Monday, October 31, 2005

The Fellini paper

During my stay in Seattle, I kept remembering one particularly embarrassing college experience. It had to do with a Comparative Literature class I took about the films of Federico Fellini. (Why was this a Comp Lit class? I have no idea.) During the class we watched all the early Fellini films and some of the later ones as well. The professor arranged for the films to be shown at the Neptune (back when it was still a rep house) on Tuesday evenings and we would discuss the films in class the next day. He would also sometimes show the films during class and point out interesting parts.

I loved this class. I'd never seen a Fellini film before, and I can't say I'm his most ardent fan, but as a huge film buff, I was completely enchanted with this way of looking at film. I'd never done it before and I really enjoyed it.

I went to talk to the professor about the paper I was writing on La Dolce Vita. I had a particular observation and I wanted to run it by him before starting the paper. When I got there I gave him my name--and he said, "Barab? Is that the same as Nathan Barab [not his real name] who did the music for Summertime [not the actual picture]?"

"Yes." I was stunned. I have one semi-famous movie business relative. He was the in-house musical director for a major studio for over twenty years. He worked on over 100 films starting in the 1930's and ending in the 1960's. He was my grandfather's uncle or cousin, I'm not sure which. He died in 1980, before I had a chance to meet him. His name appears on some of my favorite films from the 40's and 50's. It never fails to delight me when I see the family name on screen and I always look for it on films of that era. But until that day I had never, not once, met someone who recognized my last name because of Nathan Barab.

After I got over my shock, I told the professor about my idea for the paper. La Dolce Vita is an episodic film that toys with the themes of sin and redemption. I'd noticed that each episode began in the evening and ended at dawn. The professor said he hadn't noticed this and he seemed impressed by my observation. I wrote the paper and got a good grade.

By the end of the quarter I was flagging. I had just gone back to school after a quarter off and I was not back in the game. Going to class was no problem, doing the reading was fine, but actually turning in final papers? Too much. I didn't get the final paper for the Fellini class in by the due date and the quarter was ending.

I was acquainted with the TA for the class. He was friends with Amanda. He knew me, though I was fuzzy on who he was (a friend of Amanda's brother, I think). He was friendly towards me and we chatted from time to time during the quarter. When I didn't get the paper in on time, he called me. I told him I was still working on it. He said he could give me to the end of the weekend. He called me again on Sunday and needed the paper. He'd told the professor that he'd left my paper at home and would get it to him later. For whatever reason, he couldn't come to my house to get the paper (and why would he, though I remember feeling annoyed that he wouldn't come and fetch it). Instead, he gave me the address of the professor's house and I was supposed to leave the paper on his front porch in a manila envelope (without being seen, of course).

I finished the paper. It was crap.

I walked up University Way to his house. (Here is the path of my walk of shame.) It was less than ten blocks north of where I lived. I crossed the little bridge over Cowen Park, turned right on 63rd and walked past his house to make sure it was the right place. I turned back, tiptoed up to the porch, leaned the envelope against the front door and walked away as quickly as I could.

I was ashamed of myself. How could I have let things go so far? And why had the TA gone out on a limb for me? He saved me from failing or having to take an incomplete (if the professor were even willing to give one).

Why did that story keep coming to mind? From Mom's house in North Seattle, the bus I took went down the same street off of which the professor's house was located. It's not that I haven't passed that intersection many times, but on this last visit, it conjured up that memory. I have a feeling it is related to my complete lack of enthusiasm about work and inability to finish the easiest of tasks. Damn. At least I don't get graded at work (or do I?). Where's a nice TA with a crush on me when I need him to cover for me?

Grateful for: Fellini

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