For those who might believe that the NYU Film School is a citadel of cinematic purity, helping to craft the next Scorseses, Truffauts or Polanskis of the world, "Film School" reveals a ridiculously overrated program coasting on its reputation. As a former NYU undergrad, with conflicting opinions on the worth of my education -- I found the series quite depressing yet morbidly entertaining. And for those of you who have ever dreamt of producing your own film, this series chronicles the extraordinarily difficult process, as four inept grad students flounder with their projects:
Barbara. Utterly unprepared creatively, organizationally, or emotionally to direct a film. She learns the harsh lesson that there is nowhere to run or hide if you decide to become a filmmaker and are a fragile person. At the same time, it's pretty infuriating to watch when you think about all of the hundreds of more deserving candidates who were not accepted into the program. To me, this is an indictment against the admissions process and its inability to identify people who can thrive as directors.
Vincenzo Tripodo at first seems to show a lot of promise, musing about Fellini, loving clowns and drag queens. He deserves to be here. Alas, he has the single most intense experience when he gets involved with two complete phonies to be his producers. It has to be seen to be believed, and I think exposes some of the sleazy characters to be found in an industry filled with BS and people who oversell their contacts...but begs the question: shouldn't the NYU curriculum be designed to help students avoid these pitfalls? Worse still, it eventually becomes apparent that for all Vincenzo's bravura his filmmaking is cloying and imitative. He robs his actors of their unique qualities and churns out an "Amelie" or "Delicatessan" clone. Basically, his professors all see this and just send him on his merry way.
Alrick is a good looking Jamaican guy who has decided to make a satirical "comic book" short film on the killing of Amidou Diallo. It's the type of thing that might sound edgy over a case of Red Stripe, but wait until you see the race-baiting garbage this dude comes up with. It is one of the more repugnant short films I have ever laid eyes upon and I despise his brand of cheap opportunism and shameless manipulation. Alrick comes across as a confused person who is obsessed with race and not filmmaking as an art. He has no humility and almost no storytelling talent. The professors loved him.
And then there's Leah. A San Francisco hipster to her core, she assembles a script on the sexual confusion of a teenaged girl and her relationship with a handicapped mother -- autobiographical of course. It's more than a bit melodramatic and exploitative, featuring questionable sexuality with minors and other unsavory bon mots playing to the cheap seats. Leah herself is a thoroughly odious individual; hiding behind her faux-playful personality is a vindictive and disrespectful little tyrant. However, the work she put into casting and with her actors shows, proving just how important this stage of the filmaking process can be -- something that escapes the other directors. She's also the only person not to fall back on computer graphics to plug gaping holes in her narrative.
These films are a disgrace to what should be the strongest bastion of film art in the United States. I cannot even imagine what it would be like attempting to have a conversation with any of these three about some of the theories of filmmaking from Europe and the former Soviet Union. In fact, Leah says that she really does not have any inherent love of film at all, that this is just another little project of hers and will only continue if people give her money to shoot new material. How pathetic.
The NYU faculty comes across as little more than a bunch of well-read critics of varying worth, not exactly the Andre Bazins or Sergei Eisensteins one might expect for $40,000 tuition. The director of the entire department is a Chinese lady who does not convey the slightest sense of gravitas, but is clearly an academic technocrat who has snaked her way to the top thanks in no small part to PC maneuvering. I thought she was a member of the registrar's office when first introduced! Still, "Film School" provides valuable insight into the mechanics of producing films (particularly financing), while serving as a cautionary tale against devoting your time to a program such as this.