If you’re looking to take a break from binge-watching garbage television and exercise your brain during quarantine, film historian Annette Insdorf and 92Y might have a perfect solution for you. Beginning Sunday, March 29, you can take the online film course “Reel Pieces Remote: Classic Films with Annette Insdorf,” for five weeks every Sunday at 8 p.m.
The five films she has selected — all of them indisputable masterpieces — can be streamed on The Criterion Channel. (And if you’re a cinephile in quarantine without an account, subscribe, subscribe, subscribe!) You can view the film any time before the Sunday night class, along with a prerecorded introduction from Insdorf, followed by the weekly lecture that will also engage live group discussion. Signing up for the 92Y class includes a free Criterion Channel trial membership good for 45 days. The cost for the five courses altogether is $150 — not free by any means, if you’re in the position to enroll.
Below is the tentative syllabus for the course, which features special attention paid to opening sequences. As three of the films are set against the backdrop of World War II, political intention will also be explored. Complicity and guilt come up in films such as “Z” and “On the Waterfront,” the latter of which served as director Elia Kazan’s doubling down on having given the House Un-American Activities Committee the names of eight actors who had been members of the Communist Party.
Mar 29: “To Be Or Not To Be” (1942), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack. The first example of “black comedy” in treating Nazis on screen; here, they are challenged by a clever acting troupe.
Apr 5: “On the Waterfront” (1954), directed by Elia Kazan, starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb. The Oscar-winning tale of a boxer “who coulda been a contender,” caught between loyalty to the mob and a growing sense of conscience.
Apr 12: “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958, Poland), directed by Andrzej Wajda, starring Zbigniew Cybulski. Considered one of the greatest films ever made by Francis Coppola as well as Martin Scorsese, this drama unfolds on the last night of World War II: a charismatic young soldier of the Polish Nationalist Army questions the order to kill the representative of the Polish Communist Party.
Apr 19: “Z” (1969), directed by Costa-Gavras, starring Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Pappas. A heart-pounding, Oscar-winning political thriller based on a true story during the Greek military dictatorship: a magistrate investigates an attack on a progressive hero as well as the ensuing cover-up.
Apr 26: “The Tin Drum” (1979, Germany), directed by Volker Schlondorff, starring David Bennent, Charles Aznavour, Angela Winkler, Daniel Olbrychski, Mario Adorf, Heinz Bennent. Winner of the Palme d’or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, this epic is adapted from the novel by Gunter Grass. The film adopts the riveting perspective of Oskar, who decides at the age of 3 to stop growing.