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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Fun with virtual classic film discussions

During the crazy and tragic year that is 2020, more time at home is a great excuse to watch classic movies on TV, DVD, or streaming. And while we can't go to the cinema and then out for discussion, our local classic film group, Reel Classics of Greater Boston, has continued our discussion tradition using Zoom. We've found a process that works for us, and I'm going to share it here. That said, I'd love to hear what everyone else is doing!

Pick a Topic and Announce the Discussion
Following the TCM tradition of featuring a 'Star of the Month', our group has done the same thing, alternating between male and female stars. To engage our members in advance, we will select a few alternate options and put out a poll on Survey Monkey to see which star has the most interest. We then pick one or at most two of the chosen star's films for discussion, and attempt to select ones that are readily available to stream on a platform like YouTube, or similar. 

Once the topic is decided, we announce the discussion on our Facebook page, and also our group's site, which serves as our enrollment tool. The Zoom link is created by the organizer and is only available to those who RSVP to the meetup.

As an example, in October we chose Joseph Cotten as our 'Star of the Month'. We chose Shadow of a Doubt and Niagara as the two films to discuss.

Opening the Discussion + Trivia Quiz
We open our Zoom discussions by welcoming everyone, and if someone is joining us for the first time, we ask if they have any questions for us. We don't require everyone to introduce themselves, as it takes quite a bit of time, and the majority of us know each other. (During the breakout sessions that we build into our agenda, we ask people to introduce themselves to their smaller discussion groups first.)

We prepare a short PowerPoint deck and share an opening slide to introduce our 'Star of the Month'. After that, we use the "Poll" feature in Zoom to share a few trivia/factoid questions on our Star. These questions range from difficult to very difficult(!) - we don't want to make it too easy for those in our group who have a vast knowledge of classic film. But the point isn't for people to get the right answers--it's to generate discussion about the star as well as to inform. (Those of us leading the group and putting the content together need to do some research!) Here is what we did for Joseph Cotten:

Fun Cotten Factoids for Poll
(Correct answer in asterisks)

1. Which of the following Broadway productions, that later became a major film, did Cotten star in? (Hint: he was NOT in the film version).

  Arsenic and Old Lace, *The Philadelphia Story*, The Front Page, or The Barretts of Wimpole Street

          2. Cotten acted in four movies with Jennifer Jones – which was NOT one of them?

 Portrait of Jennie,  Love Letters, Duel in the Sun or *Madame Bovary

3. Cotten was married to this Hollywood actress (2nd marriage) until his death. Who was she?

   Jean Hagen,  Jan Sterling, *Patricia Medina*, or Louise Platt

      4. Which of the following is a direct quote from Joseph Cotton when describing his friend and colleague Orson Welles? (bonus for guessing the subject of the other two quotes)

·       *“His words sprung from his own personal dictionary, which never contained an obscenity. He was eloquent because he was an eloquent human being.”* (accepting the Life Achievement Award from the AFI)

·       “He loved his profession so fiercely that it was impossible to work for him without sharing that love.” (David O. Selznick – Since You Went Away)

·       “Like all of us, this genius of an extrovert had superstitions.” (Hitchcock)

5.      Cotten was a close associate of Welles, playing leading roles in Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, but he played a small uncredited role in one of Welles's major works – what was it?

 Sailor in The Lady from Shanghai,  *Coroner in Touch of Evil*, Onlooker in crowd in Chimes at Midnight, or Passport photographer in The Stranger

Film(s) Discussion
The trivia quiz is a great icebreaker and usually launches some interesting discussion, but at its conclusion, we move on to discuss the actual film(s). After reviewing briefly some basic film facts, we initiate breakout groups of 4-5 people each to meet each other and discuss the film. We usually plan a few discussion questions and share them a few days in advance of the discussion via and Facebook. The questions are just to help with discussion, and we encourage each breakout group to discuss whatever they want to about the film!

Conclusion and Wrap-Up
At the conclusion of the breakouts, which go 20-30 minutes, we bring everyone back and have a large group discussion about anything of particular interest that was brought out in the groups. At the very end, we may preview upcoming discussions and gather feedback.

This is a process that has worked for us, but I would love to collect ideas and suggestions that you may have tried and we should consider! And I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.