By Ahmed Latif
All cinephiles and avid moviegoers are familiar with the laws of film. These laws, seemingly antediluvian, are an attempt to protect the audience, regardless of size, and maximize the enjoyment derived from viewing the film. For example, pointing out the state of suspended disbelief with a comment such as ‘don’t overreact, you know this is a movie right?’ is absolutely forbidden. Another sample law of the cinema is to never stop the movie at the credits or leave the theatre at the beginning of said credits. The credits are an ode to those whose tireless efforts, getting lattes and jumping from windows, made this movie experience even possible. However, most people are not as familiar with a little known law of film known as the Brikerian Rule.
The Brikerian Rule was established in 1979 by one Elias Ulysses Brikerian in Ithaca, New York. Brikerian, a cinematic researcher for Northwestern Ithaca University, decided that he will watch a movie on VHS that a colleague, Archie Hamilton III Professor of Greco-Roman History, had lent him. The VHS was of the 1972 film Butterflies Are Free, an adaptation of Leonard Gershe’s acclaimed play of the same name. The film – nominated for three Academy Awards including a win for Eileen Heckart as Best Supporting Actress – was unanimously regarded as a cult classic and labelled one of the most important movies of the era. Brikerian, pre-occupied through much of the 1970s researching stock footage of trains colliding, had never heard of the movie. Hamilton insisted that Brikerian watch the movie as it was a ‘must-see’. Brikerian watched the movie in his typical meticulous fashion and recorded his observations and thoughts. At 7:49 PM on Saturday, March 5th, 1979 he finished watching the movie and noted that he “did not like it”. Then at 8:53 PM with nothing else to do and nothing on TV he decided to watch the movie again; this time however by the end he had noted that it was “rather tolerable”. As the night advanced, still bored and intrigued by his changing attitude towards the film, Brikerian watched it again; this time the film ended at 3:23 AM, and he noted that “it was darn pretty awesome”.
Upon returning to his office Brikerian now obsessed with this phenomenon decided to begin researching it. In late April he saw Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Manhattan three times in different theatres over the span of eleven hours. In July he watched Al Pacino in …And Justice For All four times in thirteen hours. This research would be duplicated throughout the rest of the year but utilizing differing viewing circumstances, time periods, and test subjects. The films viewed were Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, The China Syndrome, Chapter Two, Norma Rae, La Cage aux Folles, and Werner Herzog’s remake Nosferatu the Vampyre. The findings were astounding.
Brikerian published them in a peer-reviewed journal discussing the cinematic arts. The journal, The Ithacan Cinematic Researcher Bi-Weekly, sold over 35,000 issues in three days with Brikerian on the front page; a far cry from their average of 0.5 issues sold every three days. The article caused widespread intrigue and a massive uproar. Filmmakers refuted it, cinemas questioned it, studios endorsed it, and audiences were left absolutely gobsmacked by it. Even the Pope had an opinion on the matter, denouncing the findings as heresy; a move that was later rescinded by the Pontiff. Following the immense media scrutiny Brikerian retreated from the spotlight and refused to answer his critics, who had a field day; he was even mocked in an iconic cartoon in the New Yorker. The findings were dubbed The Brikerian Rule by their biggest proponent, and editor of the East German Berlin-based newspaper Neues Deutschland, Helen Uttenblammer. However, the rule disappeared from public view abruptly. All of this was until 1993 when it was the subject of a controversial documentary by counterculture icon Spike Jonze. The documentary, Voyage, tracks the roots of the Brikerian family from Greek and Armenian immigrants to middle-class academia in which Elias was brought up. The documentary discusses the inability of the American public to accept the Brikerian Rule even though it has a scientific foundation. It also investigates the philosophical and metaphysical repercussions of the rule as well as its recent popularity in Eastern European cinema, now emerging out of the shadow of communism. The documentary’s makers found Brikerian living on small orchard just outside of Ithaca with Larry the dancing turtle, whom he had saved from a savage ringmaster. Brikerian explained the rule in the documentary and laid out the main principles along with how he derived them from his original findings. He also revealed that he received over 10 million pieces of hate mail from 1979 to 1982, almost exclusively from the Chicago suburb of Cicero, Al Capone’s former criminal capital. Following this iconic documentary the rule has been widely acknowledged as true, tested, and proven; albeit while remaining rather unknown to the masses.
The Brikerian Rule states as follows:
Brikerian is now Professor at San Ernesto Universidad in Havana, Cuba. He only teaches one undergraduate class and one graduate class per semester: Great Mustaches in Film, and The Impact of Beards on Modern Cinema, respectively. He is still widely respected in socialist countries. He also has a recurring role on the breakfast television program, Buenos Días Cuba on the state television channel, where he regularly reveals his favourite snack and movie pairings. Recently he revealed that chimichangas are best paired with Quentin Tarantino films, especially Inglorious Basterds.