skip to content

Common Theme 2014-15Engaging in Public Life

Films

  • Man on Wire (2008): This Academy Award-winning documentary tells the story of Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung lines between the World Trade Center towers and danced for nearly an hour on the wires before being arrested for what some called the "artistic crime of the century."
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008): The title of this film is a play on the name of the city of Schenectady, New York, and the concept of synecdoche, in which part of something represents the whole, and vice versa. It is the story of a man who, while facing his own failing health, attempts to create his magnum opus: a massive theatrical presentation inside a Manhattan warehouse. As the film progresses, the line between reality and the play is blurred, and we are left to imagine what is real, what is part of the director's artistic vision - and if the distinction even matters.
  • Rivers and Tides (2001): Rivers and Tides studies the life and work of Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates intricate and ephemeral works out of rock, leaves, twigs and other natural objects. Because many of his works are left to the elements (some change, some disintegrate, others remain), the film becomes a metaphor for our relationship with nature.
  • Frida (2002): There are many films about artists, musicians and creative people, but Frida is unique in that the director Julie Taymor attempts to use Frida Kahlo's surrealistic artistic techniques in presenting her life story. The result is not always successful, but always interesting.
  • Right Out of History: The Making of Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" (1980): For five years, feminist artist Judy Chicago worked with a community of four hundred other artists, craftspeople and researchers to create "The Dinner Party," a monumental tribute to women of spirit and accomplishment throughout the ages – women whose names have been banished "right out of history." For over four of those five years, filmmaker Johanna Demetrakas followed the progress of "The Dinner Party," recording for posterity the alternately painstaking and exhilarating process of creating this work of unprecedented scale and beauty. Right Out of History reveals the behind-the-scenes drama of this enormous undertaking – the meticulous research, the technical problems and financial pressures, and the amount of sheer physical labor involved in creating a symbolic history of women's achievements.
  • Amadeus (1984): The creative muse is not always an easy companion. This Academy Award-winning film examines the relationship between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. While music seemed to stream from Mozart like a gift from the gods, Salieri, by his own account more deserving and hard working, struggles his whole life to achieve his dreams. Salieri, feeling cursed by the ability to understand Mozart's genius but not replicate it, chooses unusual methods to destroy his rival.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Toy Story (1995): Both of these groundbreaking films give the opportunity to discuss the role of technology in art. Snow White was the first full-length cel animated movie in history, and Toy Story the first to be entirely computer-animated. Both have been celebrated for achieving not only technical success, but also cinematic excellence in plot, characters, and beauty.