Watching me watch a movie is like watching someone in a trance. I can shut out almost anything that goes on around me. Believe it or not, someone else is kind of responsible for that.
I should have done this sooner, except that I didn't know he was dead, and when he died, the technology I'm using didn't quite exist yet. John Bigby, a media professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, died in 1994 at the age of 56, after falling down stairs in his own home. He lingered for nine months before passing. He was my film and media mentor in 1979/1980, and he nurtured within me the tools that I use today to watch films, to look at commercials, to really hear the message being given in a way that is, perhaps, at odds with the originators' intent.
One thing I learned from him is to respect the filmmaker, even though the story or the performances don't deserve respect. This is not to say "suspend critical thinking" or anything that stupid, but only to remember that if it's on screen, it was intended. Sure, there are gaffes, errors in continuity or perhaps a cameraman, briefly visible in a mirror, but what he meant was, the director, the editor, slave over these things to get to a final product, or they slapdash it together to get a final product, but with the number of eyes that allow a movie to make it to the big screen, everything you see on screen - they meant to do that. Which is why I can watch "bad" films as if they matter. But if something seems incongruous to you in a movie, ask yourself why the director did that? Why make that particular editing choice? Was it to cover a bad shot, or was it a specific aesthetic choice by either the editor or the director (or both)?
His classes were wonderfully opinionated. He was known to appear before us in a white linen suit with straw Panama hat, or in a cape and deerstalker. We attended four hours of classroom time twice a week, during which we usually watched two movies that were somehow related. One semester still sticks with me very much - American Road Movies and the German New Wave. This was a classroom where I saw Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum, Effie Briest, The American Friend, Stroszek and many others. I learned through him how these films related in so many ways, while many of them were crazily different from one another. Easy Rider is a pastoral of the country's temperature in the late sixties, Lost Honor is about the scourge of yellow journalism taken as truth, Effie Briest is a costume period melodrama, The American Friend is a Patricia Highsmith thriller (based on Ripley's Game - yes, THAT Ripley). They didn't fit, but they did.
Just showing up and watching the films got you a passing grade, but you had to show up, and you had to stay awake. The final consisted of him watching us watch a movie (that semester, the final was Five Easy Pieces). You could get a better grade by watching more films (six of his choosing would get you a C), and by writing about specific films (gets you a B) and by creating a project between you and him that would qualify you for an A. He treated us as students but also as adults, which we really weren't quite, yet.
I have no photos of him, and can find none on the web, a place he would have found both fascinating and appalling. However, you can hear him in the introduction to a lecture given in 1975 by Patrick Hazard. I hear it, and am transported again to his classroom, where I would weekly see movies that changed my views of the world, and gave me a deep appreciation of the art and craft of filmmaking.