Intellectual Autobiography, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Essays

The first movie I can remember watching was Clive Barker’s Hellraiser at the tender age of four. My father was watching a horror movie marathon on the USA Network, and he thought it would be funny to let me be terrified. I vividly remember seeing all of the nightmarish characters – Pinhead, Chatterbox, and so on. Instead of being scared, I was mesmerized. Everything about the crazy sounds and the unnatural colors amazed me. This very early experience taught me how to watch films with a passion.

Growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia definitely shaped my future. I have a love/hate relationship with the area; it was infinitely suffocating during my youth, but it made me all the more creative and driven. I noticed early on that the majority of America did not care about West Virginia, including the media – either the entire state is ignored, or it is grossly insulted. Popular depictions of West Virginia told me that I was, frankly, a stupid redneck. Think about Jodi Foster’s awful accent in The Silence of the Lambs or the inbred cannibals of Wrong Turn. Instead of ignoring the insults, I became incredibly vigilant of media stereotypes of West Virginia. I began reading national newspapers and watching the national news. My anger created a great motivation for media awareness.

Fast forward to age nineteen. I grew to adore horror movies and film noir, but I never imagined that I could have a future involving cinema. I always assumed that I would end up teaching modern poetry in some high school, which is a perfectly respectable profession. Halfway through my undergraduate work at Oberlin College, I met Pat Day, a professor who split his time between the English and Cinema Studies departments. The way that he was able to balance his interests in modern literature and cinema (including horror movies and film noir) was incredibly inspiring to me. Under his wing, I developed an earnest interest in film theory. Simultaneously, I grew more and more interested in independent film, particularly that of David Lynch. Under Day’s advising, I completed my senior thesis on Lynch’s Blue Velvet; specifically, I explored the significance of the severed ear and its impact upon the sound in the film.

It was this final paper that made me realize my passion for academics. I loved every aspect of that essay, from the extensive research to the lengthy, at times grueling writing process. I knew then that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree. Accordingly, I draw most of my research inspiration from those key moments in a film that are strange, surprising, confusing, fascinating, or all of the above. That inspiration will hopefully lead me to some conclusions about the film and maybe, just maybe, some conclusion about art and humanity. The beautiful thing about cinema is that no one will ever view a film the same way that I do, so there is always the possibility of delving into a subject never before explored. I also want to explore how we – as viewers and as academics – attempt to verbalize fundamentally non-verbal inspiration, such as lighting, color, and sound. After all, what can I really say about the Black Lodge in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks?

Ideally, I would like to take these inspirations and write essays, publish books, and teach cinema theory to others. (Look for my book on sound and noise in the films of David Lynch in 10 years.) I am incredibly interested in ideas of curating and programming. Who decides what is good enough – or artsy enough – to be screening in a museum? Rather than operating within the standard museum context, I would like to explore the film curating underground, including independent film screenings (like those operated by Rooftop Films) and student film festivals. At Oberlin College, the local one-screen movie theater is up for sale, and several faculty members (mainly in the cinema department) are looking to purchase the venue. They want to use the theater space to screen professional films for study and student films. This is the sort of alternative education that I am interested in studying.

One of the reasons I chose the New School is its focus on such alternative means of education. Rather than focusing on books and formal essays, we are able to consider websites, films, video games, television shows, and other forms of media our textbooks. This allows my classmates and I to have the distinct advantage of anticipating new trends in media and academia. Subsequently, we are able to shape the future of both media and how media is taught. New York City obviously provides a multitude of opportunities for my research interests. Specifically, I want to utilize the Museum of Modern Art’s archives and study centers. I love researching with physical (not digital) objects, so the more I can work with books, journals, prints, and movies, the better. I also adore the feeling of sitting in a room specifically meant for thinking.

In short, I want to get my degree and teach film theory. I do not know exactly what will happen along the way. Hopefully, I will publish some articles. Hopefully, I will dabble a bit in some creative projects. This is, after all, but one blueprint connecting the past to the future.

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