Film Student Manifesto

Throughout my studies in film, I’ve discovered a rather curious paradox – film students who hate films. Or at least, harbor a disdain for any film that deviates from the auteurs of Classic Hollywood or the stylized films of European Art Cinema. Such films fill student’s textbooks as premium examples of the transformative nature of the cinema apparatus, allowing students to snub their noses at films produced after 1973, where the era of New Hollywood ends and the days of the blockbuster begin, while ignoring a simple truth: modern films, though they seek to target a mass audience, are still films. Mainstream films employ the same techniques of mise-en-scène, heightened narrative, experimental style (in varying degrees of course) and representational acting as the films that students have come to revere as the gold standard of filmmaking. Yet, directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Elia Kazan are given deity-like status while directors like Spielberg, Lucas, or even Michael Bay are regarded as cheap imitators, trafficking products that are considered emblematic of low culture. Thus, we have film students who refuse to watch modern films, refuse to go to theaters, and consume only the latest release of the Criterion Collection.

I call this unnatural separation between films and movies (the colloquial term for popular culture cinema) Cinephilia: the film student disease and this disease must be eradicated. This manifesto serves as a call to all cinephiles; it’s time to abandon such elitist adoration of Art Cinema as its privileged status in film studies at universities across the nation comes at the expense of mainstream cinema and other, more popular, forms of film. Here are 5 simple new rules for film students.

  • Expose yourself to movies beyond the era of New Hollywood: Reaganite Entertainment (films from 1973-1989) and postmodern films (meaning films of the 1990s and beyond) employ a combination of invisible editing, narration, and Art style that is emblematic of Classic Hollywood and New Hollywood. Movies are made the same way now (except for CGI) as they were before; separating movies and films (even if it’s just in casual language) is absurd. Also, some of these films have drastically changed culture – think about Star Wars; this was one of the first films to put the credits at the film’s end. Imagine a world where the phrase “Luke… I am your father” is not known; I have and it’s a sad world. The fanbase the film created changed how studios and directors interact with their viewing audience. Audiences are no longer consider passive viewers. Big budget blockbuster films (like Star Wars) are responsible for ushering in the era of participatory culture.
  • Consumerism is not a dirty word. The profit motive has long been the reason why the film industry flourished in America. The ‘Big 8’ Studios of Classic Hollywood were out to make money; the promise of generating profit fueled creativity rather than stamping it out. Nothing has changed in Hollywood today. Mass marketed films fund a director’s more experimental projects: consider Alfred Hitchcock. The thrillers he made such as Rope, Vertigo, Strangers on a Train and Rear Window gave him the influence and the money to produce Psycho (no studio would touch the project because it was considered trashy) which fundamentally changed both the Horror Genre and movie-going experience as it established box office times. Before this movie, a viewer could walk in at any time to see a film; there were no slated movie times. That’s right – you now buy movie tickets for a given time slot because of Norman Bates and his fruit cellar secret.
  • Ignore the standards set by Cahiers Du Cinema. It’s time to turn away from Cahiers Du Cinema as the bible of Cinema Studies. The men of Cahiers cataloged films (deciding what was worthy and wasn’t) according to famous male directors who then tried to emulate. Film gurus like Goddard, Truffaut, and the like who went on to become the directors of the French New Wave saw cinema as a means of creating political change. This goal was never realized. The French New Wave failed to bring about great change in filmmaking largely because its audience was so limited. The same could also be said for the Italian Neorealism movement which sought to bring about social change by focusing on ghettos and poverty. This also failed because these films did not attract enough viewers. You can’t change film culture, and by extension society, if no one watches your films – the mass audience is needed.
  • Watch More Television: Television is made the same way as a film and is breaking new ground in media consumption. Consider the example of the BBC’s Sherlock – the first show (to reach a large audience) that placed text messages as part of film mise-en-scene (rather than simply holding to camera up to phone screen), and now we are seeing this example being copied in multiple films and tv shows. Furthermore, Netflix shows, Amazon Prime Original Series, and Premium channels like HBO have dominated ratings in recent years – gaining more viewers, and more awards than most films.
  • The Oscars are overrated: accept this now. The Oscars perpetuate this divide for high and low culture. One third of every Oscar film that has been nominated is a literary adaptation. Beginning with D.W. Griffith’s Enoch Arden (a 1912 adaptation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem of the same name) adaptations have long been a way of spreading high literary culture to the unwashed masses. In the days of silent films where immigrants who didn’t speak English were able to watch these films, adaptations served to break down social barriers and spread the superiority of Western civilization. The purpose of adaptations didn’t really change with the coming of sound. Adaptations preached values to the lower classes and upheld western (white) culture. These adaptations were a means to reinforces the status quo; they ignored women and minorities. The Oscars continue this trend; hence the #sowhite criticism that has been through around recently. It’s true, most winners are white and most films are decided Amero- or Euro-centric. The Oscars also privileges certain genre’s over others: Drama and action pieces are held high while comic-book films, horror films, and comedies are ignored.



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