Film and Music: Two Great  American Art Forms

January 22, 2018

Photo by Connor Limbocker

In the year 2018, a year that will perhaps be known as “The Year of the Woman”, The Women’s Institute of Houston would like to feature two of its female professors and their upcoming classes. Hannah Biggs, whose class “Legendary Directors: And Film As Their Art” explores 3 major film directors says, “I always strive to make my classes lighthearted, fun, and let the movies themselves guide us in a conversation about film as an art form.”

Dominque Royem, whose class “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals,” takes us on a journey through the world of musicals tells us, “We will watch and listen to musicals and discuss how the music works with the drama. Since music as a language is based on perception, each member of the class might hear things differently!”

We visited with both of these professors to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about each of your classes?

Biggs: In my class we will be studying the films of three directors: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese. I will show bits of these directors’ films in class, and I’ll pause for moments of lecture, ask questions of students, answer any questions, and provide clarification about the film.

Royem: In exploring the ways that music creates the musical, we will be looking at popular musicals to understand the special place music holds in drama.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about film directors and musicals?

Biggs: We often think directors’ films all fall into one particular category, style, or genre when in fact directors often experiment with different film styles, motifs, and camera work as they evolve throughout their body of work. In their earlier works, you’ll see nods to the styles of their directorial role models. For example, Spielberg often uses a lot of editing elements of Hitchcock’s; and, early on in his body of work, the more Hitchcock-style elements of his films stand out. Only later on will you get to trace the development of a director’s body of work when they move to experiment and develop their own directorial footprint on the film industry.

Royem: One mistaken belief about musicals is that you have to like all the shows we will be covering – Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, Into the Woods, and Les Miserables. The truth is that even if you don’t like a particular musical, everyone can learn something from each one!

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the world of film directors and musicals?

Biggs: A director’s own personal biography can often have far more impact on the creation of a film than one would think. In addition to a director’s own personal biography, a director’s experiences making his/her earlier films can impact the types of films made later on. For example, Spielberg loved making films meant for children and young adults, like ET and Jurassic Park.He strove in all of his movies to reach that same feeling of suspended reality and total immersion in a world of imagination.

Royem: It will be surprising to find that we will be using the same methods of investigation for musicals that are used with classical music and opera. Learning these techniques in this class will make it easier to understand classical music as well.

 WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Biggs: I start off each class with a 15-20 minute lecture on the topic. We then view the film and work through the parts I’ve pre-selected to view in the class. Each film in this class will get two weeks of dedicated class time. I always play the movies with subtitles. You also don’t need to buy or watch the movies ahead of time unless you want to!

Royem: Our format is conversational! We will watch and listen to musicals and discuss how the music works with the drama. Since music as a language is based on perception, each member of the class might hear things differently! We will talk about why and how that happens, and what it means for our culture.

Hannah Biggs is receiving her PhD in English from Rice University. She was recommended to teach film at the WI by our very beloved professor, Dennis Huston. Hannah taught with Huston at Rice in his “Shakespeare on Film” class. Professor Biggs has published on film and television. Her review of Amazon Prime Instant Video’s original series, The Last Tycoon was published in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Review. She has served as the copy editor for The Comic Event: Comedic Performance from the 1950s to the Present, comedy on stage, tv, and movies. Currently, she is working on publishing an article on the film totem of funny farms, or comedy in agrarian storytelling—Chevy Chase’s Funny Farm, Green Acres, Cold Comfort Farm, and other such films and television series.

Dominique Royem is the Music Director of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra and, as such, one of the few female conductors in the country. She holds a doctorate in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Houston Moores School of Music. In her short tenure here at the WI, she has garnered a faithful following of students who have gone to see several of the symphony performances under her direction. Follow this link to see her upcoming schedule of performances

Discover one or both of these extraordinary women in their upcoming classes at The Women’s Institute.

Click here to register for Hannah Biggs’, “Legendary Directors and Film as Their Art” which begins Monday, February 5th at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to register for Dominique Royem’s, “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals” starts on Tuesday, February 6th at 10:00 a.m.