The Master of the Movies: A Tribute to Frank Manchel

By Youngblood, Denise J. | Film & History, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Master of the Movies: A Tribute to Frank Manchel


Youngblood, Denise J., Film & History


No one is more deserving than Frank Manchel, Emeritus Professor of English and Film at the University of Vermont, to be recognized by Film & History as a pioneer in film studies. Since 1964-when he published his first scholarly article on film-to the present, Professor Manchel has devoted his life to film education and scholarship. During those early decades when film was a less-than-respectable adjunct to the university curriculum, he proselytized passionately and with unflagging energy about its intrinsic value for scholars and its boundless possibilities for teachers.

At last count, Frank Manchel is the author of sixteen books, thirty-four articles and book chapters, and thirty-two book reviews. He has twenty-nine film courses in his repertory. He is a founding member of the Society for Cinema Studies, where he served as treasurer and as a member of the Council, and of the University Film & Video Association, which he has supported in various capacities. In the mid-1970s he chaired the American Federation of Film Societies Council. For much of the 1980s Manchel served on the George Foster Peabody Advisory Board, including a two-year stint as chairperson. He is presently a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Popular Film & Television (since 1977) and Film & History (since 1996).

When dealing with a larger-than-life figure like Frank Manchel, facts can be no more than a small part of the story. Nevertheless, they provide a foundation, and so we shall "begin at the beginning." He was born July 22,1935 in Detroit to Lee and Olga Manchel. He grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended public schools that distracted him from his true loves: movies, radio, books of his own choosing, and, especially, baseball. (If you are not a Yankees fan, my advice is not to "talk baseball" with Frank.)

Manchel left the comforts of his known world for Columbus, Ohio, where he studied English at The Ohio State University, from which he graduated in 1957. After OSU, he enlisted in the Army for six months of active duty (followed by service in the Army Reserves) and then taught English at New Rochelle High School, New York and at Southern Connecticut State College while earning his master's degree at Hunter College (1960) and his doctorate at Teachers' College of Columbia University (1966). At New Rochelle, teaching underprivileged students who were not on the "college track," Frank discovered the power of movies to motivate the unmotivated to engage in the burning social and political issues of the day. His success teaching English with films and novels inspired his doctoral dissertation, which he completed while he was waiting for the dissertation committee to approve his unorthodox proposal.

Manchel joined the faculty at the University of Vermont in 1967 at the rank of associate professor in recognition of his growing reputation in this new field. In 1971 he was promoted to full professor, and, in 1977, he became Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, a post he held until 1988. From 1981 to 1983 he also directed the university's Communication Program. While serving as Associate Dean, he published six books, two articles, and twenty-seven encyclopedia entries, which would be an impressive accomplishment for any scholar, not to mention an academic administrator.

Manchel's return to his "real life" as a full-time teacher and scholar in 1988 marked the beginning of an extraordinarily productive period both inside and outside of the classroom. His students were fanatically devoted to him-and how could they not have been? He brought his vast erudition and passion for teaching and learning to every lecture and discussion; an introduction to his pedagogical techniques can be found in his article "What Does It Mean, Mr. Holmes? An Approach to Film Study" (Literature Film Quarterly, 2003). Although he was essentially a "department of one" until his retirement in 2000, one would never guess it from looking at the rich and varied film curriculum that he offered. …

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