Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Those were the days...

Essential reading alert: Jim Emerson (of course) of the fantastic and...oh what's the point...you all know by now.  Just head over to Scanners where Jim has posted an interesting question regarding why me may not see all of the "essential" or "classic" films (I added the quotation marks) we may desire to, or perhaps that we had the desire to seek out in our younger days.  It's an interesting question and one I felt compelled to respond to in his comments section.  The gist of the comment: I think the oversaturation of the marker (i.e. Netflix Instant View) is both a blessing and a curse.  Too many choices leads to stagnation for me in regards to watching essential films from world cinema.  In fact...it's got me thinking about dumping this whole blogging business, which I also think contributes to the lack of movie watching I do, as ironic as that sounds, because I'm too concerned with watching movies solely for the purpose of the blog where I hope to have something new to say about the movie...that becomes a problem when one tries discussing Bergman or Ozu or Dreyer...what is there left to say about those giants of cinema?  It's a dilemma that often weighs on me, and the task of writing about them is so daunting that it almost turns me off of wanting to see their films.  Where in the past I would have simply just gone down to the local library and grabbed seven or eight classic films from world cinema and drank them all in over the span of a week.

Don't get me wrong, I love the blogosphere and the dialogue surrounding contemporary films that can be found within it (I don't know what I do without Jim's superlative essays on No Country for Old Men or Keith Ulrich's insightful look into Miami Vice), but I also wonder if my hobby of blog writing has been dictating what kinds of movies I watch, neutering my film growth in the process?  Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of stuff to be learned about contemporary cinema and American cinema...but I do feel like my knowledge of world cinema has fallen by the wayside.

One glance at Tim Brayton's amazing Top 100 films of the decade list and I'm rushing to Netflix to add a ton of titles from other countries.  I wish I didn't have to do that, I wish I had already seen those films.  I know that geography has something to do with it -- being in Salem, OR isn't exactly the heartland for world cinema -- but really I'm only 40 minutes away from Portland, which has some pretty good options for non-mainstream/non-American film. 

Perhaps that's just the difference between being a young cinephile and being a little older, married, and having a job that isn't part-time.  I was more willing to rush to Portland to catch a film at the Hollywood Theater on a one week run, or I was more willing to drive the 40 miles or so to Cinema 21 to catch a revival of something like Bicycle Thieves.  I don't know...I don't think there's an easy answer here.  I love these kinds of questions, though, and I hope that you all will read Jim's piece.


  1. I read that Emerson piece, too, and left a comment -- although from kind of a different angle. But a reply on this ...

    I'm too concerned with watching movies solely for the purpose of the blog where I hope to have something new to say about the movie...that becomes a problem when one tries discussing Bergman or Ozu or Dreyer...what is there left to say about those giants of cinema? ... I also wonder if my hobby of blog writing has been dictating what kinds of movies I watch, neutering my film growth in the process?

    I understand what you're saying, but the great thing about the blogosphere is that it can be so personal. Your publication of an essay doesn't need to be reliant upon it being "new." And "new" isn't even always a great model anyway. Look at the number of stories that get reported by traditional media precisely because they are "new," but that as a result create a very skewed perspective of the world. (Reporting on that exception to the rule, for example, until it seems like it is the rule.)

    If your exposure to one of the "giants of cinema" leads to you making observations that have already been made by the giants of criticism, then it does. But my guess is that, most of the time, in wrestling with a film you'll find something, however small, that's very personal. And that's worth reading.

    Further, while some "greats" (filmmakers or films) have been written into the ground, think of all the recent but pre-blog stuff that has hardly been touched by detailed and thoughtful analysis -- like all those films from 1999 that you've been celebrating here.

    Anyway, I understand the overall dilemma and certainly the time crunch. But, as Ed Howard proves constantly, you can hit films in whatever order you get to them. So let the blog follow your movie-watching desires. Whatever those are.

  2. You shouldnt give up on bloggin, even about classical movies that many have seen, because even though a great many things have been said about a great many directors...your blog will always be your take on it, your opinion. It will be the film filtered through your experiences and who you are.

  3. I was all ready to offer a lengthy response to your post, Kevin and then Jason Bellamy stole my thunder! Heh. I agree wholeheartedly with what he says. You should review what you want to and not try and second guess yourself. Every once in a while I think, oh, maybe I should review this obscure indie film that very little has been written on instead of a well-known film like, say COLLATERAL. What new can I bring to the table? Well, I think that what you can bring is your own personal take/perspective.

    Case in point: your Revisiting 1999 series. You cover several films that have been written about extensively but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying every single one of them because you are bringing your own, distinctive take to the each other. For example, as I stated in the comments section for your post THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, I think that is the best thing you've written to date because it is not just well-written but also a very passionate and personal write-up of why you think the film is so good.

    So, I wouldn't sweat it in regards to finding time to watch certain films. Watch what you want and write about what you want.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Jason and J.D. You should continue writing about whatever you're moved to write about. I think the constant pressure to find something "new" to say isn't especially valuable or important: what matters is how you engage with a film, what about it moves you or speaks to you (or fails to, as the case may be). In some ways, everything that could be said has been said before, somewhere, but that doesn't mean that yet another perspective on Tokyo Story or The Seventh Seal or The Passion of Joan of Arc can't yield some interesting insights and observations and thoughts.

    Also, as Jason said, while there's always plenty of coverage for "the greats" and whatever's new this week, there are plenty of movies to watch and write about that don't fit into either of those categories. Your 1999 series is certainly a great example; you don't see much in-depth discussion of The Limey, say, or Scorsese's unfairly maligned Bringing Out the Dead, anywhere.

    By the same token, let's say you go on an Ozu binge and find you have nothing to say (unlikely, but still...). So? Write about something else. Don't make blogging a duty, by any means, but also don't underestimate what you personally can add to the conversation, even about films where you might believe everything's been said already.

  5. Hey, Kevin, I just want to second what everyone else has written. You're a fantastic writer and should seek out whatever it is you want to see. You should do it in whatever order you'd like, whatever piques your interest the most, and maybe sometimes write about it, and sometimes not.

    But I can guarantee you that you will give whatever it is a personal spin. You're just that kind of writer.

  6. Jason:

    Thanks for the comment. I think my problem is that I let the blog do the choosing for me...like I have to write something after I watch it. I love the blog because it allows me to be personal, like you describe, and I get to review films that I think should have more focus on them...I just think that sometimes I miss out on the stuff that I would have been devouring ten years ago.

    I guess that's part of being removed from an academic setting, too. It's another reason I love the blogosphere so much: it's like constantly being in an engaging film class. I miss the days of college where I was "forced" to read and watch challenging things, wrestling with them on a daily basis...now it feels that more often than not real life gets in the way -- which isn't a complaint because I love my wife and I love my job -- and that's the harsh reality of it. I'm just stubborn in allowing myself to believe that there's only 24 hours in the day! Hehe.

    I think I'm going to start just doing what I want to when I want to and I'll make myself realize that's okay...I don't have to post something every other day!

    You comment, coupled with others here, is much appreciated, Jason. Like Ed says below, having something "new" to say isn't synonymous with having something "interesting" to say.

    It's also part of my OCD nature that I'll always feel anxious about the fact that there are SO MANY great movies I'll probably never get to in my lifetime, and that is sometimes hard to swallow.

    Thanks again for the comment!

  7. TFC:

    I don't think I'll give up blogging, but I have been thinking what it would be like if I were to just dump this whole thing...but I would miss the conversations too much. Even if ditchin' the blog allowed for more movie watching I would feel like I have so much to say about so many films without a venue to share my thoughts...so I would inevitably come back to the blog. I think my frustrations stemmed mostly from the fact that I know there are so many great films I'll never get to, and that I have to be okay with that...

    Thanks for being a great friend to the blog and for stopping by. Always great to have you a part of the conversation.

  8. Ibid, the last four comments. Even if your review of an Ozu or a Bergman mirrors everything that's already been written, as long as you get enjoyment and fulfillment out of writing about it, then write about it.

    I've found that when I'm wriitng because I feel I have to, it typically sucks. I've also found that when a movie really moves me, I'll end up writing 10 paragraphs when I didn't think I had it in me.

    So I've been trying to always write about something and see where I end up. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's not much, but I'm typically fulfilled when I'm done.

    As for not watching classics. For me it's just the sheer amount of things out there. It's strange, but I want to watch, say, every Bergman film all at once, which typically leads to me bouncing all over the place and not focusing in on one thing and I end up watching some random non-Bergman film. I can't explain it better than that. It's like my ADD and OCD don't mix well.

  9. I wrote that too slow...my first line can be changed to reference all the comments before mine :)

  10. J.D.:

    Thanks, buddy! It's nice to know people were so interested in what I was doing with the 1999 series. Now that it's over I'm turning my focus towards other things, and Jim's post got me thinking about how those other things don't center around all the great cinema I'm probably behind on.

    My goal is to always "review" something in a traditional format (my style is pretty standard) but with my personal take on it. Sometimes I'm not too sure if that comes out in my writing, and I think the fear of reviewing something that millions of people have dissected to death is that it would be hard for me to put my own spin on it because I would almost feel obligated to touch on the "major" things that seem required when one talks about those great films and their great filmmakers.

    Does that make sense?

    Anyway...thanks again for the kind words and for stopping by!

  11. Ed:

    Thanks a lot for the comment. I really appreciate it. I'm glad you liked my takes on the 1999 films. The genesis for that series stemmed from something very personal, and I've always thought that year should be discussed in detail to showcase what a deep and fascinating year it was for American cinema.

    Not making blogging a duty is something I think I will always struggle with, but I've been trying more and more to adopt that philosophy. My problem I find is that if I don't make it a discipline (or duty) then I will likely not finish something I started drafting. That's why I feel such pride for the 1999 series...I actually finished something that seemed really daunting at first. However, I think the reason it was successful was because I took my time with it. I didn't try to pump out blase pieces in a two month time period. I think I started the series last May...so it's been fruitful to go after it at my own pace.

    I need to adopt that philosophy for everything I do here on the blog. I like what you say about having something "new" to say doesn't always equate to a good post.

    I appreciate the comment and the advice. I need to remind myself that this whole blogging thing should be personal, and sometimes that's hard when I try to pump out review after review for things like my year-end lists and all that. I still feel bad for not getting to A Christmas Tale and Che last year! Hehe. I finally watched them this year, but my notes never evolved into a post because I felt like I was too late to the party and that everything that needed to be said had already been said. I need to remind myself that this blog is like a film-viewing journal, and that a post feeling "outdated" should be irrelevant.

    Thanks again for the comment, Ed!

  12. Troy:

    I'm with ya on that one. I think that part of it is that I just want to take it all in at once, when a much more feasible and appropriate approach would be to tackle a few at a time. One of my problems is looking at my Netflix queue. I think I just need to empty it, and when I feel compelled to add a film to it then I'll go on there and add it. But somehow looking ten Bergman and ten Godard films seems like a really fun time, but in reality it's really too heavy a task...hehe.

  13. Jeffrey:

    Thanks for the comment. It's nice to know there's people out there that can see me in my writing. I appreciate it.

  14. Everyone:

    I wanted to add one more example:

    I feel this same dilemma when I try to choose a book to read off of my bookshelf. A lot of my books that I own are books I haven't read yet by authors I love. As I peruse my shelves I begin to accumulate a stack of books that I know I want to read (usually during some kind break from work like Christmas break or Summer break)...the problem is that my intentions start out good enough, but as I begin to look at more books I begin to amass a bigger and bigger stack that I file under "to read". Usually I read one or two but then that leads me to something else by one of those authors or something in the same genre...thus abandoning to stack I created in order to create another stack based on what I just read. It's a never ending cycle and it I think it actually causes me to read less because most of my time is spent choosing something or amassing a list of things that I'm really excited to read.

    This summer I probably read six or seven books...only about two of them were off of my summer reading list of 10 books (granted I got married this summer so my attention was often elsewhere). The art of choosing has become entertainment itself. Can anyone relate to this (this speaks to what Troy was talking about in his comment)?

  15. Kevin, I'm not sure this is helpful, but here's the way I've personally attacked your second post. I look for people that seem to have similar tastes to mine. I look at their lists and start filling in the blanks based on things they love that I haven't seen yet. Then, if enough of their recommendations don't impact me, I move on to another person's list. That's one of the main ways I prioritize what I want to see.

    So many movies to see and so many lists. I want to find those people that seem to have tastes closest to mine and fill in the blanks.

  16. Kevin, this is a good post and a good question to ask and hopefully you won't be giving up the blogging any time soon. I also face a similar problem. I started my own blog a couple months ago because I realized that the internet is basically the only way to get criticism out there and noticed. As Peter Howell of the Toronto Star once told me, criticism in papers is dead. The only problem is, being a student, I don't always have time to write new reviews and long theoretical pieces and so I find myself combing news sites looking for something interesting for me to talk about. I'm sometime's envious reading all the wonderful films blogs and knowing I'd never have time to sit and write something as in detailed and in depth as your Talented Mr. Ripley piece. Which then gets me to thinking, is my lack of pieces like this going to hurt my chances of getting noticed and repescted in the blog community?

    To tie this all back to what you were saying about seeing great movies, well there are two reasons we sometimes tend to avoid them because, you are right, the blog dictates what you see but it might be more of a subconcious thing than what you are originally getting at. For one, some "great" movies are more to be admired than enjoyed. Talk about the Odessa Steps all you want, the Battleship Potempkin is tedious to sit through for even the best of us. Therefore, you get to thinking, that if you aren't willing to bow down and praise a movie that everyone else has considered great, why even bother? Similarily, great movies need time and attention, things that are hard to give when watching from home. You want to focus on them, reap something from the experience and walk away with something impressive to say because if you don't, well then you just don't compare to the critical greats who could write huge essays about Blow-Up and Last Year at Marienbad, so why can't you dammit!

    I don't know if this rant really made sense of responded well to the post at hand, but that's the sentiments this post inspired in me so there you have it.

  17. I'm certainly not looking to convince you to blog or not blog; that is a deeply personal choice and one that I've been making and re-making constantly for two years now. Though God knows I'll be sorry if you stop.

    Anyway, what you said here: "I'm too concerned with watching movies solely for the purpose of the blog where I hope to have something new to say about the movie" is something that has been nagging at me for a good two years. I have absolutely no solutions or answers for you. I just wanted to let you know that a lot of us get to feeling that way. But ultimately, you've got to do this blogging thing for yourself and not for anybody else, because the moment you stop doing it for yourself is the moment that you lose your voice and it becomes an obligation.

    And if that means reading your thoughts on, say, Tokyo Story... well I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd love to hear what you have to say.

  18. Jeffrey:

    Thanks for the tip. I mostly try to do that with my blogroll...but sometimes I get distracted and want to watch everything...hehe.

  19. Mike:

    Your rant made perfect sense. I appreciate the comment. I think the sentiment here (and something I admittedly struggle with) is write what you want to write, and if you're passionate about it then that will shine through and people will like what you write. When I started this blog two years ago it was me and brother who read it. But as I began to fine-tune my craft and find my voice I started to gain readers without doing any blog promotion. All I did was participate intelligently in the comment sections of blogs. Those conversations opened my eyes to a whole other world of film-going and film criticism.

    I'm glad you've started reading and leaving comments here. It's great having you a part of the conversation.

  20. Tim:

    Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it. I don't want this to become an obligation, and the tug-of-war I have with whether or not I want to do this whole blogging thing makes me feel like I'm not loving movies anymore...and that's the scariest thing of all. Again, thanks for the kind words.

  21. If you arrange the chronology of your writings to line up with some kind of a specific game plan, well that's one thing, but in a general sense the unanimous consensus of the distinguished respondants on the thread is irrefutable. When you get to a point where you are reviewing to maintain any kind of a status quo, well then the fun has ended. Your reviewing should correspond with what is excited you. The problem here is no doubt faced by people on all blogs, but you're broaching it here is timely, as there are instances when we all question just how much this is all worth it.
    At 55 years old, I am NOT looking to become a critic - those aspirations are decades old - neither am I looking to gain anyone's attention outside of the blogger's community for rhetorical compatability - and this is just the latest of a lifetime of obsessive-complusive behavior. You on the other hand are a young man, who could conceivably find employment in the hobby you love, but the term 'moderation' applies here as it does to anything in life.
    I applaud all your traveling and commitment, as I know this often comes at the expense of other important matters in your life.

  22. Sam:

    Thanks for the kind words and for leaving your thoughts here. I appreciate it!