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August 2000, Week 3


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Daniel I Humphrey <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 21 Aug 2000 01:38:22 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (107 lines)
  Undergrad years are tough for almost everyone and I've tried
  to be reasonably understanding of that as a teacher.  But
  I've also tried not to shirk away from showing my students
  films that I think are crucial, regardless of the
  "traumatizing" content.  I've shown my classes (some might
  say inflicted them with) Cronenberg's THE FLY, Jarman's THE
  Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY and SHAME, Godard's
  WEEKEND, Todd Haynes POISON, to name just a few, and have
  never had much trouble.

  I should say that it's been my experience that it's the
  Politically Correct (in the bad sense of the term) *grad*
  students who tend to be more of a problem...  When I was
  working on my masters degree a few years ago, some of the
  other grad students were about ready to kill one of our
  (very best) professors for showing SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT,
  somehow by showing those film (in courses on US Independent
  Cinema, cross cultural representation in film, and
  documentary cinema respectively), it meant that this
  professor was pro-rape, pro objectification of women, and
  pro Nazi...  even though it was very much in the spirit of
  those courses that the issues of misogyny, cinematic
  objectification of "the other", and fascism be brought up
  so that they could be discussed in a scholarly and rational

  As for the undergrads I've taught, it seems that when I've
  *prepared* them for a shocking film, made sure they were
  ready for it , and then *validated* their sense of shock...
  much of the potential for disaster has been alleviated.

  After showing WEEKEND once, a (very upset) student said:
  "That seems like the kind of film Charles Manson would have
  made!"  I told this student immediately that I thought hers
  was a very good observation.  We then talked about the
  concept of the "implied author", how WEEKEND might well be
  seen as a text that actually tries to *imply* a kind of
  "Charles Manson" mind-set behind its creation.  At the end
  of the day this student gave me a very good evaluation and
  told me she liked my course very much...

  And when I showed the documentary SILVERLAKE LIFE: THE VIEW
  FROM HERE in a Homosexuality in Film course, our class had
  the best discussion of the entire year, despite the fact
  that it shows--in excruciating detail--a man die of HIV
  disease right in front of the audiences' eyes.  A student
  "came out" as having nursed his lover till the end of the
  lover's life, and another student came out as HIV positive
  in front of 60 other kids.  It was, in a way, the most
  amazing hour I ever spent in front of a class and yet I
  almost canceled the screening to show something less
  harrowing, like PHILADELPHIA or JEFFREY.

  I must say, finally, that it can get somewhat silly to
  worry too much about all of this, though.  I know that--at
  least in the recent past--Brigham Young University, in my
  home state of Utah, hasn't been able to show "R" rated
  films to their students, something that a couple of their
  professors I've talked with are deeply embarrassed about.
  Can you imagine teaching film history without showing a
  single R rated film?  No PSYCHO, THE GODFATHER, NASHVILLE,
  RYAN?...  (Maybe things have changed there.  It was six or
  seven years ago when I had this discussion....)

  But my favorite example of film school self-censorship has
  to be the one that a colleague of mine told me about a few
  years ago.  (This again involves the much-maligned Ingmar
  Bergman...)  When I mentioned to this fellow teacher that I
  had shown (gasp!) three Bergman films in a class on
  European Art Cinema, he said:  "You know at *my* school we
  had a Bergman seminar... until a student who was taking it
  committed suicide one year... WE'VE NEVER TAUGHT A BERGMAN

  Good Grief!

  I hope they also banished Fassbinder, Bresson, Cassavetes,
  Imamura and Antonioni at the same time, and that the school
  in question made a vow to never give anything lower than a
  B+ to any of their students, since students--from time to
  time--have been known to commit suicide after having
  received bad grades.

  I don't want this to sound too flippant, but I really mean
  it when I say that sometimes the presentation of a topic
  can make all the difference in the world.  If the tone of
  the class is happy and light and conducive to debate and
  validating of the students' concerns, one can usually show
  the most harrowing of films.  And if a student is going to
  be closed minded and announce, simply, that they "will not
  watch an 'R' rated movie!" I don't really think I can have
  much sympathy for that level of prejudice...

        Daniel Isaac Humphrey
        Department of Art & Art History
        University of Rochester
        424 Morey Hall
        Rochester NY 14627-0456

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