Farewell, Film Degree
I spent the majority of today writing an essay about the cosmopolitan position of Ingrid Bergman’s star image – a topic I will most likely never have reason to discuss at any future point in my life. It is the penultimate essay of my film degree. On Monday I will hand in my dissertation, on Friday I will submit my final essay.
I have studied Film & Television for four years now, but I struggle to see myself as a Film Student™. I don’t have strong opinions about most films, I don’t notice camerawork or editing, I still don’t know the definition of cinematography. I am intelligent, I have averaged As and Bs every year, but after four years I still don’t know what my degree means to me. It is a thing I have almost completed, it is an achievement, but it’s not a thing that particularly defines me as a person. Even my dissertation is about film reviews, rather than films themselves.
I have always been a writer first, and a film student second. When I watch films, I notice the characters, the story, the socio-political context, and the issues of representation. These are all facets of film, certainly, but they are not medium-specific. I would notice the same things watching a play, or reading a book.
My university experience was not defined by film, but by theatre. I joined an improvised theatre society in my first week in Glasgow, before I’d even had my first class, and I joined a regular theatre society in my third year, and had prominent roles in two plays. Improvised theatre taught me to trust myself, and scripted trained me in commitment and perseverance. In both societies, I made friends who supported me and helped me grow into the healthiest and happiest version of myself that has existed thus far. In typical Eliza fashion, I see a metaphor in this: there is an Eliza who follows a script, who perfects the performance of her life, and there is an Eliza who is impulsive, who throws caution to the wind and says the first thoughts that pop into her head. I am both of these people, and I have had outlets for both these sides of my personality. The thing I will miss most about university is student theatre.
There will come a time where there is no longer a need for me to use the word ‘verisimilitude’ in a sentence, or re-read Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema every three months. It will be odd, but I will adapt to not being a film student anymore. It’s harder to accept that I have most likely acted in my last play, performed in my last improv show. It is not simply that I crave the spotlight, that I love performing above all else, or that I have an inherent need to be seen (although these are true to a certain extent). Theatre has been my community, for four years. When I was stressed, and insecure, and not particularly likeable, my theatre friends stood by me and gave me the love and patience I so needed. My improv friends watched me grow from the shell of a person I was in first year to the strong woman I am now. Theatre is about so much more than performance; it is about trust, and support, creativity, collaboration. I am neither a theatre person nor a film person, I exist somewhere on the line between them. I am a writer person. I want to tell stories, watch stories, read stories, connect with other humans through art and words and the meaning we give to images in front of us.
I applied for a master’s course at a theatre school in London – writing for stage and broadcast media; it would combine my three loves. I don’t know if I will get in. I want it so badly, but I trust I’ll end up where I’m meant to. What matters is that I know exactly what I want, and that I want it for me – there are no ulterior motives, my wants do not live in anyone else’s shadow. I am graduating with a strong sense of self.
I don’t know what films mean to me, even after all this time. There is something captivating about the filmic form—I have seen the way others are entranced by it—but it eludes me, still. I prefer television over film, because the series format interests me more, from a storytelling point of view. Television also has its roots in theatre, so that may be what draws me to it over film.
As my degree comes to an end, I accept that it is not a metaphor, or a box I can fit my personality neatly into. It is a thing I have studied. There are aspects of film I am passionate about – particularly topics relating to feminism and film. I care, I am interested, the things I learnt have shaped my personality. I have had wonderful lecturers, who had such a huge influence on me personally, as well as academically. All these different aspects of my degree were significant, they built me into the person I am today. Yet I still see myself at a distance from Film Studies, and I realise that’s more to do with my perception of what a film student is, than the type of film student I actually am. There is more than one angle to approach film from, yet I’ve always felt inferior because I didn’t like the ‘right’ type of films, and I cared about film as a narrative tool rather than an art form.
I have worked hard to eliminate my insecurities, and I know I am not less valid as a film student just because I don’t care about the ‘great’ films, and prefer television to film, and most of the films I like are ‘low-brow’ and ‘mainstream’. I can articulate why the mainstream has oft been associated with the feminine, and that the lack of value attributed to supposedly ‘low-brow’ culture is actually a feminist issue; I know my theory. Perhaps the distance I feel from my position as a film student does not stem from insecurity at all, perhaps it is simply that I view myself more as a media student. I am an ideas person, I want to see the bigger picture – and that picture encompasses radio and theatre and the internet, not just film and television.
University teaches us to specialise in one area, but if there’s one thing four years of academia have taught me, it’s that when you delve deep enough into each subject, they all overlap. Film is philosophy, and philosophy is literature, and no matter which one you study you cannot escape Marxism, or Freud, or any of the old white men our culture is defined by. It’s all connected.
I spent today writing an essay on cosmopolitanism, which translates to: citizen of the world. Cosmopolitanism is a state of coexistence, of simultaneously belonging to two places, and belonging to none. That’s how I feel about film and theatre, sometimes. I have built an identity within these artistic forms, but I belong to neither. I have another identity, as a writer, that comes to me as easily as breathing, but I am not satisfied with simply writing, I must also be learning. In six days from now, I will no longer be a film student, but my education does not stop there. Even when university is over, I will still let myself be a student of the world.