December 1, 2014
By Jen Yao
With a new school year always comes with new adjustments, from taking classes that you wouldn’t normally go for to living in a different building with roommates you haven’t had before. There are additions to the student body and staff as well, one of which in particular is Professor Jayson Baker. Dr. Baker joined the Salem State English Department as the professor of film studies. He was kind enough to give us the exclusive.
Q: Why Salem State University?
A: I applied to Salem State because the film position was offered through The English Department. This is somewhat unique. Most film programs operate through Communication and/or Media Studies departments that approach the field from social scientific perspectives. An English Department is a better fit for my critical/interpretive approach to cinema studies. I was thrilled to get the call and even more excited to land the temporary position.
Q: What are the classes you teach?
A: Film Analysis teaches students how to read film and understand how cinematic storytelling technologies are organized to tell a story. Literature and Film enables the faculty member to introduce a theme they wish to examine with students. This semester, students and I are investigating the flurry of post 9/11 American cinema re-examining the American past. We will discuss early texts of the “discovery” period through the Civil War. We’ll look at Apocalypto, The New World, and Avatar. The course traces the 17th century through the Civil War so we’ll end with Django Unchained. In the spring, I will be teaching Third Cinema through which students and I will experience and explain how movies from cultures underrepresented in mainstream American cinema imagine their communities and the world. I hope to students enroll as I am tremendously excited to work with students interested in global cinema at SSU.
Q: Why pair English and film?
A: There are many overlaps between literature and film. The primary skills are close reading and detailed analysis. From a scholarly perceptive, the tools literature researchers use to open up conversations about texts are similarly deployed in the way I examine film. For example, through the details of cinema technologies, I hope to explain how a cinematic text speaks to us, resonates with or contests cultural attitudes. So, my intellectual approach to film makes for a good fit in an English department.
Q: What are three lessons you want your students to take away from your classes?
A: One, how the technologies of movie production create narrative as well as how camera, editing, sound, and movement, as examples, are storytelling devices. Two, I want students to understand that ALL MOVIES reflect or refract the thinking, feeling, and emotions of the culture that produces and experiences film. Movies are cultural artifacts of thought. Three, film analysis is an intellectual field of study with a deep history and an enormous body of scholars, texts, and theory.
Q: Now, onto the “fun” questions. Any interests and hobbies?
A: I have two very different primary hobbies that do very different things for me. I am a yoga and pilates fanatic. I am in Gassett every Wednesday and Friday morning at 6am before my classes (we can talk film there too). Through yoga and pilates, I work on my inner life and concentrate on reconnecting my mind and body. But I also enjoy riding my motorcycle where an inner life comes to the surface as I encounter coastal and rural New England landscapes. The riding experience offers the sensation that I can forget I have an inner life altogether. You have to be in the moment in the here and now when on a motorcycle.
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: If I respond to this question at another time, I will give you another answer. So for now, I will go with Do the Right Thing. Ask again tomorrow…
Q: Dogs or cats?
A: Dogs all the way.
Q: Where and what do you usually spend your time doing?
A: I spend most of my free time at the park or in the yard with my son playing with some kind of ball (football, baseball, basketball, soccer ball, kickball, etc). He’s 4.5 and loves anything to do with a ball. I am more than happy to accommodate him.
Q: Where can we find you on campus?
A: I am in MH 100B, Tuesdays from 1:30-3:00pm, or Thursdays from 4:30-6:00pm. Come talk to me anytime, tell me the best movie you’ve seen and why that’s so!
Jen Yao is a freshman. She is involved with Red Skies, The Lady Toners, and Norse Force. She loves scarves, a blend of hazelnut coffee and hot coco, and Salem’s beautiful scenery and crazy shops.