A Look at Undergraduate Research: A Philosopher-Director from Hollywood’s Golden Age

You’ve probably seen his movies, but you may not know his name. King Vidor directed some of the boundary-breaking films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. From the silent era classic The Big Parade to the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz to the sweeping epic, War and Peace, Vidor moved with Hollywood from the silent era to sound—mastering the craft of filmmaking as it evolved and changed. He directed Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, and Judy Garland, yet he’s not as well-known as his Hollywood contemporaries such as John Ford or Frank Capra.

In 1989, The Crowd (1928) was preserved by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

College of General Studies Associate Professor of Humanities Kevin Stoehr is writing a book on King Vidor with some research assistance from Luke Bonzani (CGS’18, COM’20, CAS’20), funded by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning Undergraduate Research Experience. Thanks to donations from generous alumni and parents, CITL funds a semester-long stipend for students to collaborate with professors on research projects. Bonzani and Stoehr connected, with an assist from another professor, because Luke is majoring in both film and philosophy and interested in how the two subjects intersect.

Vidor shared that interest. Raised as a Christian Scientist, Vidor’s interest in spirituality and philosophy intertwined much of his work. “He loved to philosophize about filmmaking as an art form, and he loved to philosophize in general about life and reality and human nature,” said Stoehr.

Bonzani started off by reading three dozen interviews and articles, combing them for quotes from Vidor on the craft and art of filmmaking. Stoehr freed Bonzani to use his own judgment on this part of the project, telling him, “If you were going to read a book on this director, what would you like to learn from a chapter?” and letting him take it from there.

For his second assignment, Bonzani watched and analyzed Vidor’s adaption of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, making notes on the production and the philosophy of the movie. Bonzani had already studied Nietzsche in-depth thanks to a directed study he did in his freshman year, so the film’s Nietzschean themes dovetailed well with Bonzani’s CGS studies and Stoehr’s own research in Nietzsche.

“By looking at The Fountainhead, Luke was able to connect philosophy – especially political philosophy – with film studies,” Stoehr said. Bonzani said it’s become his favorite Vidor film, and one he enjoys more every time he watches it.

Bonzani and Stoehr look at stills from a Vidor film

Bonzani analyzed another one of Vidor’s later, philosophical films, Truth and Illusion: An Introduction to Metaphysics—essentially a film-essay on the nature of reality. Bonzani did a philosophical analysis of the film and related it back to Vidor’s Christian Science background.  He’s also researched Vidor’s role in the anti-communist group, Committee on the Preservation of American Ideals in Motion Pictures.

Bonzani and Stoehr began their collaboration in the summer of 2018 and continued through the fall, with more support from the CITL Undergraduate Research Experience. Their next phase of research focused on Vidor’s adaption of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and the Biblical epic, Solomon and Sheba.

Bonzani’s research experience helped him land an internship in London with the British Independent Film Awards, where he’s maintaining social media platforms and running campaigns, analyzing and creating synopses for BIFA-nominated films, and finding films to enter into this year’s awards. He’s invested time in his own film-writing, too, and is one of eight finalists for the Best Screenplay category in The Redstones, a BU student film festival being held March 29, 2019.

This post is part of a series that profiles the faculty-undergraduate research partnerships offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s Undergraduate Research Experience. To learn more, please contact the Center at citl@bu.edu. To donate to the Undergraduate Research Experience, designate the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning in the box that asks for specifics about your gift designation.