Topics in American Cinema: Horror

Jul 2009

McKenna is a terrible self-absorbed professor whose old school ideas won't help you learn anything applicable towards today's topic in horror. His big lead-up ending for us was Frailty, which was supposed to cap an entire survey of horror films. His grading is arbitrary, more than any other professor at Columbia, and he's very limited in what he knows. Many times, a student would bring up references to Milton or Nietzsche and he was lost. He's too focused pushing his own theories rather than applying real film theory to his lectures. He gives a 90 minute history lesson before every film, which I would rather the 4 hours being a little more reined in to give more clips and then put them in context. He's not an easy grader, and participation won't matter except that you have to arrive for roll. Careful of his homophobic, racist, misogynistic rants.

Aug 2006

David McKenna’s energy level and enthusiasm for cinema is contagious. He hides his knowledge behind a laid back attitude but no matter how obscure a question, he understands and is able to answer in depth, with much more insight than I expected. Discussions include so many points of view and this always helped to make them interesting. One time he didn’t know an answer, so he actually said: “I don’t know.” I never heard a professor say: “I don’t know” before. But then he came in the next class with the answer. Professor McKenna’s approach to cinema is not a dry academic approach, yet even though there were a couple of films that I wouldn’t choose, his explanation of their place in cinematic history justified having to watch them. One unusual incident in the class came about due to the new generation gap. An undergrad pointed out an incident in Rosemary’s Baby: McKenna seemed genuinely puzzled that the question would even be an issue. But rather than belittle the question or dismiss it, he actually contemplated it and bought it up in the next class. He really wanted to know the students concern about the touchy subject. Mr. McKenna is actually eager to hear and learn from the students; this for me is a sign of a really unique teacher. He is not an easy grader; but he is open-minded about different perspectives and let you do re-writes. He takes care to point out inconsistencies in an argument and, even if he doesn’t agree with your point of view, he accepts it if you present the argument well. He doesn’t want you to parrot him but to think for yourself, no matter how outrageous the argument. If you want a dry academic course on film don’t take his class. Film major will learn a lot from him but even to take it as an elective, as I did, would be a smart idea. Professor McKenna knows a lot without being a know-it-all.