By: Lydia Kay
At 4:30 p.m. this past Thursday, Feb. 16, renowned film critic Gerald Peary came to Trinity College to speak at an event put on by the English Department. There were about 30 people gathered in the Reese Room of the Smith House to hear Peary’s presentation. Though the majority of guests in attendance were Trinity professors, there were a fair amount of students situated in the crowd. Assistant Professor of English James Prakash Younger introduced Peary on behalf of the English department and provided some background to the audience on his previous work and education.
Peary currently heads the film department at Suffolk University where he is also a professor of Communications. In addition to his work in academia, Peary is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and has served on critics’ juries at film festivals around the world. He has interviewed hundreds of famous filmmakers and has written several books and screenplays. Needless to say, Peary has an immense amount of experience in the cinematic world, and his passion for film became apparent as his he began the presentation.
Because it was the first time Peary was presenting anything about this specific topic in front of a crowd, the event was very informal and allowed for a continuous dialogue between the audience and Peary. His presentation focused on the image of college in American film, with Peary’s thesis stating that there are only “five or six good college teachers portrayed in American cinema,” while the majority of films are centered on the social aspects of college rather than academics. His theory on American cinema is that the movies that choose to focus on college life will never change because we live in an un-intellectual country that is not interested in the academic life that comes with college.
In order to prove his point, Peary had a series of ten clips included in his presentation that showed different aspects of college life portrayed in cinema. The movies he streamed covered a wide array of genres; he began with a two minute clip from Buster Keaton’s 1937 movie, “College,” a silent film and an “extremely bad comedy,” according to Peary. All of the clips Peary showed were entertaining and worked to support his earlier thesis. He also played more modern and well-known clips such as “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Animal House,” “Van Wilder,” and “Accepted.” Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile was Peary’s only example of a teacher portrayed in a positive light, though he still stated that he disliked the movie as a whole. Overall, however, the presentation was less about Peary critiquing the movies based on their cinematic value. He chose instead to look at the themes running throughout the films that specifically related to the light in which college academics were portrayed.
The clips Peary used were carefully selected and different in important ways; he included a two minute segment of “Storytelling,” an independent film directed by Todd Solandz in 2001, along with “School Daze,” a 1988 Spike Lee film unique because of its focus on racial issues and white/black tension existing within a university. Peary’s presentation was informative and kept the audience engaged the entire time, in large part because of his informal approach.
After the last clip was shown, Peary opened up the presentation for questions and comments from the audience. Though there were a few countering arguments made against his thesis statement, the overall consensus was that of agreement. Peary chose an interesting approach to his presentation and brought up a topic that is very applicable yet not commonly discussed in American society.