The School of Film

One of the most unique classrooms that a University of Michigan student might visit is the Michigan Theater. Every spring and fall, at least one UM department sponsors a film series at the Michigan. Currently, the syllabus comes with a laugh track for the Comic Masters Series being presented by the UM Department of Screen Arts and Cultures.

That series includes films by Mel Brooks, whose Young Frankenstein played at the Michigan at November 13, 2006. As students moved to their seats for this satirical 1974 sendup of old horror films, I wondered how much they really appreciated the opportunity to see unique films in a classic setting like the Michigan. This wasn’t a 16-millimeter film that was projected onto a small pull-down screen in front of the classroom.

UM students are surrounded by so much historic architecture that it’s understandable if they might take for granted a trip to the Michigan. They might feel the same way walking through a building designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn, like Angell Hall or Hill Auditorium. The spacious majesty of the reading room at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library is probably less important than studying for a test or finishing an assignment.

Regular visitors to the Michigan probably notice the limited enthusiasm that some students bring to the theater. It’s like a night class. They might not really want to be there. The discussion sign-up sheets that are sometimes in the Grand Foyer eliminate the video route to completing the assignment.

But there is also a lot of fresh enthusiasm, especially in the Grand Foyer after the film. Many regular visitors probably enjoy the youthful reactions of filmgoers who might be seeing a classic movie for the first time.

Without these UM programs, many films might not be shown at the Michigan. Recent series themes have included musicals, Stanley Kubrick, psychology, and life in Germany between World War II and the Berlin Wall. The Michigan Theater has developed a strong relationship with UM like it has with other parts of the Ann Arbor community.

In the late 1990s, I enjoyed different Monday afternoon UM series that were devoted to Indian films of the 1950s, silent movies, and other themes. These film programs helped build my interest in the different offerings of the Michigan.

The names of the film companies that distributed these movies (like Blackhawk and Kit Parker) took me back to my own college days about 25 years ago when I ran a college film committee and took great pleasure in thumbing through film catalogs.

Interestingly, the screening of Young Frankenstein also brought back memories of seeing it in the late 1970s at the college I attended, Marshall University. Back then, video and cable were in their infancy, and seeing Young Frankenstein anywhere a few years after it was released was a real treat. For the UM students at the Michigan, this showing might have been unique only because it was in a theater.

But oh, what a theater! And what a great way to both enhance a young person’s education and build up a future audience for the Michigan.

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Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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