Film studies honors founder

Students from the School of Art and the School of Public Health joined forces to open an exhibit this week that promotes awareness of health issues among parents, teenagers and Spanish speakers.
Students from the School of Art and the School of Public Health joined forces to open an exhibit this week that promotes awareness of health issues among parents, teenagers and Spanish speakers. Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

Former Yale professor and experimental filmmaker Standish Lawder GRD ’67 returned to campus Wednesday to receive the Film Studies Program’s annual award for a talented member of the field.

Over the course of the day, the Film Studies Program held several events at the Whitney Humanities Center to honor Lawder, who was one of the first to teach and develop the film studies program at Yale in the late ’60s, before the program was officially approved in 1987. The primary event, attended by about 40 students and faculty members, featured a screening of five of Lawder’s short films accompanied by an hour-long question and answer session and was followed by an honorary awards dinner with members and affiliates of the film studies program. In a talk earlier that afternoon, Lawder presented a screening of cubist films by other filmmakers and discussed the relationship between film and art.

The five films Lawder presented, created in the early ’70s, made use of variation in lighting and music to add nuance to short clips running on repeat. In a 20-minute film called “Corridor,” the camera captures a naked girl standing at the end of a long, narrow hallway from varying distances and under changing lighting conditions. Lawder set the black-and-white clips to music to structure the film, as there is no speaking or easily discernible narrative.

During the question and answer segment of the event, Lawder said he personally constructed devices similar to printers that allowed him to create film negatives for movies out of previously shot clips.

Many of the ideas Lawder discussed during the talk touched on stylistic issues of filmmaking that were prevalent during the time period when he created the featured films and began to develop the program. Both Lawder and several audience members said that one of the defining features of experimental film in the early ’70s was a sense of fun prevalent in the films shown.

“I love his sense of humor,” said Susan Bloch. “He manages to make experimental films fun to watch.”

In “Dangling Participle,” Lawder arranged a collage of audio and visual clips from sexual education classes. Every few minutes, the clips cycle back to a woman explaining that “sex is a part of life” and that “the size of the penis has nothing to do with sexual ability.”

Several audience members interviewed felt the details that Lawder revealed during the talk added to how they understand Yale’s film program.

“I came because [Lawder] started the program, and it’s really cool to see what was going on in the field when Film Studies was established as its own program,” Jason Douglass ’13 said.

Lawder is currently a visual arts professor at the University of California, San Diego.

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