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'Film Theory Has Nothing to Do With Film.'[^1]

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 cliché. (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.


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