Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Fall 2006 Semester Retrospective Post

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Another semester at Rutgers ended yesterday with a final exam in my French Film class that went fairly well. Now I'm back home and thinking back a little bit on this past semester as a whole---a custom for me whenever a semester ends.

What was good about this most recent semester? Well, for one thing, getting that Wall Street Journal copy editing internship, which of course I wrote about at length in my previous entry. That's a pretty big accomplishment, all the sweeter because it was so unexpected. Even my Editing & Layout professor had e-mailed us to tell me and three others who had taken the controlled editing exam not to get our hopes up. Kenji Fujishima, copy editor? Not exactly Kenji Fujishima, film critic, but for now, it'll do.


Speaking of editing: perhaps many of you forgot that I became the film section editor of the Inside Beat section of the Daily Targum at the beginning of the fall semester. Yeah, I didn't write much about my editing experiences throughout the semester; I figured I'd save my reflections on being an editor for a reflective post such as this one. It was certainly an interesting experience: not nearly as hectic as it might be in a daily newspaper office environment---the Inside Beat is published every Thursday---but it still occasionally kept me up 'til 2 or 3 a.m. on some Sunday-nights-into-Monday-mornings. Oddly enough, my most stressful Sunday of editing came on the weekend before the last Inside Beat issue of the semester, published on Dec. 7---I only received, like, two or three submissions, and yet I felt swamped by looking at revision upon revision of those two or three articles, having to keep going back and forth with writers who weren't quite sure what exactly I was complaining about.

That's the thing about an editor like myself who is also a writer: sometimes I have to fight the urge to try to be too intrusive, to try to rework a writer's whole piece so that it'll make it sound good to me, and thus destroy the writer's own individual voice. Throughout the semester, I rarely got complaints from my writers about my inadvertently distorting his/her distinctive voice (but perhaps some of those writers were just too unassertive to know any better, hehe); nevertheless, that's something I always worried about whenever I tore into a new submission: resisting the urge to change a piece to somehow suit my style. Because, if you're a writer, you know that there are certain ways you phrase things, and when you see an article in which something is phrased in a way you know you wouldn't do...well, you feel a great need to reword it. As an editor, that's something I tried my best to do only if I could somehow justify it to myself or to the writer.

One thing I'll definitely look to improve next semester, when I go for another round of film section editing, is my method of assigning movies to writers. Obviously, some of my writers are better than others, and because of that, really, I shouldn't continue with the first-come, first-serve method that I used for assigning movies last semester. It got me in trouble late in the semester when I realized that I had a writer among my small staff who was probably better suited to tackling The Fountain---a fairly big, buzz-generating movie like, say, Babel earlier in the month of November---instead of the writer who ended up reviewing it (and panning it) for the paper. The problem was, I had already promised the latter writer the assignment months in advance---and when I tried nicely to tell the latter writer (who's competent but usually not much more than that as a writer) that I was thinking of giving the Fountain assignment to this other, frankly better (read: often more serious and insightful) writer, he got defensive (to my great annoyance, although I should have seen it coming) and told me, "Uh, but I had called it months earlier, and you gave me your word. And I always thought you were someone who kept his word." Lesson learned; might as well establish a bit of a hierarchy just like in a regular print newspaper, and establish some kind of a system: if you're a new writer, you're going to get a third- or fourth-tier movie first before you're considered for bigger and better assignments.


Academically speaking, probably the most dismaying thing about this semester was the fact that I just wasn't able to find nearly enough time among my 17-credit schedule to get some serious work done on my senior thesis.

Yes, I am working a senior thesis; it's required for the Livingston College Honors Program. Broadly speaking, I'm comparing Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino, and I'm trying to determine whether there really is anything to some of the claims I've heard over the years that QT is an American Godard (or, at least, the Godard of the 1960s, not the irascible grand old man of French cinema he is today). I have a general idea where I'm headed with the thesis, and I've certainly seen enough films by both to get a general idea of what kind of filmmakers both of them are---but specifics? Don't ask. A few weeks ago, I went to see the scholar-in-residence over at Livingston, the man who's going to be grading our theses, and I actually was on the verge of tears as the meeting went along when I realized how little progress I had actually made this semester, apart from a few online sources and a general familiarity with the two filmmakers. But when I tried to explain my weak grasp of the concept of postmodernism to the professor, it was obviously I had little fucking clue what I was talking about. "Yeah, I'd try to stay away from that if I were you," the professor told me right then and there---disheartening, because I had previously thought a consideration of postmodernism was pretty much the backbone of my thesis.

So yeah, I feel like I'm falling behind---not a comfortable place I want to be as far as my senior thesis goes, but that's where I stand. (The scholar-in-residence tried to console me by saying, "Honestly, you're not one of the ones I'm worried about yet," since many other fellow Honors Program peers hadn't even contacted him at all at that point.) So right now, if I don't get some serious work done during my winter break---perhaps even going so far as to start writing the damn thing---I might as well consider myself officially screwed.

Otherwise: academically, I think I had a fairly solid semester. At the very least, however well I do grade-wise, I can say that I took some interesting, and occasionally eye-opening, courses. Obviously, Editing & Layout was one such course: I may never be able to look at a newspaper's front page again without thinking about some of the design principles we discussed in class. (Might as well be hypercritical of front pages, because that's possibly the kind of thing I'm going to be doing at my Wall Street Journal internship.) But also: my journalism seminar on cultural critique and documentaries may have turned me paranoid (though hopefully not Mulder-paranoid) for life about what the government isn't telling us about world affairs or things that they might be doing domestically. And, if nothing else, my Major Filmmakers class has helped me realize that my indifferent reaction to the Coen brothers' highly (over-)praised Fargo (1996) when I saw it on DVD years ago may not have just been the result of its hype: I see what it's trying to do (positing, for one thing, Marge Gunderson as the exemplar of welcome small-town naivete in a mostly harsh, cruel world), but its frankly irritating (and certainly anti-humanist) condescension toward most of its characters (especially with those mile-wide Minnesotan accents; however accurate they may be, it's obvious to me that the Coens are exploiting the accents for snarky comic effect) turned me off for most of its running time. Personally, I'd take their more deeply felt Miller's Crossing (1990) or their more elegiac existential noir film The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)---or heck, even their fairly heartless but coldly impressive debut Blood Simple (1984)---over Fargo or even the popular The Big Lebowski (1998). (In some ways, Joel & Ethan Coen, I'd almost go so far to say, are the true American Godards, not the entertaining wannabe Tarantino.)

Well, I think that just about covers it. Oh yeah, and I did turn 21. No, I don't feel any different.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Overall, quite a successful semester I would say!