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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ivory Tower (Blu-ray)
Ivory Tower (Blu-ray)
Paramount // PG-13 // September 30, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted October 7, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

As someone dumb enough to earn not one, but two college degrees on the financially smart major of screenwriting, I'm certainly not the person to dole out any advice on the validity of contemporary higher education. Listening to my personal opinions about this subject would be like taking home decorating tips from a demolitions expert. That's why we have highly effective cause documentaries like Ivory Tower to condense the many issues with American higher education and dole them out in a clear, honest and concise fashion.

And boy is this whole thing one giant clusterf---? Director Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside The New York Times) deserves praise for putting together this informative documentary, but he should be commended most on his ability to effectively cram so many colossal issues with college education in the USA into a running time of only 90 minutes. An entire 12-hour Ken Burns doc might not have been enough to untangle this web of frustrations.

Ivory Tower is a dry and mostly statistical look at the many problems surrounding modern college education. This issue is already such an emotionally charged one that a levelheaded approach is perhaps the best option. As a documentary for film buffs, it can be too straightforward, shot and put together like a PBS special without many emotional touches, but for students or parents of students who are getting close to making a choice about whether or not to pursue a higher education in this country, it's essential viewing.

Of course the biggest problem at hand is the insanely rising cost of education, which causes a lot of our youth to think twice before considering college, a path that used to be seen as mandatory for anyone who could have the ability to pursue it. Not only has tuition prices skyrocketed during the last 35 years or so (Near the beginning of the Reagan administration. Coincidence?), leading to a trillion dollars (Not a typo) of student debt in the country, but the return investment on a college education, i.e. better paying jobs or any jobs at all for that matter, is no longer a given.

Not only is the looming threat of the student debt on our economy a major concern for all of us, the problem is even more tragic on a personal level. After students are saddled with an average of $25.000 of debt, if they can't find a high-paying job right away, the unfair amount of interest kicks in, making sure that they'll not only be paying it off their entire lives, they might even have to leave the rest of the debt to their descendents as a neat little present.

Some of the most haunting images in Ivory Tower consist of college graduates showcasing their student loan bills, which list up to $100.000 in interest alone for debt that's lower than $50.000.

However, loans are not the only problem, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Another huge issue is colleges having to compete with each other in the free market to snatch as many students whose parents can directly pay out-of-state tuition without having to apply for any payment plan.

This leads to colleges having to increase the allure of their institutions to rich brats by rebranding themselves as holiday resorts where you merely get a diploma at the end. As they spend more and more money on spiffy-looking campuses with an insane amount of extra-curricular amenities, they have to jack up the price of tuition while cutting down on faculty. In the end, students who are there to actually get an education end up being the ones who get truly screwed in the middle of thousands of party students who are primarily looking to get laid.

Even the most non-profit of colleges fall into this trap. After spending an unholy amount of money on an attractive new building, The Cooper Union, which has been offering free education for the last 150 years, has to consider asking for tuition. The most emotionally charged moments in Ivory Tower come from the scenes depicting Cooper students occupying the school president's office for months in order for the institution to reverse their tuition policy.

In the middle of all this bleakness, there does seem to be some silver lining, and Rossi's film spends an adequate amount of time exploring other options. One such option that can become a huge relief once the technological kinks are sorted out is MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, which offer free education over the Internet.

The Blu-Ray:

Video:

Ivory Tower is presented in 1080p via a clear transfer that doesn't show any video noise. Even though this is a presentation devoid of any blemishes, the 60 Minutes-style visual nature of the film makes it a non-essential Blu-Ray purchase. The content of the documentary is important, so if you can't find the Blu-Ray but can get your hands on a DVD or a streaming option, go for it.

Audio:

Eighty percent of Ivory Tower's audio consists of interviews from talking heads and dry narration. The disc offers a DTS-HD 5.1 track but it might as well have been in stereo. The narration and interviews are heard clearly and that's what matters.

Extras:

Deleted Scenes: Two scenes, seven minutes in total showing two interviews. Nothing essential.

Q&A Session with Andrew Rossi: A 15-minute Q&A that was conducted after a screening of the film. One of the students from the Cooper Union occupation sits in with Rossi as they mostly talk about how higher education became a consumer-based system.

Final Thoughts:

I just hope that during the eighteen years it will take for my daughter to reach college age, Ivory Tower will be a documentary that looks dated and overly pessimistic, as opposed to an accurate predictor of doom. This documentary should be sought out for anyone about to be involved in a college education.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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