THE END OF THE WORLD
By Gregory Crofton
Former Vanity Fair writer Matt Tyrnauer’s (Studio 54, Where’s My Roy Cohn?) new doc “The End of the World” examines what made Bennington College a very liberal and an especially good place to be in the 1980s.
The college was founded for women in 1920, but by the ’80s it was co-ed with important American authors — Donna Tartt (The Secret History, The Goldfinch) and Brett Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho) —as two of its students.
This was by design. The college attracted aspiring artists in part because it hired successful professionals to teach. It also offered an isolated but insulated town where students fraternized with teachers and were allowed to set up their own course of study.
Professor and author Joe McGinniss taught “New Journalism” to Ellis. The results were explosive: Ellis’ first novel “Less Than Zero” was published while he was still a student and the novel was a massive success. Tartt transferred from Ole Miss to Bennington and never looked back. Much of “The Secret History” is drawn from her days of frolicking on campus.
The title of Tyrnauer’s doc — “The End of the World” — refers to a spot on the edge of campus where mist gathered. To students it appeared to be the end of the world, and certainly a good metaphor for the Bennington bubble they all enjoyed living and learning in.
Liz Coleman, hired as president of the college in 1987, was the prick that popped that bubble. She fired tenured professors and slashed budgets. American culture had changed by then too, bringing with it increased lawsuits and artistic censorship. Coleman within a couple of years swept the magic of Bennington into oblivion.
“The End of the World” is a fascinating addition to the Tyrnauer nonfiction canon. The film screens at DOC NYC tomorrow night at IFC Center, and will likely end up on Showtime (an executive producer of the doc).