Memorable Classes: History of Motion Pictures

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What would all of these old college stories be without a few anecdotes from the actual classes I took?  Despite this blog’s focus on everything else, I genuinely was in this thing for the higher education!

History of Motion Pictures was my very first film class.  It was a three-hour once-a-week class, one of two that I took in my first semester.  Now these sound magical in theory and for the most part they are, but it was quite a departure from the consistently 50-minutes/class period high school classes and those were only a few months behind me in my rearview mirror.  Three hours is a long time to be doing anything.  Whether or not a class like this is convenient or unbearable solely rests on the professor’s shoulders.

It’s not like I ever had much of a choice in whether or not to keep scheduling myself for this style of course.  All film classes were three hours once-a-week so as to allow for screenings and discussions (or it would have if not for some of my professors’ predilection for extremely long films).

History of Motion Pictures was one of the few classes that I took that were taught by actual film faculty, rather than adjuncts and graduate students.  The gentleman teaching it, Bob Jones (no really, that’s not an alias), was probably the oldest member of the film faculty.  He was easily in his late sixties, possibly in his early seventies (or maybe he just aged very poorly).

Though his hearing aid suggested some deterioration with age, you never would have known it from his sense of humor and surprisingly decent lectures.  For those who believe that all history is boring, I encourage you to study film history.  It’s full of larger than life characters, sex, debauchery, and ruthless business moguls.  It’s like Game of Thrones:  Capitalism edition.

That being said, like most of my film classes in enormous lecture halls, I rarely stayed for the movies.  He didn’t start us off on the right foot in terms of keeping us motivated to attend the second half of the class.  Our first film was Sunrise by F.W. Murneau.  It wasn’t bad, but I quickly discovered my short-attention span for silent films, and this one was really pushing it.

The second film made my decision for me.  D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance was a sweeping, epic apology piece (he had just faced harsh criticism for his last film, Birth of a Nation, which depicted a heroic Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era south).  It was like Crash for the 1920s movie goer.  There were multiple story lines, spanning multiple eras all tied together by a theme preaching tolerance for our fellow man.  Jesus even showed up for one of the subplots.  The set pieces were massive, a true testament to Hollywood’s showmanship back then.  I couldn’t watch it though.  The film quality made too many characters look alike, which made the switching from plot line to plot line impossible to follow.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix season of Arrested Development, (for starters, what the hell are you doing with your life?) there’s a character that is “Face Blind” – he can’t distinguish one face from another, meaning he can’t recognize people, not even his girlfriend or his own mother.  Well, imagine suffering this guy’s affliction and trying to follow Crash.  I couldn’t tell if that lady on the screen was a Suffragette or Mary Magdalene.  I walked out.

Sometimes I look back and feel bad about passing up on so many opportunities to watch incredible classic films such as these, especially because so many of them are hard to come by.   Back then, however, I was simply following my professor’s lead.  He appointed ushers and left a teaching assistant to run the films.  And then he left the lecture hall and went back to his office.

The most memorable thing about Bob Jones was his microphone.  He had somehow developed a comfort zone with his handheld, wired mic.  Remember, he was old.  When some yuppie AV administrative lackey decided to force onto him a lapel mic (the ones that you clip onto your shirt), he wouldn’t have it.  Instead, he attached that dainty little microphone to his old bulky one with some cardboard and tape.  He looked like a hobo MC, but that never seemed to bother him.