Associate professor of history Martin Haas teaches his students about the magic and complexity of films.
“Films give life to philosophy,” said Martin Haas, associate professor.
To prove the point, in his Modern Condition course, his students explore great thinkers like Nietzsche, Darwin and Marx…and they watch movies.
Haas feels that by its very nature, film makes a compelling way to illustrate philosophical ideas.
One of his students, Sarah Stevens ’16, agreed. “It’s a great tool. In film you understand concepts fully without anything being said. Theories are illustrated in real-time emotion. Anecdotes are immediate.”
“Film is a triple mirror for history,” Haas observed. He explained, “You see how film looks at the past, where it was made, and you understand that specific moment in history.”
He selects films by topic and significance. When he showed Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, it sparked a talk about religion, a key theme in the film.
Fire, a film from India about gender relations, was chosen not just for its excellence, but also its international flavor and cosmopolitan viewpoint.
“I showed Modern Times,” Haas said. He reflected upon Charlie Chaplin’s hapless factory worker in that 1936 classic. “Students interpreted it by Marx, Darwin and Andrew Carnegie, and different students saw the film differently. I tell them there is no correct interpretation, only that they defend their point of view with a close reading of the film.”
Jacqueline Condon, a junior, recalled seeing Modern Times. “We talked about it, about capitalism, and related it to social and political issues. I learned to analyze films, to make connections and find out what the films are really about.”
She likes Haas’ open-mindedness. “He doesn’t just lecture, but listens and discusses. He lets us decide where the classroom discussion is going while guiding. You become an active participant.”
Haas’ passion for his subject and the way he teaches inspires. In fact, a former student decided to do her senior thesis on Woody Allen based on her experiences in Haas’ class.
Haas serves on the board of directors, Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, New York, and he provides review essays for their folios. He recently hosted a film series on race, immigration and migration at the Adelphi Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. Films and discussions included A Raisin in the Sun, West Side Story, El Norte, Hate and Dirty, Pretty Things.
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