July 29, 2009

Film Studies: Back to School, for the First Time

Hey, where's "Tommy Boy"?...

As is apparent from my lack of posting on the artistry of film, and as is obvious from the absence of film terminology (i.e., mise-en-scène...which is what, exactly?) in my writing, I've never studied film. Or, for that matter, art or literature. Never taken a course, seminar, class or webinar. To be sure, when it comes to film knowledge I am a complete ignoramus compared to many movie bloggers, if that is indeed what I claim to be.

My limited knowledge is usually a source of shame and embarrassment, but there are times when I take secret pride in my ability to "get" certain aspects of a film without them being spelled out for me, like when you accidentally solve a homework problem from your older sibling's math textbook, or when you stumble over words in another language only to have the person you're talking to nod in genuine understanding. That's when it's fun, but for the most part I'm posing here as somebody who "knows about" movies, when in reality I'm only someone who watches a lot of them. I'm the Sarah Palin of movie blogging, and when nobody knows the wiser it's a pretty good gig.

Though I've never tried to hide my ignorance of film here (at least not completely), I'm now coming out to fully reveal it. I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, and included with it this week was the quarterly insert called Education Life. It's a thin magazine-ish thing focused on university culture, and at the end of each issue is a multiple-choice "pop quiz" on some topic, presumably there just to remind upper-middle class New York Times readers that they just need a little more education.

Usually I skim through Education Life and toss it, and most times I get to the quiz and give up as soon as questions of quantum physics or 19th-century French Literature show up. But this Sunday, the Pop Quiz was on "Film Studies", and I was compelled to give it a shot. Fortunately, it's available online, saving me from having to keep score myself, and also allowing me to share it with you.

Take two quick minutes right now and give the quiz your best effort
(you will need an Adobe Flash plug-in). Then come back and report your score (you can expect no judgment from me if you get zero correct).

In the meantime, I'll share my own results, categorized by section:
  • The Backstory: Questions related to film history
  • My score: 4/5 answers correct
That I got 80% of these questions correct is very misleading. I was not sure about any of these answers but felt most confident in my correct answer for Question #5. I completely guessed on Question #3 about a German titan in the film industry and got it right.
  • The Deal: Questions related to the business of film
  • My score: 4/11 answers correct
Ouch, I was really reaching for some of these answers, and even the few I got correct were because of poorly-worded questions, such as Question #13: "Gone With the Wind was independently finance. True or False?" This is what is called a "wouldn't be asked if it wasn't obviously true" question.
  • The Horror Film: Questions related to horror films
  • My score: 1/3 correct
Forget that I'm not an expert on horror - I'm not even a fan. Nonetheless, I did get Question #17 (about sequels) correct.
  • The Western: Questions related to Westerns
  • My score: 3/5 correct
Similar to the questions in The Backstory, my correct answers here were due to educated guessing (#21, about a classic duel) and dartboard-blind guessing (#23, about a John Wayne epic).
  • Film Noir: Questions related to the style (?) or genre (?) of film noir
  • My score: 0/2 correct
A failing, fitting end to this quiz for me. Even though I contributed three reviews (The Big Sleep, The Asphalt Jungle, & Strangers on a Train) for MovieZeal's film noir month last August, it's worth mentioning that I was seeing the last two of the three for the first time, and that I had seen only a few of the remaining 30 noirs highlighted during the month.

When you do the math (and fortunately, my educational background included a lot of math), you can see that I answered 12/26 questions correct for a percentage of 46% - certainly not a passing grade in any class.

What does it all mean? Maybe nothing, aside from confirming what I knew about what I didn't know. Does it invalidate my opinion on film? Definitely in some circles, but I try to tell myself that that doesn't really matter, that for the most part I don't watch movies to appreciate or criticize their artistry and influence and craft. I watch them to learn things about people and places around the world, period. And I don't think you need a degree in film to be able to do that.

What has your experience been? Do you have a degree in the arts? Care to share your score? I'm curious as to where I would rank in the percentile among the general population, but particularly among other bloggers...


  1. I did rather poorly, 17 of 26 correct. Westerns were my Achilles Heel.

  2. My quiz was broken. The answer for The Searchers being the inspiration for Taxi Driver isn't counted as a correct answer even though in the answer blurb it says "The Searchers"

    I'll leave that for the judges to decide. Without it I only got 19 of 26. There were a couple I should've gotten and might have if I'd been thinking carefully, but there were several I was just flat incorrect with no excuses.
    Here's the breakdown:

    Backstory: 4/5
    The Deal: 8/11 (since the business of Hollywood bores me I'm not too troubled by this poor result)

    Horror: 1/3 (If I'd been thinking carefully, I would've gotten the Romero question right, but the Esperanto one not a chance)

    Western: 4/5 (Five if you count The Searchers)
    Noir: 2/2

    For those of you keeping score at home, I studied some film history and technique in pursuit of a liberal arts degree, but most of what I've learned (such as it is) is just from watching and reading on my own.

  3. 12/26 for me but I got The Searchers/Taxi Driver one and it didn't count for me either. Good quiz though.

  4. **ahem** Let me clear my snobbery throat and explain that mise-en-scene is the French term (pronounced "meez-on-sehn") used to describe the visual style within the camera's frame. The placement of actors in association with each other, with props, with the surrounds, and the distance from the camera. It's a fancy way of saying how the actors/props/locations are placed in front of the camera.

    So, now to evoke the spirit of Shakespear I will allow everyone to freely "bite their thumb" in my general direction. :P

  5. It would be unfair if I didn't take this quiz. Upon my first run through of the quiz I answered sixteen questions out of twenty-six correctly. That means I have a 62% success rate on my first try. The questions about movie business (i.e. high marketing whatever) were answers I did not learn in my film class.

  6. Thanks for playing, folks.

    David, it's scary that you know as much as I do and you're a decade behind me, but then again you're on a much cooler film track then I ever was! I'm sure you'll be able to ace this quiz by the time you're through.

    Marilyn, I guess that makes sense since I don't see you write about much in the way of Westerns, but heck, I still would have pegged you at a 20+ due to your sheer historical knowledge.

    Craig, quite the impressive outing there - let's call it 20/26. As little as you're interested in the biz, an 8/11 is solid - and twice my score in that category. Overall I would say that I'm encouraged by your self-taught knowledge. Again, it's not like I'm aspiring to score well on quizzes like this in the future, but it's nice to know that it could be possible without a lot of serious education.

    DJ, thanks for this breakdown: "It's a fancy way of saying how the actors/props/locations are placed in front of the camera". Now I know! Your 62% passes with, worst-case scenario, a "D". But categorically speaking you probably did much better if they don't teach you anything about the movie business in a film class. Seems to me like those would go hand in hand, but then again I've never taken one...

  7. I did pretty well on the quiz though, like you, I was able to surmise some answers from how/why the question was asked. Like everyone else, I got The Searchers question right but got it marked wrong.

    Anyway, I don't think you should be so apologetic, Daniel - I never get the sense that you're running to catch up/behind the pack in any film discussions. It's kind of a roll-with-the-punches type game, being a film lover/discusser, and one takes the subjects and perspectives as they come - which is why an exam is harldy the best judge of who "gets it" on cinema.

    Also, there's some BS involved in writing and sounding authoritative. For example, I read one of my older reviews the other day and noticed that I used the word "bromide" which sounded good, but I realized I never really knew what it meant - just assumed, from how I'd read it, that it meant a word of advice. I had used it to refer to the giant in Twin Peaks saying, "the owls are not what they seemed."

    Turns out "bromide" actually means a saying so common it's become a banality. Oops. Well, I left it in place anyway both because it kind of works as irony (heard someone tell you "the owls are not what they seem" lately?) and also as a marker of my own hubris.

    Anyway, nothing wrong with studying film or any other subject (unless, um, you're hoping for practical real-world application) but it's hardly necessary to be conversant on the subject. Most things they would teach you in school you can learn on your own...by watching movies and reading books about them (which is what I did long before I was college-age).

  8. I got a 19. But, reading the comments, maybe it was a 20. (I answered The Searchers. Didn't notice if it counted my vote or not.)

    I took a lucky guess on one of them and was right (something related to horror). But every other time I was clueless I guessed wrong. Ah, well.

    Fun quiz. But (even though I got it correct) I hate questions like the one about attendence falling by 40, 60, 80 percent, etc. Kind of a 'who cares?' question in that anyone who guesses 60 percent isn't that far off from the person who correctly guesses 80 percent. In other words, it's a 'gotcha' question rather than one evaluating one's general understanding of cinema history.

  9. Great thoughts, MovieMan (and know that your non-mention of your actual score is duly noted - I'll assume you got over 20). Thanks for that amusing and revealing anecdote about writing, too. More than once I've had to consult a dictionary (online, of course) as I read the reviews of others, but I never really swing for the fences in my own writing because it just doesn't come out naturally. For those who are truly aspiring to be film critics it would make a lot more sense to do so, but that just ain't me.

    But I think I should clarify that I'm not discounting others' education in film. Obviously there is a lot to learn in a classroom and from trained professionals/educated professors. It just seems to me that, as described by Craig and MovieMan, you can get pretty far on your own.

    Jason, we'll count it as a 20, too. I really don't know what happened with that question so it should just be scratched anyway. That audience one did "get me" because I was the guy who chose 60%. I knew it went down significantly during that time but to what degree I didn't really know.

  10. "As is apparent from my lack of posting on the artistry of film, and as is obvious from the absence of film terminology (i.e., mise-en-scène...which is what, exactly?) in my writing, I've never studied film. Or, for that matter, art or literature. Never taken a course, seminar, class or webinar. To be sure, when it comes to film knowledge I am a complete ignoramus compared to many movie bloggers, if that is indeed what I claim to be."

    Daniel - This is very impressive because I find your perceptions about film to be astute, informed, and reflective of what film is all about.

    I majored in English in college; I teach A.P. English Literature to seniors in high school; I teach film history; I have never studied film in college, but I've read widely.

    As for that fucking quiz, I got a fucking 15/26 and I'm fucking counting the fucking Searchers because it's one of my fucking favorite films! I do horribly on multiple choice tests. I sucked at the SATs. I find multiple choice to be tricky and I always get tricked. So don't feel bad!

  11. I had a good response here. It was deleted. Two points: 1) Yes, I got a 21 (should have been a 22 given The Searchers). You've perhaps correctly called my (false?) modesty as a bluff, ha ha...though as Jason says, many of those questions were of the "Who cares?" variety. 2) It's good to stay in touch with the process of filmmaking, a reminder that the world onscreen is not a Platonic ideal, but an inevitable compromise and to keep in mind what the elements of that compromise are. This is especially true of older movies, shot on sets, with artificial lighting, in black-and-white, etc.

  12. I think I guessed (educated guesses, of course) on about 2/3 of them, and I managed a 15/26. Considering my distaste for 'classic' films, I am taking this score to mean that "I rule." :D

  13. Hokahey, as an actual teacher of film history (at any level), I think you've proven my theory correct. Although, it should be said that I haven't read widely - or even narrowly - on anything related to film. That's probably where I could use a lot of catching up, as well as seeing old classics. You know, if that was my goal.

    As far as the quiz goes, I tend to think of myself as a fairly good multiple-choice quiz taker, which, of course, makes my score all the more embarrassingly bad.

    I knew it, MovieMan! I think 22 wins the day unless anybody comes in with an ace. I also like your thought about the reality of the world onscreen, and as far as the discussion around that reality vs. our own involves the art or process of filmmaking, then I'd consider knowing the right language and history much more important.

    Wow, Fletch, a solid pass for someone who admittedly enjoys post-1970's film. I know a lot of bloggers and critics lament how little film history and how few classics people our age have seen, but it seems they're only interested in keeping us out of the conversation and/or invalidating our opinions and perspectives, instead of drawing us in and meeting us where we are.

    I know I do the same thing with people younger than me. I'm sure my kids (when I have them) will never enjoy Star Wars or TDK, for example, in the same way I did, but I can either scoff at their favorites and talk about the good old days, or I can try to engage them in a conversation about what Star Wars means to me and how it influenced so many other movies. I can hopefully give them a way to mentally access those films of the past.

    Then maybe they'll understand why I'm not as excited about Transformers 8 as they are, and maybe they'll watch Star Wars from that point on in a new way, and even begin exploring more "old" movies like it.

  14. I just completed the quiz and got 15 of 26 right. Not exactly a score to write home about. What angered me the most was getting SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE wrong as the Weinstein Sundance hit. I answered with THE CRYING GAME. A few of the western questions nailed me too.

    Looks like I have a lot in common with Hohokey, and not just th escore but what he teaches.

  15. I did get that Weinstein question correct, Sam, but if it makes you feel any better I had to sit on it for a minute between those two choices.

    And as I'm sure you can attest (as can I, having taught for three years), a performance on a quiz like this should not speak to one's ability to "understand" film. Despite not scoring as high as I would have expected, you in particular are someone who knows an astounding amount of film history from around the world.

  16. A little late to the party here (just found this post now...sorry, but I'm struggling to find time in my life to read blogs right now :) )...but I thought it was my duty to report that, as someone who has a degree in film studies, I scored a pathetic 16/26.

  17. Ha, well you earn my respect by coming out with it at least, Luke. Still a passing grade, and still significantly better than my lowball (which, by the way, is the lowest reported so far).


Related Posts with Thumbnails