If I could tell you one thing about my time as a film student at Queen Mary, it would be that the department is fantastic. The teaching staff offer a rich and diverse set of expertise that has guided me through a fascinating degree programme. I’d never studied film before and I (still!) don’t consider myself a film buff or a cinephile, but my respect for the cultural, political and historical significance of film has been thoroughly ignited over the past couple of years.
That said, I thought it would be nice to ask lecturers film questions that aren’t linked to the study of film, but rather to the pure enjoyment of it. You don’t have to be able to explain the cinematic importance of Citizen Kane, or name the pioneers of auteurism, or understand the meaning of the word ‘phenomenology’ (I still don’t) to appreciate this Q&A!
Lucy Bolton, if you could interview any actor, past or present (and they promised to give you truthful answers), who would it be?
I love classical Hollywood so I would want to interview a star who could tell me loads of stories about those days. In fact, I’ve recently done some work on Kirk Douglas, and he’s going to be 100 in December, so he’d be pretty fascinating to meet! But I think Marilyn Monroe is probably the star about whom there are most unanswered questions. She is so easily dismissed as a model or a pin-up, and yet she is a fantastic comic and dramatic actress in some wonderful films. So I would love to talk to her about her experience as a woman in Hollywood in the 1950s; why she set up her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and what she had to say about the characters she plays on screen in films like Niagara, Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl. I think she’d also be a load of fun!
Sue, what is your favourite film that has been released this year and what did you love about it?
The film that has most impressed me this year is one I saw in Lyons last week while I was there to examine a PhD at the university. It is called Divines and is a début film by a female director called Houda Benyamina. The director and young female leads took Cannes by storm earlier this year, with the film winning the Caméra d’or prize, and the buzz around the film has only increased since its release in France at the beginning of September. It is currently showing in London as part of the London Film Festival.
The film is about best friends Dounia and Maimouna, and the sheer energy with which they attack their very limited lives. They shuttle between their homes in a Roma camp and on the banlieue housing estate, places marked by violence, poverty, and crime, and increasingly by an aggressive, unpredictable drug dealer called Rebecca. It’s a startling, bleak film, but also one that is lyrical and compassionate about youth, the power of the imagination and the strength of friendship. The three central female performers are simply astonishing.
Libby, do you have a least favourite film genre? If so, what is your favourite film in that genre?
My least favourite genre is the slasher film, including its contemporary variants, and I don’t have a favourite because I can’t bear to watch them. On a different note, my least favourite generic trope is the car chase. I just find them dull, and I can’t watch them without hearing Jeremy Clarkson droning on about suspension systems and upholstery.
Jenny, what is your earliest memory of going to the cinema?
My earliest cinematic memory is all about sensation: the sickly-earthy smell of popcorn and damp coats, hallucinatory bingo-hall swirls on the carpet and occasional stickiness underfoot, the press of bodies in the foyer, the volume of the surround sound, and the colour popping out of the screen. One of the first films I saw in the cinema (rather than on TV) was The Lion King, which is revealing, I guess – I was 12 at the time. I’ve always thought that was quite late for someone who later became a film scholar. But my early memories of cinema-going have shaped how I write about film now: from the body, and from the heart, as well as from the head.
Guy, what is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ film and why?
As a young teen growing up in Wakefield, West Yorkshire in the late 1970s I was occasionally allowed to stay up late with my father to watch cowboy films on television. My father loved Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and anything starring Clint Eastwood. Occasionally we would watch a Sam Peckinpah western such as The Wild Bunch, Major Dundee or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. The latter especially is a guilty pleasure for me. It is ultra-violent, dubious in its representation of women and Mexicans, and contains cruelty to animals! Needless to say these are values that I don’t endorse! But it is also a cinematic tour de force, full of raw dynamic energy and captivating performances from Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn. If I’m channel hopping late at night and come across Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid I always end up watching it until the end.
My final question was for Jeremy Hicks, who perhaps managed to contradict a stereotype of academics by being expertly concise! More than that though, I think his words capture something special about the fascinating world which these scholars spend their days exploring.
Jeremy, when did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in Film Studies?
When I heard that such a subject existed.