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How do new filmmakers benefit from knowledge of these subjects? If this sounds like a rhetorical question, read my colleague Drew Hunt's comment on my earlier post, which described some of his film school classmates' apathy toward such things.
Consider three of the best American movies to come out this summer—Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, and Richard Linklater's Bernie. The first two get plenty of mileage from an awareness of film history: Moonrise Kingdom makes frequent reference to Godard's Pierrot le Fou and Magic Mike to the New Hollywood comedies of Hal Ashby. Bernie displays a canny understanding of both documentary and narrative film form, incorporating testimonies from actual residents of Carthage, Texas, into the dramatized story that takes place there. None of these movies feel like academic exercises; instead, they demonstrate how education can inspire filmmakers to create something fresh. For Anderson and Soderbergh, filmic references provide direction (and a sense of rootedness) in the depictions of doomed romantics and recession-era America, respectively. For Linklater, knowing how different forms work allows him to playfully combine those forms in his own way.
It's a common saying that artists need to know the rules in order to break them; likewise, anyone working in movies should know about great achievements in the medium in order to develop his or her own style. Neither Anderson, Soderbergh, nor Linklater graduated from film school, but they remain model students all same.
As for Columbia's students, it's more imperative than ever that they use the resources available to them. In a recent e-mail Columbia film professor Ron Falzone explained to me that the budgetary concerns have created "a lot of pressure to fill the [cinema studies] courses that we have on the books." He added that "most of these courses are taught by adjunct faculty. If these don't fill, then those adjuncts lose their class . . . Now that the school is putting on more pressure to fill all the seats, the chances of an adjunct losing his/her gig are much higher."
In spite of these concerns, Falzone wrote that he felt positive about the recent developments on the whole. The outpouring of public support for cinema studies classes sent a strong message to Columbia's administration, who responded supportively. Falzone singled out the college's new vice president, Warren Chapman, as being "even-handed" toward cinema studies in recent discussions of the college's priorities. He also noted how commendably his colleagues have acted through these trying months. "I would have to say that the handling of this whole affair only showed how well managed the Film & Video Department is," he concluded his e-mail. "It was our chair, Bruce Sheridan, who marshaled the forces on this one and made sure that Cinema Studies was saved. He really deserves the lion's share of the credit for this."