Monday, May 07, 2007

The Spring 2006 Semester Retrospective Post, Part 1: The Academic Stuff

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Obligatory retrospective post time! This one I'm going to break into two parts, because I'd like to devote one post to some of the more trivial fun things I indulged in this semester (you'll see when I get to Part 2).

Despite finding out, at the last minute, that I'm going to be here at Rutgers a semester longer than I expected, overall this was a pretty darn good semester for me. I made a hell of a lot more progress than even I might have thought possible on my senior Godard/Tarantino thesis, churning out 40 (double-spaced) pages of material in about four weeks (well, for me, that's an accomplishment, since I often take my sweet old painstaking time writing my papers). This, mind you, came almost entirely after I basically wrote only five measly pages during my entire Spring Break---so, of course, I was feeling the pressure (partly deadline-related, partly self-imposed) of finishing the whole thing by mid-April, before planning out my eventual public presentation. Still, I think I can honestly say that the pressure never got too overwhelming or too distracting. And at least now I have a final product that I'm pretty proud of.

Okay, enough self-congratulation!

The pressure of balancing thesis work with classes didn't really overwhelm me this semester, either, because essentially I only had to worry about two classes: my Cinema Studies senior seminar and my Desktop Publishing class. The most notable thing I got out of my film seminar, I think, was a greater appreciation of sound in movies: how directors use sound to intensify moods, emphasize points, etc. (Just last night, while briefly re-watching my Artificial Eye Region 2 DVD of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times, I noted an interesting, perhaps coincidental example of sound punctuation that I hadn't picked up on before: during the first 40-minute portion, when Hou focuses his still, scrutinizing camera on a frazzled Chang Chen looking for that snooker parlor girl who had left when he finally came back, Chen makes a desperate, forceful downward motion with his right fist---he might be dropping his cigarette; I don't recall---and the throwaway gesture is indelibly emphasized by the timpani that enters in with an equal amount of force towards the end of the Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Small moment, but surprising and indicative of Hou's sublime sensitivity to detail.) And, of course, without the class spurring me on, I may never have gotten a chance to view Ross McElwee's wonderful 1986 documentary Sherman's March, one of the earliest and warmest examples of the kind of first-person interactive documentary that seems to be in vogue right now (I think of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock as recent examples of the kind of documentary McElwee made throughout his career). You wouldn't think seeing a film about a self-absorbed, insecure documentary filmmaker scrutinizing his love life for two-and-a-half hours would make for compelling viewing, but the film is actually about more than McElwee's personal life. In its own low-key, universal way, it's about the possibility of turning one's life into film, and the traps of engaging in that kind of artistic process---at least, that's what I tried to argue in my presentation and paper. Either that, or I just identify with the poor guy too much.

And Desktop Publishing---well, most of you readers will remember my big assignment for that class: talking to five Rutgers journalism alums now working at the Wall Street Journal and writing a news feature about all five of them. It was briefly a chore when I thought I might have to interview more---heck, I'd say five is enough for any news story---but the final product came out beautifully, and I'm happy to include it among my various clips. As for the class itself...well, a) it reinforced some of the Quark XPress-related stuff I learned in the fall for my Editing & Layout class, and b) it reminded me that I simply don't have the sharpest artist's eye when it comes to tweaking photos on Photoshop. As long as it doesn't look too dark on newsprint, it all looks good to me! Er, I may need to develop a better Photoshop sense when I get into the swing of things with my Wall Street Journal internship.

Speaking of that internship: I think it was probably the fact that I secured the summer internship towards the end of last year as opposed to this semester that I didn't feel quite the same stresses about finding a job upon graduation that I'm sure plenty of other seniors probably felt this semester. "I have no idea what I'm gonna do when I graduate" was a common thing I heard among friends when I asked them what their plans were after graduation. Well, maybe I'll be able to fully relate once I finally graduate, hopefully by January 2008. Basically, though, my mindset is: try to do my best at this WSJ thing, and see what it gets me. It'd be cool if I impressed them enough that they'd like to keep me on, but if not...well, see the quote above. Even if I somehow bombed the WSJ internship, or simply found copy editing not to my liking, I like to think I still do have a couple of prospects. Hey, Time Inc. did pick me to intern in NYC at People magazine before I had to turn them down because of the WSJ internship; that's an avenue I could perhaps pursue later on. Of course, now that I have to somehow find a way to fill up six more journalism credits in the fall, perhaps I'll have to tap that resource earlier than I anticipated.

Oh well. Part of the real world, I guess.

Coming up in Part 2: personal entertainment discoveries during the semester---among them, "Self Control," Talking Heads, Stuntman Mike, the art-house DVD steal of the century, and HappySlip. All will be explained in due time...

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