Sunday, July 13, 2003

Film theory's hard; it must be bad!
Today's LA. Times magazine has an article about the film studies department here at UCSB, Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology.. It's quite a rant. Much of it is a diatribe against the use of jargon and any kind of theory connected to France. Anything involving big words is treated as laughable, at best, apparently. Theory itself seems to be rather suspect. And the fact that the author's daughter received a C in her film theory course is apparently the driving force behind this whole article.

Now, I won't say that I never find film studies and film theory to be a bit frustrating. There are moments when I do find some of the jargon to be tedious and there are definitely moments when I want them to ground more of their theories in some kind of systematic observation. (While I'm so often alienated from much of the work in my own discipline, I often find myself wanting people in other disciplines to be more sociological! It's probably not fair of me, but there you are . . .).

But, I was quite disappointed in this article, it's snide and dismissive tone, and the knee-jerk anti-theory, anti-intellectualism.

Roger Ebert, a critic who I tend to enjoy, had this to day in the article:
"Film theory has nothing to do with film. Students presumably hope to find out something about film, and all they will find out is an occult and arcane language designed only for the purpose of excluding those who have not mastered it and giving academic rewards to those who have. No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence would want to teach these courses, so the bona fide definition of people teaching them are people who are incapable of teaching anything else."

"No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence?" That certainly doesn't describe the very smart, and actually quite grounded, professors that I know in the film department.


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