The Unspoken Rule

If there’s anything I’ve learned in three years of taking film classes in college, it’s that there’s an unspoken rule between professors and students: as a student, you’re expected to have seen every movie ever made. What does this mean? It means that any time a professor mentions a movie or shows a clip, he or she will ask, “Who’s seen this film?” The expectation is that a lot of students are supposed to have seen any given film, no matter what it is, and if you haven’t it somehow reflects poorly on you.

Sure, my current professor is impressed that I’ve seen Bringing Up Baby, Tootsie, sex lies and videotape, The King’s Speech and The Social Network, but the fact that I have not yet seen The Wages of Fear, The Graduate, The Great Santini, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Something Wild, Boyz n the Hood, My Own Private Idaho, The Silence of the Lambs, Hoop Dreams, Big Night, Election, Sideways, Factotum, Nine Lives, The Squid and the Whale, Frozen River and Submarine is apparently a horrible letdown. (Why didn’t he ask about a different Clouzot film? I’ve seen four others. Plus I’ve seen the last Alexander Payne film, The Descendants. Just saying.) In fact, after one particularly disappointing class poll – “Who here has seen Sideways? Only one or two of you? God, you people need to get out more…” – my professor launched into a discussion of how when he was a film major in the mid-to-late 80s, he used to watch ten to fifteen films a week. It was much more difficult back then, of course, since VHS was hard to obtain, especially since there was only one rental store near where he lived in Michigan. I won’t deny that I was a little bothered by how my professor glorified the way he used to sit around and watch a string of movies one after the other all day every day. That means that a) he probably had no social life, b) he probably never exercised (and wouldn’t all that sitting have given him leg cramps and backaches?) and c) he may have just been watching films rotely instead of taking time to think about them and appreciate them. That bothers me most of all.

What’s even worse is when this professor asks “Who hasn’t seen [insert title]?” That phrasing immediately makes it sound as though you have done something seriously wrong with your life if you have not yet seen film X, Y or Z. It seems that the only way to make every professor happy is to have seen every movie that has ever existed. I only have so much time in any one day, and I do watch a lot of movies, but I can’t have seen every single thing. Professors need to realize that that’s just not possible.

P.S. It should be noted that movies like Sideways and Submarine are fairly recent compared to a lot of the movies I actually do watch. Earlier tonight I saw Grand Hotel, a fine film from 1932; I watched it because it was on TV, not for some class. I watch movies from the 30s because I want to and because I can watch it with my parents, who have seen Grand Hotel many times. Movies were how I first learned to connect with my parents at an early age and if I had been able to watch Grand Hotel at age five, I would have been just as willing then as I am now. The sad truth is that my professor will never assume that any of his students would actually watch Greta Garbo and John Barrymore in their spare time – or that students nowadays have even heard of those names.

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