Hey, dude, want one bodacious gut course for spring semester? Check out the Films of Keanu Reeves. Whoa! Intense seminar on paradigmatic juvenile behavior in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, then…Beach-O-Rama!
No way, says Stephen Prina, 39, the instructor who introduced this very study at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 20. “This is not a fluff course,” he insists, though a few fellow instructors have complained about what they see as an example of academia gone bogus. “That saddens me,” he says. “Too many times we reject things out of hand instead of giving them the analytical attention they deserve.”
Each week Prina’s class of 14 speculates on the cultural nuances of Keanu’s 16-film oeuvre, from Young-blood (1986) to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Jokes may abound, but Prina’s syllabus is tough. To equip his charges for discussing the subtext in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, students are poring over Michel Foucault’s essay on Nietzsche.
A native of Galesburg, Ill., with a master’s degree in fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts, Prina, during his 14 years on the faculty, has concentrated on classic film-school fare. Here he uses Reeves as a “device” for focusing on modern cinema. “Keanu has a certain kind of presence,” he says. “I see this as a quality that can be used to great effect, especially in contemporary culture.”
So do students like Keith Mayerson, 27, who keeps a log of “Keanu sightings” and confides, “I [stood beside him at a urinal] at a club once.” But that magic moment is not, to Mayerson, a critical component of the course. “It’s really about looking at pop cinema and deconstructing what’s interesting about it,” he says. But just what is it about Keanu that students want to discuss? “He’s a hero for the slacker generation,” Mayerson says. “He’s a little vacant, a little inarticulate, but he’s still beautiful and still gets the girl.”
For his part, Prina, who has issued, unsuccessfully to date, a standing invitation to Reeves to attend his seminar, sees his class as “a generative situation” that is “useful to the students.” After three months of concentrating on Keanu, he says, “I think they come to think about the world in a slightly different way.”