ASU grad watches life through a shadowy lens

Graduating ASU student Patrick Boontho / Courtesy photo

ASU film and media studies graduate Patrick Boontho said that applying the literary theory of abjection to film noir "is kinda like how (detection fiction author) Dashiell Hammett once described when reality meets with corruption; it is like peeling the layers of an onion. It only gets more rotten the closer you get to its core."


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

What makes a film a “noir”? Must it have a scene that takes place in a smoke-filled police interrogation room? Must the protagonist be brooding and struggling with personal demons? Must the overall cinematic theme be “crime and punishment” or does “existentialism and dread” count? Scholars and fans debate.

While the exact definition of “noir” is still up for discussion, graduating Arizona State University student Patrick Boontho’s appreciation for it certainly isn’t.

Boontho, who grew up in Phoenix and is earning a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies this December, is an admitted fan of all things noir. He acknowledges that — ironically? — his interest in crime film was piqued in a justice studies course.

Boontho’s noir fascination is an overarching one, ranging from media to culture, and it has led Boontho to intellectual engagement with literary theory as well as to other social ventures.

“Patrick’s love of film (especially noir, Japanese cinema and Japanese noir cinema) is very contagious,” Department of English academic advisor Mollie Connelly-MacNeill said. “He goes above and beyond to engage with the community, sometimes hosting film events locally. He also worked with film instructor Michelle Martinez to develop coursework for a Japan Study Abroad.”

The connection between noir and Boontho’s other passion, Japanese cinema, is closer than you might think. One of Boontho’s cinematic idols is famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and according to Boontho, several entries in Kurosawa’s filmography fit the noir aesthetic. Boontho stumbled onto Kurosawa’s work after exhausting a list of American noirs.

“What makes Kurosawa speak to me,” Boontho said, “is that his films have a bit of a western touch. Which isn’t much of a surprise since Kurosawa had watched many silent films from the west when he was a child.”

Boontho hopes to rectify what he sees as a dearth of academic attention to Kurosawa’s legacy.

“Many films,” he said, “such as ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Warriors,’ ‘Magnum Force,’ ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ ‘Isle of Dogs,’ and many others, have drawn inspiration from Kurosawa, yet it is a shame that he isn’t as recognized as other directors.”

We sat down for a brief chat with Boontho, where he spoke more about noir, “proto-studying” film, and, how it all relates to Kristeva’s theory of abjection and horror (gulp).

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: When I was doing dual-enrollment at Arcadia High School and Scottsdale Community College, I had a very keen interest in film noir, especially after studying the Knapp Commission and “The French Connection” in justice studies. While there were no “film noir” classes available to me at that time, I had to do personal research on my own. This culminated into studying several aspects of the genre, from its history, philosophy, aesthetics, dialogue, politics, race, gender and sexuality. Even delving deeper into the genre, I managed to personally watch over 170 film noirs. At some point, I learned that there was a degree suited for film and media studies, so I took that opportunity to learn other aspects of film and media while using my previous knowledge to the test. It is a little difficult for me to know precisely where my “aha” moment really was, but if anything, I was “proto-studying” film outside of academics.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: A particular lesson I’ve learned at ASU that has changed my perspective was understanding Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection. What fascinates me about is that there is a border of where we safely know and are familiar with to then a point of disgust and horror. Like a decaying flower, we acknowledge that it was once living but we are disgusted by its rotting nature.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Other than economic reasons, ASU was relatively close enough to where I could be studying my academics and be present with my family. If anything, my family had put a lot of effort into supporting in my journey through education, so it was nice to be close by them at their side.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Daniel Gilfillan had once told me to take life at an easy pace whilst staying focused on my own personal interests.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: A helpful advice I’d give to students is to plan ahead and be organized in their work. I recommend doing certain assignments as early as they can, so that there is room to reevaluate their work and have time for other personal interests.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is definitely the Hayden Library; essentially, it is a good place for students to meet for projects, research, study, or just a place to hang out.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: For next spring, I’ll be tutoring and guiding various students here at ASU. For the following summer, I’ll take in the interest of an internship whilst seeking a master’s degree to become a professor of film and media studies. Additionally, I am currently writing a novel involving the themes of film noir and the Asian diaspora.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: While I am not an expert in sustainability, I would use that money into environmental watch organizations such as the Amazon Watch, an organization that not only protects the Amazon forest but also its indigenous populace.

More Arts, humanities and education


An image of colorful video game equipment and screens in a photo credited to Stewart A. Elrod / Brandon Skeli on Flickr.

The future is a story

If there was one word reflecting the zeitgeist of today’s media environment, it might be “storytelling.” From its documented role…

A vintage maroon school desk floating on a flat ASU gold background

AI's role in enhancing education

Editor's note: This feature article is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…

A shopping cart with a calculator, paintbrush and gear on a flat ASU maroon background

How AI is helping tailor the student experience at ASU

Editor's note: This expert Q&A is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…