This is the last installment of Travis Anderson’s answers to our 12 questions.
9. I was hoping IC would bring in “Hard Boiled” or “The Killer,” but apparently it’s only art when people magically fly and wear lots of nice, pretty silk. And why is it a movie in a foreign language is somehow more artistic or intellectual, and therefore immune to morality judgments? I think International Cinema is simply what its name suggests—a theater showing foreign films. They aren’t always “good” films. And rarely are they “great” films. Is there a false self-perception among IC viewers (and viewers of foreign films in general) that they are real connoisseurs of the arts? Is there any real difference between foreign films and Hollywood films?
ANSWER: Are foreign films, or art films generally, immune to moral criticisms? No, that’s simply a ridiculous claim, so I won’t waste any time on it. Are foreign films always good films simply by virtue of being foreign? Again, the answer is an obvious “no.” But are they usually better than Hollywood films? Yes. Absolutely. For a number of reasons.
First of all, though there are poor films made in foreign countries, they generally don’t get exported. India, for example, makes more films than most of the rest of the world combined, but the majority are terrible films and never escape the borders of India. The only films that make it to the US and world markets are those that are either high quality films which really deserve that distinction, or they’re films that have an excellent chance of being commercially successful despite their flaws. And foreign filmmakers generally are not powered by megalithic corporations whose primary concern is always the almighty dollar. They are artists with a unique vision who want to produce high quality art. And generally speaking, the rest of the world—at least certain areas of the world—are more supportive and appreciative of that effort that are run-of-the-mill Americans. In some countries filmmakers even receive government funding. So, foreign films that make it to the world market tend to be much, much better than the usual crop of American films.
Of course, we have great American directors as well—Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and a host of other names come immediately to mind. But these filmmakers either have amassed enough clout to work within the Hollywood picture industry with an unusual degree of freedom, or they have chosen or been forced to work outside it, just as Godard, de Oliveira, von Trier, Yimou, Kiarostami, Arvelo, Rhomer, Herzog, Miyazaki, Cantet, and the other great foreign filmmakers do. And since we try at IC to show films by precisely this caliber of filmmaker, I think we often show not only good films at IC, but great films. And while there might not be much difference between the best American filmmakers and the best foreign filmmakers, there is a huge difference between the best foreign filmmakers who make it to the world market and the studio minions who constitute most of the poor to mediocre American filmmakers you usually see represented at the local megaplex. So, yes, I think foreign film buffs are typically people with more artistic sophistication than the norm; even if they don’t start out that way, they end up that way because the foreign films which make it to our shores are typically far superior to most home-made studio fare, so viewers who patronize them grow to recognize and appreciate a better quality product.
Lastly, about films like “Hard Boiled” versus the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sort. It ain’t just the silk, baby. Yes, “Hard Boiled” is more technically adroit, effectively paced, and cinematically realized than its more recent Hollywood counterparts. But that doesn’t make it a great film, and for that reason I wouldn’t show it at IC even if we could. “Crouching Tiger,” like “Hero,” uses martial arts the way Tarkovsky uses science fiction—as a genre in which to explore significant moral and philosophical questions in a beautiful, life-affirming way. The fight scenes are metaphors for spiritual battles, the passage from spiritual weakness to moral strength is traced through masterful mis-en-scene, as the characters move in and out of light and darkness, and closed and open forms, and the narrative, music and special effects are necessary, balanced elements of the whole, not facile substitutes for them. If you want to appreciate the subtlety and elegance of this film, track the Heroine’s comb—where the comb goes, so goes her character; her hair is emblematic of her moods, and finally, her self-mastery. These are the kinds of artistic traits that mark a great film. In short, the high production values and sumptuous cinematography are not the only virtues that differentiate this film from ones like “Hard Boiled.”
10. Has globalization negatively affected the quality of American and foreign films, and are mature, literate movies for the most part only possible in more protected and insular markets, where costs can be fully recovered from the local audience? What has changed that studios and directors are so much more concerned about the marketability of their movies than in decades past?
ANSWER: “Yes,” is the answer to the first question, and “greed, the hallmark of capitalism run amok” is the answer to the second. Check any recent issue of Screen International. On any given week, Hollywood blockbusters and US pop-culture trash dominate the top ten grossing films in almost any foreign country, usually even outpacing far superior films made within that country. It is a well-established fact that catering to the lowest common denominator is the most profitable strategy for making money. And money is power. So, the more money a filmmaker earns at the box-office, the more power he or she wields behind the camera—or in front of it.
11. Are there various schools of film theory and criticism, just as there are schools of literary criticism, and do they have any real impact on filmmaking? What do you think of Lars von Trier and the Dogma 95 movement? Aesthetically, is anything gained by pursuing specific theoretical goals in filmmaking, or is all the emotional and narrative manipulation made possible by sophisticated lighting, visual effects, and other cinematic tricks a legitimate part of telling movie stories? In short, is Spielberg a Bad Guy? Film criticism seems to be the single form of academic criticism (as opposed to, say, literature criticism or art criticism or music criticism) that reaches wide popular audiences through mainstream media outlets. Why is this?
ANSWER: Yes, there are various schools of film theory and criticism, and among better filmmakers, film theory is indeed an issue and an inspiration. And this is more true abroad than here in the US (though post-modern American filmmakers like Robert Altman and Mike Nichols are constantly pushing their films into new, and sometimes unexplored theoretical territory). French New Wave is a perfect case in point, as it was almost entirely a theory-driven movement. As was Italian Neo-realism. I don’t particularly care for the Dogma credo, though it has produced a few interesting films that I like very much (“Truly Human,” “Italian for Beginners,” and “Open Hearts”). And some of their resolutions—like their insistence on using real environments rather than artificial sets—seem well-advised, since movie sets often suffer from a vague if not overt artificiality. But while such constraints can be productive by disrupting worn-out conventions and stimulating new solutions and approaches, I think Dogma took them to an extreme, endorsing “commandments” that are unnecessarily and arbitrarily restrictive. And the fact that many Dogma practitioners are now fudging on (or completely abandoning) those rules, is evidence, I think, that they have arrived at the same conclusion.
But theory is not the only ghost in the machine. Technological advances are as legitimately influential as theories. Would we want to say that the stylistic changes in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance art occasioned by the discovery that various organic oils could serve more effectively as a pigment binder than plaster, were illegitimate simply because they weren’t theory-driven? Well, in much the same way that the use of linseed oil changed the face of painting forever, CGI and other high-tech special effects have changed movies forever. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Except, of course, when the special effects become a crutch for quality craft. But that’s not the fault of special effects.
Lamentably, though, what passes for film criticism in most movie reviews is not film theory at all. Writers like Pauline Kael aside, most of it is insipid chatter by parasitic critics who employ film criticism as a vehicle for self-promotion. That’s why you can find a ubiquitous sound-bite like “Daring and Spectacular,” or “A Definite Oscar Contender,” in ads for even the most insipid film—because every reviewer knows that praise (and sometimes criticism) for an undeserving film will likely result in ads (or articles, or talk-show appearances) that will advance his or her career. And reviewing movies has now become an industry in itself, with its own stars and divas for whom movies are often fuel for their own ambitions. A pertinent example is Roger Ebert, who apparently threw a much-talked about tantrum several years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival when he couldn’t get into a packed screening, resulting in a decision by Piers Handling, the festival director, to give absolute priority to press over industry reps at future Toronto festivals—since, after all, you can’t risk upsetting a media star like Roger Ebert. Heaven forbid he should have to wait in line like everyone else. And, of course, while reporters are quick to publicize conflicts of interest among others, they ignore or cover up the same conflicts of interest in their own industry—like the practice common to every major film festival and big-budget advertising blitz of studios showering press representatives with lavish gifts like cell phones, PDAs, perfume, digital cameras, and promotional packets containing other film-related trinkets of every conceivable variety, in an effort to secure favorable reviews. All of which journalists accept with gusto, but indignantly deny could possibly affect their objectivity. Yeah, right. But the bottom line is that most so-called film criticism today is, in my opinion, so controlled by media giants and so dependent on the media it is ostensibly critiquing that it ends up being little more than a veiled extension of the film industry itself, and not a truly independent—or theoretical—enterprise at all. And thus, most real film theory and criticism isn’t what filters down to the masses; what you usually see in popular print or on TV or on the internet is just a pale shadow of the real thing—for which you still have to go to scholarly journals and publications.
12. What’s your favorite movie? Your favorite American movie? Your favorite French movie?
ANSWER: This is by far the most difficult question of the bunch to answer—partly because I’m not sure I have a single favorite movie.
We’ve already established that I’m a sucker for spaghetti westerns. If an old Clint Eastwood movie comes on at 1 in the morning just as I’m heading to bed, I have to stay up till 3 and watch it—lousy editing, frequent commercials, and all. And this is true even when I have the DVD of that same movie on the shelf in the next room. Explain that. I can’t. But it’s the gospel truth. The same is true of pretty much any WWII film. And the last half of “Jerry Maguire.” And “Back to the Future”—since watching Crispin Glover in that film is worth every stubbed toe as I stumble around half-blind with exhaustion the next morning.
But if I had to pick one film, it would probably be “Cinema Paradiso,” since I absolutely love that film. I love the actors (Philippe Noiret has never been better, and Salvatore Cascio, who plays the young Toto, is the most lovable kid to ever grace the screen), I love the story (and the stories within the story—especially the one Alfredo tells Salvatore about the dangers of love), I love the romance and the humor and the intelligence and the fact that every character, every emotion, every scene, and every line of dialogue, is so genuine and perfectly realized. And I think the ending is the most beautiful and satisfying ending ever realized in a film (where Salvatore, the grown-up Toto who is now a famous director in his own right, views the film Alfredo pieced together for him using all the love scenes he was forced to edit out over the years when he was the projectionist—which, of course, is the culminating metaphor for Salvatore’s own life, which has been similarly robbed of all the beauty and happiness that only a profound and reciprocated love for someone can provide). And I love what the film, and particularly the ending, has to say about art in general and film in particular—that art can help heal a fractured soul, and that all our artistic creations are ultimately empty exercises, no matter how celebrated, unless we can infuse them with the same passion and beauty that inspired us to love in the first place. And I love the beginning: Morriconi’s unforgettable music, and that gorgeous Alma-Tadema view of the sea between two urns, the window curtains floating in the breeze and framing the scene like the curtains on each side of the movie screen we are ourselves watching. And then that stunningly elegant transition to the recollection of his childhood, when his mother is knitting and hears him at the door after an absence of so many years, then drops her knitting and hurries downstairs to greet him, only to have the yarn catch on her dress and unravel like the years that dissolve in their embrace. And the heart of the film, when Salvatore waits outside Elena’s window night after night, despite Alfredo’s cautionary tale, only to surrender in despair and return to his refuge in the theater—and then she comes to him. I do so love that film. And this is a case where the shorter version is the better, I think, for while you long for a reunion between the two lovers, the reunion you long for is not the one that Tornatore provides in the European cut. And the scene when Cinema Paradiso briefly becomes a derelict adult theater always feels so wrong to me; I saw the movie so many times at IC with that scene edited out, that when I watch the DVD now, that part strikes me not only as distasteful and gratuitous, but intrusive. Those qualifications aside, however, I absolutely adore the film and could watch it endlessly.
My second favorite would be a close call between Mikhalkov’s subtle and haunting “Slave of Love,” a Russian masterpiece with perhaps the second-best ending of any film (and no words do it justice—you just have to see it), and Tarkovsky’s “Nostalghia” (Which is the better film, but has only the third-best ending of all time). My favorite director is certainly Andrei Tarkovsky, with “Nostalghia” my favorite among his films. It’s a much more cerebral film than “Cinema Paradiso,” of course, but equally beautiful in its own way—with “Solaris” and “Stalker” not far behind. As I’ve noted in lectures here for 15 years, I’d watch “Solaris” just to see the pivotal scene where the lovers float weightlessly while the artistic relics of our culture float around them and initiate their transformation into real human beings.
Let’s see. Some other favorites. The list is a long one: De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” (which still moves me tremendously); Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise” (a breathtakingly profound film with another fantastic ending); Yimou’s “Not One Less” and “To Live”; Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us”; Dreyer’s “Ordet” (perhaps the best religious film ever made, with a climax that will completely stun you); Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” (if only this world and the next were so lovingly intertwined); Scott’s “The Duelists” (gorgeous natural-light cinematography) and “Blade Runner” (a perennial guilty pleasure); Leoni’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (with another Morriconi musical masterwork—the best moment of which is during the crane shot at the station, when both the camera and the music soar heavenwards to reveal a landscape that will always be mythical); Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” which contains one of the most beautiful representations of community ever recorded on film (the roller-skating scene), and yet another fantastic soundtrack; Joffe’s “The Mission” (which is almost as beautiful as Morriconi’s score, and that’s saying something); Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (an astonishing, under-appreciated masterpiece); Antonioni’s “The Passenger” (with what, for years, was the longest single take on film—and certainly the most lyrical); Herzog’s “Aguirre: the Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu,” and “Lessons of Darkness” (all of which leave me speechless); Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” and “Devi”; Resnais’ “Hiroshima, mon amour”; “Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Antonioni’s “L’avventura” (both of which are virtual courses in the masterful use of mis-en-scene); Wier’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “Fearless,” and ‘The Truman Show” (has this guy ever made a bad film?); Betancor’s “Valentina” (one of the best films about childhood ever made); Berri’s “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”; Coppola’s “The Conversation” (which I personally think is his best film); Erici’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” (if you haven’t seen this film, you’ve missed perhaps the best about film ever made—with the exception of “Cinema Paradiso,” of course); Branagh’s “Henry V,” Olmi’s “The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” Gibson’s “Braveheart,” Ivory’s “Remains of the Day,” Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” and “Saving Private Ryan,” Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line,” Zefirelli’s “La Traviata,” Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love,” Radford’s “Il Postino,” and Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven.” I love all these films. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.
Among the best recent films I’ve seen are Samuell’s “Jeux d’enfants” (“Love Me if You Dare” is the English title, I think), which is tragic, but riveting; Juenet’s “Amelie”; De Laubier’s “Veloma,” perhaps the most insightful film about isolation and spiritual longing I’ve ever seen; Cantet’s “Time Out,” which will haunt you forever; and Belvaux’s incredible trilogy, “Cavale,” “Afterlife,” and “An Amazing Couple,” which must be seen together and which redefine what films can contribute to the discussion of ethical judgment. All of these are French, interestingly enough. In fact, in terms of numbers, most the best films I’ve seen in recent years have been French.
A few other recent films which I liked quite a lot—both by female directors—are Jill Sprecher’s “Thirteen Converations about One Thing” (perhaps the most philosophically interesting film I’ve seen in quite a while) and Penny Panayotopoulou’s “Hard Goodbyes: My Father” (this one will reduce you to a weeping wreck—but without a moment of disingenuity).
Kim Ki’duk’s “Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall . . . and Spring” is an absolute stunner. Perhaps the most beautiful cinematography of any film in recent memory. And a morality tale to die for—this is the film that “Why Has Bodhi-dharma Left for the East” ever-so-much wanted to be. And if you’ll let me include two TV mini-series, I’d have to add “Brideshead Revisited,” which is so good it almost surpasses the prose, and, of course, “Lonesome Dove.”
So there’s a few titles to break your DVD budget. And I hope I haven’t bored you with my opinionated ramblings. Let me know what you think.
ADDENDUM: First of all, let me say that it’s been a real pleasure to talk (as it were)with people who are genuinely interested in film and IC in particular—especially since many of your names are familiar to me and evoke fond memories. And I’ve appreciated your many kind comments and your praise of the program. But certainly that praise should almost exclusively be directed to Don Marshall, whose service in initially forming the program and then running it for so many years has been so often taken for granted. I think all of you would agree with me that his efforts have had a life-changing impact on untold thousands of BYU students and faculty. By comparison, all that I have really done for the program is try to keep it alive, and drag its publicity and management methods into the digital age.
That said, since many of you raised interesting questions in your responses to my posts, I asked Jim if I might not add a baker’s dozen addendum in order to answer some of them. I hope you don’t mind. And I’m going to start with the most recent comments (from installment 3) and work backwards.
Greg, Jack, and others asked about various films that hadn’t made the cut on my film list. Well, firstly, I figured you wouldn’t want my list to stretch on forever to include every Hitchcock, Truffaut, Herzog or Bergman I like. Secondly, you did ask for a list of my favorite films, after all, and not a list of films I consider to be cinema greats, which would have produced a very different list and would definitely have included the likes of “400 Blows,” “Citizen Kane,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”—all of which receive due attention in my film classes, and all of which I like quite a lot. And yes, there are many films I own and like enormously that I didn’t include for one of the above-mentioned reasons. Truffaut’s daylight homage to film noir, “Don’t Shoot the Piano Player,” would be a perfect example: most people wouldn’t consider it to be among his greatest films, but it’s probably the one I personally like the best. In addition to endearing characters and wonderful dialogue, its disarming innocence and hauntingly simple piano score belie profound reflections on love and loss—not the least of which is typically French New Wave (and remarkably timely) comment on the loss of innocence in cinema itself, where murky morals, convoluted discourse, mindless action, heavy orchestration and overpowering stylistic devices have become the norm. And yes, Ken, I was thinking of that marvelous candle sequence, and not just the roofless cathedral, when I spoke of the ending to “Nostalghia.” And no need to apologize for complaining about “Pirates of Penzance”; when we received a lousy VHS tape instead of the 35mm print we had been promised, I wrote a much nastier letter to the distributor than you wrote to us.
And to answer your question, Jack, about whether the numbers alone might insure that there are as many great American films as there are great foreign films, I would on the one hand—and with qualifications—say yes (as I hoped my many references to great English-language films and directors would have indicated). But most of those great American films are widely distributed, and thus, don’t need our help in bringing them to the public eye. Also, even though many of them are great films, they often aren’t as revelatory to an American audience as are their foreign counterparts, since their characters, stories and settings are relatively familiar to us. And the fact that most American films have for a long time been story-driven (meaning that every aspect of the film is subordinated to moving the plot—usually to a formulaic and predictable end), whereas most foreign films are not plot-weighted, significantly constricts artistic boundaries among many American filmmakers (especially among those who depend largely on studio funding). But contrary to what someone else suggested, I don’t think that the “art house crowd” looks down on American films per se—I find that the same people who talk excitedly with me about foreign films are just as willing to praise American or other English-language films (like “Memento” and “Touching the Void”) when they manifest real originality and passion and craft.
On the other hand, and contrary to most American films (not all), a large number of foreign films are made by people who have a passionate, personal stake in making something that is genuinely original and compelling, regardless of whether the film makes it big at the box office or earns them professional recognition. Two recent films are perfect examples. One, a documentary titled “Whiskey Romeo Zulu,” was made by a former Argentinean airline pilot who fought the system for years over sloppy maintenance and widespread corruption. His charges were ultimately validated when the flight named in the film title crashed on take-off, killing most of those on-board—exactly as he had predicted would happen. So, having been barred from flying for his refusal to play along with a corrupt system, he turned his passion to filmmaking, resulting in a movie that is as tense and well-crafted as any studio-produced thriller—and much more important. The second example is the most recent film by Luis Mandoki (director of “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Letter in a Bottle”), entitled “Innocent Voices,” in which he returned to his native Spanish language and made a heart-breaking and thoroughly compelling film about the civil war in El Salvador. As this film in particular demonstrates (since it’s a much better film than any of his earlier Hollywood films), the real power of great artistic works derives not from money or genius or even a genuine love of filmmaking, but from a consuming desire to tell stories that really deserve to be told—perhaps due to what Aristotle called their universal and poetic truth. And this is true of a great number of foreign films—while it’s equally true of comparatively few American films (and again, there are many exceptions, like many films by Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, etc.). Let’s face it, however much we might justifiably praise the artistic merits of a film like “Monster,” which is certainly not typical Hollywood fare, it’s also not a story that really has any compelling reason why it should have been told (other than to provide an Oscar vehicle for its star). And in my opinion, too many Hollywood films are made simply because their director or star made a lot of money with his or her last film, and is therefore bankrolled to make yet another financial success. In other words, the motivation for making many Hollywood movies is something like “well, I’ve got more money now that my last film was a box-office success, so what kind of film should I make this time that will insure I can get yet more money to do something else later,” rather than, “I have this fantastic idea for a film that’s important and meaningful, and I’ll somehow finds the means to do it even if I have to mortgage my house and live on dry cereal for years.” Which brings me to the “Hollywood films vs. American films” question.
Many of you thought that I have a prejudice against American films, which is wrong on two counts; first, it’s not a prejudice, it’s a dislike (prejudice implies groundless bias, and I think I have plenty of grounds); second, it’s a dislike for typical Hollywood films, not American films. I like an original and well-made thriller or action film or comedy as much as the next guy—I have the 1st and 3rd “Indiana Jones” films and like them enormously (the 2nd I was never real crazy about), and while many people didn’t like “Last of the Mohicans,” I loved it. And as I’ve noted several times, I think there are many great American films and filmmakers—both independent and studio-funded. But in terms of percentages, I don’t think the Hollywood studio system is often responsible for those films (though many Hollywood stars, like Robert Redford, are very supportive of visionary, independent Cinema—as “The Motorcycle Diaries,” not to mention the Sundance Film Institute, attests). If anything, I think the Hollywood machine smothers great art more often than it nurtures it. A fascinating documentary that chronicles precisely such an occurrence is “The Sweatbox,” a history of the Disney movie “The Emperor’s New Groove.” If you want to see the studio money machine at work, hunt down this film—it will absolutely astound you. When I saw it several years ago at a festival screening, for days afterward industry people were talking about how they’d never seen a truer depiction of the studio filmmaking process and how artists are thoroughly beaten down by money-hungry studio executives who care only about the bottom line and employ the most inane, demographic driven techniques for securing it. And I also think that the situation is worse today than it was in the past. Sure, filmmakers have always been interested in money to some degree—it is a business, after all. But even during the big studio heyday, there was a lot more concern for producing quality art than I see now. Which is why so many MGM musicals and similar films are still considered classics. In fact, studio films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” are testaments to the fact that even great art can make a lot of money. But it’s also true that the typical profit margin isn’t as anywhere near as large on such monumental or visionary projects as it is even on formula-driven, artistically mediocre projects that gross much less money, and that’s a lesson current mega-corporation owned and operated studios have taken very much to heart. The huge number of sequels funded by such studios is clear evidence of this, since usually (and films like “Star Wars” are obvious exceptions) the only reason to make a sequel is to capitalize on the money made by the first film; artistic vision or worth is not even a distant second in such decisions. I’m sure this money issue is one on which Neil Labute could provide you with some very interesting insights—I certainly wouldn’t mind sitting down with him and talking about this and many other film questions, as I’m sure he has a lot he could teach me.
And having mentioned Neil, I also think it bears noting that while it’s relatively easy for those of us who are interested in film to sit around and criticize various films and filmmakers, it’s another thing entirely to put your money where your mouth is and actually make a film, especially a good one—and Neil has made several. Most of them to date haven’t really been my cup of tea for various reasons, but they have all been thoughtful, original, serious efforts at filmmaking, and certainly not what I have described above as typical Hollywood films. And for that reason alone, Neil has my admiration. And he seems to handle himself just as well in front of the camera as he does behind it, since when I saw him in a press conference at Cannes after he debuted “Nurse Betty,” he acquitted himself quite well before some pretty tough critics.
And yes, I know about the difference between Chinese and European names, but whenever I say “Zhang’s” instead of “Yimou’s,” I always get a slew of people writing or calling to ask who I’m talking about, or to point out that I got his name wrong, or some similar response, so I no longer bother to say it correctly when I’m addressing an audience that is unlikely to be schooled in Asian languages.
To conclude, there were four questions I thought it particularly important to address: one about editing, one about charging money to see IC films, one about pornography, and one about public vs. private viewing.
About the editing issue. Greg wrote in his response to the first installment of questions (response #86) that I impugned him unfairly and characterized his posts and experience inaccurately. I sincerely hope I did not do that, and I apologize if I did. I felt it important to address his post (and identify him by name) simply because he identified himself and included a link to his own site that I feared was likely to perpetuate the problems he initiated in first making the claims that he himself now admits were exaggerated. And I checked the facts with Don Marshall before writing what I did. Don told me that Greg indeed called him in response to Don’s memo, and that Greg apologized for misstating his job position and admitted that there was probably “only once or twice” that he left in material that Don had told him to cut—which does not appear to accord with what Greg is even now claiming to have happened. Don was very disappointed that Greg was still referring people to his original claims without having corrected them, and was as concerned as I am about the problems that might cause. And it was Don himself who characterized Greg as a relatively short-term projectionist—so maybe he misremembered the length of Greg’s service, or maybe (as with most new projectionists) Greg didn’t work much during his first year; I don’t know. So, I’m sorry if what I said was in any way wrong, but I checked the facts as best I could before saying it, and only said it in order to set the record straight. And with that concern still in mind, I feel it important to address Greg’s 3 numbered rebuttals point by point.
1. After Greg’s initial comments he wrote that “there were just not THAT many films that needed to be cut to begin with: DM was already filtering before he put the schedule together, just as TA does. We’d have weeks and weeks where no cuts needed to be made at all; to estimate it now, I’d say that DM would have 12-20 cuts to make in a season, big and small.” Again, I don’t wish to be argumentative, but my records paint a somewhat different picture. And whereas (I assume) Greg is relying solely on his memory, I am relying not only on my memory (and I sat in on many an editing session, both as a student in the early 80s and later as a faculty member), but on three 4-drawer file cabinets full of preview and editing notes, which we can link to films semester by semester. There were indeed some films that didn’t need any editing, but those films were the exception, not the rule. And yes, some films needed much less editing than others, and the amount of editing varied from semester to semester. But there was still a lot of editing—partly because, when Don could edit and needed to edit out one or two things to make a film showable, there was no compelling reason (other than preserving the intelligibility of the film) not to edit out less problematic, but still potentially offensive material while he was at it. Also, since he could edit, Don was able to show films that needed editing in order to be showable—which we are now unable to do—and those films made up the majority of films that he showed during any given semester.
2. Greg also claimed that “editing and building up the films was archaic, but not quite as arduous as TA makes it sound. DM would often have very specific notes of a cut that needed to be made, with the reel #, the time, and the content/context, which made finding it easy enough.” Yes, when he was showing a film that had been shown and edited by IC before he did indeed have very specific editing notes. But with all films that were new to IC, Don had to rely on his preview notes—which are not at all specific. When he could, Don did indicate in his preview notes where problematic material was likely to be located, but unlike me (I usually only attend 2-3 festivals a year, and see many more films on tape and DVD), Don previewed almost all of his films at film festivals, where he would literally run out of one film and into another (I’ve attended festival screenings with him, so I know this from experience), often entering a screening when the film was well underway and leaving to see another film before the one he was watching was over. So more often than not (and again, his own notes substantiate this), because he had not seen the film in its entirety he could only guess as to where in a film the problematic material was actually located. He certainly couldn’t identify the reel unless he was relying on previous editing notes, not just preview notes (and again, those are two different sets of notes). With all films new to IC (which in Don’s day, where editing was still allowed, constituted most of the films shown during a semester), the film had to be screened and marked and edited, reel by reel, precisely as I described.
3. Lastly, regarding Greg’s job title, he wrote: “I did the box office (we did charge a dollar in those days if you didn’t have your IC card), took tickets, made the theater work schedule, sometimes introduced films and professor/speakers, trained new people, and recommended films for screening. We called Celeste the office manager at the time, so I assumed–at the very least, for first resume and b-school application purposes–I was a manager, too.” I’m sorry Greg, but your assumption is wrong. I carry out many college duties in addition to my departmental duties, but that doesn’t grant me the privilege of calling myself an associate dean. As Don told me, you were a projectionist, even though (as with most every job) your duties were not restricted to one simple task.
Now, a few words about money at IC. It is true that for a period (and I’m not sure how long a period) IC did charge a nominal fee to those who didn’t have an IC film card. Why this policy was initiated I don’t know, since the funds that were collected never actually got used by IC. They were always supposed to be deposited at the ASB cashier’s office on a day by day basis, and were subsequently assigned to what the University calls “unallocated funds,” which means the University used that money however they pleased. (IC got its funding—and still does—as a yearly allotment from the College of Humanities general budget.) Since IC cards were given out in every foreign-language, Honors, and GE class, and in virtually every other class wherein the professor requested them, and since the door-monitors often let people in without a card anyway, there was never very much money collected—some weeks, none at all, according to Don. So, I honestly don’t know why Don continued to charge money as long as he did. The only real consequence of the practice was to make a lot more work for IC, since the money had to be collected, recorded, deposited, and a percentage of that total paid to the distributor in addition to the print rental fee—all without IC receiving any benefits in return. And neither the college nor the University were very interested in that extra money (presumably because it never amounted to very much), and were more than happy to have the policy terminated—which I encouraged Don to do, long before I took the helm. I will admit to being puzzled that when people have offered donations (some fairly substantial) directly to IC or the college, the University has declined to accept them, encouraging people instead to give the money to the University general funds. Of course, it’s understandable that the University would much rather receive funds that are not targeted to a specific end, since then they can use them however they want. But why they would refuse funds that wouldn’t be donated through other channels, when they have to provide IC with funding every year regardless, is a bit of a mystery to me. I suppose (and this is pure speculation on my part, since I was never given plausible explanations when these questions arose) that the reasons are mixed up with fears by some people about the program becoming too influential or independent, especially since the program has so often been seen by the administration in a mostly negative light, due to the great many complaints and very little praise it publicly received over the years. But I’ve always believed that if the University established an IC fund, it would probably garner enough money to fully support the program, since I know of many people (including me) who would contribute to it. I have also often wondered what would happen were a really sizable donation offered to the University, but only on condition of it being used for IC. Would they accept it? I don’t know. But it does irk me a bit that you can donate to the football program, which in my opinion contributes virtually nothing to the University mission, while you can’t donate to IC, which arguably contributes quite a lot to that mission. People are always saying, of course, that the football program is a great missionary tool, but I have my doubts; I’ve watched Notre Dame play football on numerous occasions without ever feeling inclined to convert to Catholicism as a consequence.
I don’t really want to engage the pornography question any more than I already have because it’s such a hot topic and I don’t want to appear as if I’m defending or promoting pornography—which I’m not. Given the comments that followed my first post it apparently needs pointing out that none of us here wants to show anything that is truly pornographic. Nor do we want to offend anyone—even very sensitive people. This is precisely why we go to such extraordinary lengths to find material that is inoffensive, as far as possible. Even if the Church didn’t mandate such measures, I know of no faculty member at this institution who wouldn’t employ them anyway. And when people are offended by something and their offense is genuine—regardless of their level of sensitivity—we try and treat such complaints with the respect they deserve. My gripes were not directed at such people. I have no problem whatsoever with people being more (or less) sensitive than I am—as long as they don’t then leap to the erroneous conclusion that unless everyone else acquiesces to their opinion, they have the right to impose it—or malign and torment everyone who opposes that effort. Neither am I (or anyone else I know here) driven by my own “love of filmart,” as one respondent described it, to use IC or classroom curriculum to promote a personal agenda. I am very content to enjoy the art I like and let everyone else enjoy the art they like. I direct the International Cinema program only because the University extended me that duty as a formal university assignment. It’s not my program, in other words (which is precisely why I have often been annoyed at being left to defend it as such against attacks from others within the university community—people who should know better). In sum, I don’t attack people for doing what the Church and the University assigned them to do, and it seems reasonable to expect reciprocal consideration.
I think it also bears pointing out that the board of directors and church leaders (two of whom are past BYU presidents after all) know very well what goes on here at BYU, and we have been told on numerous occasions that they don’t need nor want “crusaders” circumventing the proper chain of authority by reporting to them (or the media) every little perceived infraction or offense. Using some rather convoluted logic, one respondent wrote “I am not going to criticize Latter-day Saints who have chosen out of an effort to follow prophetic counsel not to see [foreign films]. In fact, I will grant those individuals the freedom to crusade against those films if they find them offensive.” No one here, myself included, would ever encourage or even want anyone to disobey prophetic counsel. But the prophet has never counseled us to avoid foreign films. Moreover, the so-called crusaders in question are not carrying out their crusade under the banner of obedience to prophetic counsel; someone who actively, hatefully and publicly stirs up controversy and criticizes those who are trying to fulfill a Church-sanctioned university assignment, and someone who twists the facts and distorts the truth is not behaving in a way consistent with a desire to follow prophetic counsel, and much less are they serving others who do desire that end. I find it extremely telling that the same person who so indignantly proclaimed, “I understand that it must be frustrating for someone with a love for ‘filmart’ that Latter-day Saints opt not to see nudity or pornography. Perhaps people are just standing extremely far away from the edge in light of admonitions from Church leaders that pornography should be avoided like the plague and that it is as addictive as cocaine,” then proceeds to confess, “I am a huge fan of . . . foreign films and have my own collection of them. But I won’t deny that some scenes in them are indeed pornographic or at least below the standards that the Church leaders expect of Latter-day Saints.” If that is indeed true, I would respectfully suggest that this person concentrate more on ridding his collection of such films and being more circumspect in his own viewing habits, and concentrate less on policing the viewing habits of others. For the record, however (and as Jim pointed out in his much-appreciated response to the above-mentioned person), nudity is not necessarily pornography. And IC, in accordance with university standards, carefully limits the former and completes eschews the latter.
In order to end on a positive note, I wanted to address Kaimi’s responses about whether there is indeed a difference between viewing a film in public as opposed to watching it alone. Yes, I think there is. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter. But I regularly find that the degree to which I enjoy and understand a film (or a book, or most anything else for that matter) increases when I share the experience with others. And that experience need not be a public one; I have many very happy memories of sitting in Jim Faulconer’s living room with his family and other students while we watched and discussed various films, foreign and domestic, serious and entertaining. And rarely, if ever, have I duplicated that pleasure or understanding on my own.
Thank you all once again.