An Open Letter to Film Teachers Everywhere

Dear teachers/professors/other educators of cinema: don’t ruin the endings of movies if it’s not actually necessary to the class.

This has been a recurring theme in film classes that I have taken at my college. I don’t know if this is an acceptable mode of instruction amongst scholars of film studies nationwide or worldwide, but I can tell you that from my perspective, it’s pretty awful.

For example, in one class I am currently taking, my professor has shown the ending scenes of both Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937). What was the point, you ask? In both instances the professor wanted to express to the class that particular director’s thematic interests and tendencies. For Sirk, it was extreme melodrama combined with romance while working in an anti-realist, anti-Hollywood mode; for Renoir, humanism and a desire to bridge the gap between nations and cultures. My question: if the movie is so good, why not show a clip from anywhere else in the film? If you have all of a DVD’s scenes at your disposal, dear teachers, please choose a segment which illustrates your point but which does not spoil the entire opus for the student. (Some endings don’t actually “spoil” anything, but for me, the experience of the whole would thereafter be marred by already knowing that one crucial part.) I also have a bone to pick with professors who assign mandatory reading assignments which divulge the plot of a film before the student has had the chance to see it; wouldn’t it drive you crazy, watching The Rules of the Game when you already know which characters can play Renoir’s “game” and which cannot, thanks to Julia Lesage’s essay “S/Z and The Rules of the Game?

Don’t think that spoiling is restricted to film studies classes; in my current film production class, my professor showed us the last three or so minutes of Bonnie and Clyde in order to emphasize the revolutionary qualities of editor Dede Allen’s work. I know that the story is a well-known part of American history, but if the editing is so amazing, surely there must be some other portion of the film that can be shown to demonstrate Allen’s skill.

I once had a screenwriting professor who loved to tell the class the complete plot of every screenplay that he offered as an example of good writing. He told us that we shouldn’t care if he gave away endings since that was trivial. (“Your reason for being here is to learn the craft of writing for the screen,” he said, more or less.) That statement does not, however, lessen the irritation of the act of spoiling. I believe in discovering the joy of a film when you watch it from start to finish, whether the title was released eighty years ago or last week. Some details and twists are impossible to avoid nowadays, like knowing the ending of The Sixth Sense or what Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud” signifies, but I cherish the excitement of finding things out for myself rather than being told by someone else.

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One thought on “An Open Letter to Film Teachers Everywhere

  1. Yeah I am with you. They used to continually ruin endings in my film studies classes too. That is a major gripe I have with film history documentaries as well. They are always chock full of spoilers.

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