PART FIVE: THE FILM STUDIES PHONY (1)
A Film Studies Phony is a tricky thing to spot, especially since there are often very many of them. These are students who really don't give a crap about what they're studying, who are just along for the ride or trying to look cool (studying Film really can make you seem cool, even if you're just a geek with a halfway decent DVD collection). The Film Studies Phony can be split into three different types; The Namedropper, the Illiterate and the Downright Idiot. In this post, we will be dealing with the most widespread, most dangerous, and most difficult to identify of the three; the Namedropper.
The Namedropper is the most difficult of the three to identify because at first they just sound a pretty intelligent person who knows their film. It can sometimes take quite a while for you to realise that they are just parroting a load of theory they've read in the text book of the moment. I call them Namedroppers because that's basically all they do - you can bullshit your way through anything as long as you can use the words 'Godard' and 'Nouvelle Vague' in the same sentence and make it sound convincing.
Here are some tips for quick spotting of the Namedropper; the earlier you identify them the easier they are to deal with. If you give them any credit at all it tends to go to their heads and make them even worse than they already are.
Number One - Directors. There are certain directors it is always perfectly acceptable to bring into the conversation in order to make a point. Some of these guys you just can't go wrong with. Saying that you like Tarantino, or Godard, or Hitchcock, is the cinematic equivalent of saying you like the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones. Who the hell's going to argue with you? Of course, there's nothing wrong with big, classic auteur directors, but using them as the safe option when you can't think of anything to say can get real old real fast. Getting stuck in that pattern is the fastest, surest route to becoming a Namedropper, and also the easiest way to identify them.
Number Two - Limited Repertoire. Along with getting hung up on certain directors, Namedroppers often have very closely defined parameters to their knowledge. While they seem to know everything about a particular 'cult' director, when pressed they will know pretty much nothing about anything else. You will get very bored of hearing them wax lyrical about their extensive knowledge of Tarantino's foot fetish, but when it comes down to actually knowing something useful they will draw a blank. There's no point to talking about feet in Tarantino films if you can't elaborate on the reasons for them being there. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the video below. The guy really does love feet.
Number Three - They just come off like an asshole. There are arrogant, pretentious, asshole students in every subject - it's more to do with human nature than any particular area of study - but in a subject like Film there seems to be an unfair excess of them, and considering that this is not a subject in which one is required to be an asshole to get ahead, it really doesn't do you any favours. Coming into a lecture or a seminar with a face like you're chewing a slice of lemon and then very loudly discoursing on your misplaced assumption that you know it all already (and what's more, you know it better than anybody else who knows it too) would be very ill advised. In fact, it is often a complete mystery why any Namedropper is bothering to study Film at all, seeing as they are obviously already even more cinematically clued-up than Andre Bazin.
(We will be examining the Illiterate and the Downright Idiot in the next post of How To Study Film)