Making students an offer they can’t refuse
English professor, Jon Lewis, is not only well known among students, but in his field
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Many students would not expect that there is a professor in their midst who authored a book titled “Hollywood v. Hardcore”, nor might they anticipate that when they take an English 125 class on film here at Oregon State University, that the short man with a hint of a New York accent standing in front of them literally wrote the textbook for that class, “American Film.”
In fact, English and film studies professor, Jon Lewis, has written eight books to date, with a ninth scheduled to release in the near future. Noteworthy titles include “The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture” and “Whom God Wishes to Destroy: Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood.” Lewis has also taken part in two documentaries on film censorship, including “Inside Deep Throat” and “This Film is Not Yet Rated.”
“[Lewis] has a lot to talk about and a lot to share if you just take the time to learn from him,” said Kristen Olson, a junior majoring in English with a film studies option. “And if you don’t, you’re honestly not getting your moneys worth at OSU.”
Lewis was born in Long Island, N.Y., where his love of film first started to take shape. He attended Hobart College at the beginning of his college career, studying English as an undergraduate and obtaining his bachelor’s of arts in 1977. It was during his time at Hobart, Lewis says, that studying film and its impact on our society clicked. He then made the move to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he obtained his masters in humanities in 1979. In 1983, Lewis managed to get his Ph.D. from UCLA.
Since then, he has called OSU and Corvallis his home.
“I came to Oregon in 1983 because this was the best job I was offered. I knew nothing about Oregon except that it rained a lot and the poet William Stafford was from here,” Lewis said. “I stayed because I like the West Coast vibe; it is friendly, easy going. Not to mention that Corvallis in particular is a great place to bring up kids.” Lewis has two children, both of whom are attending college in non-Oregon universities on the West Coast.
Lewis teaches his courses with a contagious and occasionally exhaustive enthusiasm. He has developed a certain level of notoriety amongst his colleagues both at OSU and across the nation, and is well respected in his field.
Last year, Lewis was approached by the American Film Institute with a proposal to help AFI catalog and analyze the cultural significance of films created in the 1980s — an era Lewis claims is the beginning of the end of a so-called Hollywood renaissance. Lewis then approached students in the English Honors College with the project, and acted as overseer and editor of their work for the American Film Institute. Sophomore Dane Heiss was one of those individuals.
“He is my favorite professor at Oregon State by far. He actually makes going to class fun and takes the time to connect to his students on a personal level,” Heiss said. “He recently wrote me a letter of recommendation for film school and routinely checks in to see what the status of that is, which shows me he really cares about the success of his students. I really can’t say enough good things about him.”
Despite the fact that Lewis had a limited role in terms of actually producing the information on the catalog — a job left solely to the students Lewis approached — his prior expertise was necessary in allowing students to do their best work with limited resources.
“He was always available for help, which was a comfort,” Heiss said. “His feedback on our rough drafts of the catalog entries was helpful in adapting to a writing style which we weren’t really familiar.”
It is his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge in regards to all things having to do with American film that keep students invested in his courses and in Lewis as an individual.
“Professor Lewis makes learning fun. His humorous anecdotes bring the subject matter to life, even when he is lecturing on the history of financial structures in the industry,” said Emily Barton, a member of the honors college group assigned to the American Film Institute catalog. “Professor Lewis’ work outside the classroom is fascinating, exciting.”
It goes without saying that the eagerness Lewis displayed both in and out of the classroom lead to what he considers to be two of greatest successes of his career to date.
“I was selected to be the editor of Cinema Journal 2002. It’s the journal with the largest readership in my field,” Lewis said. “I also sat on the executive committee of the Society for Cinema Studies for five years. It’s the largest international organization of film professors.”
And while it is evident that Lewis’ accolades extend far beyond the classroom, it is his ability to provide valuable insight and inspiration to those in the classroom that have made him an incredibly important asset to the film studies department here at OSU, A department that consists of just one instructor—Lewis himself.
“Currently, I am teaching a three part American Film History survey (1895-present), screenwriting, and a seminar on horror films,” Lewis said. “Next fall, I am teaching the first part of the history survey and a seminar on Film Noir.”
Many students spend hours on end complaining about how their professors are too tough on them, grade too hard and aren’t available when they are needed. You will rarely, if ever hear those complaints about Lewis.
“In Lewis’ screenwriting course, difficult as it is, I personally appreciate the fast paced atmosphere he creates,” Olson said. “He tries to make it as close as possible to life in a Hollywood studio.”