I first met Will, student in the one-year Film Master programme, in a course on documentary, and then in one on metaphor. I came to know him as a friendly and polite student, and as an avid reader of the course literature. Marie Aude Baronian, with whom Will also took a course, has the same recollection: “I remember Will as a very nice, smiling and enthusiastic student. When he came to class he was very genuinely interested in the topics and was always engaged and inspired the discussions. His presence in the classroom was very much appreciated. Moreover, he was a true cinephile!” Blandine Joret, another colleague, remembers: “His presence and interaction during class have always been marked by mutual respect and intellectual curiosity. Never afraid to tackle the most challenging film theories, his remarkable eloquence and kindness will be remembered and deeply missed.”
A smart student, Will wrote fine essays whose English, even considering he was a native speaker, made for excellent reading. For his essay on metaphor he examined, perhaps tellingly, the recurrent HAPPINESS/ECSTACY IS UP in four videoclips (including “All the lovers”, by Kylie Minogue), demonstrating how good and pleasant things are metaphorically signalled by being “high” and “going upward” (and also as “white” or “light”) in the visuals of these clips.
Maybe the topic appealed to him because Will himself was not always such a happy man. This only became clear to me after he had asked me to supervise his thesis. I gladly accepted, not only because of his scholarly qualities but also because I liked him. Inspired by his previous work in the music business, he was going to analyse so-called “lyric videos” – clips created by fans to accompany songs of their favourite artist. The most interesting of such clips ingeniously capture the rhythms and rhymes in the songs’ lyrics in imaginative animations: an original topic, about which I was keen to learn more.
But Will’s high sensitivity to stress and his fear that what he wrote was not good enough often paralysed him. Sometimes I didn’t hear from him for many weeks – only to receive, to my relief (but not my surprise), another good chapter draft that showed he had not given up. We then had a Zoom meeting (if necessary) or a live one (if possible) to discuss the draft. Clearly he was determined to fight his numbing obsession with perfection by completing his thesis and obtaining his MA Film diploma. And indeed, in May 2022 he delivered a first version that was almost finished, so all looked upbeat and bright.
It was not to be, though. As teachers and advisors we think we meet and guide students for a few years, and then wave them goodbye and wish them well for their after-classroom lives. But in the week of 20 June Will suddenly died in his sleep, 32 years old, making us woefully aware of the transience and fragility of our encounters with students in a much more shocking way. We are very sad that Will did not live to bring his MA thesis to its full fruition. We are very sad that it was not given to him to bring his life to full fruition.
Charles Forceville, 29 June 2022