17 June 2011

Professors in Film, The Good, The Great and the Wacky

With school out and many of you done with college or preparing to head there or holding frond memories of your days at university, this seems an appropriate time to reflect on the academic center of college life -- the professor.

I had college professors who could have marketed themselves as non addictive cures for insomnia. It would be impossible for me to forget the prof who stated in the middle of a lecture that a rock communicates to us. He posited that by its failure to communicate it was in fact telling us that it could not communicate. The mind boggles.

Fortunately I also had professors who were at once thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and inspiring. To such an extent that I've become convinced that these three qualities are intertwined. Some of my professors were among the most influential people in my life and it was a privilege to be spell bound by them.

As a public school teacher I exhorted my young chargers to strive for admittance into a university. I contended that, while earning a degree was important, the real treat would be to learn and that in many cases they'd be doing so at the figurative feet of masterful teachers. This would not be the little dog and pony show that I put on. This would be enthralling lectures from experts in their fields.

Many professors, whether among the great or the pathetic, are what we call in this culture, "real characters." That is to say that they distinguish themselves from your ordinary Joe or Josephine with eccentric or dynamic behavior. They are thus ideal fodder for films. I humbly submit the following ten film characters as emblematic of the variety of interesting professors that show up in films. My only restriction was that those selected must have appeared in an outstanding movie. I am disappointed that no female characters made the list. I will not shoulder the blame for this, instead pointing out that even today females are under represented among tenured university faculty and this is reflected in films.

Alan Bates as Ben Butley in Butley (1974). Okay so he wasn't particularly keen on tutorials. His office was a reflection of his personal life, a mess. Still he was what they call a character. Passionate about...well himself, anyway. Interesting bloke and that's what you really want in a professor, eh?

Colin Firth as George in A Single Man (2009). I found the one lecture we got to witness of his quite interesting. Here's a man of obvious intellect, clearly well read and learned. Oh sure he's got a wondering eye and a weakness for some of his cuter students. Who's perfect?

Donald Sutherland as Dave Jennings in Animal House (1978). Perhaps possessive of some questionable morals what with the sleeping with a student , not to mention getting stoned with several students. But a compelling figure in front of the classroom and certainly able to relate to today's students.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Strongsuit: A sense of adventure. Weakness: Frequent absences. It's quite obvious from what little we see of him before a classroom that the chicks dig him. But most importantly, imagine the stories the guy could tell!

Richard Burton as George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Okay so he's spineless in the face of his wife's rage. Okay so he's a bit of a lush. You hear that deep stentorian voice? I wanna hear him lecture.

Henry Fonda as Tommy Turner in The Male Animal (1942). A man of principal, a strong believer in academic freedom and allowing students to think for themselves. Unafraid of taking on the powers that be. Simply put one of the most commendable film professors ever.

Groucho Marx as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff in Horse Feathers (1932). I don't know about the rest of you lot but I like a teacher with a sense of humor. That being the case you can't possibly top Professor Wagstaff. I believe he had a PHd in madcap antics.

Michael Douglas as Professor Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys (2000). Another prof not above getting stoned with a student. Again we have an iconoclast. And again someone who gives favored students the personal touch. Plus with friends like Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) he's going to be a hoot to hang out with.

Edward Everett Horton as Professor Nick Potter in Holiday (1938). How to describe him? How about whatever word is the antonym to pompous? Clearly a cerebral but fun-loving bloke. Anyone who influenced and was friends with Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is better than okay.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man (2009). I'm no good at any form of math but if I were to learn it, it would be at the feet of the likes of Gopnik. He is clearly a sincere and very nice man who is continually being dealt unfair blows by the fates. But like any good teacher he shows up every day. And oh yes, he's a man of integrity, no bribes will he take.


Tudor Queen said...

How about Miss Jean Brodie? True, she had some inappropriate relationships within the staff of her school, and suspect ones with her 'creme de la creme' students, and yes, she was a fascist sympathizer, but she put a unique spin on the material, and the field trips alone were worth your tuition.

Anonymous said...

Oh thanks for this, I'm often trying to find 'college movies' that I haven't already seen, and there's a few on here that are new to me!

My favourite prof John Nash from A Beautiful Mind. Love that film.

Castor said...

A little bit on the fluffy side but may I add Alan Rickman from the Harry Potter franchise? :) He is such a delight to watch every time he appears on screen.