It’s kind of hard to articulate what being a Film major is like. I get assumptions: “What, do you just like, watch movies all the time? Is that it?” and I get praises: “That is so cool! Wow, good for you.” I think that people mistakenly believe that there isn’t much studying in being a Film & Media Studies major. You watch a couple films, you make up some bizarre-o theories about the movie, you write a paper with a cutesy title, and BAM—there’s your degree.
With science classes, your knowledge is concrete; it’s memorizing the areas of the brain, being able to regurgitate formulae, knowing what procedure to follow when you step into a lab. While this may surprise you, studying film has plenty of its own protocol, plenty of its own textbook material, from the difference between a long shot and a medium-long shot, from the different components of the mise-en-scene (and don’t forget the matching interpretation of all of these filmic decisions!). But I am happy to contest that my film classes have taught me so much more than just the superficial (although I am a master of the catchy paper title). When I first came to Hopkins, I wasn’t even sure what being a Film major meant. With two semesters of study under my belt, now I definitely know what an average day of class is like! I absolutely love my major and it’s so much more than the Department’s page can describe. Rather than abstractly write about the wonders of a Film degree, I’m going to document—film by film—what Film & Media Studies looks like and has taught me so far.
1. Broken Blossoms (1919) taught me that it’s okay to not love every film, but there is still something to appreciate deep down there. I really struggled through Broken Blossoms. It was, ironically, the first film I watched for class here at Hopkins. Halfway through the screening, I was struck by a sense of panic. I hate this movie. I can’t be a film major. Oh god… what am I going to do?! After the lights came up, my professor laughed. The whole class laughed. Between the racial slurs, the trite intertitles (the slides that pop up in silent films like captions), and the poor image quality, we all hated Broken Blossoms. That collective laugh of relief reminded me that it’s okay if every film doesn’t make it into your Top 10. It’s okay if you fall asleep for a few minutes (oops). But I appreciate Broken Blossoms—and that’s the key. I can tell you all about D.W. Griffith’s revolutionary editing style, I can confirm that this was an important cultural step, I can interpret the implications of Lillian Gish’s new acting style. Broken Blossoms was my first experience in analyzing a film, and I thank Griffith for that—but I just can’t love Broken Blossoms, and that’s okay.
2. The Rules of the Game (1939) taught me how to write a proper film paper. I studied this French film for my final paper first semester, and it was the first time I ever really had to write about a movie. It’s more of a science than an art: finding the proper time stamps for each moment you want to dissect, forcing yourself to ignore components of the story that aren’t purely filmic, creating a cohesive argument that ties a theme between every scene you watch. I concluded that the film showed these French aristocrats to be savage animals, their social dynamics appearing more like a National Geographic documentary than a high-class get-together. I loved this film the first time my professor screened it, and I’ve watched it probably twenty times since then! It was incredibly fun and rewarding to pick a movie apart scene by scene, line by line. I ended up discovering so much about all of the important subtleties in a film. The Rules of the Game taught me the importance of dissection in film, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it (and the rockin’ character named Genevieve).
3. In the Mood for Love (2000) is one of those films that totally blew my mind. When I sat in the dark during my class’ screening, my mind wasn’t analyzing, wasn’t memorizing, wasn’t preparing responses for a quiz or a paper. I don’t mind viewing films from an academic, analytical standpoint, but it gets to a point where you’re almost conditioned to quickly memorize names, artistic movements, certain plot points and motifs. With In the Mood for Love, I wasn’t able to do anything except just watch and enjoy. The Chinese film has probably cracked my Top 10, and I’m still kind of reeling from it. Our class ended up getting assigned to write a paper about it, and I tried—I really tried—to interpret it, but I think my total, visceral enjoyment of it wiped out any sort of reading I had of it. My thesis statement was about noodles. It was my worst grade of this class. I didn’t even care.
4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is a staple for any Wes Anderson fans; I had seen it a bunch of times before my professor announced that she’d be screening it as a treat. While film screenings are normally silent, focused classes, this screening was so different. My professor first semester lectured on how great the experience of the theater is. You’re sitting there, in pitch black, with many other people, all indulging in this display of color and light and sound as the beam of light from the projector travels above everyone’s heads. The Royal Tenenbaums really made me believe in this description. My whole class laughed on cue and chattered happily throughout the film (usually screenings are dead silent!). It was a fun—not an interesting, not a challenging—screening and taught me, in real-time, how a film actually does unite its viewers. (Also, our quiz for The Royal Tenenbaums was take-home, so I think we were all super happy about that.)
These are just four of the many, many films I’ve watched for class since I’ve been here. They’ve made an impression on me and have made me thankful to have such an awesome major. I’m taking two film classes next semester and can’t wait to see what kinds of films those classes will bring! So, like, this all sounds good and happy. Why a funeral? Because, remember, I like catchy titles? No, because I’m finishing my rewatch of Breaking Bad and it’s making me sad all over again that the show is over. I have a feeling that I’m just going to keep rewatching and rewatching until I find a worthy show to replace it. Until then, let that timer keep increasing!