Arts Editorial

Amherst Films: Museums or Circuses

by '69
Amherst Student

The quality of film series offered at Amherst is embarrassingly dull, predictable, and gutless. At a time when the motion picture as an art form is producing so many memorable exciting works this college and most others throughout the country seem to be completely unaware of the progress being made. Certainly it is ridiculous that no course in film, film criticism, or film technique is offered at Amherst.

It is astonishing to me that so many people here can pretend to take film seriously as an outlet for expression and then talk in precious gilded tones about the "cinematic brilliance" of "The Graduate." Or any of the other numerous Hollywood trash heaps recently proclaimed as exciting and daring.

And just as short-sighted are those who decide that there are only a handful of "fine art films", as the phrase goes, delivered over lukewarm espresso, and these are of course only made by a handful of "fine art film directors," almost all foreign: Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, Truffaut. This snobbery equals the "Hollywood vulgarity" syndrome insipidity for insipidity. For both overlook the huge area in which the most advanced exciting techniques are being explored prolifically and constantly in a great mass of startling films.

This "area," lost between the extremes of big-name Hollywood and big-name foreign 'art," contains the independent American cinema, sometimes termed "the underground film" by those who like cute inaccurate labels. The works produced by this group of young film-makers represent an extraordinary outpouring of liberated personal expression, an artistic phenomenon certainly worthy of as much attention, no matter how dumb, as good pop music receives from hordes of drooling, middle-aged blind fools in mass magazines across the country.

Certainly the colleges, where most of the experimental exhibition of films can most easily take place, have done little, except in a few isolated instances. Amherst is in the dark ages, as fas as film goes. Check out the Student Council Film Series … inane, cliquish, campy and lacking in imagination or spine. An endless supply of - Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Three Stooges, Mae West and W. C. Fields have smothered film appreciation in this school.

Certainly a few of these works have value, and should be seen, but in balance with more important new works. And besides, these ‘classics’ are constantly given retrospective showcasing in theatre around the country and are viewed on TV around the clock. Here at Amherst they seem to appeal mostly to giggly groups who know that they're "in flicks" and never tire of guffawing their robot-like appreciation at any "move" they suspect should be funny (I've heard uproarious chortling at the printed credits for one L&H film) and ooh-ing and aah-ing and cheering like acne-voiced hot-snots at every "cool move" of every tired stale Bogie or Brando stud show. Like watching a bunch of Pavlov's dogs go through the motions at a tiring circus.

It apparently never occurred to many around here that movies are more than ???kly antiques, "patronizable" relics, an expended series of hip poster art, or "fascinating and most important" early efforts to get film on its feet. There is more to movies than history and camp. The Council Film Series for this year is so bad, so repetitive, so static, so like the films for every other year here that it's not worth naming each one. Certainly there's a "wide choice": lots of minor Fields, crude Three Stooges, trashy Abbot and Costello, second-rate Westerns and old war adventures, the required "classic": "All Quiet on the Western Front," the required old-hat foreign film "artistic accomplishment" for about the twentieth time : "Breathless" and "La Strada,' and the audience pleasing recent commercial hit: "Mondo Cane."

By the way, almost all these movies have been shown on TV, which says a lot for daring programming. And if the Friday Film Series at Mead is supposed to provide some sort of "alternative" to the Council series, it fails miserably. The films all are accepted staid foreign "gems" or early "trailblazers" mixed in with some nonsense. Thin, treacly, a bit less vulgar and campy than the other series, equally flabby, even more middle-aged perhaps.

And it would be nice to see some foreign works by people other than the most famous (Bergman and Fellini), the most obvious, and maybe a few Godards besides "Breathless," and any Bunuel movies.

Meanwhile, one might ask: has anyone at Amherst had the chance to see the works by Warhol, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Peter Mays, Peter Goldman, Chris Marker, John Hofsess, Ronald Nameth, Burt Gershfield, George and Mike Kuchar, Jonas Mekas? Some of the most adventurous developments in film expression in decades have occurred in Warhol's "Chelsea Girls," Nofsess' "Palace of Pleasure," Smith's "Flaming Creatures," Anger's "Black Midnight, and Gershfield's "Now that the Buffalo's Gone." And yet, where are these works? Stuck, isolated, starving in one or two city "cinematheques."

And Mae West and W. C. twitter on and on, and people breathe "great flick" and reserve "fine work of art" as a fitting shrine for "The Graduate," "A Man and a Woman" and "The Pawnbroker" as well as all the other plastic hoaxes that exploit rather than express and manipulate rather than move.

As for what can be done, the Film-Maker's Cinematheque in N.Y.C. provides many of these independent films at a cost probably a great deal lower than it costs to obtain "3.10 to Yuma" with Glenn Ford or "A Plumbing We Will Go" with the Three Stooges, two "highlights" of the Council Series. And the Cinematheque in Los Angeles has catalogs of these films naming distributors around the country. Among others, this service offers "Changes," a collection of award-winning films from the UCLA Film School Festival that are among the most amazing works of recent time! They go a long way to creating a film expression of total assault, a true Magic Theatre.

While many Amherst kids exult in the new art of the Beatles, Doors, Stones, Dylan, and Hendrix they are still viewing the greasy kids stuff films of a day long gone. They are trapped in circuses and museums. The state of movies here is pure Mantovani. Let's at least give people a chance to turn on.

Source: Amherst Student archives