Film school for dummies

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

The most notorious person in film studies right now is a guy named Mike Lacher.

He’s the brains behind the Film School Thesis Generator, a clever little tool (go to wonder-tonic.com/filmthesis) that aspires to capture the entire undergraduate experience of film studies in a few keystrokes.

Simply enter any movie into the search bar, click “Create,” and a thesis statement about that movie will pop up. Here’s what came up when I entered a personal fav, Edward Scissorhands: “Through the use of the male gaze, Edward Scissorhands subjugates suburban notions of containment.”

As a film studies major who’s written dozens of papers about movies, ranging from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to Goodfellas, at first glance that Edward Scissorhands thesis doesn’t sound half bad. “Holy crap,” the film student may think upon trying out the Generator for the first time. Is this the answer to every paper I’ll ever have to write?

Sure, but proceed at your own risk. Lacher has confirmed that the Generator is completely random. It simply combines the film with a random verb and a few common film studies buzzwords to create a thesis.

Anyone who’s ever taken a film class will get what Lacher, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, is saying with the Generator: All film studies papers utilize the same key terms (“mise-en-scene,” “semiotics,” “fetish” or “male gaze,” anyone?) which can be thrown together and rearranged to suit any film, even the most ridiculous films you can think of. That Edward Scissorhands thesis is as good a proof as any that this theory is not totally off-base.

Still, for a subject as newfangled as film studies, it’s a theory Lacher may want to keep quiet. There is a place in academia for film analysis, as those of us who study it know, and pranks like this won’t help critics understand that the subject is much more complex and important than a couple of random buzzwords.

UC Davis film studies program director Jaimey Fisher and junior English major and film studies minor Maverick Bohn tried out the Generator with Rear Window and Return of the Jedi, respectively. Both were skeptical. The given theses didn’t seem relevant to the films.

“It would be easier to just look into the film’s narrative, cinematography and impact on popular culture,” Bohn said. “That way you aren’t tricked into writing something irrelevant and you actually look into what is important about a film.”

UC Davis English professor Evan Watkins, who also teaches courses in film theory, said that while the website is fun and students could potentially use it to write their papers, doing so misses the real point of writing essays.

“The real goal is what students can do, not what they read or see, whatever the material,” he said. “Ideally papers are a means – and a good means I think – toward the end of putting a lot of thought into something.”

I’ll do my part for film studies and come up with some original ideas for my next paper – well, maybe after visiting the Generator for a little inspiration.

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