Alex Chambers: In one of her last year's teaching film studies, Alicia Kozma took her students to see Avengers: Infinity War. Spoiler alert, they watched a bunch of the characters die, including Spiderman.
Alicia Kozma: And I heard the loudest racking sobs.
Alex Chambers: It was one of her students.
Alicia Kozma: And then I looked to the student sitting next to me and she was holding her head in her hands crying.
Alex Chambers: She was not prepared.
Alicia Kozma: You don't want to invalidate their feelings, I mean like it's a movie, but I can say like, you know, Emily, that's Spiderman. They really can't kill Spiderman. You know, he's got another movie coming up this summer.
Alex Chambers: Alicia's had an abiding love of movies and movie theaters for decades. And you know what? The kids can still surprise you.
Alicia Kozma: I had never experienced that before. That level of really intense like visceral emotional connection.
Alex Chambers: Alicia Kozma, director of the IU Cinema, coming up on Inner States, right after this.
Alex Chambers: This is Inner States, from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. I'm Alex Chambers. I aired this conversation with Alicia Kozma in January but I wanted to come to it because Alicia and I had a great time talking and, I don’t know, I think it’s still pretty thought-provoking. Also the IU Cinema is into its current season, with great stuff going on as always. Check that out at cinema.iu.edu. All right. Here’s me from way back in January.
Alex Chambers: I came of age in the time when you could watch movies at home, but only if you rented them on VHS. I lived in a college town and there was this one rental place where the movies weren't organized by genre. Okay, you went downstairs and you could find your comedies, horror, action flicks, but on the main floor, it was all by director: Hitchcock, Scorsese, Woody Allen. It was hard for me to find what I was looking for. I'd never really thought about directors, but here's the thing, as I hung out there, getting to know the great authors of film, I don't remember a section for a single female director. Not to say they weren't there, but they were definitely overshadowed. The fact that women's work has been overshadowed in the film industry, is not in itself news, but highlighting the particular women and the particular ways women's work in film is overlooked, that's still an urgent project. And it's one of the projects Alicia Kozma has been working on in her career as a scholar and curator of film. Alicia Kozma is the incoming director of the Indiana University Cinema, the art house cinema here on the Bloomington Campus at the university. I'm excited to have Doctor Kozma here to talk about women and work in film, her plans for the cinema and loving movies beyond all reason. Alicia Kozma, welcome to Inner States.
Alicia Kozma: Thank you so much, Alex. I'm so excited to be here.
Alex Chambers: So, I want to start with thinking about some of your research. When we go to the movies, we might think about the work that went into directing and producing the film we're watching. We don't pay as much attention to what it took to make that film available for us to see it in that theater. You've been paying attention to that work, though, and you've found that women identified people are generally paid less and more likely to face harassment in their jobs. And this is in jobs in relatively prestigious and quote unquote enlightened industries, non-profit theaters for art films. So, what struck you when you were studying this?
Alicia Kozma: Well, I should start by saying my findings are not unfortunately particularly unique to women that work in any non-profit organization or any entity that's set up along non-profit lines. Right, there are a lot of theaters that aren't necessarily non-profits, but they are set up in form and function, like a non-profit that has that corresponding legal status. What was interesting to me, as someone who, I occasionally call myself like a professional movie theater ghost, because I would just haunt movie theaters as long as I possibly could and hang out there forever. So, as someone that loves movie theaters, works in movie theaters, and really cares about them, it mattered to me personally as well as like scholarly, to see what was happening in terms of women's labor in movie theaters, because this is not research that has happened before. So, while my research corresponds to women identified individuals that work in like other areas like this, this was the first time it had taken place in like a non-profit art house environment. And, you hit on the immediate complication, is that these are supposed to be quote unquote enlightened, some might say liberal, however we want to determine that space is. And you still see the same problems kind of over and over again that you would anticipate in much less self reflexive work environments.
Alicia Kozma: But what really surprised me, as as someone who has worked in non-profit theaters and in like non-profit, just like regular non theatrical organizations, is the level of awareness that these workers had of how much they were doing for how little they were doing it for. It wasn't a surprise to anybody. There wasn't something that was being uncovered before their eyes. They knew. They're aware of essentially the level of their labor exploitation. And that's the tensest part of the whole process, because almost to an interview, they would say I know this is happening, but I also know how much this theater, this film, this community, this organization matters to me. And I don't know how to negotiate those two things, right. So, it's this really like, this bifurcation of like I am very aware of what's happening to me as a person, but I am also aware of my ethics and my ideological position in relationship to this organization, but I don't know how to deal with those two things in conjunction with one another. So, in other work environments I've been in, that level of like self awareness and like reflexiveness about someone's work situation, really has not always been there, but it was really there.
Alicia Kozma: And I think it compounded the issue, because it's essentially asking these workers to say I know I'm important, just like a person, as a body, as a contributor to my organization, but at what level do I say my compensation, my work life, my bodily integrity is more important than the mission of this organization, or is more important than the vision that are board or our donors may have for us. It's really hard for people, particularly people who are artistically motivated, ethically or ideologically motivated, to balance their needs with the needs of the organization that they're committed to. And it was the most surprising that that I found. Some of the workers I talked to, would start to have these realizations. I remember having a conversation with a worker at a theater who is telling me about the multiple times she's been harassed by invited guests and some of them quite high profile. And she was saying, now that I'm repeating these stories to you, I'm realizing that if I told these things in succession to a friend of mine, I would tell us to quit her job immediately, but I've never thought about quitting my job.
Alicia Kozma: And she goes on, I even oftentimes feel bad about repeating these stories because I feel like I'm talking poorly about these people. And I'm like these people that harassed you, and in one instance stalked you to order of protection level. So yeah, it's that disconnect that I think is one particularly built into a non-profit mindset in general. Right, if we think about mission-oriented non-profits really broadly, theaters and otherwise, the goal of most non-profits is to put themselves out of business. We have a problem, we're trying to solve this problem, we're going to do anything we can to solve this problem and put ourselves out of business, right. Theaters are different. Theaters, in a lot of ways, particularly art house theaters, like their problem is making the world better, right. So it's how much am I giving of myself to this organization to make the world better through film and artistic culture. And how much of myself can I reasonably expect to be protected by my organization, or how much of myself do I feel like I'm even allowed to ask to be protected by my organization.
Alicia Kozma: I also think there's a particularly gendered aspect to the work. I think that women workers are often made to feel like, or kind of acculturated into this idea, that giving of themselves is somehow a component of their job, a type of gendered martyrdom in like professional work settings, somehow makes them a better worker. And this is not like an individual phenomenon, I think it's part of like gendered labor as a whole. And it's I think really highlighted when you think about art house theaters who oftentimes have really small staffs and people do multiple jobs and you're working with the same people over and over again. It necessarily just becomes a really fruitful microcosm to see all of these issues kind of bubbling up to the surface.
Alex Chambers: One thing that I was thinking about as I was reading this article of yours, especially sort of at the end as you were talking about these dilemmas and the problem that you were out just talking about of loving your work. And having fairly recently been a grad student, I was thinking about this with regard to the academic labor market as well, and the fact that 60% of teaching is done by non tenured track people. I think a third of that group make less than $25,000 a year. And so it's a very similar problem of this like sort of loving your work, and being mission driven and being in this creative field. But there's also, I think, a distinct dilemma in the art houses and these small non-profits, which is that at universities, it still can be hard for adjuncts to come together as a group, because they're not necessarily meeting each other and getting to know each other. But, in these small staffs, and there aren't even that many art houses in the country, right, it's even harder, I would think to somehow bring together a group of people to do something.
Alicia Kozma: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. There's just not that many independent art house theaters. They all have small staffs, many of them have primarily part time staff. So, I think that's another good correlation to the kind of adjunct crisis in academia. But they're also out there on their own. There's no umbrella organization, there's no kind of trade organization that can bring them together on a regular basis. I think to your point about adjuncts though, one of the things that I think advocates in the art house world have learned from the adjunct crisis in higher education, is that it's hard to change something if people don't actually know it's a problem. And so once there became this movement in academia for adjuncts and others to actually talk about what a problem relying on this like precarious and exploited, underpaid labor was, it became just easier to talk about, I think. Well, we know these things are messed up, but we also need to be telling everybody else they're messed up too, because that's really step one, yeah. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: Have you been concerned about, or interested in thinking about these material conditions of labor in film forever? How did that come about?
Alicia Kozma: I wouldn't say it has been forever, but it certainly started when I noticed the films that I was watching, just in my regular life, were primarily all directed by the same people, or the same types of people. And there was a point where, I mean that just got tiring. It's not that I didn't like the films, but if you watch as many movies as I do, and I think you do, you just want more, right, and you want more of the more and you want it to be different, because you want to stay engaged. And so when I started to, I wouldn't say even actively seek out films that were made by different types of people, but be conscious of the films that I was selecting. I started to see there were more types of directors represented than I had even been led to believe there were. And then I wanted to know why. Why was there this disconnect? Why was I seeing all of these films directed by women, and never having heard of these women directors before? Like what's happening there? And it's not just this is what sells, this is what doesn't sell, it's of course not that simple an explanation.
Alicia Kozma: Why are these films from the '70s directed by women, and then we just get Kathryn Bigelow and then we get the 2000s? Like what's going on in between where it seems like there are waves of women working in Hollywood. Why is that happening? And it really came down to the fact that I wanted to know more about how people were getting these jobs, and how people or why people weren't. And so that really led to my interest in the material labor conditions of putting a film together. Who gets to do that? And what are the structures that determine the who gets to do that? Because it's really nice to think that it's just because the best directors get to make movies, but we know that's not true. We see that all the time. So, yeah, what's actually happening behind the scenes?
Alex Chambers: Right. So what was happening in the '70s?
Alicia Kozma: Well, in the '70s, there were a small group, and I say small group, but it's mainly like four or five, women who had an opportunity to make a pretty robust slate of films. And the one that I became particularly interested in was Stephanie Rothman. So Stephanie Rothman made second wave exploitation films, I mean I think for ease sake, we can just call them like B pictures. They're genre pictures, they're movies that were intended to show at drive ins, or urban center theaters that were focused on sex, drugs and rock and roll, and they were low budget, they were fast, they were fun and you watched them for a weekend and you forgot about them forever. I was in what I consider to be one of the best video stores of all time, Mondo Kim's in New York City, which sadly no longer exists, and they had a whole exploitation section. And I was just walking through and just kind of looking at the covers, 'cause I love covers, they're just so great, and especially exploitation covers, 'cause they're so like sensationalist and ridiculous. And there was a movie called Terminal Island, and on the cover was Tom Selleck, like young Tom Selleck, and I was like Magnum PI made an exploitation film? What is this?
Alicia Kozma: And I picked it up and it was an exploitation film directed by Stephanie Rothman and I said I've watched a lot of movies and I've watched a lot of exploitation moves and I had no idea that a woman ever made an exploitation film. And I took it home and I bought it and kind of fell into a rabbit hole. And from discovering that first Rothman film, what I came to find out is that there was a group of women in the '70s who were taking the opportunity to work in low budget film making, because it's essentially from a producers or financial point of view, it's low stakes. And so they just need someone who's competent to make the film, and if that happens to be a woman, you get it in on time and under budget, you can make this movie, right. The Roger Corman school of film making essentially, or style of film making, I should say.
Alicia Kozma: And they were there, but no one was talking about them, and I wanted to know why. Why were they able to make these films and then never transition into something else? You know, we think about Roger Corman who's this legendary producer, often called the King of the Bs, and he has made just 100s and 100s of movies and he has made 100s and 100s of exploitation movies. That's how he got his start. And his film making kind of structure was he was going to hire people who are hungry and who wanted to work and who were ready to work for almost nothing and maybe do three different jobs on set. And in the '60s and the early '70s, there was a number of people that went through this kind of Corman style of film making boot camp, that would then go on to be the new Hollywood of the 1970s. Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola and John Sayles. They all got their start working for Roger Corman making these exploitation films. Well so did Stephanie Rothman [LAUGHS] and she never transitioned.
Alicia Kozma: So, there was other women who were working as producers, or who were working as writers for Corman, and they were never able to make the type of leap into the mainstream that the men who were working for him were. And, it's not because of their ability, it's certainly not because of the quality of the films that they make. And it is, in most cases, because they were number one, women, but number two, they were women working in what's considered like a masculinized or a sensationalized or even like kind of low-class genre style of film making. So, essentially they were making inappropriate art for women directors, right. They weren't rom coms, or Tampax commercials. They were Terminal Island and, you know, the Velvet Vampire. They were the types of films that women just really hadn't made before and no one kind of knew what to do with them.
Alex Chambers: And was one of the problems also that they were in theory like exploiting women?
Alicia Kozma: Well, so at least superficially, and that's never been a problem for Hollywood, so that certainly wasn't a barrier for anyone transitioning into mainstream film making at all. [LAUGHS] So this is happening in the mid-'60s through the late '70s, so it's happening at the same time as like kind of mainstream second wave feminism. So, they weren't getting a lot of love from like the feminist movement, per se, because the assumption was that they were exploiting women because I mean that's what all films do, but it's kind of like baked into the formula of exploitation films. The problem is when you watch these actual films that they make, that's not what's happening. And so, the content was really going above and beyond like the strictures of the film making paradigm, but to convince, you know, like a quote unquote woke second wave feminist to sit down and watch the Student Nurses when you tell them, oh it's an exploitation film about like four young college nurses that live together and like the exploits of their life. Well, they immediately think it's going to be something terrible and cheesy and exploitative and no, they're not going to sit down and watch it. If they had, it is absolutely the opposite of that.
Alex Chambers: Alright, it's time for a short break. When we come back, we'll hear from our guest Alicia Kozma, about how the student nurses is the opposite of terrible, cheesy and exploitative. You're listening to Inner States.
Alex Chambers: Welcome back to Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. We're talking today with Alicia Kozma, the incoming director of the IU cinema. She's been studying the work of the writer and director Stephanie Rothman for years. According to Alicia, Rothman's 1970 exploitation film, The Student Nurses is anything but exploitative. Tell me about it. How so?
Alicia Kozma: Okay, so the film is about four nurses.
Voiceover: The student nurses. Four girls on their own. Once you've met them, you'll never forget them.
Alicia Kozma: And it's really broken up into four pieces, so you get to follow each of their stories. One of the nurses takes an internship in public health, and essentially ends up joining the Mexican American like Liberation Front and working in an underground hospital and like fighting the cops in LA.
Voice from movie: That man has a cop's bullet in him and you want to put him in a hospital. What, so he'll go to jail?
Voice from movie 2: It's a bad wound, he needs a doctor.
Voice from movie 3: It's them. Let's get out of here.
Alicia Kozma: That's her story. [LAUGHS] And like that's her exploitation story. That's what she does throughout the entire film. And through that process, she kind of accepts her own Latin X heritage that she had denied. No kissing. She has no romantic scenes whatsoever. Her biggest romantic gesture is at the end of the film, she goes and accepts her nursing degree in like her fatigues and her bell bottoms and then goes on the run with the leader of the resistance to like do public health in like these revolutionary communities throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. So exploitative.
Alex Chambers: Yeah really. [LAUGHS]
Alicia Kozma: I know. [LAUGHS] So, that's one nurse, her name is Lynn. There's another nurse named Priscilla and she is really exploring the kind of free love movement at the time and she ends up getting unintentionally pregnant.
Voice from movie 4: Your AZ showed positive.
Presilla: I'm pregnant
Alicia Kozma: So, the bulk of her storyline is about the hurdles she has to go through to obtain a medical abortion. Can she? Can she not? Why can't she? What is she going to do?
Presilla (in movie): The abortionist, I presume.
Jim (in movie): That's me.
Presilla (in movie): You go do your butchering somewhere else. No!
Presilla (in movie): How can I thank you?
Jim (in movie): Look, I'm not going to be off until later, so why don't you meet me back at my place?
Alicia Kozma: The other storyline, there's a nurse named Phred. She realizes essentially that she's kind of not cut out for medicine and that she really finds a lot of what happens with the complications of humanity what she calls quote unquote unclean. So, she spends most of her time just trying to extricate herself from having a professional nursing life. Her whole goal is then just to be like a receptionist in a psychiatrists office. [LAUGHS] She's the character in the film that spends the most time in like sexual situations.
Voice in movie 6: You're trying very hard to find something.
Phred (in movie): So?
Voice in movie 6: So, you found it.
Phred (in movie): So, tell me what it is.
Voice in movie 6: Me.
Alicia Kozma: But, she's mainly like well, I'm trying to get this job, so I'll sleep with a couple of different doctors and see who gives me a job. It's 1971. We'll let it go. And then the last nurse, her name is Sharon, she's assigned to a ward for like pediatric patients who have terminal diseases.
Sharon (in movie): Let's get your injection over with.
Patient (in movie): I don't want it.
Sharon (in movie): It'll help you rest.
Patient (in movie): You think I'll live longer if I'm rested?
Sharon (in movie): Doctor Warshaw thinks so.
Patient (in movie): You don't know what he thinks.
Sharon (in movie): You're proud of being nasty.
Patient (in movie): I am not.
Sharon (in movie): Yes you are. You like hurting people.
Alicia Kozma: And so she makes a connection with one of the patients who's like 18. He ends up passing away and she realizes that her calling is to help essentially young individuals deal with their own like death and mortality. So, she volunteers for the army nurse corps to be sent to Vietnam. This is what this exploitation movie is about!
Voiceover: The Student Nurses. Maybe they can teach you a thing or two about what's happening today.
Alicia Kozma: And like there is sex and there is nudity, but it's like super commonplace, right. So, one of the first nude scenes, they all live in like a student nursing house together. They're like oh I want to wear that shirt, no I want to wear that shirt and they just take their shirts off and they change shirts. Like it becomes like commonplace nudity, where you kind of, you're like no, that's just like how people change their clothes right. So, this is my long-winded example of the way that the content that was coming out of a lot of these films, I mean that's specifically a Rothman film, but the content that was coming out really didn't match the expectations of the kind of film making paradigm, that second wave exploitation was. Stephanie Rothman had said in the past, you know, I knew I had to have some sex, some nudity and some violence. I wasn't told what those things had to look like, or how they had to be so, if I could incorporate them in some way, I could check them off my list and then go do my own thing. Yeah, and so, you know, it's a good example of the way that women have been forced to work within certain like strictures in the industry, but also it's a great example of how creative women have been in forcing themselves into places where they haven't always necessarily been welcome, and the type of output that they can get out of that creativity.
Alex Chambers: Okay, so Stephanie Rothman makes these films and then what happens?
Alicia Kozma: Ah, nothing, unfortunately. So, Rothman is not somebody who was ever interested in being an outsider director. She's always been very forthcoming about this. She's like I wanted to work in Hollywood. There is no reason that Francis Ford Coppola can work in Hollywood and I can't. And I shouldn't be relegated to making low budget or alternative, or whatever films just because I'm a woman. And so, she always tried, after she made a successful film because her films were successful. They made money, they were well reviewed, she got a lot of press. She would always try to move into Hollywood and it just never worked out. Probably one of the most telling stories. She had made a film called the Velvet Vampire, which is this really trippy like vampire polyamory murder story where the vampire lives in a desert. It's like nominally a vampire film, but it's very surreal, it has a lot of experimental like aesthetic moments in it. It's very cool.
Alicia Kozma: And, you know, she got a call from someone at MGM, and they wanted to have a meeting with her after the film came out. And she was like yes, this is it, this is what's happening. So, she goes to the meeting at MGM. And, she's meeting with the exec there, and he's like oh, I saw the Velvet Vampire, it's so great, loved how you did this, bla bla bla, just like gassing her up. She's loving it. And he's like I have this script and it's a great vampire picture, but it's not what I want it to be yet. And so, can you tell me the best way to take this picture and make it more like a Stephanie Rothman vampire film. And she was like well, you're never going to believe this, but you could hire Stephanie Rothman to make this movie. And he was like no, I'm not doing that. You know, uninterested in it. He's like no, he's like I can't hire a woman at the studio, no. So, he wanted her input, he wanted it to look like her film, but there was just never a consideration that he would ever hire her to do it. And this happened over and over and over again. And so eventually, she just had kind of had enough. She turned towards writing.
Alicia Kozma: She's a winter and director. She's always written a majority of her work, and she worked in very close partnership with her husband, who was her producer and they often, they were writing partners together. She started writing. She sold a bunch of scripts. Some of them got made into versions of her scripts, and some of them didn't. But she had her husband Charles like hit on this project that they were really interested in making. They optioned the rights for a book, they wrote a treatment, they had it in front of everybody, and they just couldn't get it made. And it was really like their passion project and they spent years on it. So, by the mid '80s, she was just like I can't do this anymore. She's like I've been doing this since the early 1960s and it's not happening and she is nothing if not a really pragmatic person. And so she was like I just can't do this anymore. So, she quit.
Alicia Kozma: She quit the industry and she totally pivoted and started doing something entirely different. And it was only in probably the last like ten years that people started really recognizing her work and recognizing what she had done and what she had accomplished, and kind of saying like you know, where have you been this whole time? She was like "Well I was right here." And so when she said, I was talking to her and she was like you know, someone asked like, you know, where have you been and how can I get in touch with you? And I have to say, I am in the phone book. [LAUGHS] You can just look me up in the phone book. Like I have not gone anywhere. I haven't been hiding. This isn't like a Shirley Temple situation. You could have found me. Just no one cared to up until this point.
Alex Chambers: Okay, so one of the things you have been doing in your work, is trying to, you know, think about the archives and, you know, change partly what is in the archives, but also sort of what we're focusing on in the archives. For those of us who are in the Bloomington area, but not necessarily deeply connected to the cinema and the archives here, can you tell us a bit about the archives here and what you're excited about?
Alicia Kozma: Oh absolutely. This was a huge thing that actually attracted me specifically to IU cinema. The breadth and depth of archival material, film and otherwise that exists on this campus, I think is one of the best kept secrets that should not be a secret [LAUGHS] about IU. The Black Film Center and Archives, the Lilly, the Moving Image Archive. There is just truly warehouses of material that people have never seen and have never had access to. I just found out that in the Lilly, there is the physical makeup case of Rita Hayworth that Orson Wells wrote love notes on.
Alex Chambers: My God.
Alicia Kozma: That is just like down the street. Like, it's huge. There's all of this stuff that has been really carefully curated, really carefully collected, very carefully preserved and, to me, needs to be out there in the world. Even the kind of huge wealth of unseen material at the Black Film Center and Archive, I think, is just phenomenal. I mean we could program a year's worth of screenings based on what they have there. And the same thing with the Moving Image archive. And everything from feature films to home movies that a family made in Cuba in the 1950s when they were on vacation, which you can watch on the Moving Image Archive website. And let me tell you, they're fascinating.
Alex Chambers: I bet.
Alicia Kozma: They're fascinating.
Alex Chambers: What is the Moving Image Archive?
Alicia Kozma: It is an internationally accredited film preservation center. It really is a critical kind of nexus of both the preservation and also the circulation of visual culture and memory that is constricted from visual culture. And I am committed to, and however it looks, getting that material up on IU Cinema's screen. Because talk about once in a lifetime. I mean some of this material is once in several lifetimes. And, it's such a treasure. And as someone who is coming from the outside, it's immediately obvious how rich this material is, but it's also obvious that people who interact with it do know how special it is, but they also see it every day. And I was down there, I'm like a kid in a candy store. And I was like wait, what about this? Let me show this. Can we do this?
Alex Chambers: Is there a particular, like do you have a particular example of something you just can't wait to get up on the screen?
Alicia Kozma: I mean there's so much. Right now, there's so much. I feel overwhelmed, yeah. I feel overwhelmed in the best way possible. I have an affinity for home movies. I think they're a really interesting artifact, I think they're one of our most underutilized, like snapshots in time for really understanding kind of cultural shifts and cultural changes. I'm also a big fan of industrials, which there's a lot of. Industrials are films that were made for companies or schools or organizations, that are specific to those things. So, there's a great director who made his living making industrials. His name was Herk Harvey. He made a film, the only feature film he ever made is called Carnival of Souls, great horror movie. It's actually streaming on Criterion, it's an amazing horror movie. But, he made his living making films like "ACDelco, 24 spark plugs. The spark plugs of tomorrow, today." [LAUGHS] Like that type of film is, I mean to me they're so enjoyable, but also again they are these snapshots of these moments of everyday life.
Voiceover: Alcoa, world's leading producer of aluminum. Wherever it is used, there is a change for the better.
Alicia Kozma: When we watch films, you know, from different time periods, you get a sense of the kind of big picture, right, of life then. But these industrials, the educational films, the training videos, they're snapshots of everyday life, in a way that we really can't experience. And so it's like a little time machine that can take you back in time and tell you about spark plugs for five minutes and you get a sense of what was going on in Lincoln Nebraska, you know, in 1962 or whatever it was, that just, I don't know makes you feel more connected to visual culture and just the culture that shapes us everyday and every way as a whole.
Alex Chambers: So, you imagine maybe like an evening of spark plugs and home movies?
Alicia Kozma: I think an evening of spark plugs and home movies would be great. There was a traveling film program a couple of years ago of just like old television commercials from like the '40s to the '80s.
Alex Chambers: Like, on the big screen?
Alicia Kozma: On the big screen. It was just like a package. You could rent it out, you could show it at your theater. Let me tell you, these things sold out.
Voiceover: Today, Amana is the world's leading manufacturer of freezers.
Alicia Kozma: It's just this type of visual, it's just something you never get to see. It's this kind of simultaneous like reprieve and engrossment in the material that you're watching. And so, yeah, I think being able to experience the archive through the eyes of the people who created this, right, created this material in the first place, being transported into like a moment of time for five, ten minutes, whether it's a home movie in Cuba or a sex ed film from 1972 or, you know, five minutes of spark plugs, it's all good, it's all there, right. It's all a different way of just engaging with visual culture. And so, yeah, spark plugs, I mean maybe not a full program of spark plugs [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: I'm not sure I would go to that. [LAUGHS]
Alicia Kozma: No. I'm not sure I would go to that if I'm being honest.
Alex Chambers: You're listening to Inner States. If you're just joining us, we've been talking with Alicia Kozma, the incoming director of the IU Cinema. After a short break, we'll be back to talk about audience reaction shots on YouTube and sneaking out to watch Jaws as a kid.
Alex Chambers: It's Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. I'm talking today with Alicia Kozma, the director of the IU Cinema. She used to go the movie theater something like 70 times a year. so, when the pandemic hit, she had to find another way to satisfy that need. You talked recently about being in the pandemic and needing to watch these reaction shots because you missed being in a theater. So, I didn't know about them, although I mentioned them to my students the other day and they totally knew about them. So, I watched one and I'm not like the biggest superhero, like Avengers and what not fan. I enjoy them, but like I'm not obsessed with them or anything. And I'm watching the Avengers: End Game, like the end scene, and people start like just wildly applauding with each new Avenger that came on. And I was just sitting at my desk at work and I still felt the chill. [LAUGHS]
Alicia Kozma: They're incredible. You know, I hadn't known about them until maybe the year before the pandemic. My students at the institution I was at before, just my Majors, so like my core group of students, I let them pick like an end of the year activity, and it just always coincided with a Marvel movie coming out. So for like three years we went and saw a Marvel movie together. And I remember in, I guess Infinity War, I think is the one before End Game, and like I like watching they're fun, I'm not like a Stan if you will. There's like a scene where Spiderman dies and I heard the loudest racking sobs and I looked two rows in front of me and I realized it was coming from one of my students. And then I looked to the student sitting next to me and she was holding her head in her hands crying. I was like okay, I didn't know. I'll just say I didn't know. And when it was over and we all met back up in the lobby and there were just red eyes across the board over what had happened, the various deaths that had happened. And you can't, you don't want to invalidate their feelings. I mean like it's a movie. But I can say like, you know Emily, that's Spiderman. So, they really can't kill Spiderman. You know, he's got another movie coming up this summer. So, I know, but it's just so emotional. I had no idea. I had never experienced that before. That level of really intense, like visceral emotional connection. And so when we all went and saw End Game, and everyone's cheering and screaming and running around, I was like this is actually just really fun. This makes me feel good and this is why people go to the movies, to have this experience with other people.
Alicia Kozma: So, during the pandemic, when I couldn't go to the movies, and it felt like, you know, pieces of me had been ripped out, because when I'm having a good day, I go to the movies. When I'm having a bad day, I go to the movies. [LAUGHS] So, I just couldn't go to the movies. And so, I started watching these videos and I had the biggest smile on my face. And I'm like I know what's going to happen, it's not about what's going on in the movie, like I don't really care what's going on in the movie, I care how excited and happy these people are. These are happy tears and these are people, grown men jumping for joy in a theater when Spiderman pops up on screen and just having a blast. And it just really reminded me of why we go to movie theaters in the first place. We go to have that communal experience. We go because we want to share something with people we know and with people we don't know, right, because that's what makes it feel whole and complete and like real.
We don't always go to the theater just because of the thing we're going to see on screen, right. You go for the experience.
Alicia Kozma: Which is why, I think, for all of the talk between oh we can stream things now, movie theaters are dead, well movie theaters have died like 6,000 times, you know. They've been dead for a long time. They were dead in the '40s and '50s when TV came around. Then they died again in the '80s when we had VHS tapes, right. They died again in the late '90s with DVR. And then they died again in the mid 2000s with streaming. Movie theaters are like zombies at this point. They have been reborn so many times, right. And they exist throughout this whole span of time because it's about more than just what's on the screen, right. It's about being there. It's about the experience it's about feeling it with strangers. It's about that moment that I think we've probably all had in one shape or form or another, where something happens and you just turn to the person next to you, whether you know them or not, and you're just like "Oh my God." Like that's just not something that happens, right, when you're at home watching the movie on Netflix. And that's fine. I mean I watched like two movies on Netflix last night. [LAUGHS] But it's just they serve different purposes.
Alicia Kozma: So, I think it's a really false binary to set them up as necessary oppositions. They do different things for us. Like humans are complicated and so is our interaction with culture. We need different ways to be complicated with our culture, whether that's in the theater, or sitting at home watching Netflix, or you know, watching You Tube videos in bed in the morning, because you don't want to get up after your alarm clock goes off [LAUGHS].
Alex Chambers: Okay, so there's one more thing that I wanted to make sure to ask about. This came up in an interview, a previous interview. Colson Whitehead, the writer, when he was doing the book tour for Zone One, his zombie book, talked about how he watched a lot of horror movies as a kid, including a Clockwork Orange, when he was ten years old. And, at one point when he asked his mom, what are they doing to that woman? She said it's a comment on society. [LAUGHS] So, you also grew up watching horror movies with your dad, and I guess one way to phrase this question is how did movies play into your childhood? But also like did horror mess with you?
Alicia Kozma: The one that I really remember messing with me was Jaws. And I should say it's entirely my own fault. So, I loved watching horror movies with my dad and he absolutely had like a pension for the classics. So like the Universal Monsters, Wolf Man, the Mummy. Those never really messed with me, simply because they were one, stories I knew. Everyone kind of knows the story of Dracula, everybody knows the story of the Mummy. And they were from the '30s, and so they were more accessible to like a young brain, as like not super scary, but like so much fun. But, when I was very young, I was probably like five or six, my father was watching Jaws, and I was not allowed to watch it. So, of course, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I snuck downstairs [LAUGHS] and I crawled behind like the couch, so no one could see me and I stood there and like in between the top of the couch and the cushion, was like secretly watching some of Jaws. And then I was terrified. I saw the shark, there was limbs flying everywhere, and I was like this was a terrible idea. I should not have done this [LAUGHS] and I snuck back to bed and I do not remember sleeping. And it took me a while after that to actually go back and watch the full movie of Jaws.
Alicia Kozma: So, it was that one I remember actually being like pretty traumatic for me. And, this is not even a horror movie. The animated '70s version of the Hobbit. I don't know if you've seen it.
Alex Chambers: I saw it like when I was a kid in like the '80s.
Alicia Kozma: Yeah, so like when Gollum is invisible and he bites off Bilbo's finger, terrified me. I was like okay, so I can just be sleeping and this guy can just be hanging out ready to bite my fingers off, because I can't see him, he's invisible. Forget it. [LAUGHS] like those were the two that really messed with me, but I just, I was entranced by horror movies, like I too watched the Clockwork Orange when I was too young. But I watched it one, out of like interest because I had seen an image from it and it was so like striking. I wanted to know what it was about. But also because I had heard people talking about it. It was the same too with the Exorcist. I'm like you are not telling me that people really thought this girl was possessed and walked out of the theater when you were watching this movie. And I was like no, I could see it, like I could see it. So, I just got really interested in like essentially the reaction that people were having to these films, right. And I wanted to see them for myself. And so, I found them like cathartic, they were really visually interesting. Horror movies, low budget or not, are usually not considered quote unquote high film making, so you can do different stuff in there, right. You can get like weirder and more experimental or like be more forward with the comments that you are trying to make. And they were just like so interesting to me. I just loved watching them.
Alicia Kozma: And then I loved showing them to people. I used to teach a horror film class and during the screening, actually maybe this is how I got interested in reaction shots and I didn't even put it together until now. We were watching a film called The Descent, which is a great, a great movie that was like a small film, only women in this movie, underground cave monsters, darkness. It's great. And I was showing this film to my students like 45 students in a little screening room and none of them had ever seen it, and there's one point where the movie turns and all of a sudden becomes something else. And I just saw 45 students jump back in their chair at the same time and just like ah! All at the same time. And one of them turns to me and goes, "Alicia, what is this movie?" And I just started laughing, because I was so happy. [LAUGHS] I was like oh my god, you guys are going to love this. You have no idea how good this is about to get. And, just that experience of sharing it, and again I guess I'm coming back to that communal experience, you know, they all jumped at the same time, they all got into it at the same time and all of a sudden, they realize that that film really does give you a bait and switch in the middle and they were like oh, we've been fooled. And now something entirely different is coming at us. And so, yeah, just I don't know, there's something just like loving about that experience with other people that I really like.
Alex Chambers: Yeah. I now have so many movies that I need to go see, both in the theater and at home.
Alicia Kozma: Absolutely. Well, you let me know when we need to come back and do like the monthly movie round up.
Alex Chambers: Absolutely.
Alicia Kozma: And go through everything that we've watched.
Alex Chambers: That sounds great. You're going to beat me, I think.
Alicia Kozma: Maybe.
Alex Chambers: It's also your job.
Alicia Kozma: It's also my job. We'll say professional obligation, for sure. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: Right, exactly. Alright, well Alicia Kozma, thank you so much for coming in.
Alicia Kozma: Thank you so much, Alex. This was great.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to Inner States. Got a story you want to share? Found some sound? We want to hear them. Go to wfiu.org/inner states, to let us know. That's I N N E R S T A T E S. Speaking of found sound, we've got your quick minute of slow radio coming up. But first, the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Mark Chilla, Michael Paskash and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music. I want to acknowledge and honor the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people, on whose ancestral homelands and resources Indiana University, home of WFIU, is built, as well as the generations of workers who built it. All right, time to take a slow breath and listen to a place.
Sound of frogs chirping.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to frogs chorusing at Lake Griffy, May 2021. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.