Another’s perspective on studying film theory

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No theory class I ever took taught me how to carry five C-stands at once, but then again the very first time someone showed me a film and then went on to explain the basic symbology that was going on, (not much beyond, “see: the good guy wears a white hat and the bad guy wears black and kicks a dog.”) it opened my eyes onto a vast new world and how it can be viewed. Granted, people are SUPPOSED to be much more literate on the visual arts these days but I for one see the bulk of most meaningful symbology floating right over most people’s heads until someone points it out to them.

I had one class in college in the ART department (heaven help us, not that word) that I remember to this day. The teacher didn’t know an f-stop from a hole in the ground but she did manage to get her hands on a vast assortment of films from all over the globe and from all eras of cinema history and patiently screened them all for a bunch of 19 year old punk rockers in a smelly basement in the back of a pottery shop.

It changed my life.

Watching films by Kurosawa, JL Goddard, Charlie Chaplin and yes, Eisenstien and Stan Braakhage and ever other so-called intellectual you could name until our eyes fell out was the beginning for me not of some ivory tower quest for the perfect theory, but a serous awakening in my conciousness that if these art types could make films then so could I, a dumb cowboy from a hick town in Oklahoma.

If you want to make films that are like everybody else’s, then, by all means study production and slave to become a minor functionary on some large production. (I know I’ve been there.) But if you think you might want to become a film maker in the sense of “I have something unique to say to the world” then make sure you see films by others who feel that way and put up with mere mortals’ attempts to make sense of them. The reason most theories (and they are theories, not stated facts) seem to be inadequate is that film is a medium that by nature sets out to go beyond spoken and written language.

But back to the original question, perhaps in your case a genre study course might be more to your liking. Something like westerns or film noir or even a cinema appreciation class. Film theory isn’t rocket science, though and if you go to class and simply end up watching some films and regurgitating some BS on a multiple-guess quiz at the end of the semester, hey, at least it wasn’t an accounting course or something.

You did get to see some movies….

I want to add my two cents… Please allow me to email David Notowitz (

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