When I was a senior in college, I made an impulsive phone call to Regis asking for John Loose. I was about to embark on a Senior English Thesis on the idea of the epic in American Cinema, and needed some direction. John wasn’t available, and though I left my name and phone number, what were the chances he would return the call? I doubted he even remembered me—I hadn’t seen him or spoken to him for nearly four years, since his Advanced Film Elective had concluded at the end of the 2nd trimester of my senior year (this was back in the day when 99% of seniors did full-time Christian Service during the 3rd trimester).
But John did return my call, and over the next few months we talked about the scope of the thesis, movies to consider, and most importantly some critical film analysis to read. John read multiple rough drafts, and each time returned it with feedback. I was no longer on his classroom roster, yet he clearly still saw me as his student. And I certainly saw him as my teacher.
A year and a half later, when I joined the Regis faculty, John and I reunited as colleagues, but I could not have anticipated that we would become close friends. He sometimes joked that I was his (illegitimate) son, and there always seemed to both of us a grain of truth there. As I told him last week when I visited him in hospice, he cultivated in me something that my parents, for all their virtues, could never have done: independent thinking. In particular, he modeled creatively critical thinking, and was masterful at drawing out the same quality in his students. Before I left the Regis faculty, John, Chris Reisig ’00, and I co-taught a class on The Wire, and John loved hearing the students interpret the visual “grammar” of the storytelling.
But let’s not forget that John equally reveled in talking about the symbolism of Rambo’s hunting knife or the train going into the tunnel at the end of North by Northwest. I once had the uncanny experience of going to the movie theater with John Loose and Chris Reisig to see Borat. The movie was hysterical, but it was even funnier—and stranger—to watch John laugh so hard he couldn’t even talk. Who else could talk about dialectical materialism one moment and laugh at phallic symbols the next? Actually, a good number of Regians can do that, which is probably why John was a perennial favorite among his Sophomore and Senior students.
But the truth is that John was also one of the most sensitive and emotionally astute people I’ve ever known. Once, during a particularly painful period in his life, John confided in me this wisdom: “You can’t force people to change. They have to want to change. All you can do in the meantime is love them.” This was equally true of his attitude toward his students. In spite of his firm Leftist beliefs, John never aimed to indoctrinate his students—he loved them enough to want them to think for themselves. That said, John was unrepentant about being a Lefty. Back in May, when he was first hospitalized for the blood disorder that ultimately felled him, I visited him in St. Luke’s hospital. Disoriented, slipping in and out of consciousness, John nevertheless clung to his wit. At one point he looked up at the TV, tuned to a Wall Street show, and said, “Can you believe it? They’re trying to cure me into a capitalist.”
John didn’t remember that visit, but he was fully cognizant last week when I saw him at Bellevue. For two hours he held court while Joe Quinn ’04, Matt Thomas ’93, John James ’93, and I sat around his bed. He talked about his declining health, his decision not to prolong his life artificially, and about his convictions on a good life—the love of family and the fellowship of friends. At each turn, he punctuated his observations with the same Loosean phrase: “This is just what I think. I’m not certain, you understand.” Even in his last days, he modeled the intellectual honesty he had always valued in the classroom.
I was fortunate enough to spend a few minutes alone with John before I left the hospital. I told him that I loved him, that he had changed me for life, and that I was profoundly grateful for our friendship. There was so much more I wanted to say—after all, we had known each other for 23 years. But I could only force out tears.
John squeezed me hand. “It’s ok. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes…you don’t need more words.” From the man who liked to refer to movie-making as “writing with light,” this was fitting final wisdom.
Thank you, John.
Christian Talbot is a 1993 graduate of Regis High School. He currently serves as the Head of School at Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, PA.
John Loose’s presence was great—no one who knew him could deny this—and will be greatly missed. He related very genuinely to others; although he was, among other things, an experienced actor, in life John refused to play any part. He never affected the wise educator, or the role model (although he would accept those mantles, with some irony); when he joked with students it never was a matter of condescension, because it was never a matter of artifice. And in this way John was the wise educator, the role model, and in this way John brought us into the joke. John helped us get it.
It might just be a constraint of praising an educator that it involves cliché, but, if so, it is particularly unfortunate in this case, as unconventional as John’s style of education was. Film class was an oasis in Regis, where we stopped caring about grades and put deadlines to one side for a while. (After all, we were watching movies.) In the hands of one form of lesser teacher, Film class would have become merely the opportunity for this kind of relaxation. In the hands of another form of lesser teacher, Film class would have jealously vied for the same kind (if not amount) of attention afforded conventional classes. John took film far too seriously to make the first kind of mistake, and took education far too seriously to make the second. Even a fine school breeds travesty when, by the pressures it exerts, it encourages academic strategies that reduce a subject to a means to an end. But in Mr. Loose’s class, we came to meet films halfway, not motivated by such strategies, but because we had learned that an informed experience was more enjoyable.
When I became friends with John it served also as a lesson in the possibilities of friendship: I learned that age and educational dynamics inform a relationship without having to overdetermine it. If films can suffer from stereotyped characters, real life can suffer from stereotyped relations. Those of you reading this who knew John well will know that he was extraordinarily generous with his time and attention. He listened patiently and at great length, and every remark or gift from him reflected a detailed level of care. Alumni who knew John only as Mr. Loose in Sophomore year might not be familiar with these aspects of his character.
John was as much of a student as he was a teacher. Books grew in his apartment like bamboo. He read restlessly about world politics and recent history, and to belong to his group email was to be freed of the effort of doing one’s own research in these areas. His frame of reference reflected not a fetish for knowledge, nor a savantish facility for acquiring it, as much as it reflected a deep and stubborn concern about the state of affairs in the world. It was hard to care about silly things around him. For all his wit, John was no flaneur.
This should not give the impression that John attended overwhelmingly or disproportionately to political matters. He loved art independently of this--particularly, although not exclusively, Renaissance painting and sculpture. His regular travels to Italy were not vacations; they were visits to things or scenes of beauty that could only be experienced in person. (I was lucky enough to see Florence with him for a few days. When I visit it again, it will be because of him.)
John’s writing comprehended these characteristics beautifully. Underground River (both script and novelisation) is perfect, as far as anyone who has read it can tell. The political is not an aspect of the characters’ interplay, one of many forces at work. It is a dimension of the action; it is inescapable: a measure and not a measurement. John’s three-story ‘triptych’, as he called it, inspired by Giorgione’s Tempest, closely observes family and love dynamics. It’s intimate, like the paintings John loved, not abstract. Its content is modern, in that it is ageless, but the reader can see why John preferred Masaccio to Dali: here is a real thing, not a property of real things.
There is a danger of too much gravity in these reflections, and that would not be the right kind of spirit in which to remember John. We probably don’t run this risk, though: while John didn’t make a show of his humor, he didn’t conceal it either, and it probably has been a universal experience of film for thirty-five years at Regis that John was funny. I would not want to disgrace the stories so many of us know and love by trying to recount any here, but again there is no pressing need; this aspect of the legacy is very assured. (In a similar way, I will leave to other traditions the recounting of John’s various celebrity involvements. For the record, they are pretty great, but they belong in a slightly different kind of record.)
Now, although we can take for granted that Regians will be familiar with John’s wit, we should avoid a specific error: we mistake audacity for acerbity. John, within the context of Regis, perhaps displayed the former. (I would bet that this is the consensus, although it is a tricky thing to articulate.) But to infer the latter would wrong his memory. John had a good sense of humor, which is a bigger thing than wit. If this meant an occasional irreverence in class, it has meant other things in other circumstances. Most recently, John’s good humor allowed him to approach his death in a calm, rational way, to research it, to discuss it with others, to handle it philosophically in real time. The many people who have seen John during these last days of his life will know how closely he matched his will and reason to his circumstances. I think John has been doing this his whole life.
Francis Fallon is a 2000 graduate of the Regis High School. He currently teaches at St. John's University and SUNY Purchase, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.