Most Bowdoin professors' shelves sag under the weight of books accumulated over years of study. But in Tricia Welsch's office in Sills Hall, you will find only movies. Lots and lots of movies. Bowdoin's one and only film professor has taught courses on everything from Alfred Hitchcock to biopics to crime films. The Orient sat down with Welsch to talk dog-running, Gloria Swanson, and the movies' power to banish death.
Orient: You got your undergraduate, M.A. and PhD. degrees in English. So how did you go from studying British Romantic poets to film?
Tricia Welsch: I started taking tickets at the campus movie series [at the University of Virginia] and got addicted. I couldn't leave. Eventually it became clear to me that I was not nearly as interested in writing about the long, unfinished poems of Byron and Keats and Shelley, and so I asked if it would be okay to write a film dissertation and people said yes, so I did?on gangster films.
O: Have you ever felt the urge to pick up a camera and start filming yourself?
W: No. Never. It's not on my mind at all. The urge that I have is to edit something somebody else has done, because I'm really much more interested in watching things take shape from raw material. I enjoy that enormously in the same way I enjoy editing written material; I like putting things together in different ways. But I am the lousiest photographer in the world, and I have no desire to shoot my own movies.
O: You're writing a biography of classic Hollywood starlet Gloria Swanson?
W: ?Star, madam, not starlet.
O: ...She probably said that, didn't she?
W: She would have.
O: When can we read it?
W: Don't call me on it. Biographies are notoriously time-consuming. Some time in the next few years.
O: And what's the coolest thing you've dug up about Gloria?
W: Her indefatigable curiosity about life and her energy for accomplishing more in any area that took her fancy. And she was just fascinated by everything and never let a lack of knowledge stop her.
O: So, tell us about Hazel.
W: Hazel's my puppy, Craz-el, for short. She's a 16-month-old lab mix who loves everybody and has a particular Bowdoin student friend, Krystle Allen '08, whom she adores. Krystle takes her for runs, thank God. It tires her out.
O: I know your specialty is the silent movie era. What draws you to these films?
W: There's an enormous sense of discovery that's possible in the period...The next film you're about to see that you've never seen is the most promising one and the most exciting one; it's like cracking the spine on a book you're anticipating is going to be great. I love that feeling. And silent cinema always offers that. And I love the fact that those people are dead and gone and they still live on the screen. That is so incredibly moving to me. One of [film inventor Thomas] Edison's assistants said that we "banished death," and it's true. Those people are alive.
O: If you could save only one movie from utter and total destruction in all its forms, what would it be?
W: Citizen Kane. I don't think it's the greatest film ever made, it's not even a favorite, frankly, but I admire it enormously. I think it demonstrates a lot about the possibilities of film, so that if you only had one guide, it offers an open door.
O: What's you favorite piece of film memorabilia?
W: My Terrence Malick autograph. He is the director of one of my very favorite films, Days of Heaven, and I met him in Texas when he happened to be in the research library where I was working. Eventually, when I realized who it was, I went back and stammered my appreciation, professed myself a fan, and embarrassed myself very thoroughly and then could not carry on a normal conversation with the guy. Afterwards the librarian and I slipped one of his [book request] tickets. It has the name of the book and his name, "Terry" Malick. I took it away and had it framed.
O: If you could resurrect one actor to star in the next best thing, who would it be?
W: I'd love to have more great performances by Marlon Brando. I miss him. And I'd love to have more great performances by Greta Garbo. Oh, and Chaplin. Garbo, Chaplin, Brando. All three.
O: Okay. Lightning round?Ebert or Roeper?
O: Cary Grant or Clark Gable?
W: Oh, Cary Grant. Definitely Cary Grant.
O: Movies: art or entertainment?
O: Popcorn: buttered or unbuttered?
O: Kill Bill 1 or 2?
W: I haven't seen either of them.
O: Are you kidding?
W: He's [Tarantino] overrated.
O: Is Titanic overrated?
W: Oh yeah.
O: So...do we really have to stay all the way to the end of the credits?
W: We absolutely have to stay 'til the end of the credits.
O: Why should people take film seriously?
W: Because everything in our culture tells you not to. Whatever we're not encouraged to look at too closely may be really revealing. Film is something that is so connected to our leisure activities that it's hard to take it seriously, but doing so does not deprive you of any leisure time enjoyment; it enhances your enjoyment?the way knowledge enhances your pleasure in all things in life.