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the perfect human irks students

We kicked off a unit on microfiction in my creative writing class the other day. This segment of the course will be focused heavily on the idea of revision–sometimes arbitrary, always gut-wrenching. The process we’re following is one I’ve been developing with a colleague of mine based on the film The Five Obstructions. The very basic idea of the film–and the idea of our project–is that an original short work is remade a number of times each time with a set of obstructions (or difficult rules) that will force the writer out of his or her comfort zone and into new creative territory. It becomes a kind of diabolical game where obstructer tries to trip up the writer–to ruin his or her work. The goal of the writer is to embrace the obstructions rather than resist them–to see them as gifts to be used for advancing his or her art.

Anyway, I showed my students the original short film The Perfect Human that filmmaker Jorgen Leth is asked to remake five times by Lars Von Trier in the feature-length film The Five Obstructions. I thought this would be a nice starting point for our own obstructions project, and I was curious to see if students could appreciate the narrative similarities between short film and microfiction. Here’s the film:

The reaction from my students was less-than-impressed. One student went so far as to say he thinks they should show a film like that to prisoners of war who are being interrogated. They would most certainly crack within the twelve minutes of the film run-time. While my student’s hyperbole generated a laugh or two, I found it curious that reactions would be so negative to this little gem of a film. Granted, it’s not what most of the students are likely used to, but what makes it so unbearable? Is it because it’s “old” and in black and white? Is it the foreign language and the need to read subtitles? Is it the “artsy” feel or the slow methodical examination of the characters? The slight and subtle story arc? I’ll continue to think on this as we progress through the project. Perhaps I will understand it in a few days…

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