Coming Soon To Nowhere
The Independent Film Channel's new reality series Film School is set at NYU, though its quartet of bohemian bourgeois students wouldn't look (or feel) out of place at the frozen-yogurt stand in a Topeka food court. Has any pop-cultural product so brutally put the lie to our collective American delusion that Manhattan is filled to bursting with pint-sized Susan Sontags and Woody Allens?
Meet Alrick: This poor man's Ben Harper wants to make a movie about the NYPD's shooting of the immigrant Amedou Diallo--but all we see is a pseudo-tough guy fleeing his gee-whiz girlfriend when she clings too tight. ("This film is my girlfriend right now," he says.) Meet Barbara: This chinless mouth-breather wants to make a movie about a man who becomes friends with a liberated lab monkey. ("It's rare that a girl like this," one teacher says in a classic attempt at on-air diplomacy, "actually wants to be a film director.") Meet Leah, who dresses up like Supergirl for fun and wants to make a movie about her struggles with her mother, a multiple-sclerosis victim. Her working title: "Multiple Neurosis." (Since when does the IFC pay for ghostwriting by Todd Solondz?) And meet Vincenzo, the kind of rich Italian artiste who seems to be spiritedly whooshing a scarf over his shoulder even when he isn't wearing one. A massive consumer of nicotine and espresso, Vincenzo has one thing that almost no one else on Film School possesses: the sensibility of a moviemaker. You look at this guy and think, Well, I guess I could picture him directing a movie. (When we get to see his actual work, though, it's another story.)
Pressed to articulate their Vision, the Film Schoolers gush dazzling streams of non-language: "I want the audience to feel like, Ugh--like she doesn't want to be touched," says Leah to two bewildered actors. Another hung-out-to-dry thespian is visibly shaken by Barbara's Elia Kazan impersonation: "It's not so much like that, it's like you're real shy--like you've been beaten down and beaten down all your life. I dunno...just...whatever!" Clearly the Film Schoolers didn't read that chapter of the Buddhist Artist Self-Help Book that talks about letting go of one's ego in the service of giving birth to the work. The insecure Alrick, when challenged by white-boy techies who look like they're from Connecticut, throws down the race card: "This is the way I see it and this is my movie!" (The Connecticut boys get five points for responding, "Yeah, right, but, like, why?")
The highlight of Film School isn't the agony/ecstasy of film production, a snore long rehearsed by HBO's Project Greenlight. Rather, it's the appearance of a pair of novice, rich-kid producers, the boyfriend-girlfriend team of Jennifer and Parker, who form a parody of swingin' husband-and-wife producer duos such as Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner. This headless twosome approaches the son of Academy Awards producer Gil Cates to fund an NYU short, and, stymied by his sound advice, replies, "I'm thinking of taking this to Michelangelo Antonioni and Fellini." (As Cates does a double take, a title card helpfully adds, "Federico Fellini died in 1993.")
To some extent, the corrupt cultural system in which we live is self-correcting: That is, you will never see a feature by one of the Film School students. Perhaps the best way not to be utterly horrified into despair by the series is to view it the way you might view the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee honeymoon video: as a gasp-inducing essay on the degradation of the spoken word in America. Where Pam's love lyric croons, "Oh, lover, you have such a weenis, you're gonna put it inside me and make me totally preggos," Parker observes a nearby carpenter hammering a nail and opines, "I think this reminds me of a metaphor. Which is when you're hitting yourself with a hammer, it's good when you stop. Or something. Whatever."
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