Film Studies

Aesthetic Realism

“If It Moves, It Can Move You”: Opposites in the Cinema

Taught by Ken Kimmelman

This series will show how the art of the cinema, in its technique and meaning, and in all its diversity—from slapstick to spectacle, cinema verité to the fantastic, tragedy to comedy—is a oneness of the permanent opposites in reality:

“All beauty,” stated Eli Siegel, “is a making one of opposites,
and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

Whenever a film is good or beautiful it is because it puts opposites together—rest and motion, light and dark, space and time, nearness and distance, continuity and discontinuity, unity and variety, freedom and order—the same opposites we are trying to make sense of in our lives. The series will study how these opposites are present in the motion picture, from Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery of 1903 to the latest cinematic achievement. Short film excerpts will be shown and discussed in each class.

The Fall semester of classes is now in session. For information about auditing classes, call the Registrar at 212.777.4490.

See flyer for Fall 2016


One Wednesday per month, 6 – 8 PM
3 Monthly classes:  $35
Fee for attending an individual class: $12



Sept. 28: The Mix-Up about Love–in Silent Classics, & Life

Films: He Who Gets Slapped, Flesh and the Devil, The Sheik, Pandora’s Box, Varieté

See flyer for September

Oct. 26: Recollecting the Past; or, The Drama of Pride & Shame

Films: Cinema Paradiso, The Kite Runner, Le Château de Ma Mère

See flyer for October

Nov. 23: The Land–Who Should Own It?

Films: Earth, Our Local Hero, Country, Our Daily Bread




May 25: Elections in Film: Is a Campaign For the People—or Against Them?

Every election is about the opposites: centrally, one and many. How much will a particular candidate—who is one person—honestly represent the people, all the people, in their manyness? Or is the candidate mainly interested in taking care of just himself or herself and “the 1 percent”? In the best films about elections those opposites of one and many are vivid, as are the opposites of private and public, hidden and shown: we see the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. And through it all, there is the fight that Eli Siegel described as the biggest in everyone: between contempt for the world and respect.

Films: Abe Lincoln in Illinois, The Candidate, Bulworth, All the King’s Men, The Best Man 

See flyer for May

June 22: Adventures at Sea: Water, Wind, Sky—and Good and Evil

Audiences have been gripped by intense and exciting films about adventures on the high seas, with their tumultuous storms and unsettling calms. We see people yielding to and resisting the elements, but also struggling with each other, and sometimes with themselves. When a film about the sea is powerful, it shows, with fine cinematic technique, the complex human drama of good and evil in the midst of the mysterious and mighty forces of nature.

Films: Moby Dick, The Caine Mutiny, Captains Courageous, Billy Budd, Lifeboat

See flyer for June

July 20: Films about the Press; or, The Drama of Ego vs. Truth

Filmmakers have been very interested in the newspaper business. Some films have shown courageous journalists fighting for justice. But many others have shown the conceit of press persons driven by contempt, using their power to manipulate the news—to lie about the facts, withhold information, damage and even destroy people’s lives—for their own glory and profit. A good film about the press gives dramatic, aesthetic form to the battle between ethics and ego, good will and ill will, truth and sleazy self-importance.

Films: Ace in the Hole, Citizen Kane, The Front Page, Veronica Guerin

See flyer for July


Apr. 27: The Corporate Cover-Up; or, Contempt Unmasked

In recent decades, films have exposed various corporate practices which companies have tried to keep hidden and have lied about—practices resulting, for example, in contaminated water, radiation poisoning, unsafe automobiles, deaths from tobacco. Both the practices and their effects are direct results of the profit motive. And these films are part of what Eli Siegel described as the force of ethics. The films, and the welcome they’ve received from audiences, are a showing that people are furious at the profit system—which is the using of human beings and the earth contemptuously, for somebody’s private profit. The corporate cover-up films illustrate both the contempt at the basis of profit economics, and the fact that, as Mr. Siegel explained, people are saying, “We don’t want ill will to hurt and poison our lives anymore.”

Films: Silkwood, The Insider, Erin Brockovich, The China Syndrome, Class Action, The Constant Gardener, A Civil Action

See flyer for April

Mar. 23: The Movie Musical: A New Relation of Sound & Sight, Intimacy & Width, Immediacy & Wonder

People have always loved singing and dancing, and when sound came to the movies with Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, the movie musical was born. The motion picture camera brought new visual dimension and splendors to the musical. Meanwhile, whenever the movie musical is good, it has—at one with stirring imagery—a depth and meaning.

Films: Gold Diggers of 1933, Singin’ in the Rain, Grease, Top Hat, The Sound of Music, Showboat, 42nd Street, Oklahoma, An American in Paris, South Pacific

See flyer for March

Jan 27: The Drama of Marriage in Film

Filmmakers around the globe have been very interested in presenting on the big screen the intimate drama of marriage—the hopes and fears, pains and pleasures, fors and againsts. Whenever a film about the relation of husband and wife is art, the film’s technique has what Aesthetic Realism shows marriage itself should go for: justice to, and love for, the world. Filmmakers and couples haven’t known this—and need to!

Films: Scenes from a Marriage; A Woman Under the Influence; Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams; Giorni e Nuvole (Days and Clouds); Dodsworth

See flyer for January class


Nov 25: The Drama of Art & Life—Films about Artists

Surprisingly, only a few filmmakers have been impelled to present the lives of artists on the big screen. Looking at some of the important painters of the world, they have tried to show what these artists were affected by, their vision, their technique, and their struggles. When these films are true to their subject, they illustrate what has been explained for the first time by Aesthetic Realism: the large fight in every artist, as in every person, is between respect, which is the source of all art, and contempt, which is the greatest enemy of both art and life.

Films: The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Pollock, Lust For Life, Renoir, Moulin Rouge (1952)

See flyer for November class

Oct 28: Lightness & Seriousness in the Short Animated Film

The impossible, the outrageous, the uproarious, and the gravity-defying can be seen in an animated film. While thousands of such films have been produced all over the world, the ones that are remembered are those that have true aesthetic form: that make opposites one. Notably, they put together the opposites of lightness and seriousness in a way that is surprising and meaningful. They delight audiences while also having a deep ethical message.

Films: Duck Amuck, For the Birds, The Danish Poet, The Dot & the Line, The Cow, The Old Mill

See flyer for October class

Sep 30: Courage under Fire—Films about the Resistance in World War II

Some of the greatest acts of valor in history were those of the men and women of the Resistance in World War II. They were persons passionately against the horrific evil of fascism. There are films about the Resistance that are art—stirring and unforgettable. These present the struggle of good and evil, courage and cowardice, triumph and defeat with a composition that is at once honest and beautiful. And they have one feel that, in Eli Siegel’s words, “good is also powerful. Good also has its metal and its speed.”

Films: The Army of Shadows, Battle of the Rails, Lucie Aubrac, Sophie Scholl, Army of Crime, The North Star, Counterfeit Traitor

See flyer for September class

June 24: Akira Kurosawa—or, Humanity Seen Dramatically

The films of Akira Kurosawa, one of the most celebrated directors, encompass the intimate aspirations of one man, epic armies battling for power, the struggles of the downtrodden, the intrigues of royalty. So much human tumult and depth and feeling are dealt with and presented with great cinematic beauty.

Films: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, Ikiru, Rashoman, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, High and Low, Ran

See flyer for June class

May 27: The Silent Film—A Great, New Art Form!

Something big and new in art came to be with the motion picture. “Right from the beginning,” Eli Siegel explained, “there was the accent on motion, some kind of abstraction even, and then there was sentimentality.” The silent film brought wonder to people and great emotion about the world.

Films: Intolerance, Greed, Napoleon, The Wind, The Big Parade

See flyer for May class

April 22: Film Noir—or, A Light in the Dark!

People have been interested in seeing corruption, crime, the darker side of life—the drama of good and evil—as these are shown on the big screen in a good film noir. The dramatic relation of black and white, shadow and sunlight, which are distinctive in this genre, have a large ethical and even hopeful meaning for every person’s life.

Films: Touch of Evil; Double Indemnity; Diabolique; Le Jour Se Lève;The Asphalt Jungle

See flyer for April class

March 25: Humor—or, The Awry Given Gorm in Three Foreign Films

Mishap, mayhem, and mischief, when given form in the cinema, have delighted audiences everywhere. Eli Siegel defined humor as “the feeling that the ugly is beautiful, while it is still seen as ugly first.” While styles may vary, anytime a film makes for that feeling, something big occurs: honest laughter can result, and the world is authentically felt as likable.

Films: The Lavender Hill Mob; The Sheep Has Five Legs; Big Deal on Madonna Street

See flyer for March class

Feb. 25: Fathers & Sons—or, A Drama of Agreement & Disagreement

It has often been said, “Like father like son.” Yet disagreements between father and son have been a large subject in history and literature—and film. A good film on this subject will give outward form to a conflict that goes on within the self of both people too, and that arises from an insufficient desire to understand each other’s individuality.

Films: The Thing About My Folks; Nebraska; At Any Price; All My Sons; In the Name of the Father; Boyz n the Hood

See flyer for February class

Jan. 28:  Racism Is Contempt for Difference, and Movies Tell about It

There have been courageous filmmakers who have shown the brutality of racism. Meanwhile, they haven’t seen what Aesthetic Realism explains: 1) all racism arises from contempt; and 2) the aesthetic form which a good film gives to that cruelty contains in outline the means to oppose it.

Films: Sugar Cane Alley, Mississippi Burning; A Dry White Season, Glory

See flyer for January class

FALL 2014

Dec. 10:  Alfred Hitchcock—A Master of Suspense

One of the most famous of all film directors who has kept audiences on the edge of their seats, is Alfred Hitchcock. His films have been loved for their mystery, suspense, and adventure. Yet Hitchcock, as artist, hasn’t been sufficiently honored. He put together the opposites of light and dark, rest and motion, space and time in a way that was new, deep, and thrilling.

Films: The Lady Vanishes; Strangers on a Train; North by Northwest;
Rebecca; Vertigo; Rear Window; Shadow of a Doubt; Suspicion.

See flyer for Dec. 10 class

Nov. 12:  The Romantic Comedy—or, Love Has Obstacles

One of the most popular of film genres is the romantic comedy, in which two people delightfully overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. While these films are lightsome, entertaining, and sometimes zany—at their best, they also have depth and meaning, and represent the victory of what Aesthetic Realism describes love as being: “proud need.”

Films: Bringing Up Baby; The Goodbye Girl; My Cousin Vinny

See flyer for Nov. 12 class

Oct. 29: Irish Films—or, How Should People Be Seen?

Ireland, with its breathtaking landscapes, Celtic legends, and centuries-long struggle for freedom, has been dramatically and movingly presented in its films. At their best they show the intense fight in people between toughness and tenderness, joy and sorrow, good will and ill will—in relation to the land, family, money, religion, and love.They give artistic form to this urgent, ethical question: How should a person be seen?

Films: The Informer; Waking Ned Devine; The Magdalene Sisters.

See flyer for Oct. 29 class

Oct. 15: Animals in Film—What Do They Say About Us?

Some of the most loved films in the world are about animals—dogs, horses, pigs, bears, even whales. People have been stirred by the way animals have shown faithfulness, gratitude, and courage. To see an orphan bear cub seeking a new mother, or a dog saving a man’s life at the risk of his own, has moved  audiences to tears.

Films: The Bear; Call of the Wild; Babe; Free Willy; Black Stallion; Born Free; A Dog of Flanders.

See flyer for Oct. 15 class


Aug. 20:  The Great Charlie Chaplin—Laughter  & Tears

There is nobody more loved in the history of the cinema than the great Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp is immortal because of the way he puts opposites together with such depth and humor. “Chaplin,” said Eli Siegel, “could get together tenderness and cruelty, fear and nonchalance; and he could do it with the way his whole body worked.”

Films: City Lights; The Kid; Shoulder Arms; The Cure; Easy Street; The Immigrant

See flyer for August class.

July 23. The Spy Film; or, Appearance & Reality

The spy movie has kept people on the edge of their seats. Whether a spy is dodging bullets, drinking martinis, or busy sending secret messages while working undercover, there’s always that nail-biting question–will he or she be found out?  The spy film brings up the large, ethical matter: when is pretense truly on behalf of reality?

Films: NotoriousDr. NoSpies; The Black BookThe House on 92nd Street

See flyer for July class.

June 25: It’s Never Too Late to See the World Newly

There have been more and more films about the lives of people as they grow older. While the circumstances as to family, love, usefulness, money, health may change, every good film about growing older shows in stirring and surprising ways the truth and beauty of Eli Siegel’s statement: “The desire of a person of eighty to like himself and the world is as keen as it was when that person was eight.”

Films: CocoonUmberto D; Ikiru; The Straight StoryThe Best Exotic Marigold HotelDriving Miss DaisyElsa and Fred

See flyer for June class.

May 28:  Food in Film—or, Being Pleased & Made Stronger

A wonderful subject of the cinema has been food. Watching a delicious meal being prepared, or enjoyed, has enthralled people. (Remember the famous tavern scene in Tom Jones!) In anything we do we want to be pleased and made stronger, and, at their best, films about food–the staple of life–have shown that in dramatic and imaginative ways.

Films: Babette’s FeastLike Water for ChocolateMostly MarthaEat Drink Man WomanTampopo

For flyer, click here.


To return to classes, click here.