The Language of Cinema

The cinema is arguably the most influential art form in today's world, but it is also the most misunderstood.  Many dismiss the movies as mere entertainment, while those who respond to films more thoughtfully often focus on devices and techniques culled from the novel or the stage play.  This series of screenings will introduce people to the formal audiovisual language of cinema and open their minds to the unique potential of film as an art form.  Each event will include a brief lecture and a viewing of a great movie, followed by a discussion of the film.  Through screenings and dialogue we will engage the grammar, logic, and rhetoric of this language, as well as respond to the experiences and ideas communicated by it.

Lessons and Films:



Beyond Literature III: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Saturday, May 19th, 6:00pm - Light dinner will be served.

At our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10

If I found out I were dying, The Tree of Life is one of the works of art to which I would turn for comfort. In the film's opening, we are introduced to a small Midwestern family coming of age in 1950's America. Soon, one of the children tragically dies. His grieving parents ask why this has happened. To answer this question, director Terrence Malick presents an impressionistic, mosaic-like re-telling of the Book of Job: a tour through space and time that frames the childhood of three boys against the creation of the universe, prehistoric life, post-modern America, and a vision of the apocalypse. Through Malick's lyric cinematography and hushed philosophic probing, the film addresses such questions as the nature of suffering, the problem of evil, the duality of beauty and violence in nature, and our place in the universe.



Introduction: Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

October 30th at 7:00pm in Harvard's Leverett House (28 DeWolfe St, Cambridge, MA 02138)

Origins/Grammar: Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

February 10 at 7:30 pm at our offices: Suite G10, 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA

Perhaps no film is more victim to its own titanic reputation than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Long ago cemented at the top of Great Film lists around the world, Kane is often an object of distant, sanctimonious piety— but it is seldom engaged on its own terms.

At our next screening we will strip away the years of musty reverence and experience Citizen Kane with fresh eyes. Discover why Kane is the most influential film of all time. Be dazzled by its baroque art and bravura showmanship. And unravel the mystery of Charles Foster Kane, one of the biggest and most frightening personalities in movie history.

World Cinema: Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

February 27th, 6:00pm at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square

Note: This is a free screening, no need to purchase a ticket.

Akira Kurosawa exerted unparalleled mastery and influence over the world of cinema during a five decade career.  In Seven Samurai, he invented modern action cinematography.  Sergio Leone's seminal Spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars, was a shot for shot remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo.  Early drafts of George Lucas' Star Wars were directly based on The Hidden Fortress. Steven Spielberg stole liberally from his catalogue of formal techniques.  Martin Scorsese simply called him "my master."

But no Kurosawa film has more to say about human nature than Rashomon.  In this innovative narrative a woodcutter finds a samurai murdered in the woods, and the story is retold from the perspective of all four people involved.  As the mystery deepens, humanity's basic goodness and our very ability to know objective truth is put on trial.  Join us at the Brattle Theater for a screening and discussion of this captivating epistemological puzzle.

Cinema as Language: Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

Saturday, March 3rd, 6:00pm at our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10

Dinner will be provided - please RSVP

Vertigo was disliked, dismissed, and quickly forgotten when it premiered in 1958.  In 2012, an international poll of hundreds of filmmakers and critics voted Vertigo the "greatest movie of all time." 

Vertigo is a film of hallucinatory, hypnotic beauty, savage power, perverse terror, and unrelenting mystery. It also represents absolute unity of form and function, revealing the unique potential of cinema as a formal language. It is a story about madness and obsession, and every shot, edit, action, and sound formally embodies the subject matter as the film folds back in on itself repeatedly. Vertigo is one of the highest peaks of 20th century art.

Action as Art: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1980)

Saturday, March 24th, 6:00pm at our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10

Dinner will be provided - please RSVP

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most fun and beloved films of all time, but is it “art”? Through examining the roots of Stephen Spielberg's craft in the work of prestige directors Kurosawa, Lean, Hitchcock, and others, we will take a deep dive into the formal techniques that make Raiders so exciting. In this discussion, we will discover what action movies can teach us about the nature of cinema itself as well as take a look towards the future of the Hollywood blockbuster.

“Ecstatic Truth” – The Documentary as Art: Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)

Saturday, April 7th, 6:00pm at our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10

Dinner will be provided - please RSVP

When Werner Herzog was a young man he stole a film camera from a school in Munich, built a raft, and disappeared into the Amazon. He emerged with Aguirre, the Wrath of God, considered one of the greatest films of all time. In almost five decades since then, Herzog has fought in Third World revolutions, been shot multiple times on set, and has made movies on all seven continents. In his free time he reads Scandinavian sagas and Vergilian pastoral poetry. He is unique among filmmakers.

Encounters at the End of the World is unlike any documentary you’ve ever seen. Shot in Antarctica, it explores the character of the people who live on the bottom of the world through the lens of their surreal experiences. And it’s pure Herzog magic: equal parts mystical, bizzare, and hilarious. Joseph Giallombardo, who has studied with Herzog, will provide a personal window into the art and philosophy of cinema’s most unique visionary. 

Beyond Literature I: 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

Saturday, April 21st, 6:00pm at our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10 - Dinner will be provided, please RSVP

In 1959 La Dolce Vita was the biggest movie in the world and Federico Fellini, its director, skyrocketed to the world's most celebrated filmmaker. But with all eyes watching as he prepared for his next film, Fellini froze, lost all inspiration, and plunged into despair. He even arrived the first day on set without any story or any idea what his movie would be about! Yet in that moment a brilliant solution came to him: he would create a film about his own struggle to make this film, an inward bending dreamscape detailing the inner life of the artist. The result was the inimitable 8 ½.

In its narrative structure and formal cinematography, 8 ½ is as innovative as any film in history. Many adore 8 ½ for its lyric beauty, surreal imagery, and carnivalesque comedy. Reality, memory, fantasy, and dreams are woven ingeniously together to create a mosaic of a man in an artistic and spiritual crisis. Not only is 8 ½ the greatest film ever made about filmmaking, it is also the drama of a deeply flawed man slowly learning how to love.

Beyond Literature II: 2001: A Space Odyssey

(Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Saturday, May 5th, 6:00pm at our office: 14 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA, Suite G10 - Dinner will be provided, please RSVP

The 1968 premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's trippy, existential epic, was a seminal event in the history of modern art.  It rivals the premiers of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Eliot's The Wasteland, and Joyce's Ulysses for the definitive moment in the 20th century's quest to discover new narrative forms.  

Set in prehistoric times, on the Moon, Jupiter, and "beyond the infinite," 2001 traces the appearances of mysterious black monoliths that arrive only at the most essential moments in human history.  Steeped in awe and terror at our place in the universe, this film looks backwards to the evolution of human consciousness and forward towards the future of our species-- and, just as crucially, forward towards the future of the cinema as an art form - Please join us for this special 50th Anniversary screening and discussion.

Program Director - Joseph Giallombardo

Joseph worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter  for various production companies, developing original content as well as assisting producers in executive decisions.  He has directed and produced several short films and written criticism on film, literature, and other arts.

Joseph loves to explore the way art inhabits and influences the every day life of a community, and he is passionate about introducing people to the unique potential of cinema as a formal language.  He is currently spearheading AAI's lecture series on great films and working for the Rose Institute in the Boston area.  He has a B.A. in History from the University of Dallas.