art culture

"The film major that didn’t like films"

That’s what I become known as back in college. It’s mostly true, I don’t particularly like the idea of watching films in general anymore. The thing is, I wasn’t always that way. I did, after all, pursue a film degree. I started thinking about this again after a co-worker and I chatted about films. Her reaction brought up my curiosity about my dislike of films again.

I let it go and didn’t think of it much until yesterday. While reading a book that was set in Nazi Germany, one of my most shocking and indelible film-related memories came back to me in a flash. I think it was during freshman year, in the film theory 101 class (whatever it was called). We watched part of “Triumph of the Will.” For those of you not familiar with it, it is a “documentary” of the 1934 Nuremberg congress/rally for the Nazi party. Why were we watching it? Leni Riefenstahl had created a masterpiece, that’s why. Triumph of the Will is generally seen as one of the most influential films ever made. Hitler was the official producer and it is as emotionally manipulative as he was.

I have to tell you, seeing all of those people being whipped into a frenzy over Hitler was soul destroying. Thank God that sound design wasn’t all that advanced back then, the recording of those thousands of people yelling “SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL!” was chilling enough as it was. I think I may have shed a tear watching it, it was that horrific.

We then spent the rest of the class discussing the effective techniques used in the film and all of the films it had inspired. The one that stands out in my mind was the professor’s off hand comment, “Does anyone remember the award scene from Star Wars?” It was a pretty good appropriation of the techniques in Triumph of the Will.

Looking back, I think that sunk in over the following weeks and months and it colored my perceptions of films. That whole semester was really about film techniques, about viewer manipulation. I don’t view films in general as Nazi propaganda films, but I do think an association was made in my mind. I remember recoiling against the emotional manipulation in that film and I think I become hypersensitive to other films doing the same thing.

Thinking about this, it is now hardly surprising that I find the idea of sitting down to watch a film distasteful. I think I’ve actually mellowed a bit since my college days, but I still prefer a good book or even audio to films.

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