Ann Douglas

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Sep 2015

Ann Douglas is a powerhouse. Brilliant, quirky, and endlessly passionate about film noir, this class often felt like her attempt to somehow cram her lifetime love for the genre into concise two-hour sessions, complete with her original analysis as well as innumerable tangents about, say, the 5th camera crew's freedom in Fritz Lang's this-and-that. She begins the course by treating noir as a sort of historical entry in the arc of post-colonial scholarship, and this subversive bent shapes the rest of the class. It turns out film noirs are among the most powerful social critiques of American society in their time. Douglas is a radical in the truest sense of the word - she was one of the first women to bust into the academy and it's easy to see why. She is whip-smart, creative, and truly loves the material she is teaching. Getting the chance to tap into that energy in a tiny overpacked room in Philosophy (probably chosen because it has the only VHS player left at Columbia) each week was an honor, a pleasure, and a privilege. The class itself is run somewhat haphazardly - Douglas brightly solicits student feedback, but also cut students off mid-comment over half the time. This was kind of annoying, but also forgivable because it was always out of her exuberance about the topic. We never covered all the stuff she seemed to want to, perhaps because she ran class by occasionally looking down at a scrawled sheet of paper with all the amazing things she loved about the movie that week. Unstructured, yes, but it hardly mattered. This course is less about coming away with factoids about film noir and more about capturing the sense of it all - what one of her favorite readings calls the "specific sense of malaise" that pervades noirs. Combined with the post-colonial critique framing the movies, all the juiciness of noir gets drawn out so you can wrestle with its dark implications for the United States and modern society. She also loves when students come to her office hours, and will happily chat your head off about something you mention as well as help you with your paper if you want. Film Noir is a journey of learning in the truest sense. What a delight.

May 2013

Professor Douglas is that rare professor who invites you to think about what it really means to be a scholar. I'm sad that the class is over. But, perhaps most importantly, I'm humbled to have gotten the opportunity to work alongside her for an entire semester. The class, itself, was wonderful. It's obvious that every film and reading is chosen for a very specific reason, and Professor Douglas's ability to synthesize all of the course material into one coherently structured and intellectually engaging whole was what made the class even more impressive. Aside from that, though, Professor Douglas is just somebody you want around you. She's so passionate about these films, and it really does create a stimulating learning environment for everybody. Although technically retired, I hope that Professor Douglas continues teaching in some capacity. She's outstanding, and has really reaffirmed my love both for the academy and for Columbia.

Dec 2010

If Ann Douglas wasn't three times my age, I would propose to her. Actually, I still might. She is the best professor I had at Columbia. Period. Film noir with Ann was great because she's not really a film professor but someone who really, REALLY loves the movies she talks about (she has claimed to have seen exactly 250 films of the genre). Her lectures and discussions with the rest of the seminar were predicated on her deep love of these movies, and she taught them in a very non-film way. She also started the class with two novels from the 19th century—Heart of Darkness and Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde—which helped present her own theory on the origins of film noir that actually made quite a lot of sense. I had seen most of the movies we talked about, but not in the same way she described them. Best class I took at Columbia? You betcha

Jun 2008

Simply said, she's great. Very laid back, yet intellectually rigorous class. This isn't a typical film or English class- we get into discussions of feminism, Marxism, and imperialism to look at the themes of the films. Ann can talk for long periods of time without every meandering or missing a beat; she is a captivating professor. Yet she often prefers to hear our interpretations of the films. One of the few professors who is intellectually intimidating while nobody every felt uninvited to contradict her or offer their own analysis.

Jan 2006

Phenomenal. I loved every minute of this class, mostly because Ann Douglas has made it into a perfect mixture of her personal and academic interests. The honesty of Beat writing, the issues of post-WWII America, theoretical questions of language and meaning - they all come together in a class that's unlike anything else in the English Department, if not Columbia as a university. Not for everyone, of course - don't expect to have "traditional" seminar discussions, but you will learn quite a lot about the stylistics of Beat writing (if not the thematics), and for that group of writers it seems to be the most provocative way to break into the texts. Ann is an amazing professor and an amazing person (go to office hours if you can), completely willing to share her own life story and listen to yours, and kind and understanding to a fault. Anyone interested in 20th-century American literature and culture must take this class.

Feb 2005

Where to even start with this class and with this woman? First, if you haven't read her book "Terrible Honesty," stop reading this review right now and go out and read. Seriously. If you're interested in 20th century American culture, this book is absolutely essential. That being said, I could hardly fathom that "Terrible Honesty" was written by the same woman that taught The Beat Generation. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just that in her book, Douglas doesn't really give off the impression that she's any more OUT THERE than any other academic. During class though, she freely (and without student prompting) told extremely personal anecdotes. I'm not a prude, and I don't mean to say that I was offended by these personal anecdotes. Most of them were pretty funny, and some of them were incredibly touching, like Douglas talking about the death of a young child in the context of reading "Visions of Gerard" (which is about Kerouac's older brother who died when Kerouac was only 4). It was like having a class taught by your really cool aunt, not a pompous self-important Ivy League professor. If you're interested in Beat Literature, you should take this class. You'll learn that "On the Road" isn't Kerouac's best book. You'll learn that the Beats weren't just a bunch of guys who stayed up all night talking, abusing various substances, listening to bebop and saying, "Yeah, man." You'll learn instead that they had an intensely theoretical way of writing and that they give a powerful critique of postwar American society. You'll learn that along with the stuff everybody knows, they produced some really incredible work that'll knock you on your ass, if you've got a pulse (like Kerouac's "Big Sur"). Perhaps most importantly, you'll be exposed to this term that Douglas kept repeating over and over: "100% personal honesty." When they were at their best, it's the way the Beats lived their lives and wrote their books. It's the way that Douglas teaches the class (hence the personal anecdotes). It's how she'll try to get you to write the papers for the class. And, hopefully, it's something you can take with you from the class as you go out and live your life.

Nov 2003

Professor Douglas is fantastically knowledgeable about her subject, and the most interesting parts of class are those during which she travels on her frequent tangents concerning either the author's life or her personal (and quite quirky) background. Unfortunately, she is not very good at directing a discussion and the class does tend to drag. She very charming and obviously passionate, but often is not quite on the ball. It would probably be easy to get away without reading a single book, but why would you want to dissapoint someone who adores those texts so?

Dec 2001

Prof. Douglas is clearly and undeniably a brilliant woman. She is witty, funny, exciting, stimulating and engaging- until you attend class more than twice. Her appeal quickly fades under the fermenting realization that the class seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the title or perceived objectives. Two and a half hours of Prof Douglas will leave you amused, possibly a little enlightened, but mostly feeling like you just attended a communist indoctrination rally. Douglas is seriously left wing, and while she ever so apologetically reminds the class quite frequently that she truly is not trying to sway its views, there seems little other alternative in class other than to agree with her. Students who voice their opinions are very politely told, "hmmm, yes, interesting", and then Prof Douglas proceeds to tell them just how and why they are so very wrong. She is usually nice about it and is by no means a threatening or intimidating figure, but there is an air of stifled expression hanging constantly. The class consists of weekly student presentations (30min) followed by Prof. Douglass talking on every topic under the sun, including the one at hand, for about 1hour. she usually winds down and loses steam with about half an hour left in the 2.5 hour class at which point-"watch out!", because she begins to single out people for their opinions. Normally this would not be of any great concern, except that as mentioned no one manages to have a satisfactory opinion unless it makes no sense whatsoever and uses the same garbled, meaningless language the readings utilize. The reading list is massive, and mostly irrelevant. You'll either fall asleep trying to figure out what the authors are saying or wonder why it was quantum physics seemed so hard in comparison. The fact that Douglas herself admits the language is indirect "intellectual speak", doesn't help as she freely commented the authors "expect readers to each see different things in the works." There is no feedback from Douglas on student presentation and so no one can really determine what is expected when the only paper arrives at the end of the semester. Having said all this, it could be all ovelooked if anyone could figure out what in hell what is read and discussed has to do with the culture of the cold war.

Dec 2001

This class has been, by far, the best experience of my Columbia career. First off, Prof. Douglass is amazing - brilliant, articulate, interesting, straightforward and eccentric (but in the good, run home and tell your friends "you'll never believe what went on in class today" way). She has the greatest stories I have heard from a professor to date, from gossip on the Beats themselves to tales culled from her own life experience. You will find yourself wanting her to like you. You will look forward to class. She is also talented at creating animated discussions, while not tolerating mindless rambling. She is openminded, yet not one of those prof's who answers every remark with a "yes, that's interesting" - she will challenge you, without shooting you down unduly or harshly. And, of course, the syllabus is unbeatable, covering everything from predictable Kerouac and Ginsburg to Charlie Parker to the films Boys Don't Cry and Rebel Without a Cause. As a special bonus, the course includes visits from various guests, including Beat memoirist Joyce Johnson. This is a truly exceptional course and exceptional professor, and I recommend trying to gain admission to it by whatever means possible (you must write an essay explaining why you want to take it).

Jan 2000

Douglass is awesome; students really like her courses. She teaches this class in a very political way and has a very good perspective on race issues. She goes into a lot of post-colonial theory. The class only has student participation in discusson sections but the lectures are not boring.