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Movie buff offers class on film stars

January 17, 1999|By JASON MYERS

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Professor Phil Bufithis has been "a movie lunatic" since childhood.

"So many Americans are that way," Bufithis said in explaining why he, normally an English instructor, is offering a new course titled "Movies: Male Icons."

Beginning Jan. 25, Bufithis hopes to "bring to the cognitive level of the viewer what stars do."

In Reynolds Hall at Shepherd College, from 6 to 8:40 p.m. on Mondays, the class will use "Acting in Cinema," a book by James Naremore, and several films to explore "the technique behind the mystery," as Bufithis says.

The course is open to the public and free. There is no need to enroll.

The movie stars from the 1930s and 40s who are the focus of the class are James "Jimmy" Cagney, James "Jimmy" Stewart, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper.

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The films are, respectively, "Public Enemy," "The Shop Around the Corner" (the Ernst Lubitsch classic upon which Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail" is based), "The Awful Truth," "Adam's Rib," "Honky Tonk," "Stagecoach," "The Lady Eve," "Casablanca" and "High Noon."

In selecting the works, Bufithis says he chose films that were both vintage and successful at the box office.

Each film "shows the persona successfully" of the icon illuminating the screen.

Bufithis perceives lineages which run throughout American cinema. The fresh, wholesome and decent image that most people associate with Jimmy Stewart goes as far back as Charles "Buddy" Rodgers and other emperors of the silent movie era.

When Stewart began his career, Bufithis said, Gary Cooper remarked, "There's another me."

Bufithis does not think there's another Jimmy Stewart in Tom Hanks, as many people do.

Complaining that Hanks is overweight and pallid, Bufithis said, "he doesn't look like a star." Bufithis conceded that Hanks does have a dignity of character, which must be what appeals to everyone.

Clark Gable exuded a different kind of appeal. According to Bufithis, Gable was "a rogue, a lady killer."

The image of a movie star, Bufithis said, is mysterious and enviable.

In his opinion, John Wayne was acting in films for about 10 years before he conceived the style which is now so concrete. In "Stagecoach," director John Ford convinced the actor to "brood, sizzle - not smile so much. The camera dwelled on his brooding face," Bufithis said.

Once the persona was formed, it was set in stone and myth. Stars like Wayne "had a power and magnetism that sheer actors can never achieve," Bufithis asserted.

Those ordinary actors can do extraordinary things, however.

"Marlon Brando could do almost anything," Bufithis said. He described him as very versatile and said that even his more recent work is that of a consummate, if less handsome, actor. "Nobody else can do Stanley Kowalski. If they do, it's silly."

In Bufithis' estimation then, a great actor can have a "galvanic effect" equal to that of a movie star.

Bufithis said he is "curious to see how reactions have changed over the years" to stars who probably died before most students in the class were born.

So far, at least 15 students have enrolled in the class. Bulfithis said he encourages any "film lunatic" or average scholar to attend.

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