What I’ve Learned in Film School

Current interest in yoga and practices of meditation and the fascination of spectator sports is motivated by a desire to feel; to experience life viscerally, emotionally and completely in a culture in which we are protected from feeling by technology and fear.

Viewers emotionally experience danger of the real, unknowable, unpredictable world when viewing film narratives, knowing that they are physically insulated, that it’s all pretend. Narrative works through emotional, not rational cognition and the forms of narrative in each culture are derived from the way individuals in that culture are conditioned by their environment to feel in the presence of recognized circumstances. We interpret the world as an after-thought; as a narrative in stories we tell ourselves (and others) about what we thought had happened. Narrative films tap this process.

Throughout knowable history, in voices in song, oral storytelling, print, plays, music, film, dance, sculpture and graphic arts, narratives evoke emotional cognition, an experience that colors the viewer’s perceptions of the world by associating feelings with appearances. Narratives have a primary purpose in shaping human perceptions and the social relevance of responses to perceptions. This is a defining characteristic of humans, not seen in other species.

As individuals, communities, cultures and a planetary civilization, our emotional perceptions guide our choices in managing our lives and communities. Since the turn of the 20th century, this guidance led humanity through two world wars, two global economic crashes, widespread deforestation, radioactive contamination of the seas and now a global climate change, which is an ecological catastrophe. There’s a reason to suspect a better appreciation for the uses and purposes of narrative may be required to change the course.

Sociological studies after the end of WWII by David Riesman and associates described in The Lonely Crowd (1950), revealed how mass media shapes core values of the population. Cinema conveys values that have led to social and ecological problems. Core values promulgated in media create political will that, in this democracy, has sustained impoverishment, warfare and environmental neglect. Our world would be a different place had we not this kind of media and the most obvious change would be more local autonomy, a down-sizing of scale to much smaller governmental units.

Traditional studies of cinema in America have promoted a global media industry and the social and environmental conditions that the media sometimes pretends to oppose. To affect these conditions by democratic action, requires a cinema that is not committed to global values.

Banning of talent in the witch hunt led by Senators Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon beginning in 1947 began a political purge that shifted creative control out of the hands of artists to reactionary capitalists that are not interested in the voices of labor and biased against social welfare . Film historians, scholars and theorists now focus on form and ignore that censorship in Hollywood works by green lighting content that meets criteria. Counter culture material isn’t prohibited, it’s given notes for changes required for it to be funded. Form follows function in film and when historians and theorists ignore the function of content, they ascribe choices of form to irrelevant historical influence.