With “Better Know Your Professors,” SGA Films and Theresa Geller, English, have combined to present an opportunity to see a less academically intense side of revered professors outside the classroom. The three-week series, featuring Erik Simpson, English, Victoria Brown, History, and Geller, is Geller’s latest idea to inspire more intelligent discussion of film among both faculty and students. The bigger problem, though, might be getting Grinnell students to take advantage of that opportunity and show up.
“As a rule, Wednesday night attendance is pretty low,” SGA Films Director Jeff Sinick ’09 said, referencing past events.
Attendance followed lackluster form for Wednesday night’s opener, where Simpson discussed Trading Places, the 1983 role-reversal comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. What was initially designed as an interview between Simpson and Courtney Sheehan ’10 became more of a small group discussion with free-flowing conversation.
Simpson focused in part on how Trading Places succeeds because of its traditional structure. “It’s a fantastic movie about what it takes to be successful in a comedy,” he said. “One, know how to be funny, and two, have the right sexual desires.” The main characters get it right while the bad guys “laugh at the wrong things and show no sexual desires.”
The racial angle in the swap between Murphy and Aykroyd adds another layer to the film—well, for most characters. “If you want to look at how characters negotiate race, watch everyone but Eddie Murphy,” Simpson said, citing Murphy’s ability to get away with anything, the use of the Billie Holliday song “Strange Fruit” and the racial overtones of shipping a group of gorillas back to Africa.
But the conversation’s focus went beyond Trading Places talk (one need not have seen the movie to enjoy the discussion). By the end, the group had covered The Wire, Deadwood, realism in film, commentary tracks (notably in This Is Spinal Tap), annotated novels, and graphic novels.
The film series will continue for two more weeks, with Brown presenting the 1987 flick Adventures In Babysitting next Wednesday and Geller showing the Chinese film Ashes of Time Redux the week after. The discussion begins at 6:30 p.m. in Forum South Lounge, with the movie playing at 7 p.m. and a second showing without the professor at 9 p.m.
While Geller’s selection is a bit more obscure, professors were given no guidelines when picking their favorites.
“[The film] doesn’t represent you as an academic, it represents you as a person,” Geller said.
Brown hopes to have some fun discussing Adventures in Babysitting, one of the many classic coming-of-age teen romps to emerge from the 80’s. “I was being a little silly and a little perverse, but then I had a couple of faculty come up to me and say it was a really important movie to them, too,” she said.
“It takes the role of the babysitter and makes her competent and clever,” Brown said. “It’s a pseudo-mother who’s very brave and very creative in getting children out of the mess they’re in.” But can she free Grinnellians from the burdens of Wednesday night work and festivities?