Thursday, May 5, 2011

things I didn't learn in film studies

Over the past four years I've had one conversation over and over again. Because after where are you from and various comments about the weather invariably comes the age old question what are you studying in school?

Answering film studies is like diving head first into concrete. As a fairly new scholarly pursuit the primary response, especially if the person I'm talking with is older, is a blank stare or a resounding huh? where the mental image is and should always be of a person with an ear trumpet and cataract glasses leaning sideways and saying speak up girlie because I don't think I heard you clearly.

But now it's official. Well, as official as a ceremonial rite of passage can be. No one dared throw their cap in the air, though one rogue beach ball threaded through the crowd as those seated on the stage in their academic jedi robes spoke about 'the future' and other vague concepts.

Now the question is no longer one of future study but of something in the past.

I've unashamedly loved my time in film studies, and don't view a diploma as an end. But instead of compiling a saccharine list of things I've learned I thought I'd try a different tack in an attempt to keep myself from turning into a bad Hallmark card.

So here is a short list of things I didn't learn.

It's ok to be a pretentious jerkface
I think the general impression of those who study film is one of noses in air and rooms devoid of oxygen by chests puffed up with self-importance. And while there certainly are people like that more often than not I've seen them shot down and slapped like a deck of cards in Egyptian rat screw. There is a difference between a stretch and a snap that breaks with all logical reasoning in favor of poetic license. If groping for the latter be prepared for a healthy helping of 'lucy you've got some splainin' to do' and an eyebrow raise.

The director is God
Auteur theory aside the great thing about being taught to more actively watch a film is the appreciation it brings for all other aspects of the process. Not to say that such attention to detail requires a course or a degree but it certainly has changed how I watch and think about film. While there is still a clear bias in film studies (dictated in certain ways by general taste) in the kinds of classes that are taught I hope to one day see not just courses devoted to Woody Allen but the likes of Walter Murch or Jack Cardiff as well.

There are others...
Just like you. That's the nerd dream, right? While I have had some great film discussions it is possible to feel just as alienated and alien-like as in any other setting. For example about two years ago I was giving a presentation on Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. I don't remember the exact exchange but here's the gist:

The scene we just watched also included references to popular music that the audience would have recognized. For example the phrase 'bomb me daddy, eight to the bar.'

~Blank stares~

It's a playoff on 'beat me daddy, eight to the bar.'

~Shaking heads~

The Andrews Sisters

~Still nothing~

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?

~Nervous laughter~

So much for kumbaya.

You have to know it all
One of the pitfalls of having a degree in film studies is that it opens the possibility for heightened scorn. A what? You haven't seen such and such film? (To fill in the blank I'll go with The Shining) or pressure to be able to ratchet off the films of Alice Guy in chronological order or discuss the political implications of Chaplin's impish smile on a whim. When studying something so a part of everyday life that almost everyone has some opinion on it becomes a game to prove knowledge and worth. On the one hand this can be frustrating, on the other it strengthens the drive to learn.

You can see them all
In studying films from a variety of countries, times, movements, genres, whatever the categorization the list of must see or should watch tumbles like a continuously unraveling carpet, always a step ahead.

On the one hand this can be frustrating, on the other it strengthens the drive to continue to watch.


  1. Hahaha, so true. I can definitely relate. I love your reference to the Andrews Sisters. Priceless. Congrats!

  2. Thanks Meredith! -Meredith :)

  3. I'm so proud of you! Yeay, college grad! What's the next big step?

    I think I've learned one thing about myself while studying film, and that is while I love films, I don't live for them. I know people who watch about 6 films a day on average, maybe more, and really can spout off a list of the-average-person-has-never-heard-of-these films that one "should" watch. But that's not me. I have realized that it's okay to be focused on a more narrow area of interest within film. You really don't have to know everything! And, I definitely agree about the not always making connections with other film fans. Le sigh. <3

  4. fbook posted :]

    And I absolutely agree with you, I think a rich knowledge of a few topics is far more powerful! Though it's always fun to know the random out of the way facts. It's just annoying that the random facts can take greater precedence in general discussion where the implication seems to be that because you study film you must be a master of ALL film and to not know something is to admit some sort of defeat, which just seems silly to me.

    At least there are a few of us on the land of misfit toys, however far apart. <3