The First PhD in Cinema Studies

New York University News Bureau

For Immediate Release
(Mailed 5/11/73)

The first doctoral degree in Cinema Studies to be awarded in this country will be conferred on a Yugoslavian scholar next month (Tuesday, June 5) by New York University. It marks a major step in the dream of specialists and scholars in film history, criticism and aesthetics to establish and gain recognition for their field as an academic discipline on a par with other graduate subjects, such as Drama, English, or History.

The Ph.D. in cinema will be awarded to Vlada Petric, 45, who came here three years ago from Belgrade as a Fulbright Scholar to pursue graduate studies in his specialty. At that time there were no opportunities for advanced study specifically in cinema in this country, and Mr. Petric would have gone to the Moscow State Film Institute in the Soviet Union to complete his doctorate.

“I really was surprised,” Mr. Petric says, “that in the country where film was born there was no serious study in film science.”

Then he met the late Prof. George Amberg, the first chairman of the new department of Cinema Studies at NYU’s School of the Arts who is credited with being the inspiration behind the doctoral program. It was with his help that the doctoral program won the approval of the State Board of Regents and, initially, the various committees at NYU’s Graduate School of the Arts and Science, which confers the degree.

Mr. Petric, who is on leave of absence from the Academy of Film, Theatre and Television in Belgrade, is currently a guest lecturer in theater arts at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, a visiting lecturer in the English department at SUNY, Buffalo, and a visiting professor, teaching film analysis, at Harvard, where he has just been offered the Luce Chair in Cinema to teach there next year.

Prof. Ted Perry, who succeeded Dr. Amberg as chairman of the department of Cinema Studies, says the School of the Arts is very pleased that the first recipient of the new doctorate is “obviously someone of outstanding qualifications.”

“The very awarding of the degree and the fact that he’s been offered the Luce Chair at Harvard are steps up the ladder in recognition for the new discipline,” he says.

“I waited so long for this program,” explains Mr. Petric, speaking of his graduate studies,” because my specialty is Soviet and American Silent Cinema, and the subject of my thesis is a comparison between the two.”

“I had a choice: to complete my competitive thesis in Moscow or here at NYU’s School of the Arts and Graduate School of Arts and Science. There were no other options for a serious student in this field.”

Many other students of film were also waiting for the nw program: 119 graduate students registered in the department last fall, 33 of them for the Ph.D. “That is why we’re all a little older,” says Mr. Petric. “We refused to complete our projects through other departments.”

“Starting the doctoral program in cinema was a very historic decision for NYU,” he adds, “because now it will serve as a source of highly educated specialists in film theory and history for film departments both here and abroad.”

Mr. Petric defended his doctoral dissertation, titled “The Impact of Silent Soviet Film and Film Theory on America,” on Wednesday, May 2, at a public oral examination attended by students, members of the faculty, the dean of the Graduate School of the Arts and Science, John K. Mayor, and several members of the Yugoslavian delegation here in New York.

The doctoral examining committee was composed of five distinguished film specialists: Annette Michelson, Mr. Petric’s doctoral adviser, a professor of cinema at NYU’s School of the Arts and editor of Art Forum; Lewis Jacobs, a well-known film historian and professor of cinema at NYU’s School of the Arts; Dr. Ted Perry, chairman of the department of Cinema Studies at NYU’s School of the Arts; Dr. Arthur Barron, a filmmaker and former head of the department of film at Columbia University, and Dr. Gerald O’Grady, head of the Media Center and professor of English at SUNY, Buffalo.

The School of the Arts, because of the depth of the existing graduate program, which also offers the M.A. degree, has developed an undergraduate curriculum in which Cinema Studies and is now offering the first full liberal arts program using film as its core that leads to a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree.

“This B.F.A. is not a degree in filmmaking,” emphasizes Professor Perry. “It is meant to use the motion-picture--its history, criticism, aesthetics--as a means of focusing the realities of life today and to help us learn how to live.

“We have found,” he continues, “that cinema has the advantage of being based on an art form that is a cross section of all the arts and humanities. It is not pure form, but one that is built up of literature, music, dance, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, kinetic sculpture, history, philosophy, and psychology.

“One cannot truly be a student of films without having to experience all these other disciplines. A study of Jean-Luc Godard is an integrative one, which requires that we see Sartre in relation to Marx, Heidegger in relation to Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty in relation to Homer, Warhol in relation to Rimbaud.”