ASU grad watches life through a shadowy lens

December 10, 2019

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. 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." Download Full Image

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.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


ASU grad follows passion to give back through health care

December 10, 2019

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

Although Sarah Pinson is a born and raised Texan from Fort Worth, she has a brand new, global outlook on life — all thanks to her experience at ASU. ASU Online student Sarah Pinson Sarah Pinson Download Full Image

Pinson has always been passionate about health care, and through earning her degree in Applied Science of Health Sciences, she’s one step closer in her professional journey to becoming a physician assistant. She can still remember the very moment that inspired her career — a simple interaction with a patient that just “clicked” for her, when the patient recognized her in the hospital from her previous work during clinical rotations. In that moment Pinson knew that she could make a difference in someone’s life, even for just a small amount of time by showing care and compassion for those in need.

It was during her ASU study abroad program to Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway where her point of view totally changed. A professor helped guide her and open her eyes to other cultures, which changed her outlook forever. She’s now approaching her local work with a global outlook that she wouldn’t have had without this life-changing experience.

This December Pinson will be celebrating her hard-earned degree, but she’s not stopping there. Next, she has her sights set on PA school, and she plans to apply across the nation to several PA programs to continue her health care career journey.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment was before attending ASU, when I was working as a part time employee at the hospital where I had my clinical rotation. I remember an interaction that I had with a patient who I had seen before as a student and they remembered me, it was then that the feeling of making a difference in a patient’s life, even for just a small amount of time, was so rewarding. I thought to myself that I wanted more of that feeling, to really help people when they are at their sickest and need the utmost compassion and care. I want to continue doing that and striving for myself to be able to give that in return.

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

A: Something that I learned was on my amazing opportunity to study abroad. I had the opportunity to be chosen to go on a summer long trip to Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway to learn about the way that they approach health and healthcare as a culture. One of the biggest experiences I took away from that trip was how they treat the elderly when it comes their health care, and I experienced that firsthand at a LGBTQ nursing home in Stockholm, Sweden. It was almost a culture shock to see how happy and healthy many of them were compared to the few I’ve been to in America in the way that the residents acted. They were all very interactive with each of us and happy to show us their apartments and answer any of our questions. Many of the health care professionals I met there also had a firm belief that a proper, healthy diet was a great way to solve most problems.

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

A: (Lecturer) Traci Grgich, while she was never actually my professor in an enrolled class, she assisted along our Scandinavian aboard learning trip. She was able to open my eyes to another culture that was different to what I grew up in and was accustom to. The way she guided me allowed me to not only appreciate the culture, but also respect it as well by learning simple things like how to say thank you in each language. Before that experience, I never really thought about how I presented myself to another culture before, so when I went abroad again for a vacation, I was much more self aware than I would have been if I had not been on that trip prior.

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

A: It is easy to procrastinate and say to yourself, “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “It isn’t due for another four days.” I would say do not get caught up in that mindset. It is good to try to do the work as you get it or even an assignment a night. One reason is it relives the pressure of looming due dates so you can focus on other things.

Another reason is it can allow you to look back at an assignment or reading and find areas where you could improve, like better wording for a writing assignment or even get proper feedback from the professor. You can’t do those as well when you are rushing to get the assignments done last minute.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: Surprisingly, in my bedroom on my bed with my dog cuddling next to me for moral support. I also had great support from my husband who would be there for when my brain would just go into a block and he would help me out of it by thinking out the box.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I still have more school to do. I plan to attend my mother’s alma mater here in Texas, I have a few classes to take to fulfill eligibility requirements to apply for PA school. After finishing those courses, I will be applying across the nation to several PA programs.

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

A: I think we should invest in cleaner energy. It’s no secret that the nonrenewable recourses we have on this earth like crude oil are dwindling to help keep up with our planet’s population. We need to be looking at what we can do to replace those recourses because we will run out sooner or later and that will have a drastic effect on our way of life.

Carrie Peterson

Associate Director, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University