It was with much sadness that I received the news of Lewis Cole's passing. Lewis taught the very first class I took in my Masters program at Columbia in 2002, a course so different from any other I had ever heard of regarding film, that it was a shocking revelation. I both loved and rejected it instantly as alien to everything I knew about cinema, a feeling both wonderful and unsettling. It wouldn't be long before I'd find everything eye-opening-- even the things I disagreed with.
And disagreed I did. Lewis would ask the class to see certain movies and we'd discuss them structurally and thematically, comparing things like Jaws and Amarcord, discovering Ugetsu and Kanal. I was the only one in class who spoke out against the obvious formula behind 8 Mile, yet he defended it as a structurally sound example of contemporary cinema. I stand by my opinion, but I don't deny that what Lewis taught was invaluable in my development as a writer.
His teaching style and mannerisms were unique (and often mimicked by students) and his relentless ability to see the humor in even the most tragic of stories made many a student mumble under their breath about how misunderstood their stories were (I'll never forget how he asked a colleague to shift the tone of his screenplay from heart-wrenching period melodrama to comedy).
He passed away last week at 62, a tall, imposing mentor who would shred one's script if necessary and be willing to listen to even the most ludicrous of pitches if it helped improve one's writing. He will be missed.
I also discovered that David Jones had passed away in September. David was the director of the films Jacknife (with Robert DeNiro and Ed Harris), Betrayal (Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley, based on the Harold Pinter play) and The Trial (adapted from the Franz Kafka novel), among other, as well as lots of TV and theater.
David taught a master class in directing during my latter years at Columbia, and he had an even and decisive approach to directing I wish more people would emulate.
I was fortunate enough to be his assistant during my time in his class (mostly course administrative affairs) and got to speak with him often about my projects. He visited me during a film shoot and provided helpful hints and support, and was especially warm and caring whenever he'd talk to actors. He would bring friends of his as guests to the class and even opened up his apartment to have more sessions than originally intended when Columbia wasn't able to find us a space to do so.
Rest in Peace, Lewis and David.