Oh... and video too.
I am just finishing teaching a semester-long class in Film History at a local art college. This is the fifth time I've taught the class and every year the level of enthusiasm and curiosity in the students sinks lower and lower. As any teacher can tell you, they draw energy from those students who are -- if not hungry for knowledge -- at least interested in the material. Even one student who is genuinely intrigued by the subject matter can inspire an instructor to try and bring fresh ideas and fascinating raw material into the classroom.
Those curious students have steadily dwindled down to nothing. Last year I swore I wouldn't bother teaching again, but decided to give it one more semester, as a favor to the person who hired me several years ago. I'm more comfortable in the classroom than ever, my lectures are more coherent and focused, but rousing any interest in the minds of the students is simply a lost cause.
And I just cannot conceive of it. How can someone not be interested in a film class? We're not talking neo-academic film theory, but an understanding and appreciation of the evolution of film style... from Edison and Griffith through German Expressionism, silent American cinema, the pre-Code era, the CHC, the French New Wave an American independent cinema of the early '70s. Film noir for crying out loud! Nothing. Flatline. How can someone watch The 400 Blows
and have nothing to say or ask... and have no emotional reaction to the film at all? How can someone watch a film as provocative as Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl
or as aesthetically rebellious as Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
and then shrug afterward? They seem incapable of viewing film as anything more than something to be judged on its entertainment value. Thumbs up or down, that's it.
After attempts at discussion that gradually degenerated into interrogation, I find that they have never been moved by cinema. One student really liked The Incredibles
. That's as close as we got to an epiphany. They generally do not go to movies, they seldom rent DVDs. Video games and cable TV are the opiates of choice.
So the future of American film is not looking too good. And it's not so good for me either. Here I've spent about two years making a movie that attempts to speak in the cinematic vocabulary of the 1920s... that plays upon the viewer's knowledge of film history, genre and moral politics. I had always expected a fair number of blank gazes... shrugs... and vacant expressions... because this is not something formulated to appeal to the masses. But now I feel like someone is walking over my grave. Actually... it's worse than that. My grave is being paved over so a new Wal-Mart can go in.
It's horrible to reach a point in your life when you realize that the thing that gives your soul the greatest pleasure (cinema) -- the thing that fuels your ambition and inspires you to create -- is becoming inconsequential to the next generation. I'm just hoping and praying that there are enough people in the world who can connect to a film like Psychopathia
to make it commercially successful.
..And that I'll live to make another movie.