Adventures in Continuing Education

I have a tendancy to be a hermit which I’m really quite comfortable being. However, there are times when I feel a need to see more of the outside world. Recently, in an effort to get out of the house and “meet people”, I enrolled in an adult education class. Typical for me, I chose something obscure and esoteric. This particular class was called Controversy is My Middle F***ing name. I read about it in the Arts section of the newspaper and in the interview, the instructor promised that he would be screening “5 of the most controversial films every made.” He went on to state that they were all foreign films and outlined the basic plots of two of the films he was going to show. I cut my film-viewing teeth on Fellini, Warhol and Kubrick back in the 70s so when he described themes of Nazi torture, dismemberment, and basic debauchery, it sealed the deal for me; I happily plunked down my $18.00 and eagerly awaited the first class.

Of course, one wonders about the sort of people who would attend a film class like this. I imagined there would be mostly young college-aged artsy types and thought I’d probably feel right at home. I was a little surprised to find that most of my fellow students were my age, with only a sprinkling of young kids. Our instructor, John, was about 25, tall, thin, and wore a nihilistic uniform of all-black. He announced that he was uncomfortable speaking in front of groups of people (perfect for one who has volunteered to TEACH PEOPLE) then handed out his introduction: a typewritten sheet entitled Manifesto of Basic Principles. I thought, “Oh great, he thinks he’s the Unabomber.” After spending 5 minutes silently reading this treatise about the meaning of controversy and art to ourselves, he then proceeded to read it out loud to us, word for word. O-kay! He also explained how he’s a Surrealist which surprised me. I didn’t know a person could be an art genre. “Hi! I’m Karen! I’m a Cubist!”

Our first film was called I Stand Alone. It was a film depicting one man’s anger at the entire world and would turn out to be the only “good” film shown during the entire 5 weeks. I sat next to a young man who I will refer to throughout this post as Trenchcoat Guy. During the middle of the movie, Trenchcoat Guy pulled his black leather gloves out of his pocket and put them on very slowly, clasped his hands in front of him, rested them on the desk, and sat just like that through the rest of the film. I just knew Trenchcoat Guy was going to be someone interesting to pay attention to. After the film was over, John told us that he would not be leading us in a discussion of the films because he didn’t want to “plant his own ideas in our heads.” O-kay!

A few of us decided to go out for coffee afterwards to have our own discussion. I was pretty excited – being included in a group. On the short drive to the coffeeshop, I began to feel excited. Wow, maybe these were people I could actually be friends with! They already seemed to like me – they invited me to be part of their group, right? We were in the same weird film class so we at least had one thing in common, right? This was going to be sooo cool. We all settled in a large booth, put in our orders and started asking the usual questions. Names, occupations, marital status, kids/kids’ ages, etc. We talked a bit about the movie and the strange instructor and I told them about Trenchcoat Guy. We had a few laughs about the whole thing, then I asked them how they all knew each other. The one chick who was like the leader of the group said they all went to the same Singles Sunday School class. By the way, did I want to come? “It’s really cool and interesting “she said and they all nodded their heads enthusiastically. I expained about me being an aetheist and talked a little bit about my spiritual explorations including my past interest in Catholicism. After hearing that, the one leader chick said “Well thank God you didn’t become a CATHOLIC.”

Our little meeting broke up soon after that, we said our friendly goodbyes and I left thinking “Thank God I didn’t become a BIGOTED PROTESTANT.”

The following weeks’ movie was kind of boring – In A Glass Cage. Ex-Nazi meets someone from his past that he previously tortured. Tortured become torturer. Blah, blah, blah. TrenchCoat Guy was there, but no gloves this week. Me and the Coffeshop Christians actually got some of the rest of the group engaged in discussion after class and the instructor actually joined in.

Week 3: Man Bites Dog. A funny, black humor kind of movie. The group has dwindled considerably. Coffeeshop Christians are not present, nor do they ever show up again. There are some new people, and I think John is bringing in his own friends. We try to get John to tell us about the rest of the films but he’ll only say he’s showing Salo as the grand finale. We all already know that Salo’s director, Pasolini, was murdered after the release of the film and that it’s supposed to be a real horror show. I lean over and ask Trenchcoat Guy him if he’s ever seen Salo. “Seen it?” he says, “I own it.” “Every year on Bastile Day, I have a party and show it.” Sounds like fun times. I actually think Trenchcoat Guy has a crush on John. He’s made several breathy comments about John being a Surrealist.

Week 4 is Viva de la Muerte. Before he shows each movie, John always makes a point to read a lengthy review he’s gotten off the internet. I know this because I’ve already perused the PlumeNoir website’s Controversial Movie page and read most of these. Viva de la Muerte’s review outlines the many horrible things that happens to the young main character and ends with the comment “John Lennon, after viewing this film, declared it to be the best movie he had ever seen.” I piped up “Well, that’s good enough for me!.” Unfortunately, I got zero laughs out of that comment. This week even TrenchCoat Guy is missing but now there are even more of John’s personal friends in class.

The Grand Finale – Salo. It was a little early when I got to class The classroom was still locked so a few of us were standing the hall. TrenchCoat Guy was there reading a quote out of a book to another student. It was a quote he brought for John because he “thought it described how John was reluctant to share his feelings about the movies.” God, Trenchcoat Guy was SO hero-worshipping John The Surrealist. When John walked up, Trenchcoat scurried over to him and started to show him the quote and John totally cut him off. Interesting.

Everyone was so looking forward to this movie and there was a larger than usual group of John’s friends present. Again, John read the exact same movie review I had just read that afternoon. Instead of listening, I read personal ads in The Pitch. The movie started. I really was expecting something controversial this week. You would think that a movie based on the Marquis des Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom would be really something. The review promised me that Salo is “one of the handful of genuinely disturbing movies EVER MADE…” “Salo confirms the cruel meaninglessness of everything human.” Instead, about halfway through I began to find it funny. One of the characters looked like the Church Chat Lady from SNL and once I made that connection, it was all over for me.

As soon as the movie was over, I picked up my purse and left. I could hear murmers from the group “oh my, glad that’s over” along with nervous, twittery laughter. I confessed to one of the people walking out with me that I started laughing to myself about halfway through the film. “You DID? WHY?” I tried to explain about Church Chat lady but I don’t think the guy understood the reference. “Oh well, enjoy your weekend” he said to me as he hurried to get away from this obviously disturbed chick.

I was glad to be leaving Trencoat Guy, John the Surrealist and the cast of John’s Friends behind. I think I’ll take the Essay Writing class next.

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