the negative reviews: He mentioned many, many films and didn't show lots of film clips because the rights to these films would have cost a fortune, obviously. I didn't find that to be a problem. He either fully described the scenes he was talking about or showed it in story boards. Re the way the lecture started and ended, fiddling around with film or whatever, what's the big deal? Can't a professor have some originality? Re the Roger Ebert quotes, I found that consistency good - they were interesting quotes. Also, there were a few special effects and fun things done during the course. So what I'm planning to do now, is get the Lecture One movies listed in the Guidebook from the library and watch them and then re-watch Lecture One. And I'll do that with all the lectures. I purchased one of the books recommended and I'll be reading that. I'm looking forward to a 2nd course by this professor. How about one on TV shows?
Date published: 2020-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and fun...but a little hokey I actually enjoyed this series and got something out of it, but there are a few irritations that I’ll mention. Despite these gripes, I’d probably watch another series with this prof. Problem 1: distracting, hokey direction. Prof looks into camera 1, then swings around 2 seconds later to look at camera 2, then back to 1, then 2, ad nauseam. What's the point of this? He always ends up looking straight at me (the viewer), so why show him changing position every two seconds? This has become the house style of recent Great Courses series, and it’s extremely stupid. I much prefer the older, more natural style, where the prof stands at podium, delivers a lecture for 30 minutes...what’s wrong with that? That’s exactly what it’s like to attend a lecture in college. Problem 2: prof acts like he’s doing “film stuff” (like fiddling with an editing machine) at beginning and end of lectures. Again, distracting and hokey. As a general rule, you should never force a non-actor to act, when there’s no need for it, because he’s going to look like a complete dork. Problem 3: prof quotes Roger Ebert at the end of each lecture…when the quotes are platitudes, and have barely anything to do with the content of the lecture. Problem 4: animated examples are absolutely ridiculous. They look like bad video game models from 1994. They’re just examples, so I guess you can get the point even if the graphics are bad, but still…yikes. Spend more time on those animations, or (better) get the rights to use actual clips from movies. Problem 5: (more serious than the previous issues) judging by this series, the prof seems to have pretty terrible taste in films. He draws almost all of his examples from recent blockbusters. I guess it makes sense to illustrate a point using a film that everybody has seen, like Jaws…so, fair enough. But generally, if you take a film class, you study the works of the grand masters of cinema: Chaplin, Hitchcock, John Ford, and the rest. It’s weird that a film prof has so little interest in film history, or art film. (Except Citizen Kane.)
Date published: 2020-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Discovering why I like a given movie I bought this series while sheltering in place during the pandemic. I needed some stimulation. I was pleasantly surprised when I began learning the framework various film directors, script writers, etc. used to frame some of my favorite Netflix films. And the lecture did so with humor and knowledge.
Date published: 2020-04-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disapointing The content is not what I was expecting from the course description. No clips of movies but you do get to see some cheesy computer generated story boards. This course has very little to do with appreciating movies. It's more about aspects of making movies. Those are two entirely different things. I can find better content on appreciating movies on YouTube and they actually have clips of the films they are discussing. I ended up returning it for another course.
Date published: 2020-04-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I was very disappointed in the content ot the course. The lectures did not always seem to reflect an understanding of any subltlety of the course and more of a want-to-be film teacher than an actual professor. Many times he missed the substance of the course or the subject he was supposedly analyzing. The talk was long and shallow while he missed the meaning of film. I wanted to know more about film history and technique and he only presented a droning lecture on films I feel are not only not classics but banal and not worthy of my time.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Great Course So Far! I have watched 36 Great Courses, so far, and "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies" was the best course yet! I didn't look at the reviews until I finished this course. I am glad I didn’t because if I had read the reviews, I probably wouldn't have purchased this course. There were many good reviews and I will try not to duplicate many of the points that have been highlighted in these reviews. Take the bad reviews with a grain of salt. Most of the complaints were because the lessons did not contain original clips from the movies that were mentioned. While I felt the same way, for a while, I soon understood why there were no original clips used as examples. First, there would have been a huge cost associated with acquiring original clips. I know this from experience. A non-profit charity put on a drive-thru Christmas lighting display, for donations. The charity wanted to show clips from the movie, “A Christmas Story” while people waited in their car before getting into the display area. The quote to get the short clips for “A Christmas Story” was $50,000! Just for this one movie, alone. As you can see, getting the rights to show clips for all the movies used in Professor Williams’ lectures would have been prohibitive. Second, Professor Williams discussed so many topics and so many different things to look for in movies, that he used as examples, it would have been an impossible task to show all the movie clips that represented all the different topics he was highlighting. I will elaborate further. Professor Williams is not a lecturer for "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies". He tells stories. I felt like he was talking to me, personally, at home or in a bar, as he discussed how I may appreciate movies more than I have in the past. He is a storyteller. Just like reading a novel, you use your imagination to try to understand what the writer of the book is trying to communicate. Professor Williams is telling a story about things that happen in a movie and you (as a listener and a watcher, as he tells his stories) use your imagination as to what he is talking about. Many of the movies that he uses as examples, you already have seen, and you start thinking about them differently. Many movies that he discusses you may not have seen, but he makes you want to go out and see them, right now! That’s how good Professor Williams is. He tells stories about how he interprets the various parts of a movie, such as genre, colors used, shapes used, dialog written for the movie, actors, music, sound effects and many other topics. You can tell that he has not only seen many movies, he has analyzed them extensively, inside and out. The discussions are his ideas, based on his years of experience. If he talks about a movie you have already seen, you may say to yourself, “Oh, now I understand why the (movie director) did this or that.” You will see movies in a whole new light! Another complaint that some people had is with Professor Williams’ discussion of genres. He is right, that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of genres that people use to categorize movies. He postulates that there are really only eleven, which he explains. However, he further categorizes genres into macro and micro genres. If that is so, why not just go with the hundreds of genres that are already used? That is like saying all plants, animals and bacteria should not be classified first by Kingdom and then by more detailed classifications and, instead, should be classified only by the millions of species or breeds. That would truly be unwieldy. Likewise, Professor Williams uses only eleven genres to categorize movies and from there, he labels the movies in more detail. It makes explaining movies very simple. For example, that movie is a crime movie. Further, it is about a heist. And if you want to be more exact, it is about two buddies doing something they shouldn’t have done. If someone asks you what that movie was about, you say, “It’s a crime movie.” See how easy that was! As a side note, the set that is used in this course is facinating. It looks like a film editing room, with all the old, traditional machines, foley (sound effects) items and more. None of this green screen fake background, here. You think you are really in an editing room! Professor Williams uses this set to his advantage, also. When he talks, you feel like you are talking to the editor of a great film, as he describes the methods he uses to "cut" the movie. At other times, you think you are listening to the director of the movie, explaining why he chose the methods he used, during the shooting. And although Professor Williams does not discuss acting in detail, he explains how actors can make a good movie great and methods they use to do that. I learned a lot about movies that I had not even started to think about. I know I will start to enjoy movies more than ever and appreciate all the intricate aspects of movie making. Professor Williams couldn’t have been a better presenter and storyteller. I highly recommend "How to View and Appreciate Great Movies".
Date published: 2020-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from In School Again? He obviously has lots of experience lecturing on a college level. That is good, but when he defined genres, macrogenres, microgenres, and supergenres - I said No Thanks. I do not want dry analytical acedemia!
Date published: 2020-01-09
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How to View and Appreciate Great Movies
Course Trailer
The Art of the Silver Screen
1: The Art of the Silver Screen

Professor Williams introduces his passion for film by explaining exactly what experience he wants to capture—what makes movies magic for him. He provides a brief history of movies and foreshadows elements of the course that he will be digging deeper into including music, framing, and the three-act structure, tying the whole thing together by familiarizing you with what he considers one of the most important movie elements: tension.

34 min
We All Need Another Hero: Universal Stories
2: We All Need Another Hero: Universal Stories

Professor Williams introduces you to the story of a young hero, living a boring life on a small farm. Through extreme circumstances, the hero is whisked off on a journey through new lands full of strange and colorful characters, and introduced to a dangerous foe. The hero rises to various challenges, finds friends, and ultimate defeats the bad guy in a neat, happy ending. This is Professor Williams’s favorite movie. Is it Star Wars? Is it The Wizard of Oz? Uncover the foundation of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” and explore how this plot device shows up in many seemingly unrelated films and genres.

31 min
Movie Genre: It’s Not What You Think
3: Movie Genre: It’s Not What You Think

Begin this lecture with a challenge: How many film genres are there? Professor Williams spends this lecture introducing you to the definitive list of genres based on what happens in the film and how the movie makes you feel, not an arbitrary and generalized category. Diving deeply into the meanings and examples of movie genres can help you better define what you look for and love. As for the actual number of film genres Professor Williams has established? You’ll have to watch the lecture to find out the answer.

32 min
Genre Layers and Audience Expectations
4: Genre Layers and Audience Expectations

Become familiar with three simple variations of film genre: super genre, macrogenres, and microgenres. Professor Williams will further break down each by filtering in three important variables: atmosphere, character, and story. He’ll discern the difference between a heist film and an escape film, explain how the characters with whom your sympathies lay often define the genre you are viewing, and show how one movie can encapsulate multiple macro- and microgenres, with each additional label changing your expectations.

33 min
Popcorn Can Wait: Story Shape and Tension
5: Popcorn Can Wait: Story Shape and Tension

Professor Williams introduces the relationship between story shape and story rhythm. By presenting the shape for several genres—and you may be surprised to see he presents actual, recognizable shapes—you start to see the rhythm for your story and rhythms are essentially a pattern. To keep us coming back, sometimes filmmakers break the rhythm, while at other times they present the same pattern out of order. Characters, dialogue, and plot all play a part. But ultimately, building tension is the thing that keeps us in our seats and coming back.

33 min
Themes on Screen
6: Themes on Screen

Examine the concept of theme through a spectrum of approaches ranging from traditional filmmakers who believe that their role is to be part educator, philosopher, or theologian and the non-traditional filmmakers who often present messy and contradictory situations or characters without moralizing, lecturing, or judging. Professor Williams then layers on the method of storytelling chosen to present the movie theme—active vs. didactic vs. both, creating a matrix upon which he breaks down and plots several popular movies to help illustrate what the theme is and to determine when and how the theme will make its way into the film.

32 min
Paradigm Shift: Citizen Kane and Casablanca
7: Paradigm Shift: Citizen Kane and Casablanca

Looking at two iconic films that make up the yin and yang of filmmaking—Casablanca and Citizen Kane—Professor Williams looks at the historical context, the important elements, and the lasting influence these films have made on every component of movie making over the last 75 years. As Professor Williams breaks down Casablanca, you’ll better understand the three factors that made this movie an instant classic, suitable for repeat viewing: the characters, the theme, and the ending. With Citizen Kane, he’ll introduce you to seven groundbreaking film techniques that changed movies forever.

32 min
The Language of Visual Storytelling
8: The Language of Visual Storytelling

Learn how to look at film as you might study a painting. Professor Williams opens by explaining how visual literacy is based upon at least four central factors: color, space, line, and shapes. He then delves into the distinct camera moves and how each pan, zoom, and dolly brings you a different view and impression of what you’re seeing. Using classically, beautifully shot movies such as Blow Up, American Beauty, Jaws, and others, you’ll examine framing and filming constructs such as the “rule of thirds” and point of interest.

32 min
Building Screen Space: Blocking and Framing
9: Building Screen Space: Blocking and Framing

On a basic level, blocking is the way that characters interact in a space. Framing is the way in which the blocking is captured by a camera. It seems foolproof, so it’s hard to believe what a subconscious impact it can have when done well. Professor Williams explains how both framing and blocking can be broken down into the elements of lines and shape and scale. Using a plethora of examples including The Wizard of Oz, The Manchurian Candidate, Good Will Hunting, and others, you’ll explore what sorts of messages good blocking and framing can send.

32 min
The Cutting Room Floor: Powerful Editing
10: The Cutting Room Floor: Powerful Editing

What happens in an editing booth is a mystery to many of us. Professor Williams illuminates this complex and vital process, introducing the three stages of editing and delving into how an editor removes, inserts, and organizes hours and hours of footage into a comprehensive, visually literate film that resonates with the audience. Looking at movies including Roshomon, Slumdog Millionaire, The Godfather II, Reservoir Dogs, and more, you’ll explore examples of how editing can visually manipulate us, while setting the tone, pace, and thematic intention of the movie.

33 min
Sound Design and Acoustic Illusion
11: Sound Design and Acoustic Illusion

Professor Williams introduces you to the four approaches to film sound, provides eye-opening (or perhaps “ear-opening”) insights into where the sound made a scene memorable in films such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Hurt Locker, and how tuning us into what our character hears provides us with more than just background noise.

35 min
Setting the Scene: Masterful Set Design
12: Setting the Scene: Masterful Set Design

Dive into Apollo 13, The Shining, Room, Clockwork Orange, and more, to discover how props and set design can set a story up, introduce the characters, and provide clues about what to expect before the first line of dialogue has been spoken. Professor Williams demonstrates how the evolution or degradation of the set and props can often act as a mirror to the character’s mental state.

34 min
Special Effects in the 20th Century
13: Special Effects in the 20th Century

In the first of two lectures focused on the gamut of special effects from puppets to AI, you’ll learn the history and the science behind the magic we see and believe. Professor Williams unpacks the two types of special effects, complete with plenty of examples, and teases what two movies he believes are among the greatest special effects movies of all time.

32 min
Special Effects in the 21st Century
14: Special Effects in the 21st Century

You’ll go behind the scenes to discover the different ways stars interact with characters who don’t exist and the details that need to be captured—such as the correct angle of a non-existent sun reflection—when nothing you are filming is real. Plus, Professor Williams reveals his two picks for greatest special effects movie, and we’re pretty sure you’ll be surprised when you hear them.

35 min
Scoring the Story: Music in Film
15: Scoring the Story: Music in Film

Music tells a story and in film, it serves to continue or enhance the story you are watching via what you are hearing. Whether diegetic or non-diegetic, Professor Williams demonstrates how music becomes a motif or a leitmotif, acting as a guide for our subconscious attention, escorting us from scene to scene, or carrying us across continents, providing emotional cues and setting the stage for what to expect. Using examples from Jaws, Rocky, Star Wars and more, he demonstrates how just like with every other facet of moviemaking, filmmakers can use a score to adhere to—or subvert—your expectations.

35 min
Color and Light: Elements of Atmosphere
16: Color and Light: Elements of Atmosphere

Superficially, color and light add to a film’s aesthetic qualities, but Professor Williams will show you color and light can be used to tell a deeper story—emotionally and intellectually. Looking at a variety of films that make creative use of color and light, including Do The Right Thing, The Life of Pi, The Martian, and Schindler’s List, you’ll become familiar with a foundation of 12 hues, six color schemes, four characteristics of light, and three ways to use light—as well as what each means and how various combinations can alter how the audience sees the movie (literally and figuratively).

32 min
Knowing Characters from the Inside Out
17: Knowing Characters from the Inside Out

Professor Williams introduces the use of masks: public, private, and personal. He demonstrates that as characters pull each one off, we get to know them (and connect with them) better. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Imitation Game provide contrasting studies in the way the masks are used to reveal characters, and more importantly, to help you discern their motivation—What a character wants and what the character is willing to do to get it. Once the motivation is clear, the complexities of the character can be as well.

33 min
Knowing Characters from the Outside In
18: Knowing Characters from the Outside In

Professor Williams challenges you to read the screenplay of a movie you haven’t seen yet as if you were a detective, gleaning what you can about the plot, characters, and relationships simply from the word choices. Through a reading of Lean on Me, Professor Williams introduces you to the things you can learn about a character from what he or she says and what he or she portrays—or doesn’t say.

31 min
Secondary Characters and Supporting Actors
19: Secondary Characters and Supporting Actors

Thelma and Louise, The Godfather, and Barton Fink provide the backdrop for an expansive consideration of how supporting roles are used to influence our opinion of the protagonist. Professor Williams explores the idea that by pushing, reacting, and reflecting, the secondary characters define motive and reveal what the main characters are not. They represent the hearts and souls of our main characters.

33 min
Star Power: Lead Actors and Their Roles
20: Star Power: Lead Actors and Their Roles

Professor Williams acknowledges he can’t tell you how an actor does what he or she does, but through this lecture he helps you appreciate the nuance that goes into acting as he breaks down the role of an actor. As you travel through Psycho, Get Out, The Thin Red Line, Rounders, and others, you discover what actors do (or should do) to prepare for roles and the pressure to portray believability.

30 min
Character Relationships and Audience Empathy
21: Character Relationships and Audience Empathy

How relationships work is complex enough in reality. Professor Williams uses Precious and The Piano, and sprinkles in theories from Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to illustrate how relationships are established, how the relationships work, and how they create tension in film. Examining established archetypes and character types, Professor Williams shows you how easy it is to make movies predictable and how objective and intention can help subvert expectations.

33 min
Pathways to Great Antagonists
22: Pathways to Great Antagonists

Discover how a great villain is created and that a villain and an antagonist are not the same. Professor Williams demonstrates how all great villains are a distorted reflection of the hero, through movies including The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Silence of the Lambs, and Rocky. He unpacks why the antagonist may not always be bad, but must be present. Additionally, you’ll explore the four thematic groupings (pathways) and how the protagonist and antagonist are utilized in each.

36 min
Point of View in Script and on Screen
23: Point of View in Script and on Screen

As the lens through which the audience views the story, the point of view a movie takes can truly enhance your appreciation for how stories in movies can be told. Professor Williams reveals the decision trees that come with crafting the point of view, starting with three central questions. Using Annie Hall, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Sherlock Holmes, No Country for Old Men, and more, you get a handle on how to decipher the POV and the reason behind it, adding a whole new dimension to your enjoyment of the story.

34 min
Filmmaker’s Voice and Audience Choice
24: Filmmaker’s Voice and Audience Choice

After breaking down the filmmaker’s voice into six central parts, Professor Williams demonstrates how the audience itself—specifically our expectations—can play a key role in voice. Looking at films such as Anomolisa, The Artist, When Harry Met Sally, and others, you’ll see why it is what the filmmaker chooses to say with their voice that is important. Professor Williams also provides a list of five ways audiences can be made uncomfortable, reveals what a movie can tell you about itself in the first 10 minutes, and introduces three movies you’ve probably never heard of, but shouldn’t miss.

40 min
Eric R. Williams

Film, as an art form, helps us to define our experience of the world, and other worlds.


Columbia University


Ohio University

About Eric R. Williams

Eric R. Williams is a Professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University, where he teaches courses on screenwriting, film, and virtual reality production. He is also the director of the MFA in Communication Media Arts program at Ohio University. Professor Williams received his bachelor’s degree in Communication with a minor in Education from Northwestern University, and he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Film from Columbia University. Before directing his first feature film, Professor Williams worked as a cinematographer and assistant director in New York City. He has written more than 30 screenplays. He has also written, produced, and directed for companies such as Workshop Productions, Liam Films, American Movie Classics, Fox Interactive, and Universal Studios. Professor Williams’s films and screenplays have won the Best New Work award from the Writers Guild of America and the Individual Excellence Award in screenwriting from the Ohio Arts Council. His film Breaking News was selected as one of the “Top Five Films Not to Miss” by the Athens Independent Film Society at the Athens International Film and Video Festival. At Ohio University, he received the University Professor Award for excellence in teaching, and he was also a finalist for the Presidential Teacher Award. Professor Williams co-edited the book Media and the Creative Process. He is also the author of two other books: Screen Adaptation: Beyond the Basics and The Screenwriters Taxonomy. When he is not writing, producing, or directing, Professor Williams enjoys working on international media education projects and he frequently travels to South America and Eastern Europe. His dedication to teaching was recognized by the president of Guyana, where he was awarded a lifetime honorary membership to the CineGuyana society.

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