Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

June 6, 2001:

Raising Kate

By Kate Swearengen '04

My friend Liz, a high school junior wiser than her years, visited Princeton toward the end of May. Prior to visiting Princeton, she had visited Vassar. And, while she complained about the studied intellectualism and all-black wardrobes of the student body, I could tell that the college had left a favorable impression on her. My job, therefore, was to convince her that Princeton could be just as edgy as some Swarthmore wannabe in upstate New York.

"Usually, there's great stuff happening on the weekends," I told her. "Ralph Nader gave a speech here in October. Puff Daddy performed here in November. So did Bob Dylan."

"Bob Dylan performed at the Blue Note, too," Liz said, referring to a club in our hometown of Columbia, Missouri. "Last month."

"Oh," I said.

"Anyway, you'll never guess who I saw when I was up at Vassar," Liz continued. "Sandra Bernhard. She did at stand-up routine in the auditorium, and she downed six shots of vodka while onstage. Not only that, but her infant daughter was sitting on her lap the entire time."

"Well," I said. "Well. There's nothing quite that exciting going on here tonight, but I heard that one of the student theater groups is performing Beowulf. The downside is that they've made it into a musical. I don't suppose you're interested in seeing it?"

"I saw it last night," Liz said. "My only regret is that my father wasn't here to see it with me. I really think it would have killed him."

Liz's father is an English professor who has written several famous books about the transmission of oral literatures. Every year, he and the other three people in the country who speak Old English get together and reminisce about the 12th century. The funny thing is that Theatre Intime's musical interpretation of Beowulf really would have killed Liz's father.

"Maybe so," I said. "You don't have to tell him about that, though. Just tell him how much you liked the Latin class you visited. Your dad's got to be impressed with Princeton's classics department, right?"

"He doesn't really think I should major in classics anymore," Liz said. "He wants me to be a medievalist."

It went on like that. I said that Princeton students were more individualistic than commonly thought, and then a horde of girls in Capri pants walked by. I told her that the rumors of anti-intellectualism weren't true, and then we passed a couple of guys in sprint football jackets throwing rocks at West College. I did cheer up, though, when Liz mentioned that she had liked the Princeton Record Exchange.

"It's pretty cool, isn't it?" I said. "I heard that people come all the way from New York to shop there."

Liz agreed, and went on to say she had read that Christian Lebrat was going to be showing some of his films at 185 Nassau. Christian Lebrat is an avant garde French filmmaker who made a lot of movies in the 1970s. Apparently, he was very popular with the Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall set. The fact that Mr. Lebrat was spending his Saturday night at 185 Nassau, and not, say, in a posh New York club, should probably have worried me more than it did. Nevertheless, although I had never seen an avant garde French film, I figured I had a leg up on the genre. After all, I speak French. Besides, I once had a fourteen-dollar late video fee for Au Revoir Les Enfants.

I went into the film screening expecting some fancy camera angles, maybe even a couple of innovative montages, whatever those are. At the very least, I expected to see character development and well-constructed plotlines. I was, therefore, shocked and dismayed to realize that French avant garde films, or at least the kind that Christian Lebrat makes, don't have actors. Or plots. Or, for that matter, even sound. Picture a series of flashing, pastel-colored horizontal bars, and you'll have the general idea of the kinds of films I watched. The films were like television test patterns. The good thing about test patterns, though, is that they eventually end. The films, on the other hand, went on for seemingly interminable twelve-minute periods.

Naturally, we left. We had to. I have an indiscreet voice, and two men in front of me were displeased when I inquired, midway through a film, if there was popcorn for sale in the lobby. Rather than face the wrath of two goateed, cable sweater-clad graduate students, I slunk out.

Liz followed me. We went next door to T. Sweets, where we ate ice cream and made gratuitous jokes at Mr. Lebrat's expense.

"Hey, this stuff is pretty good," Liz said, as she chipped away at her gingersnap ice cream.

"It's great," I agreed. "And just think: if you decide to come to Princeton, you'll be able to eat here all the time."

"How could I say no to all this?" Liz said cryptically.


You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu