Films That Shook the World

Curious Minds Speaker Series


Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Wed, May 22 1:00 PM
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Wed, May 29 1:00 PM


Wednesdays, May 22 - June 26, 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

In this exciting new series for lovers of pop culture and 20th century history, acclaimed film critic and New Yorker contributor Adam Nayman surveys some of the most dramatic flashpoints in the history of the movies.

As he surveys provocative crowd-pleasers like Midnight Cowboy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Citizen Kane, and filmic cause celebres like Lolita and Last Tango in Paris, he’ll explore the cultural changes these landmark films brought about, reflecting shifting currents in politics and society—and the evolving limits of what is acceptable in art and entertainment.

Powered by expertly chosen film clips, and the incisive wit that has made Adam’s past courses (A Brief History of Satire, Politics at the Movies) Curious Minds favourites, he’ll reveal the history of the movies as you’ve never seen it before: A relentlessly inventive, subversive, zeitgeist-defining art form, worthy of fighting for—and about.

This series is led by Adam Nayman, a film critic and lecturer based in Toronto, and the author of several acclaimed books, including The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks. Adam is a popular lecturer at the University of Toronto, the Chang School and the Miles Nadal JCC.

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May 22: History Written in Lightning

The release of DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation provides American cinema with its fraught primal scene. This lecture examines the film’s seismic impact and traces its influence through a series of other racially charged American movies, from The Defiant Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner to BlacKkKlansman.

May 29: Step Right Up

In a moment where American cinema is coming of age, Tod Browning's docu-fictional sideshow melodrama Freaks creates a singular portrait of horror—and instigates a tradition intertwining issues of empathy, ethics and exploitation in films in films from The Elephant Man to Under the Skin.

June 5: Hot and Bothered

In 1933, the salacious The Story of Temple Drake forces the inauguration of the Production Code. This week focuses on movies that have been criticized, attacked and banned for sexual content, including Baby Doll, Lolita, Midnight Cowboy and the subject of one of Adam’s most acclaimed books: Paul Verhoeven’s hilariously tawdry, long-misunderstood film Showgirls.

June 12. Character Assassination

As America teeters on the edge of war, a pair of multitalented virtuosos craft scabrous portraits of public figures—one a fearmongering newspaper publisher; the other a foreign demagogue. Through the twin scandals of The Great Dictator and Citizen Kane, this class looks at the risks involved in depicting (and critiquing) real-life political power brokers, with modern examples from the US and the UK.

June 19: Straight to Hell

A rogues' gallery of literal and figurative irreverence stretches from Luis Bunuel (L'Âge d'or) to Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salo) to Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation of Christ). In this lecture, we explore how these prodigiously talented and provocative artists pushed the limits of what was acceptable—and possible—in movies, with glorious and controversial results.

June 26: Scarlet Letters

We close our cinematic journey with a close-up on movies that received NC-17 and X ratings from the MPAA. As we survey iconic titles like A Clockwork Orange, Last Tango in Paris and David Cronenberg’s Crash, we’ll assess the evolving limits of censorship and good taste.