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The campus cinematheque: film culture at U.S. universities, 1960-1975.

"Come Sunday night, chances are you can find the masses at the Flicks... Faced with a choice between the library and the movies, studs, dollies, libbers, and freaks have been increasingly opting for [the movies]...."--The Stanford Daily, 1973 (Hummer)

"We want to establish a film program of quality. One that is equivalent to the quality of our football team, for example."--University of Tennessee-Knoxville Vice Chancellor Walter J. Herndon, 1971 ("Clarence")


In the 1960s and early 1970s, over 2,000 students each week paid pocket change to attend Stanford University's Sunday Flicks. There, they typically watched a feature and cartoon shorts--but more important, they screamed, whistled, belched, blew air horns, and offered obscene running commentary on the films, which ranged from Ben-Hur (Wyler 1959) and A Hard Day's Night (Lester 1964) to The Miracle Worker (Perm 1962) and The Virgin Spring (Bergman 1960). Dating to the late 1930s, the Hicks were widely recognized as the campus's "most important social event" (Briscoe 6; Lecraw). At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, moviegoing options were so numerous that one observer called the campus's largest venue a cinephile's "Shangri-La" (Alvarez 8). MovieTime, the campus's most high-profile film series--just one of dozens--counted 31,000 admissions in the fall 1973 semester alone. In the years prior, it had doubled its offerings to accommodate "the ever-growing number of campus film buffs" (Null; "Collector" 10). This flowering of film activities on college and university campuses in the 1960s took place alongside an explosion in the student population--from about 3.5 million in 1960 to 7.5 million in 1970--and a concomitant expansion of campus facilities and services (along with the establishment of many new universities) (Kerr 121). That the mass social activity of moviegoing became such a key part of campus life during this era - in which higher education in the U.S. was expanded and remade--should be no surprise.

Even so, it is the art theater that has long been celebrated as the site of foreign, repertory, and other "alternative" film exhibition in the U.S. in the two decades following World War II. It is here, the standard history recounts, where Baby Boomer audiences were exposed to new kinds of movies--and where they caught a cinephilia that would influence film studies, criticism, production, and other spheres of film culture. Monographs like Barbara Wilinsky's Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema (1998) and Tino Balio's The Foreign Film Renaissance on American Screens (2010) have added detail and methodological rigor to the story of the art theater's central role in the financial and cultural markets for postwar art and other alternative cinema in the U.S.

I argue that we should add film exhibition at colleges and universities to this account. While they no doubt patronized local art houses (which were often located in university towns), the student audience, which by the mid-1970s numbered upwards of 10 million, had far cheaper, more numerous, and more diverse moviegoing options right on their campuses. While it is beyond the scope of the present study to determine what, if any, role campus exhibition--much of which was semi- or non-commercial-- played in the broader film market, my research suggests that its cultural significance was profound. One component of campus film exhibition, the student film society, has begun to receive attention in the growing body of scholarship on the emergence and institutionalization of film studies as an academic discipline. In his study of experimental filmmaking and the academy, Michael Zryd suggests that the film society "may be the most crucial para-academic institution in the rise of film study" (190-191). I wish to broaden the scope of this productive line of inquiry. Student film societies and the increasing presence of film in university curricula together represent only a slice of campus film activity, which, I will argue, was a far more encompassing and influential phenomenon. In the 1960s and 1970s, movies saturated campus life--and not just for studied, cinephilic audiences. U.S. universities were home to self-made, pluralistic, and useful film cultures that were both products of and contributors to ongoing transformations in higher education.

In this study, I aim to identify the characteristics and functions of film culture in the new university. First, I try to map out the terrain by quantifying the prevalence of film exhibition as well as the kinds of films shown and typical admission prices. I also discuss the diverse venues in which film screenings took place and the three types of campus entities that sponsored films: official university recreational / programming boards, academic departments, and campus clubs and organizations. My research suggests that the dedicated student film society was, on most campuses, a relatively marginal sub-group of this last type. After laying out these basic components of campus film culture, I discuss how films were mobilized for different purposes by different campus groups, as well as how the varied contexts of campus film exhibition cultivated an array of often competing taste cultures, sensibilities, and modes of spectatorship--ranging from 'serious' considerations of film as art to the ironic and camp appreciations of the Flicks audiences described above. I also describe how the cancellation of a film screening at one campus sparked intense controversy over free speech, in loco parentis policies, and the student-administration balance of power. This comprehensive view of campus film culture offers a vivid example of cinema's complex pleasures--as well as its potential to catalyze activism through the exercise of media and student citizenship. Indeed, I argue that this study invites a much-needed expansion of the very notion of student activism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Campus film exhibition owes its dramatic growth in part to fundamental shifts in the nature and functions of higher education in the U.S. after World War II. These transformations included rapid expansion as a result of increased access for young Americans to a college education, along with the diversification of institutions' research activities--e.g., winning and carrying out major government research contracts (Horowitz 188-190; Kurlansky 179). From these trends emerged the concept of the "multiversity," an institution whose aims and functions extended far beyond merely educating young people (Spann 35). This new paradigm also included the campus's role as "a center for cultural life." In 1964, University of California-Berkeley president Clark Kerr noted that with its physical facilities and "ready-made audience in its students and faculty," the university was in an ideal position to fulfill this new role (121122). And movies were equally well suited to help it carry out this mission. Even as he criticized their failure ,to follow regulations, a University of Wisconsin-Madison administrator attested that "the film societies provide a recognized service to the University community" (Zaudtke).


Primary sources drawn from four institutions form the empirical basis of this study. For comparative purposes, I chose two flagship state universities, the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UWM) and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK), and two moderately sized private universities, Stanford (in Palo Alto, California) and Emory (in Atlanta, Georgia). My account of these schools' film activities draws primarily on information available in campus newspapers published between 1960 and 1975, including film schedules, advertisements, reviews, and letters from the readership. In the case of Stanford and Emory, I surveyed every surviving campus newspaper issue published during the period; for UTK and UWM I consulted a robust sample (typically several issues per month). For each of the four campuses, I catalogued every film screening that was announced in the newspaper and recorded, when provided, the date, time, sponsor, location, admission fee, and any information subsequently published regarding the screening (e.g., attendance, incidents, and reactions). Other primary sources include annual campus directories and course catalogs, which allowed me to track the presence of film societies and other student organizations as well as the extent to which film studies had entered each institution's academic curriculum. My analysis of film culture on the UWM campus is informed, as well, by archival documents (including memoranda, attendance and revenue logs, police reports, and film society applications) from the office of the Film Coordinator. While the characteristics I identify obtained for all the case study sites, it should be noted that they took place on a smaller scale at Emory than for the other institutions. However, Emory was by far the smallest of the four schools, with a student body that grew from approximately 4,000 to approximately 7,500 between the early 1960s and the early 1970s. UWM, by contrast, was the largest of the four case study sites and one of eight universities in the nation that enrolled over 30,000 students.


Films, which offered a convenient recreational outlet for universities' growing student bodies, were "basic student entertainment fare" (Bradley). Students of the 1960s to mid-1970s were bombarded with opportunities to watch movies: in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; in classrooms and auditoria as well as outdoors; as part of official university social events, organizational fundraisers, and departmental academic programming. Though I found differences across the four institutions--some are discussed below--the diversity and robustness of campus film culture, as well as its basic elements, were remarkably consistent across the campuses I examined .

Types and Frequency of Films Shown

From Bergman to Brakhage, from The Birth of a Nation (Griffith 1915) to Deep Throat (Damiano 1972), from international travelogues to Hollywood musicals--virtually every imaginable kind of film appeared on campuses in the period under examination. To get a rough idea of the range of cinematic traditions that these films encompassed and the relative frequency with which they were shown, I attempted to place each movie that received an on-campus screening within a set of broad categories. The major types that emerged were: 1) recent releases (typically Hollywood fare); 2) foreign language films; 3) classic Hollywood films; 4) non-Hollywood English language films, most often British (whether classic or contemporary); 5) documentaries; and 6) any of a variety of alternative modes, including independent, avant-garde, student-produced, or animated films (often not feature-length). Granted, there is overlap among, and ambiguity within, these divisions. Some films clearly fit into multiple categories, such as the foreign-language documentary The Triumph of the Will (Riefenstahl 1935) or the popular British animated musical Yellow Submarine (Dunning 1968). It can also be difficult to pinpoint when a film stops being "recent" and begins to qualify as a "classic" or revival. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) likely carried discrete connotations for and resonated differently with student audiences of 1963, when it was still a relatively recent release, and those of a decade later, when it would show as a revival and / or in the context of auteurist appreciations of Hitchcock. In any case, I present these data as a rough but useful sketch of films on campus.

At all four campuses studied, foreign films were the most frequently screened, representing a quarter to a third of all films exhibited. Studio-era Hollywood films were the next most popular, representing 20 to 27 percent of each campus's total. Recent Hollywood releases were third most common at all four campuses, with 14 to 20 percent of their totals. At each campus, either documentaries or non-Hollywood English language films were fourth and fifth most common, representing 6.5 to 16 percent and 7 to 10.5 percent, respectively. Experimental, animated, and other alternative films consistently made up the smallest group. These results are displayed in Table 1:


Though campus film activities long predate the 1960s, it was then that they expanded and reached a critical mass. Film had a presence at some universities even before World War II--whether through isolated courses and research initiatives (as documented in Dana Polan's Scenes of Instruction) or university programming boards and student film societies (like Stanford's Flicks, UWM's MovieTime, or Doc Films at the University of Chicago). My research suggests that the number of films exhibited on campuses increased significantly throughout the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, during the early 1970s. At Stanford, the institution for which my sample of campus newspapers is the most complete, the number of film screenings announced in The Stanford Daily grew from 50 in 1964 to 140 in 1967 and then jumped to 244 in 1968. After a slight decline to 224 the following year, it increased again in 1970 to 277 and remained stable the next year. The number of films advertised in The Stanford Daily dropped in 1972 and 1973, but this decline most immediately reflects the decreasing regularity of the paper's weekly entertainment roundup. These data are displayed in Table 2. However, it is crucial to understand these numbers as a general indication of the increasing presence of films on campus over time, and not as an accurate measure of the total number of films actually shown. During Stanford's peak period of film exhibition, an entertainment writer for The Stanford Daily indicated that at least half of the films appearing on campus were not announced in the student newspaper (McCarthy "At the Movies"). A similar situation obtained at UWM, where postering was a major means of advertising screenings (Holt). Film societies competed fiercely over the campus's limited bulletin boards, risking fines or worse by posting illicitly when authorized spaces were full (Weber "Memorandum"; Security Officer #117). Further, these numbers do not reflect the volumetric effect of the common practice of offering multiple showtimes for a single film.


The data for UWM, UTK, and Emory reveal similar increases over time in announcements and advertisements for films in campus newspapers. Exemplary of the growth of campus film culture was the establishment of Cinema Wednesday at Emory in 1964. This weekly series presented 'artistic' (typically foreign) films for free in the Student Center Auditorium and soon became the centerpiece of the campus's film activities. Cinema Wednesday was programmed collaboratively by nine academic departments and the Student Center Board (SCB); many of these departments, and the SCB, also sponsored their own smaller series and one-off events (Levine, Combs). By 1965, there were three major weekly film series at Emory ("Students"). The SCB eventually became the campus's largest single sponsor of films. By 1974, twelve percent of its total budget was earmarked for film programming. This allocation marked a thirty percent increase in spending on film from the previous year and made film the third largest line item on the budget (the "Roundtable" and "Speakers" programs were first and second) (Mooney).

Prices and Venues

Part of the appeal of campus film activities lay in the opportunity to see movies not available anywhere nearby. However, the low admission fees compared to those of first-run as well as art theaters also made them an attractive option for budget-conscious students. A significant portion of the film screenings (including double features) programmed by official university film committees, student organizations, and academic departments were free. Very recent releases, exceptionally long movies, or programs that included notable speakers, food, or other extras could cost upwards of two dollars. But admission was most often between twenty-five and eighty cents--although at Stanford, one dollar had become a common fee by the end of the period under examination. For comparison, average ticket prices nationwide were $0.86 in 1963, $1.22 in 1967, $1.65 in 1971, and $2.03 in 1975; art theater prices were typically higher than those of mainstream theaters (NATO; Wilinsky 108-109). The affordability and accessibility of campus moviegoing was voiced in 1971 by a student writing in to UTK's Daily Beacon: "The University Center presents a good program of films every weekend, at a fraction of the cost of Knoxville theaters (even if one had transportation to reach them)" (23 Feb 1971). At three of the four case study sites, organizations sponsoring film series gave students the option of purchasing single admissions or series tickets, the latter yielding sometimes marginal and other times significant savings. Student organizations often offered discounted admission to their own members, selling memberships at the box office along with movie tickets. For reasons ranging from the benevolent (e.g., to raise money for a cause) to the more dubious (e.g., to dodge the requirement to give the administration a cut of the profits), some groups encouraged cash donations in lieu of admission fees.

Students watched films in virtually every part of campus--lecture halls, classrooms, dormitories, religious centers, and even outdoors. Movies advertised at Stanford were exhibited in, at minimum, 55 different venues; at UTK, UWM, and Emory there were, respectively, at least 40, 30, and 11 unique locations where films were shown. At each site, almost all official university film programming took place in large auditoria in the student center or in the campus's main theatrical venue(s). Student organizations and academic departments sometimes had access to these sought-after sites, but more often they used high-capacity rooms in other buildings around campus (e.g., science or art centers) to show their movies. The only institution for which I could find extensive information regarding facility use and capacity was UWM, where the high number of film screenings created intense competition for the university's large venues. In 1972, the smallest room regularly used by a student-run film society had a capacity of 230, while the largest held 530 (Weber to Smith). Official university series that took place in large auditoria were the most likely to be projected in 35mm. But many of these films, along with the vast majority of smaller-scale series and one-off screenings, were projected in 16mm. There is no doubt that the accessibility, affordability, and portability of 16mm projection equipment, and the 16mm distribution infrastructure comprising sources like the beloved Audio-Brandon catalog, were among the factors that made possible the explosion of campus film culture in the 1960s.

Film Sponsors

Many different campus groups exhibited films, and they did so for a variety of purposes. The structure of film sponsorship is consistent across the four case study institutions. At each campus, films were screened by: 1) university boards and committees, as part of the institution's official recreational programming; 2) academic departments or classes (independently or in collaboration); and 3) student clubs and organizations. Screenings held by academic departments were most often special events but were sometimes course screenings that they advertised and opened to the student body. Of the student organizations that sponsored films, the largest proportion were those that showed them as fundraisers or as supplements to their regular activities (e.g., "hobby"-oriented groups like fencing or science fiction clubs, political organizations, international student groups, and fraternities and sororities). There were also some groups specifically dedicated to showing films. At both Stanford and UWM, and particularly the latter, these student-run film societies, some profit-driven and some not, emerged primarily in the mid-to-latter part of the period under evaluation. The presence of student-run film societies at these two campuses, and not at UTK and Emory, is the most significant difference across the case study sites. Some trends in film sponsorship reflected the different profiles of each campus. For example, in keeping with its more traditional, conservative orientation, Emory offered by far the most religious-themed programming, whether sponsored by university committees, academic departments, or student organizations.

These groups sponsored one-off events as well as thematically organized film series (e.g., focused on a particular filmmaker or genre, or social, cultural, or political issue). But frequently, films were presented as a means of supplementing curricula and/ or sparking dialogue among members of the campus community; time and again a movie screening was sandwiched between an introductory lecture and the ubiquitous follow-up of conversation and free coffee. In some instances, these discussions were described as concerning the artistic and / or social merits of the films themselves, while in others films were to be used as constructive jumping-off points for delving into issues pertaining to a particular discipline (examples are discussed below).


General Campus Recreation

Comedies, genre films, and recent Hollywood fare were well positioned to provide students recreational opportunities--in themselves, or in conjunction with other campus events. Consistent with their mission of student recreation and entertainment, official university film events (whether one-off or part of series) tended to focus on recent popular (that is, Hollywood) fare. Typical was the UTK Recreation Committee's fall 1967 showing of Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way (1965), starring John Wayne, as part of "Merry Married Students' Night," which included bowling, music, and free babysitting ("Married Couples" 3). An October 1969 wrap-up of Greek activities at Emory over the previous weekend reports that two fraternities "had keg and flicks parties" and that "Entertainment was provided by such horror flicks as Captain Sinbad [Byron Haskin, 1963] and Fearless Vampire Killers [Polanski 1967]" (Bruner 7). Film was such an institution on the UWM campus that "Night at the Flicks" was the university's 1966 Homecoming theme. Classic Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy comedies ("shown in Tripp Commons which will be decorated as 'the dressing room of the stars'") were part of Homecoming entertainment programming alongside a Tommy James and the Shondells concert ("1966 Homecoming" 7).

"Fun" films also functioned as stress relievers during times of intense pressure--namely, finals. In 1967, The Emory Wheel reported a flurry of house parties on campus in the days leading up to exams--"a last desperate effort to get one last bit of happiness out of life before the ax falls." Among the festivities was a movie night at the Delta Tau Delta house, featuring The Time Machine (most likely George Pal's 1960 version) (Bond 7). At UWM, the Union Play Circle established a tradition of showing "films for finals." On at least one occasion, an offering that viewers found more troubling or thought-provoking than expected for a film of its kind elicited protest. A 1972 Cardinal overview of upcoming films recalls that

Last June an angry Play Circle patron bitterly complained about the showing of The Conqueror Worm [aka Witchfinder General, (Reeves 1968)] as a 'film for finals.' It was not the typical, fun-filled, campy Edgar Allan Poe vehicle that he had expected; instead, it was a quite serious, often morbid work that graphicly [sic] displayed the exploits of sadistic witch-hunters in 17th Century England. (Peary)

The writers warn that, this term, students are in for another "horror film with strong political overtones, Gordon Hessler's Scream and Scream Again [1970]."

This tension between 'moviegoing' as entertainment and 'film viewing' as a means of engagement with serious issues was not limited to the Madison campus. The arrival of art cinema at the Stanford Flicks produced similar clashes between viewing protocols and modes of film appreciation--campy, ironic mischief on the one hand, and 'straight' aesthetic and intellectual engagement on the other. In fall 1963, an angry viewer of Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960), a grim drama that features a rape and murder scene, condemned the audience's typically raucous behavior at the screening, declaring it "obvious that Stanford is not ready for mature treatment of delicate subjects" (Byrnes). During the same semester, two students jokingly protested the screening of "such a fine film" as Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov, 1962), arguing that good films "endanger the students' sacred right to whistle, howl, and shout obscenities":

Let us examine closely the insidious arguments of those who are plotting our further frustration. They suggest that there is more value in becoming involved in a film which significantly examines the human condition, than in screaming crude comments at it [...] Send all such anti-social churls into Palo Alto [surrounding town] for their 'aesthetic appreciation!!' (Grupa and Bush)

In 1968, increasing complaints (and perhaps safety concerns) about revelry at the Flicks led to the closing of the venue's balcony and the implementation of noise restrictions in order to make the screenings "less rowdy" ("Flicks Try"; Sparling, Baxter, and Ware). Some students complained that Flicks audiences could, and should, be trusted to recognize and reward quality films (e.g., Alfie [Gilbert 1966] or The Pawnbroker [Lumet 1964]) with respectful attention. One student approvingly claimed that, with increasing regularity, "everyone was too turned on to the flick to get involved in audience participation" (Barringer). But others mourned the decline of the communal Flicks experience, such as the Stanford Daily entertainment correspondent who ruefully noted, "At one time the Sunday Flicks was a real event" (Weber "Bergman and Beckett"). The debates over Flicks protocol were no doubt fueled by the increasingly diverse mixture of films offered. Features shown between 1969 and 1971 included Faces (Cassavetes 1968), Bullitt (Yates 1968), Satyricon (Fellini 1969), Patton (Schaffner 1970), The Firemen's Ball (Forman 1967), M*A*S*H (Altman 1970), My Fair Lady (Cukor 1964), Bonnie and Clyde (Perm 1967), In Cold Blood (Brooks 1967), A Man and a Woman (Lelouch 1966), Rosemary's Baby (Polanski 1969), Blow-Up (Antonioni 1966), and Gimme Shelter (Maysles and Maysles 1970).

Intellectual Enrichment

Film was widely recognized for its potential to foster intellectual engagement; Madison promoted its Union Midday Program as an attempt "to accommodate the many students who seek entertainment or educational activity between classes" ("New Film" 11). Campus associations and academic departments frequently used film screenings to spark intellectual dialogue among students and faculty. Films often accompanied special departmental or university-wide cultural and academic enrichment events, as when an interdisciplinary Emory committee programmed a series of Margaret Mead films in conjunction with her 1964 campus visit (Emory 6 Feb 1964). As part of Emory's 1969 "involve the student" campaign--"a planned schedule to supplement the classroom instruction hopefully making well-rounded students"--a Residence Hall coordinator established a weekly film study program that featured a screening followed by faculty-led discussion. The Emory Wheel boasted, "this program gives students a chance for close, firsthand discussion with authorities in a normally unavailable area of study" ("Whitman's" 2). In addition to Stanford's official "International Film Discussion Series," the campus also hosted myriad one-off film events. In one typical week in fall 1965, these events included a screening of the German left-wing film Kuhle Wampe (Dudow 1932) accompanied by a discussion with German and Czech students, and a documentary and lecture on "heart transplants and artificial hearts," sponsored by Medical School faculty ("Once around"). Also typical of this trend was UTK's March 1971 screening of Elda Hartley's poetic documentary short Requiem for a Faith (1968), which was followed by a discussion of Tibetan Buddhism with members of the Asian Studies committee and the Anthropology and Religious Studies departments ("Museum" 2). Programs of experimental films--which often included animated shorts--were typically associated with the "intellectual" potential of the film medium. For example, in 1968, Stanford's Hume Society sponsored a program of three new experimental films by Ira Schneider (including The Ghost of Wittgenstein and I'd Rather be Half-Right Than Vice-President) followed by a discussion of the philosophical issues they broached ("Campus Roundup" 19 Feb 1968; 13 Jan 1970).

Cinema occupied a prominent and multifarious position in campus political culture. While movies themselves were often used to bring attention to particular issues or causes, exhibiting films also proved an effective way for political groups to raise funds. Often, these two roles were combined. Partisan documentaries figured prominently in politically oriented film exhibition on campuses. At Emory, the Ventures in Dialogue and Action Series sponsored, in conjunction with the Sociology Department, a series of "consciously chosen movies focusing on real, often very ugly social problems in our country. These films which have been drawing larger and more interested crowds than ever before can be of great value to clarifying our possibly muddled, albeit sincere, social consciences." Included in this series was the 1971 TV documentary The Selling of the Pentagon (Peter Davis). Following the screening of Selling was The Rebuttal, a short response film from CBS News featuring Spiro T. Agnew ("VIDA"). Also typical of documentary exhibition was a 1970 screening of The Jews of Silence (details unknown), narrated by Elie Wiesel, sponsored by the UTK chapter of Students' Struggle for Soviet Jewry "to create awareness of alleged Jewish repression in the Soviet Union" ("Jewry").

Most common, however, were documentaries and newsreels related to the ongoing war in Vietnam and the anti-war movement at home. These included titles such as Threatening Skies (produced in North Vietnam, year unknown) and the Newsreel Collective's Columbia Revolt (1968) and Off the Pig (aka Black Panther 1968) ("Campus Roundup" 23 May 1967; "Once around" 7 Nov 1968). At Stanford, the sister of Bernardine Dohrn, a fugitive member of the militant group The Weather Underground, introduced a film "about urban guerrilla warfare in the United States" ("Weekend"). Films that placed the Vietnam War in the context of America's broader project of military and cultural imperialism were common. The UTK Black Studies Committee screened West Africa: Another Vietnam? (Granada TV 1968) in April 1970 to raise awareness of "the guerrilla struggle for independence in Portuguese Guinea" ("Continuous").

Such political films were prominently integrated into the sit-ins, teach-ins, forums, and workshops that typified campus antiwar activism. In 1966, Madison's Committee to End the War in Viet Nam [sic] combined a screening of Discussion in the Streets (details unknown), a film about demonstrations at the University of California-Berkeley, with readings of anti-war poetry ("Campus News"). Four screenings of Up Against the Wall (details unknown), a documentary about Columbia University's 1968 strike, were part of UTK's well-attended actions in the aftermath of the killings of four students at Kent State University in 1970. The events included a strike, memorial rallies, and "liberation classes" (Williams). Some scheduled screenings at Stanford were disrupted in the days after Kent State; one film society announced that it would not be showing Karel Reisz's Morgan: a Case for Suitable Treatment (1966), asserting that "God has given us other things to do." However, the Communications Department organized an ad hoc festival of student films to raise money for its strike projects as well as Stanford's delegation to Washington ("Campus Roundup" 4 May 1970; Weber "Films"). In a reflection of the splintering of the student movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s into a variety of issue- or identity-based factions, the latter years of the period under investigation saw a flowering of groups and film screenings devoted to women's and gay liberation as well as environmentalism.

The use of film for political ends was largely but not entirely limited to left-wing groups. Although right-wing student organizations (e.g., Young Americans for Freedom, the John Birch Society, and local Conservative Club chapters) did not play a significant role in campus film exhibition at any of the case study sites, sources suggest that they were, perhaps not surprisingly, most active at the two southern institutions. They showed primarily anti-communist films such as The Red Sell and The Red Myth (dirs. and years unknown) ("Campus Calendar" 16 Apr 1964). In some cases the films they exhibited explicitly addressed the left-wing unrest on America's campuses, as in the UTK Conservative Club's round-the-clock screenings of The Berkeley Revolution (details unknown), a documentary "about the Communist impact on America's college campuses" that the group boasted was "authenticated by a report of the California State Senate Committee on Un-American Activities" ("Film to Show"). Anti-Communist films were occasionally supplemented by other conservative polemics--for example, a filmed version of a Ronald Reagan speech on the "welfare state" {Beacon 3 Feb 1972).

However powerful documentaries may have been as political tools, traditional narrative features still composed the majority of films exhibited on campuses. And although these films did not enjoy the 'factual,' 'real-life' impact of documentaries, students were still keen to identify and exploit what they saw as overt or hidden ideological slants and their relevance to the issues facing youth culture. The Madison Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) paired a "message" film with an opportunity to support social activism when it showed Mervyn LeRoy's I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), a controversial, left-wing Hollywood film about socioeconomic inequality and injustice, "in an effort to raise money for further projects, such as a possible leafleting of the football field during the Homecoming game" ("SDS Sets Protest"). Emory's first Black Film Festival, held in May 1974, featured the Senegalese film Black Girl (Sembene 1966), which was advertised as a stark portrayal of "the apathy of the French toward the formerly dependent blacks who are asking for their rightful share of human dignity," as well as Burn! (Pontecorvo 1969), a film about a slave revolt ("UCB to Offer"). Films with anti-war and other humanist subjects were perennial choices for campus film screenings and were often promoted as such, as when UTK's Pi Delta Phi advertised Rene Clement's Les Jeux Interdits as an "Academy Award winning anti-war film" ("Frat" 2).

Political films could be used in activist-oriented and polemical ways, but they could also be reframed in order to subvert their explicit messages. On at least two occasions, Stanford groups (including the Law School Film Society) showed Richard Nixon's 1952 Checkers Speech as an unintentionally hilarious piece of political theater alongside comedie films including Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck cartoons and Lenny Bruce's stand-up act (Daily 1 Nov 1973; 10 May 1973). (Figure 1). Even the names of and advertisements for film series could become ironic political commentary. One Stanford organization called its weekly cinematic offerings the "Richard M. Nixon Memorial Film Series" and charged an admission fee of "One (1) inflated American dollar" ("Campus Roundup" 20 Feb 1970).


Variable Articulations

The varying contexts in which Ten Days that Shook the World (1927, more commonly called October), Sergei Eisenstein's re-enactment of the Russian revolutions of 1917, appeared at the four case study sites provides insight into the various ways that "political" films were appropriated for campus exhibition. At UWM, it was shown in spring 1971 as part of MovieTime I, the more esoteric and art film-inclined of the campus's two official film series (Cardinal Spring Registration). The UTK History Department and Center Film Committee co-sponsored Ten Days that Shook the World in January 1974 as part of a "History Series" that also included 1812 (Napoleon in Moscow) (details unknown) and The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo 1966) (Beacon 24 Jan 1974). The Emory Cinema Wednesday series offered the film as part of a double feature, pairing it with an Edward R. Murrow-narrated documentary entitled The Burning of Leningrad (details unknown) ("Cinwed" 7).

The 600 Stanford students who saw the January 1966 screening of Ten Days that Shook the World (jointly programmed by the University Film Series and a Communication Department seminar) were provided a unique opportunity because of Alexander Kerensky's involvement with Stanford's Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank. The exiled veteran of the February anti-tsarist revolution attended the film and spoke afterwards; the event's moderator introduced Kerensky's speech as "a report from the villain of the piece." Kerensky called the film "pure fantasy," arguing that, "The conspirators created a legend that I was a member of the conspiracy and I betrayed my friends out of fear of the Soviets. I understood what happened, but this was the beginning of the decomposition of the democratic powers" (Lang 1). The film appeared on the Stanford campus at least eight additional times between 1965 and 1972.

The ubiquitous exhibition of Charlie Chaplin films provides a good illustration of how different groups appropriated and exploited films and film exhibition for different purposes. In 1965, the UWM Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Hillel Club co-sponsored a classic Hollywood double bill to raise money to send medical supplies to Civil Rights activists; among the two-reelers accompanying the features were Chaplin's Easy Street (1917) and a W.C. Fields picture ("Sat. Nite" 9) (Figure 2). The Stanford SDS exploited the political nature of some Chaplin films themselves in addition to their popular appeal. A1969 announcement of an upcoming SDS-sponsored double feature of The Great Dictator (1940) and Modern Times (1936) notes that:

there is another aspect to Chaplin--the politics he developed during his life [...] Tomorrow night the Stanford community will see another side of Chaplin's politics. The Left has often spoken of the oppressive nature of American society and the key role that labor must play in remaking it. Modern Times is Chaplin's statement of this theme. ("SDS Sets Chaplin")

The unidentified writer then asserts, "[a]lthough I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them" and warns of "cells" that wish "to turn America into a fascist state." In contrast to this politicization of Chaplin and his works is the Madison screening of a Chaplin anthology as one of the Banana Film Society's "McMovies." (Figure 3). It would appear that this enterprising film group formed a partnership with a local McDonald's restaurant whereby discounted tickets for the Society's films, including Chaplin works, were available exclusively at the restaurant ("McMovies").


In multiple instances, controversies over campus film screenings led to heated debates about universities' policies and the role of students in shaping them. A clear example of this phenomenon occurred at UTK in 1971, when a scheduled screening of Joseph Strick's 1967 adaptation of James Joyce's novel Ulysses was abruptly cancelled due to concerns over the film's "obscene" content (specifically, its use of some of the novel's profanity). What is perhaps most notable about the incident is how swiftly administrators acquiesced to students' demands for greater control over what films would and could be shown on their campus.


The screening of Ulysses was to take place on 31 January as part of a series programmed by the Speech and Theater Department. Spectators encountered a hand-scrawled note announcing that Marcel Camus's Black Orpheus (1959) would be shown instead, with no further explanation of the cancellation (Robinson and Burnette). It soon became clear that the decision had come from the chair of the Speech and Theater department. Although the Daily Beacon never endorsed an "official" reason for the cancellation, the consensus was that administrators were concerned about showing in the newly instated Clarence Brown Theater a film that risked "the possibility of offending a large donor of the University"--particularly after having received negative responses to a screening of the compilation shock film Dynamite Chicken (Ernest Pintoff, 1971) two weeks earlier ("Who is to Blame?").


Word quickly spread that Ulysses was yanked from exhibition "at the last minute because it was considered obscene" and "a little heavy for a student audience" ("Banned"; Waite). An unsigned editorial in the Daily Beacon the Monday following the aborted screening called the department's action "poor judgment" and drew parallels between the Ulysses cancellation and other ongoing controversies at UTK:

Telling students what films they may see is comparable to telling them how long to wear their hair. An even closer comparison could be drawn between last weekend's 'Ulysses' incident and the closed speaker policy formerly enforced on this campus. The students won an open speaker policy through the courts and a group is now suing the University for an open campus policy. It will be regrettable if the administration does not correct the current situation before the students feel they must go to the courts for an open film policy as well. ("Banned")

On the same page of the Daily Beacon was a cartoon about the incident, depicting a winged-and-haloed administrator (most likely Chancellor Charles Weaver) standing between a student and a person holding a reel of film labeled Ulysses. The caption reads, "Thus Sayeth the Lord." In a letter to the editor, a law student called for administrative accountability, demanding that those responsible for the cancellation "stop hiding in the darkness of anonymity and bureaucracy. It is time students demand to know what groups are making the decisions on this campus and in whose interest they are being made" (Broemel).

Condemnations from student organizations, faculty members, and individual disgruntled spectators continued to pour in over the next several days. The campus chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a declaration calling the suppression of Ulysses "an insult to every member of the University community" and "yet another unconscionable attempt at thought control in the tradition of vetoing speakers and closing the campus to non-students!" ("Committee Asked"). SGA President John Smith called a student body meeting to discuss the incident, ultimately issuing a unanimously approved resolution demanding "an end to all forms of censorship on this campus." Smith called the cancellation a "dangerous precedent," arguing that

The censorship of movies on this campus is the epitome of in loco parentis and is a direct affront to both academic freedom and to the intelligence of the student body. When an administrator uses his personal discretion, without any student consultation, to censor or otherwise change scheduled activities, he is stepping beyond the bounds of his position [...] They may have the power, but they do not have the right, (quoted in Adkinson "SGA")

Although it seems clear that President Ed Boling and other upper-level administrators played no direct role in the decision to cancel Ulysses, they did initially defend it (Irby). As a result, students slammed them along with the Speech and Theater department for "censoring art films." One asked, "Gentlemen of the Hill [an area at the center of campus], when will you drop this paternalistic hypocrisy?" (Migliara)

Students' sentiments expressed in the Daily Beacon clearly indicate that they saw the regulation of campus film exhibition in the context of other changes in university life being negotiated at UTK and around the nation. A week after the controversy erupted, the Beacon announced a program named Project Feedback, which offered students, faculty, and administrators a forum for discussing topics such as "the Student Government Association, residence hall regulations, censorship and how a student can complain about a teacher" ("'Feedback'"). Responding to reports that a theater professor had found Ulysses obscene, one student wrote,

That's his opinion [...] My list of obscenities includes the Knoxville Journal; government lying to the people; George Wallace; rich old men sending naive young boys to die to 'save face' for the old men who desire re-election; "I Love Lucy" TV re-runs; film censorship; the trials of the Knoxville 22; et al. (Waite)

He also echoed the persistent cries for students' intellectual and social agency on campus: "I don't know if the thing is heavy or dull or erotic or whatnot. But I'd like to find out for myself. I feel, moreover, I have that right" (Waite).

The solution that students proposed was simple. They wanted representation on the committee that decided film programming at Clarence Brown, along the lines of their representation on the University Center Film Committee (UCFC), which programmed UTK's major film series (Adkinson "Smith"). The SGA threatened "direct action, which could cause the University great embarrassment" if its demands were not met (Adkinson "John"). Such actions proved unnecessary, however. After an initial meeting with the SGA, President Boling promised "there would be a significant student voice in the scheduling of films at the Clarence Brown Theater." Within days, the administration declared that the UCFC would take over the official Clarence Brown film series--and also that "any administration-approved University agency will be permitted to use the Clarence Brown Theater to present a film or film series" ("Few Limits"). The brief but heated controversy thus came to a markedly anticlimactic end when, later that month, a day of continuous screenings of Ulysses programmed by the Center Committee drew "only 793 of an expected 4,000 persons." Committee co-chair Kitty Welch posited, "The issue was over censorship, but not over the movie itself" ("Attendance").

In retrospect, it appears that the first report of the Ulysses cancellation, which characterized it as an exercise in "poor judgment," was likely the most accurate. Administrators proved themselves unopposed in principle to the film's campus exhibition--at worst, they wanted to keep potentially offensive films out of a particular venue. Nevertheless, the Ulysses controversy dominated the UTK press for a full two weeks, provoked the resignation of a Speech and Theater faculty member, and inspired far-reaching polemics on censorship, academic freedom, and power relations among administrators, students, and academic departments. Particularly remarkable was the speed and cogency with which UTK students took up the banner as well as the ease with which they placed it into the context of other contemporary youth causes. Equally remarkable, however, was the apparently cooperative and smooth nature of the resolution to this crisis. The Ulysses controversy suggests that film was a sphere in which administrators seemed relatively untroubled with ceding to student demands and granting them relative autonomy. Remarkably similar debates took place at UWM in 1972 following a campus strike that resulted in a proposed reduction of student influence on various university committees, including the Union Film Committee. And similarly, these debates ended with students keeping their voice in choosing films for MovieTime, the campus's largest film series ("Film Committee").


In this essay I have identified broad trends in campus film culture, a phenomenon that helped campuses deal with their acute growing pains in the 1960s and 1970s. While no doubt closely connected to film societies and the rise of film studies, campus film exhibition extended and proved influential far beyond these domains. From this finding, I argue that campus film exhibition is fundamentally tied not just to the development of cinephilic culture (epitomized by the film society), but also to another marginal domain of film culture. This domain is made up of the "non-art [...] texts and venues" that Charles Acland has recently termed "useful cinema":
   motion pictures have long circulated for
   instructional, scientific, promotional,
   community and religious purposes
   [...] This 'useful cinema' of institutionally
   functional deployments of moving
   image materials exploited the relative
   mobility of the cinematic apparatus, and
   with it the conversion of sundry locations
   into screening sites. (151-152)

In making cinema 'useful' for their varied purposes, students and other campus citizens forged a radical plurality of articulations between films, on the one hand, and discourses and actions (on campus and beyond), on the other. As significant as the films programmed were the ends to which they were directed--and how they were framed for and by audiences in the context of particular screenings and social events. Campus exhibition fostered, for a brief period, an alternative, bottom-up film culture unparalleled in its flexibility, diversity, and accessibility.

Further, the vibrancy of campus film culture invites a useful revision of the notion of 'student activism' in the 1960s and 1970s. The term has become almost solely associated with student radicalism in the form of sit-ins, strikes, marches, and violent encounters with authority, all of which, historians of these movements readily admit, were confined to a minute portion of the student population nationwide (see, for example, Heineman; Rudy; Spann). What gets lost here are some less high-profile, but no doubt significant, actions of this era's college students, most of them the first in their families to gain access to a college education: their thoughtful engagement in new spheres of campus life; their sense of intellectual curiosity and critical inquiry; their impulse to study subjects, such as film, that had previously been marginalized in the academy; and their desire for a voice and agency in their educations and universities. It is these forms of activism and of media citizenship - that we recover by examining campus film exhibition.

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Bruner, Deedee. "Flicks, Fog Spark Fun." The Emory Wheel (17 Oct 1969): 7.

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