By Mike Goldin '14
What makes a classic film? What makes a film classic? These are distinct questions, and I turned them over in my mind while waiting nervously in the Student Center to meet Seth Katz ’13, the presiding maestro behind the Classic Film Series— Bennington’s triumphant answer to a question often asked in tremulous tones: is there anywhere on campus to enjoy a sociable night of classic cinema without irony? It is a perilously short journey to hipster-dom from there on out.
“All the screenings but one have been... Packed. I don’t think that would be an exaggeration.” Seth is unassuming, but his reserved nature does little to obscure a boundless enthusiasm for the Classic Film Series’ mission: to turn people on to the voluminous array of classic cinema that has escaped popular canonization. “Even when we’re showing a Scorsese movie, we’re showing Mean Streets rather than Raging Bull,” Seth explained, “with Polanski—I mean, we did show Chinatown last term— but this term we’re showing The Tenant which is a little more obscure, so it’s a mix between a name that people recognize like Roman Polanski and something that maybe they haven’t seen by him.”
The CFS is screening twelve films this term— what makes the cut? “Last term we had an arbitrary cut-off date of 1992 just because that was 20 years; this term we have a theme which is actor-directors. Putting a limitation on it like that makes it easier to pick things, because it just narrows it down— there are so many things we could show.” Seth also biases decisions towards films that are available on Blu- Ray, “the difference is remarkable,” he says. I believe it—his eyes glow with A/V mania.
The Classic Film Series as it exists now is not the first iteration of the idea. Various groups have hosted similar screening series in the past— the CFS of the present began in the Fall of 2011 as a collaboration between Katz, Colin Brant ‘12 and Deidrea Hamid ‘12. Kate Dollenmayer and Warren Cockerham were also closely involved with the organization’s inception. Much to my dismay, Seth dispelled a rumor that he and Warren had become entangled in a very personal falling out over the definition of what classic film is; Seth assured me that Warren had attended the most recent CFS event and even brought popcorn. I was disappointed— I had been hoping to use “Katzfight” as a headline.
Evading follow-up regarding where I had heard such a rumor, I asked Seth about his favorite movie snack, which is popcorn (for its evoking “of the movie theater experience,” he says), but offers that some movies are best experienced devoid of distractions; “I might feel a little strange about eating a box of Goobers during Shoah,” he admits.
The CFS has certainly found a wanting niche on campus—recent screenings really have been packed, and consistently enough to shock even the most jaded Bennington student. Any why not? The Cinema 7 is no mecca for the connoisseur, and the traditional means of entry are frequently intimidating for the uninitiated; the first time I was turned on to classic film involved a treacherous romp through what may have been an opium den in an unnamed house on third street, and I recall a distinct sensation of my face being pressed againt greasy hair—but this is only an anecdote.
My question remained: what is a classic film? Looking back over a century of cinema, how does one extract the films that truly define what classic is? I posed a question: is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial a classic film? And would the CFS show it? Katz paused, deliberating before proceeding cautiously: “the Classic Film Series is certainly dictated to some extent by my taste...” I held my breath. “So that’s not a film that I would show, but if someone else were running Classic Film Series and showed that I wouldn’t necessarily dispute it.” Not quite the definitive answer I was holding my breath for— but sufficient.
The Classic Film Series will be showing François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) on Friday, May 3 at 7:15 in Kinoteca.