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Provost Hanson: The future of theater and film studies at IU

By Karen Hanson
Executive Vice President and Provost, IU Bloomington

A little more than forty years ago, a young, aspiring classical pianist from St. Louis enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington to study composing and conducting.

On a whim, he took an acting class in what was then known as the Department of Speech and Theatre. Shortly thereafter, although he hadn't planned to audition, Kevin Kline was cast in his very first theatrical role, as the "bleeding sergeant" in a University Theatre production of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Karen Hanson

Karen Hanson, Executive Vice President and Provost, IU Bloomington

Print-Quality Photo

From that moment on, Kline had a passion for acting. He changed his major from music to theatre and went on to perform in many other IU productions. Subsequent to his years at IU, he has had a distinguished career on the professional stage, where he has been lauded as "the American Olivier." He has also had a thriving cinema career, appearing in nearly 40 films, including The Big Chill, Sophie's Choice, De-Lovely (a film that allowed him to make use of his piano skills in his portrayal of Cole Porter), and winning an Academy Award for his role in the comedy, A Fish Called Wanda.

Kevin Kline's story serves to illustrate not only the historic strength of IU's theatre program, which we celebrate today as we mark the beginning of these renovations, but also to highlight the longstanding connections between the world of cinema and the people who have studied, taught, and performed in this space.

Many other Indiana University alumni have made important contributions to the world of film. Two of them, Howard Ashman (who earned a master's degree in the Theatre Department), and Hoagy Carmichael (by whose likeness we have gathered today), penned a number of songs for films -- and both won Academy Awards for those efforts.

IU alumnus Steve Tesich of course won an Academy Award for the screenplay for Breaking Away, which is, perhaps, the most obvious and enduring connection of our campus to film. Tesich also wrote the screenplay for The World According to Garp and several other films.

And we're lucky to have celebrating with us today Bloomington's own Angelo Pizzo, the writer and producer whose work includes Rudy, The Game of Their Lives, and Hoosiers, a film nominated for two Academy Awards and named by both ESPN and USA Today as "the best sports film of all time."

Since its opening in 1941, the original Theatre and Drama building has drawn many distinguished visitors from the world of cinema. Film legends who have come to perform or lecture in the adjacent IU Auditorium have eagerly shared their expertise with IU theatre students. Hal Holbrook, who often brought his one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight," to the Auditorium, had a wonderful rapport with Indiana students and loved talking with them, as did the late screen legend Vincent Price, another frequent visitor to campus.

Price is, of course, most vividly remembered as the cinema's King of Horror, although less than a third of the more than one hundred films he made in his fifty-five-year career as an actor were horror movies.

In a 1984 interview with Keith Michael, the former chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama, Price praised Indiana University's strengths in the arts.

"Indiana has a head start," Price said. ". . . Its fame is incredible . . . Its opera school is . . . the best in America. Its art museum (has) enormous collections. Its library is one of the best in the country. Its art school (and) its drama (program are great strengths.)"

The renovations for which we break ground today will enhance our fine theatre program by providing additional classroom and studio space.

These renovations will also add the Indiana University Cinema to Vincent Price's list of great artistic strengths on this campus.

And Price was prescient: the IU Cinema also "has a head start."

IU has a long and well respected history of film studies, led over the years by distinguished scholars including Harry Geduld, Peter Bondanella, James Naremore, and under the current leadership of senior scholars such as Greg Waller, Barbara Klinger, Antonio Vitti; and one of the main functions of this cinema will be to serve as an exhibition space for IU film courses.

I also want to underscore how widespread the serious study of film is in our campus curriculum. Virtually all of our many language and literature departments include the study of film in some of their classes. Even in a department such as my academic home, Philosophy, that might seem focused on perennial problems going back to the ancients, we have faculty, including me, who study and publish on this relatively new art.

The remarkable film holdings of our campus also give the Cinema a head start in scholarship and teaching. These holdings include the David Bradley Film Collection. Comprised of nearly 4,000 16mm films, it is one of the most comprehensive film collections ever assembled by an individual collector. The collection spans the history of cinema in the United States and Europe.

Our campus holdings also include the Black Film Center Archives, a major collection of films by African-Americans from the 1920s to the present, and the 8,000 titles in the film archive of the Kinsey Institute.

In addition, the Lilly Library holds the papers of film legends Orson Welles, John Ford, and Peter Bogdanovich. These wonderful assets also give the cinema a head start.

The Indiana University Cinema promises to be the perfect venue for showcasing our film collections. It will also be used by IU departments and clubs for film festivals and will be a draw for film conferences.

Film is an integral part of our culture. Once complete, the Indiana University Cinema will be a magnificent venue, appropriately housed in a space with strong ties to the worlds of both theatre and film. This venue will allow our faculty and students -- indeed, all of us -- to examine how films are constructed, how they affect us, and what they can teach us about our society and the world around us.

My own most recent writing on film makes an argument about the role of some films in provoking and contributing to genuinely philosophical reflection on the conduct of life. One essay focuses most centrally on a particular film that I saw first more than forty years ago, as a young adolescent, a film whose power hit me then, a film that I've never forgotten. Now I am in a position, as I wasn't at fifteen, to bring to bear on a reading of that film Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and John Rawls, philosophic texts that can help us understand the film more fully. But I also believe that that film can be fruitfully brought to bear on a reading of the philosophic texts, that that film can help us better understand the import of Hobbes and Rousseau, Plato and Aristotle. Such is the power of this art, and we are delighted to be celebrating the opportunities for enjoyment and understanding this new facility will provide -- for both film and theater -- for all of us.