Alexander Payne to Direct His First Doc About Legendary Film Historian Jeanine Basinger, His ‘Favorite Teacher I Never Had’

Last Saturday, at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles (via The Hollywood Reporter), “Holdovers” director Alexander Payne presented The Robert Osborne Award — an award named for the late TCM anchor that honors individuals dedicated to preserving classic film history — to an educator and historian that many people may not have heard of. Her name is Jeanine Basinger and before her 60-year career teaching at Wesleyan University, or writing 13 books on film that continue to inspire, she was a movie theater usher in a town in South Dakota with only two venues. So vast was her love for the medium that, according to Payne, she worked “at both theaters.”

It was this love that fostered a passion in Payne as well despite never having had a single class with Basinger. In his speech to her, he said, “I didn’t go to Wesleyan. And I would say she’s my favorite teacher that I never had, except it’s not true. She is my teacher. She is all of our teacher.”

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So deep is Payne’s respect for this unsung hero of film history that he’s decided to direct his first documentary with Basinger’s life and career as his main subject. As a fellow Midwesterner, it would seem he views it as his duty to share her story, saying, “During that exact same decade the Cahiers du Cinema crowd in Paris were smoking their Gauloises and spearheading the auteur theory and, in New York City, Andrew Sarris was sharpening his pencils, a young lady in Brookings, South Dakota, was also inventing the auteur theory, all by her lonesome.”

He later added, “I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the people who have probably known more about cinema than anyone else who’s ever lived, Bertrand Tavernier, Leonard [Maltin], Martin Scorsese, Pierre Rissient, but then there’s Jeanine in a class by herself.”

As he offered out the award, Payne closed his speech by saying, “Jeanine Basinger is a supernova in the firmament of cinema; that her brilliant brain could have led her to the top of any profession, any discipline; that we are so lucky that she chose movies; that when she teaches us movies, she’s also teaching us life and ethics and strength; and that she’s the greatest intellectual we’ll ever meet, but is not an elitist.”

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