Film Theory 531: Pain Before Freedom

Names have been omitted to protect the guilty. The following material is completely factual.

As I look back on a hectic and bizarre career at The University of Kansas I think of the professors and GTAs who got me to this point. Brilliant minds with Ivy League backgrounds who found it a requirement of their academic integrity and honor to lend a hand to developing young minds. However, because I am KU film student, I lack such influence. Instead, I have had a collegiate career marred by bitter teachers who have been scorned by Hollywood or TV executives in New York. On multiple occasions I have suffered through what some people would call lectures, delivered by a geriatric who rants as if the only effective way to pass time during class is by talking non stop about that one thing that happened that one time in 1936. However, the worse class by far was ironically and fittingly my final KU film class. It was a 531 level class that promised to be as enjoyable as a colonoscopy without anesthetics. My very first interaction with this class was one of confusion and unsettling foreshadowing. Having discovered that several seniors were unable to enroll in the last KU film class we needed to graduate, I emailed the professor of the class asking for a solution or advice on how to handle the situation. Three weeks later, she blessed me with an email graciously proclaiming “this is not my problem; handle it in a different way”. This was her class; this was very much her problem. And if it hadn’t been, it was now. After a film adviser went on what was undoubtedly a meth fueled bender, strings had been pulled and the seniors were allowed into the class. Glory be! However, I would soon discover being let into this class was like being let into the Thunder Dome. Just because you got in, doesn’t mean you’re going to leave alive.

Day One: The professor is 25 minutes late. She opens the door and looks confusedly into the large room containing about 50 students. She walks to the front of the class and addresses us with a sense of certainty by asking if this is the 531 class. This particular teacher is very fond of asking students questions that we should typically be asking her. Someone responds that yes, this is indeed the class you are to be teaching. She seems comforted by this fact. After staring at the floor for 30 seconds with the tip of her thumb under her front tooth she announces “I forgot the syllabi. I’ll go print those out…” She leaves again. I give a questioning look to my friends. Like an 8 year old Amish boy looking at an electronic can opener, I find myself asking “What is this?” Before anyone leaves that day, they must have their picture taken by the GTA in front of a blank white screen. I figure this is the picture they will use in the newspaper when one of us goes berserk and either burns down the film building, or drives an explosives laden automobile through the front doors.

Week Two: For the second class period in a row we do not watch a film. According to the syllabus, we should have seen three full films in class by this time. Someone becomes curious (a dangerous thing to become in this class) and asks “are we going to watch a movie?” The professor goes rigid. “We do not watch films,” the professor slowly proclaims. “We ANALYZE films”. I throw up in my mouth.

Week Three: The structure of the class quickly becomes clear. While the class is two hours and forty five minutes long (to accommodate the screening of a feature length film), the professor finds it more appropriate to not show a film at all and instead just use the time to ramble on incessantly while periodically writing a single word (like “synergy”, “juxtaposition”, or “semiotics”) on a chalk board that is in a dark corner of the room where no one can read it. She speaks at a volume low enough that no one can hear her. She references articles no has read. She loses her train of thought, on average, around 6 times per minute (no exaggeration). She finishes incomplete sentences by saying “right?”

Weeks Four and Five: I find myself battling a wicked ear infection and harboring a deep sense of loathing for everything that this class stands for. I decide not to go to class these two weeks. As is my luck, a 20 point quiz is given during one of these class periods. While I was later able to make it up, one student claimed “I probably would have gotten the same score on it if I hadn’t been there”.

Week Six: At this point, most students stumble in to class anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes late. In doing so, they typically only miss about 10 minutes of class. By now the only way to make it through class is to eat unhealthy amounts of sunflower seeds. Listening to the professor talk has led to me developing a nervous tic. When she speaks it sounds as though she has suffered severe head trauma on more than one occasion. During that day’s particular lecture she discussed modernization and consumer goods. I scour a copy of the textbook trying to discover how this is connected to this week’s film related topic. The following conversation ensues…
Professor: What’s a popular consumer good among college students?
Professor: Like, what do you guys buy a lot?
Professor: What about…sex toys?
Student: What!? I was thinking like groceries!
Professor: Yeah, or those.

From here the structure of the class continued on in a form of monotony capable of making one consider death a sweet release. On a weekly basis the professor confuses herself with the syllabus that she made. She doesn’t know when anything is due and often asks us both when papers are due, and where the GTA is. In the end, when the smoke cleared and the blood dried I came out on top. While the grades haven’t been posted yet, I most likely limped away from this God forsaken experience with a B. While the KU film department certainly isn’t heavily laden with talented professors, I never thought I’d meet one quite like this. She never knew my name, and most likely never will. By several student’s estimations, she most likely has about half a decade left of torturing students before she retires and enjoys a time period no longer than a year. Then it’s off to the Spirit in the Sky. I may get her name tattooed on to my ass.

Michael Gallo


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