This story is the 5th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Sodium Pentothal.
Dear Prof. J——
For some time, I’ve tried reaching you through the contact info listed on your course syllabus but haven’t been successful. I searched and found this mailing address for you. I hope it’s still good and you get this. I hope you haven’t completely disappeared.
If you don’t remember me, I’m the woman who sat in the back row of your “Early 21st Century Film Cinematography” class last fall. I had blond hair with pink streaks and was probably the only one in the class not a film major (bearded John, who sat next to me, once said I should’ve been a slasher-film casualty). I probably always looked sleepy but that’s because I worked nights at a 24-hour café. On final exam day, I was the last one to finish. I hadn’t really studied for that exam (that B- was a miracle!) because I was burned out by that point and really all I could think about was school ending, the holidays, and just chilling.
Anyway, that last day we ran into each other outside as you were leaving. We went for some drinks after. I knew something was not right with you that day. You weren’t the person I’d seen all semester. But you loosened up with some drinks (dark beers to my vodka tonics). The day was cold and windy and snow was blowing sideways. We talked film, your passion, and poetry, mine. Around seven o’clock, I had to go. I could tell you were a little tipsy. Then you told me about what happened earlier that day, about how the board members interrogated you, questioned your political opinions, the films you taught, even suggested you led a questionable lifestyle, then fired you. You were upset. I thought you were going to cry. I really had to go. Now I regret that I left you like that. It seems you’ve disappeared and things have gotten worse and you should’ve just come with me that night.
Just before the spring semester began, I wrote the board as well as sent an editorial to the campus paper protesting your termination. The editors there had heard about your firing (and the other firings) and were eager to make a statement. Then, a few days later, they called, left a message saying they couldn’t print my letter. I was aghast, and even more so when I picked up the paper and found zero talk about it. It was like nothing had ever happened.
It didn’t end there. After the spring semester, I’d attained enough credits for graduation. Except I applied to graduate and discovered I had a case of academic dishonesty pending against me. News to me! They refused to disclose the nature of the case, claiming “underlying circumstances.” They’d inform me when they were ready to proceed. It’s August and I’ve heard nothing. I’ve recently discovered there are 47 others at the college who are in similar academic limbo. Then, last week, I heard about what happened in San Francisco, as I’m sure you did. I immediately thought of you. There are stories of people being detained. There are soldiers patrolling streets. Things have been building for some time and I’ve just noticed. I’m scared.
On that last day I meant to tell you that your class moved me. That sounds dumb to say, but after your lectures on director Griffin and his fifth film, Revolution/Illusion, I felt a sense of films suddenly making sense. Just last week, I re-watched the film and cried. I still have notes from your lecture: “The night landscapes of fog, grainy darkness were otherworldly, the opposite of daylight settings, and this is where the action happened, this is where the island revolutionaries plot. The magician, he’s trying to stay out of the fray but they’re circling, they’re pulling him in. In the end, he finds common cause with the revolutionaries. He can’t help it.” That film is fifty years old and it speaks to me. I’ve watched some of his other films and they too resonate with current events.
This summer, I’ve been distraught. I’ve spent daytime hours in my room, writing poems. Now I realize how dumb that’s been. I’m 26. It doesn’t appear I’m getting a college degree. My parents at first told me to buck up and walk proud but they stopped saying that. They just let me sulk now. I think they realize the direction things have gone. If you see me now, you might not recognize me. I’ve shaved my head and have eliminated the pink. My father says I now look like a female soldier from one of those old sci-fi movies. He tells me to be careful whenever I go somewhere.
This coming Saturday night, there’s a meeting at X—. Writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, concerned citizens. We’re about 20 strong. We formed as a group to protest these abuses, what happened in California, the rise of new tyranny. If you get this, know you’re welcome to attend. They know about you. They would want to see you. If you don't attend, please, just let me know you're okay.
I’ll end here saying, I can’t help but think of the magician in Revolution/Illusion. He’s a relic from the past, like you said, wearing a red velvet coat with tails, black hat, and handlebar mustache. He performs old tricks like pulling rabbits from hats, sawing cocktail waitresses in half, hanging upside down and escaping from straitjackets. I can’t help but see you as him—you, the instructor before real live students, teaching about the old films. It sounds dumb but it feels like we’re all stepping through that fourth wall now. We’re all characters from films. We’ve turned a dark corner and there’s no going back.