Michael Kerbel’s office is a shrine to motion pictures. The walls are obscured by aged movie posters for films like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Summer of ’42.” His desk is consumed by monitors and players for every video format format from VHS to Laserdisc. Stacks of tapes and disks clutter the side tables.
This is all appropriate because Kerbel’s office is in the Yale Film Study Center in the basement of Whitney Humanities Center on Wall Street. He is the director of Yale’s own little version of Blockbuster, albeit one without glossy images of Julia Roberts and Pokemon lining the walls.
Eighteen years after its inception in tandem with the Undergraduate Film Studies Department, the center currently has over 4,500 titles, ranging from obscure foreign documentaries to new releases still playing at York Square Cinemas, like “Memento.”
New this year are extended hours of operation, a searchable online database, listings cross-referenced on Orbis and a greater commitment to the expansion of the DVD collection.
The center’s main purpose is to serve the needs of the Film Studies Department and its students, but the academic scope of the center’s capability has widened to complement the departments of American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, African American Studies, and Art History.
New this year is the addition of the Film Study Center to the Orbis search engine. If perusing by subject, such as “African-Americans and television broadcasting,” one can call up film listings along with book card catalogue entries for doing research.
Students can come in to view films at booths — the center is equipped with nine VHS machines, two Laserdisc players and four DVD players. There’s also a screening room featuring a 25-inch television and multi-format VHS player for tapes in the non-U.S. format.
One can also view 16mm format programs like the safety films they showed us in kindergarten. Classes frequently use a seminar room, and Kerbel himself will teach a course in the spring titled “Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Martin Scorcese,” one of two courses he rotates teaching each year.
Kerbel’s dedication and pride in the center is evident upon first examination of the premises. He is quick to affirm that despite its vast collection, the center does not function like the public rental spaces students may be accustomed to.
“We’re not the kind of place you can come in and browse and expect to find 50 copies of a new release,” Kerbel said. “Our immediate aim is to support the academics, but if people are entertained, we don’t mind when that happens too.”
While “Bridget Jones’ Diary” may not be a “guaranteed or it’s free” rental option, a quick perusal of the online database at www.yale.edu/filmstudy, searchable by title, director, year (or range of years), country, format or content, shows one can rent one of two copies of the 1965 Algerian film “The Battle of Algiers” or the Kyrgyzstani produced “Beshkempir, the Adopted Son” from 1998.
That is not to say new releases and comedy hits are not in stock. “Dr. T and the Women” is available on DVD, as well as the Oscar nominated “Chocolat” and “Traffic.”
The Film Study Center works closely with both the Yale Film Society and Information Technology Services, and Kerbel says partnership with these organizations has vastly aided the growth of the center’s collection and its organization.
The auditorium upstairs in the Whitney Humanities Center is the only one in New Haven to feature stereo surround sound, allowing both the Film Society and Film Studies Program to screen 35 mm wide-screen films with quality sound, since they are ideally meant to be shown. The auditorium’s 240 hard blue plastic chairs, however, may be a source of complaint to some.
A fee of three dollars per night per title is required to borrow a film, and not all of the center’s library is available. Currently all DVD format and some rare VHS titles are only offered for on-site screenings, which can readily be arranged. A weekend rental, Friday through Sunday night, costs only three dollars, however. Late fees of five dollars a day are used to deter negligent renters.
A semester pass can be purchased for $40. All fees must be paid through the use of a Yale charge account. No cash, credit or checks are accepted. On-site screenings are free of charge.
New hours are:
M-W 9am-10:50 p.m.
Th 9am-8:50 p.m.
F 9am-4:50 p.m.
S 2pm-8:50 p.m.