To Turn on Prophets or Turn a Profit, That is the Question

9 Sep 2013: University Inc (Vimeo stream, 1999, Kyle Henry)

Though for the first ten minutes or so this documentary looks to overload the viewer with sensory bombardment – multiple textual credits scrolling at once while multiple voice-overs blend into one another while sliding images dissolve into more, two interviews intercut while exchanging sentence fragments at a time on totally different trains of thought, seemingly eclectic subjects of focus smashed together in various ways in short periods of time as if the extraction of truth were like the discovery of subatomic particles at CERN (perhaps rather like the style of a certain writer, who tries constantly to cram as much information and description into single sentences made interminably elaborate with commas, hyphenations, parentheticals, and sheer adjectival and adverbal excesses as possible) – the style gradually settles down into a more palatable exploration of one small event, the shutting-down of a repertory cinema in the student union of the University of Texas in the late 1990s, as a spacetime-capsular synecdoche for a revolting but overarching societal trend. The interview with Richard Linklater is what brought the film to my attention in the first place, and he delivers the goods where he’s allowed to, but impressively he does not especially stand out amidst a chorus of conscious and passionate students and activists involved with the efforts to resist the university’s callous and fiscally unnecessary decision (The theater operates at a “loss” of $42,000 a year, by the narrow calculations of microeconomic bookkeeping, while memberships to a country club worth $30-40k are given free to 140 administrators each year, as one implied line of reasoning goes). Perhaps because I’ve never attended a four-year university myself, and because those of my friends and acquaintances who have seem to have used their stay there either as hedonistic funtime or job-qualification, it appears to me that this film documents something now dead to zones of “higher education,” i.e. an interest in edification and social engagement above mere money-making or intoxication. The reality may be different, but the economic trends discussed in this film continue unabated – the shuttering of KUSF within the past few years and the constant increases of tuition everywhere act as a regular reminder. One more thing in this film worth meditating on: those who express unconventional, intelligent and radical opinions and stand up for their rights tend to look “ugly,” while those who express nothing but a dearth of thought and concern (including business-speak stonewalling and resistance to questions) are stylish and well-groomed.

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