Whoa - Reeves' body of work getting scholarly treatment in UO film series
Keanu: Even the actor's bogus work is analyzed
by Mark Baker
Einstein, Shakespeare, Darwin, Freud...
Only the great ones get studied in America's institutions of higher learning.
"The idea was to take the most popular and unacademic figure we could come up with, and then apply really hard-core academic rigor to it," says Jennie Hammond, a graduate teaching fellow in the University of Oregon's Comparative Literature Program.
And thus, a most excellent and totally awesome idea was conceived: the 2007 Keanu Reeves Film Series that began Jan 17 with a discussion and showing of 1999's "The Matrix."
Hammond, along with doctorate student Michael Mann, proposed the idea last year at a faculty meeting. "And they expected the faculty not to take it seriously - but we loved it," says Leah Middlebrook, an assistant professor of comparative literature who spoke April 4 about Reeve's not-so-stunning Shakespearean turn in 1993's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Wednesday, the ninth talk will be given in the series of 10 lectures and films starring Reeves, the quintessential surfer dude and 42-year-old heartthrob whose name reportedly means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian, and whose acting ability, despite a successful two decades of work, is often ridiculed.
"He's just so blankly, sweetly vacuous," says associate professor Lisa Freinkel, who gives Wednesday's talk on the 1995 film, "Johnny Mnemonic."
It's not a great film, by any means, Freinkel says. "But like so many of the films that he's starred in, it touches on crucial cultural anxieties - like the ways in which technology has transformed our modes of being human. "I'll be talking about the film's reflections on identity, memory and time."
In addition to "The Matrix" trilogy, Reeves has appeared in numerous other Hollywood blockbusters such as 1994's "Speed," and of course, 1989's "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and its sequel, 1991's "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," which Hammond discussed early in the series.
Those films starred Reeves as Ted Logan, one of two air-brained South Californian teens.
And what would Reeves think of an entire film series dedicated to his work at a major university? Who knows, dude? His publicist, Cheryl Maisel of Los Angeles, said by e-mail that he was unavailable for comment.
The UO film series serves two purposes, Middlebrook says. First, it helps expand the comparative literature major. Secondly, it gets the program more involved with Eugene's arts community. "And as strangely as it sounds, Keanu actually fits both of those bills," she says.
The series is part of a broad-based initiative by the program to reach out to as many different segments of the community as possible. Last year, Pulitzer Prize-winning illustrator and graphic novelist Art Spiegelman gave a public lecture titled "Comix 101."
"Part of our mission in comparative literature is to get people thinking broadly about the way culture affects our everyday lives," Freinkel says. "Whether you're reading Cervantes, interpreting a 16th century poem, or looking at a piece of pop culture."
Or studying Keanu.
BRINGING THEORY TO KEANU
What: A "Keanu Reeves Film Series" developed by the University of Oregon The University of Oregon is a public university located in Eugene, Oregon. The university was founded in 1876, graduating its first class two years later. The University of Oregon is one of 60 members of the Association of American Universities. Comparative Literature Program
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday (`Johnny Mnemonic'); May 16 (`A Scanner Darkly')
Where: 110 Willamette Hall on UO campus