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Film Theory: Elitist Nonsense or a Critical Life Lesson?


August 03, 2003

I wish to clarify that, despite a clear implication to the contrary, I did not teach the class in film theory that David Weddle's daughter took and which led to his dismay over wasted tuition dollars ("Lights, Camera, Narratology?" July 13). Considering Weddle's good-spirited attempt to capture my lecturing style, I should say, "It was NOOOOT! my class." In my theory classes, however, I am trying to expose young adults to a comprehensive range of ideas to stimulate their curiosity, interest, critical thought and, eventually, their informed participation in the political process. In 10 weeks, students read 54 articles and 32 handouts covering the period of 1916 to the 1970s.

Weddle's battle is with the theoretical paradigm of the 1970s, which he considers excessively obscure, of no practical value and anti-humanist. Still, his definition of the "humanist tradition" is far too narrow. After all, there are only humans telling themselves stories to believe in. As for film theory, it is deeply concerned with the factors that influence a film, and which make it be that film and no other. Meanwhile, I believe that was chalk dust, not dandruff, on my glasses. But I'll check.

Edward Branigan

Department of Film Studies

UC Santa Barbara


As a graduate of UC Santa Barbara's film studies program, I was shocked and appalled to read Weddle's condemnation of the UCSB faculty, the course of study and film theory itself. I was fortunate to have taken courses by Edward Branigan, Charles Wolfe and Constance Penley, all of whom opened my mind to the world of cinema in ways that my production courses never could have.

Adam Weissler

Senior segment producer, "Extra"



As a recent graduate of the UCSB film studies department, I wholeheartedly reinforce Weddle's claims! For four years I endured the elitist approach to film and was hindered because I did not subscribe to the same nonsensical garbage as the others. My only solace comes from the knowledge that I will use my film studies degree to get a real job while many of my colleagues will flounder, complaining about the injustice of the industry. Thank you!

Joe Balice

Via the Internet


I have to thank film critic Roger Ebert for setting me straight about that "cruel hoax" also known as film theory. I guess I wasted the last 20 years of my life earning my PhD in film studies and teaching aspiring young filmmakers different ways to look at and think about film. Perhaps I should follow Ebert's lead and teach my students how to write screenplays such as "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" or how to hold their thumbs up and down in the air.

Stephen Tropiano

Los Angeles


If UCSB administrators feel that this sort of "education" has merit, why don't they try to fund it with grants from the industry rather than from taxpayers? The answer is they can't. Because it is not education. It is not meaningful to students who wish to pursue a career in the film industry. It is not helpful to the industry and the product that it produces. It is only helpful to a handful of professors with an agenda who have found a way to manipulate the university system for their own benefit.

Robert Lloyd

Valley Glen


As someone who received a PhD in film studies from Northwestern University's School of Speech in the '70s, and who suffered through the then-emerging fog of semiotics, I'd like to congratulate Weddle on his clear-eyed expose of such self-serving, over-intellectualized, pretentious nonsense. I thought it would have died of its own flatulence long ago.

Garner Simmons

Westlake Village

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