“Film Theory Has Nothing to Do With Film.”*

I resisted posting on this yesterday, in part because I was so angry I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. I’m still not sure I can muster a sufficiently articulate response, but I feel I have to take a crack at it.

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine this weekend ran a cover article entitled “Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology,” exploring its author’s discovery that “film school isn’t what it used to be.” The article begins with David Weddle‘s shock when his daughter, Alexis (who wants a career in film) gets a C on her film theory final at UCSB. Weddle, determined to uncover the culprits behind this obvious injustice, discovers that the academy has been taken over by jargon-spouting leftists.

Of course, this article is running in a reputable journalistic organ, and thus it must be neutral, even-handed, and fair in its representations of these miscreants. Weddle attempts to squelch his distaste by presenting his quest as a pair of balanced questions:

Is there a hidden method to these film theorists’ apparent madness? Or is film theory, as movie critic Roger Ebert said as I interviewed him weeks later, “a cruel hoax for students, essentially the academic equivalent of a New Age cult, in which a new language has been invented that only the adept can communicate in”?

All kidding aside — Weddle’s article is so rife with the kinds of anti-intellectualism often found in the mainstream media that it becomes a sort of clich?©. (See, for instance, Weddle’s obvious glee upon finding a recent graduate of the UCSB film program who claims to have succeeded as a location scout for the film industry “despite the film theory classes, not because of them.” See also his pleasure in the crafting of his final anecdote: students in Edward Branigan’s theory class dozing off! Doodling! Whispering amongst themselves! All while Branigan prattles on, oblivious!) One seriously begins to wonder how the academy got to be the object of fun that it now is, and why our public relations folks keep wanting us to talk to the media, in this environment.

*Roger Ebert, who would know.

2 thoughts on ““Film Theory Has Nothing to Do With Film.”*

  1. This article was reactionary, anti-intellectual crap. The description of Penley as being caught up in a “religious fervor” only reinforces the notion that film theorists are New-Age cultists.

    Another gem from Ebert: “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.”

    I think that one of the things that bothers me most about the article is the sense of entitlement this guy has about his daughters grades, etc. I also noticed that the author played up the “Marxism” slant while completely glossing the feminist, anti-homophobic, and anti-racist tendencies of film theory of the 70s. Lots to think about here.

  2. I’m sorry that neither David Weddle nor his daughter were able to make sense of the question posed on her final exam, especially after spending such exorbitant sums to insure her academic success. But, as a student in the UCSB film studies program, I can tell you that the question makes perfect sense to anyone who actually did the readings and attended lectures. Perhaps little Alexis ought to spend more time on her studies and less time encouraging her father in justifying her mediocrity.

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