This video stands as proof that I was, in fact, a film school student and that there was, in fact, a period of time when I still took it seriously before I got jaded and ran out of money and steam and dropped out of college a year and a half later. That period of time was exceedingly short-lived, and a large part of why was because it became apparent very early on that neither my classmates nor students were picking up anything I was putting down.
The reason I went to film school is because everybody told me I should go to film school. Usually people go to film school despite everybody in their lives telling them not to, but not me. All of my teachers and every member of my family firmly insisted I go. I was, after all, the kid who made videos and little movies and did whatever the heck other camera and editing and clapboard bullshit I was into, and doing that stuff had gotten me attention and writeups in newspapers, so as a result I must go because apparently I was actually good at it. If I was to go to college, which I was told with no uncertainty that I must do, then I must go to film school since the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had a film program and UWM was right there and my mom and sister had gone there as well. It was something of an inevitable foregone conclusion which I, being a child, probably catalyzed by offhandedly saying at some point I should go to film school, and everybody ever after nodding emphatically and agreeing. So I did it. I went to film school. Absolutely not a single person ever once told me to reconsider or that maybe there are better options, or that a film degree would be the epitome of useless in a professional sense and would never help me acquire a meaningful job other than making movies, which is something you don't need a goddamn degree to do anyway.
I consider it the seminal regret of my entire life. And my life consists mainly of regrets, one after the other after the other. That's why my life has lead me to the very last place I wanted it to lead, which is obscurity and mediocrity, and writing a blog nobody will read as I simultaneously work the same unfulfilling corporate job I have been mired in for six years now. I like to think maybe I am doing this so a future child might at least be able to read about their old man, but at this rate not even having a kid seems to be in the cards and even if it was this blog probably won't still be live by then anyway because hosting a website costs money. That's why hard copies are king! This will probably all be deleted someday due to my neglecting to pay hosting fees or something and then it will have all been for nothing but to add yet another regret to my life of regrets. There are very few life decisions I don't regret. Mostly, adopting my dog Morty and moving to Chicago are two of those very few. And sometimes I even wonder if I regret moving to Chicago. Never Mort, though. Best thing I ever did for myself.
But film school was the worst. It ruined my life before I even got a chance to get going in life. I engineered my own downfall almost immediately and squandered all of the potential and optimism and momentum I had accrued in one fell swoop and henceforth began my descent into being a sad man saddled with insurmountable debt that would dog me for the rest of my unremarkable life. If some sort of spirit on high could grant me one wish, I would spend it on somehow going back in time and convincing myself to not go to film school and to go to a community college or tech school instead to focus on graphic design or, maybe, coding. Much less sexy, but maybe if I had done that I would have more money and financial security and less regrets as I enter my 30s.
I actually had a pretty good nest egg for a lower lower lower middle-class kid of a blue collar immigrant and a stay at home mom who had spent all of their money on my two older sisters and had nothing left for me. There was some amount of cash squirrelled away, near or around $10,000 maybe, that I was not to touch until after high school. I cannot recall where it came from, but each of my sisters had one too and I think it had to do with my dad's job or some sort of fund my grandma set up before she died. I don't remember. It wasn't exactly "savings," but it was earmarked for me to begin my life with and was essentially encased in ice until then. It might have been a "trust fund," technically. I never really thought of it because then I guess that would make me a trust fund kid which is a truth I would loathe, especially because then I would be a trust fund kid without actually having been able to coast through life on my trust fund. Because it really wasn't that much.
At under 18, and in the early 2000s I guess, $10,000 was an eye-watering amount. But as soon as I remembered that college cost over 200% more than it did when I was born and a reliable vehicle isn't cheap, that sum suddenly seemed very paltry. And it wouldn't get me very far even just in terms of tuition. I couldn't even consider living on campus. One of my sisters had been able to live in the dorms and have her tuition paid for, and my middle sister was soft of 50/50 and I know she had to work a lot to pay for school and dorms. Other than that little lump sum I had, I was completely on my own so I had to cut corners. I was never going to have that living on campus life experience so many people, including Rodney Dangerfield characters, got to enjoy. I had to, instead, wake up at an ungodly hour every morning and drive my shitty 1990 Nissan Stanza from Menomonee Falls to the Park & Ride in Brown Deer to catch the hour and a half bus ride to take me to Milwaukee so I could make it to my morning classes and then take my other classes until 5 or whatever and then haul my ass back to Brown Deer to drive back to Menomonee Falls to try and do my homework without passing out from exhaustion before doing it all over again. Meanwhile, as my bank account drained one semester at a time and my Stanza got ricketier and ricketier and my mind began to succumb to exhaustion, I KNEW very early that my film classes were bullshit. God, were they dumb. All of them. I had to do ALL OF THAT, EVERY MORNING, just to listen to a smug man talk about how brilliant Rene Magritte's dumbass "This is Not a Pipe" painting was. Honestly, one class I was taking when I dropped out was essentially all about that painting. The professor couldn't get enough of it. He made us write an essay about how great it was. Then he made us write another!
Meanwhile, the other courses seemed to focus almost exclusively on "experimental" film. Which, sorry, I do not consider that a valid genre of film. Not anymore, at least. If I had gone into film school thinking it was legitimate, I left with the exact opposite opinion. The reason for this, you see, is because of Salvador Dali. One of the very first things we were exposed to was Un Chien Andalou, by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, which was apparently the first experimental/surrealist film. And one of the first things you learn about it is that they made that film to troll pretentious artsy types. If my professors didn't directly say this, it was very easy for me to read between the lines and figure this out myself. And Salvador Dali said many different things about that movie, with his trademark flourish, which all amounted to the same sentiment - they made that film to fuck with people. I hated that film. I still hate that film. But, boy, did it give me a certain type of clarity I never had before. Perhaps it made my failed college experience worthwhile, in fact. That film was instrumental in installing within me a bullshit detector with a level of accuracy and sensitivity commensurate to that of a seismograph. It opened my eyes, but just not to what my professors wanted me to open my eyes to. Suddenly, Salvador Dali wasn't an artist to me. He was a shrewd businessman. Luis Buñuel, no longer a director to me - he was a flim-flam man. Both of them hucksters, plain and simple. They were con artists, and making "art" was their con. It wasn't real. There was no integrity or actual merit. They were thumbing their nose at idiots and laughing at them, all the way to the bank. While Dali was in fact an exceptionally talented artist, this came second to his business acumen. This talent was merely a detail. For the most part, everything he did was either mockery or easy money. Un Chien Andalou was horse shit and they knew it. THIS was the point. Because they knew a bunch of arrogant dopes would pretend to "understand" and "appreciate" it so they could come across a certain way during their chit chats and meaningless prattle with other smug, self-satisfied, sanctimonious wine-sippers looking at bad black and white photographs of a dead fish with a cigarette in its mouth in a foul smelling art gallery with bad lighting. As soon as I had this epiphany, I was never the same. This basic principle is why we get the movies we get and why we don't get the movies we don't get. This is why Woody Allen gets to keep making movies and why we are supposed to find Hannah Gadsby to be brilliant but also why reboots and Marvel movies are so prolific. This is why we got Hillary and Trump. This is the way the western world works, in one way or another.
And that imagery I mentioned, a black and white dead fish with a cigarette in its mouth, is the symbol I would use to define my college experience. Here were all of of these well-off kids with money to burn sitting in the basement of Mitchell Hall, watching bullshit video after bullshit video off of Vimeo like kids at a party surfing Youtube, and me, a broke-ass skinny schmuck who didn't fit in, in disbelief that I was blowing every last cent I had on this experience. Arrogance and pretense abound. None of this was lost on me. What clever marketing indeed. What spin. We weren't even on the surface. We were subterranean basement dwellers, all relegated to the bottom of Mitchell Hall, as dank and decrepit and exactly the same as it was in Chris Smith's American Movie when Mark Borchardt slept in it with his kids over a decade earlier. Bathed in a silver glow were we as we mindlessly stared at a timelapse of a decomposing dead fish with a cigarette in its mouth, shot on a shitty old Bolex from the 1910s or whatever. We were TAUGHT that digital cameras were a blight on cinema and that something only counted if it was filmed on very expensive Kodak 16mm that we could only buy at the boutique VHS rental store in Riverwest that had a purple fuzzy door and that would have gone out of business in the 90s like it should have were it not for UWM's film program that made it mandatory to purchase film rolls that could only be bought at that one store.
How was I supposed to take any of this seriously? I wasn't sure but I tried, at least. But I also didn't. The professors I had then were basically what I am now as I write this - artsy flunkies in their late 20s or early 30s who didn't go far in life and were still making it up as they went. They had a tendency to give assignments with vague instructions and, I am assuming, vague notions internally about how they were supposed to grade their nebulous assignments once they'd all been turned in. And I, in turn, had a tendency to run with this lack of clear instruction and do what I wanted. You can see this with the image below, which features the first assignment I remember turning in. Basically all I did was "take the piss" out of Un Chien Andalou, right down to the font. I drew cartoons of confusing nonsense on looseleaf paper and provided no further context.
Pretty sure I got a perfect score on that. From what I recall, the professor had just introduced us to "surrealist French cinema" or some shit, and the assignment was basically just "do your own," and you could interpret it however you wanted. So, I did this, and the teacher loved it. And thus continued my uninterrupted streak from high school of bullshitting and gliding through life because of authority figures who liked me and my sense of humor specifically. So then I got in my mind that I could just sleep through class and turn in dumb shit I had fun making and still get good grades. This belief didn't last long, as I soon learned that this specific professor was not a good representation of how all college professors are, as he didn't know whether he was coming or going. I'm sure everybody passed. I did very well in "Film 114" but man oh man, I wish somebody in life had told me "fuck you and your fucking bullshit" earlier because by the time that actually came in life it was a bitterly rude awakening that wouldn't have been such a caustically humbling reckoning had I been shut down by more people at a younger age. Even though I would discover I was really a Cameron, I spent the first 18 years of my life Ferris Buellering. I identified with Daffy Duck my entire childhood but I trafficked in Bugs Bunny bullshit. If college taught me only one thing, one significant life lesson, it would be this - "fuck you."
The final project for Film 114 was pretty much to just go further with "make your own," and I decided it meant I could make a video. I ended up being the only person in the film class who actually made a film. I don't remember what everybody else did, but it wasn't this. So I made this video:
Even though I can see it for what it is now - a cheap, lazy, hackneyed, digital video with a film grain filter applied - I can still appreciate it. As a student of Laurel and Hardy, I did pay special attention to certain old-timey movie comedy tropes that I wouldn't have been aware of had I not spent as much time watching movies of theirs growing up. I always thought comedically I identified with Stan Laurel more than most other comedians in history as well. It also captures the fundamental "what's that guy doing? Why is he doing it?" energy of most silent films. I always thought that most silent films just featured one of two things - a bumbling guy or guys fucking around or fucking up. And whether it was column A or B, the protagonist or protagonists were also usually attempting to do some sort of specific job and doing a bad job at it. Very little in between. In the case of my video, I was a dentist of some kind who gets into trouble of some kind. I chose fucking up over fucking around.
Pleased as I am with it, it's still kind of hard to watch, though, as are most things I made at that age. I see the unfiltered innocence and total lack of cynicism (and discipline) of a first year college kid and it's painful to contrast it with the bitter and disappointed nobody of an adult I became. The teached has become the teacher? I don't know.
It's also hard to see both my dad, as supportive of me and my ambitions as always, and Jojo the dog - both bright and able-bodied just one short decade ago when I made this but now in their sunset years, rendered almost immobile by age. This sensation is a reason I am both grateful but regretful of making as many videos as I did back then.
I got like a 100% A+ on that project and also in the class. And while my professor loved it, my classmates loathed it. I was "spoon-feeding the viewer," as they sardonically put it. It was too lighthearted, too flippant. Not grounded in gritty realism enough, as films of rotting fish with wet cigarettes in their mouths are. I shrugged these jeers off but should have seen them for the harbinger of oblivion they would prove to be as, alas, my college honeymoon would be coming to a halt soon. With this video I was already peaking. I was about to have a sophomore year where, finally, all of the professors would unanimously and unbendingly hate me and my sensibilities and everything about me and give me failing grades on everything no matter what I did. I had a political science professor, last name of Strack, who disliked me because I took a donut that was apparently his but that I thought was up for grabs. He pilloried me in front of the class and it was a truly demoralizing moment for me that I haven't lived down. I had an English professor, name of Sperling, who disagreed with me disagreeing with Roland Barthe's assertions contained within his essay "The Death of the Artist" and from then on failed every assignment I turned in. I stuck to my guns on that and to this day I will maintain all the same that Roland Barthes can go fuck himself, that fucking asshole. I'm glad he got run over by a laundry truck.
Then of course, the professor that brought upon my downfall, name of Muckerheide, didn't like the cut of my jib from the moment he laid eyes on me. His whole thing was "I am very successful but almost all of you won't be. Most of you will fail." He called me a trainwreck in front of the class once and delivered unto me a takedown of epic proportions I was wholly unprepared for. It was of course cruel and unnecessary and it was the closest I have ever come to crying in front of multiple people. I detested his arrogance, but his supposition was accurate, I must ruefully admit. I should have listened to him more. I am not successful and I did fail. He was on the money.
This all, coupled with a beginners math course my rampant dyscalculia rendered me unable to pass no matter how hard I tried (and boy, I did try), magnified by just how difficult and exhausting it was for me to just physically get to school and back every day, proved too much for me and I dropped out mid semester, never to return. My college experience came to a conclusion with my head hung in shame and all I have to show for it now is a lifetime of debts and whatever I said and showed in this post.
I've never really had the chance to live the life I hoped and wanted to live and I do blame my poor college decisions in large part for this. When I dropped out I no longer had the luxury of living without my foremost need being the need to make money so as to keep my head above water. I have pretty much been a wage slave since and I don't think I will ever claw myself out of this mode of living. This video is perhaps one of the last relics of how I was and what I was trying to do before my optimism began to fall off, fast and for good.