Saturday, December 1, 2012

A very belated "About Me" post in lieu of an end of month Status Report

Why am I doing this?

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a little while now, as I realize I started this blog with absolutely no explanation as to why I created it, or what personal edification it was fulfilling.  So here we go.

Me and Movies

I’ve always had more than a passing interest in movies, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I got really serious about it.  For the 2005 Oscars, I saw just shy of 90% of all nominated films – including documentaries, shorts, etc.  I carried this sudden zest for film forward after the Oscar ceremony when I purchased the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  In flipping through its pages, I realized that although I had seen nearly every nominated film from 2005, I was sorely lacking when it came to seeing so many older and foreign films.  I had only seen 160 of the 1001 films.  It didn’t take long for me to decide to make a concerted effort to see as many movies from The Book as I possibly could.  I went through the films chronologically by decade, and about three plus years of solid progress saw my numbers go from 16% to around 80% seen. 

But then I changed my career and started teaching, landing a pretty sweet cherry of a job exactly four days after I finished student teaching (yes, I’m damn proud of that fact).  Teaching took up much of my time, and in my spare time I was exhausted.  Plus I had worked my way up to the 1980s, and I had yet to be really inspired by the cinema from that decade.  What’s more, I was feeling constantly frustrated by the fact that I had seen so many great films that no one else I knew had ever seen, let alone heard of.  I was desperate to talk about these movies with people, but had no one to talk to.  I slowly abandoned my quest.

About two years ago, I started writing reviews for films – any films – on a somewhat regular basis.  My dream job as a teenager was always being a movie critic, and I found that when I wrote about a film, I appreciated it in a whole new way.  My friend Angie encouraged me in this endeavor (still does) and through her, I got connected with a small online free magazine, writing a film column for them.  It wasn’t just about watching the film, it was about analyzing the film as well.  I loved it, and I was rediscovering my passion for film.

With the discovery of Squish’s 1001 Movies Blog Club in early 2012, things suddenly started falling into place again for me.  I was in a point in my teaching career where I was more prepared, more confident, with more free time for watching films again.  Squish’s once-weekly schedule works well for me, and I really loved the idea of sharing a discourse with fellow bloggers who had not only heard of these films but seen them as well!

Moreover, I was starting to regret my initial rate of film consumption from The Book.  Sure, I had seen a pretty high percentage of movies from 1001 Movies, but I was beginning to realize I didn’t remember most of them very well.  The very good ones I remembered well, and the very bad ones I remembered well, but the ones in the middle, the ones that were just “fine,” they were a blur.  I had been consuming film at the rate of 1 or 2 per day for months on end, without taking time to pause and reflect on what I had seen. 

That was a mistake.  At least for me, it was.

Now, it’s not about me trying to complete 1001 Movies.  It’s really not, and I’m certainly not hell bent on racing through the remaining films.  Instead, I want to really go back and re-explore those films that I glossed over, that I saw simply “to see.”  I want to hone my skills as a writer, and that comes with practice.  I still want to work on seeing new films, but I also want to write about as many of the films I’ve already seen as I possibly can.

Steve at 1001plus is a major inspiration for me.  He’s not only seen a crap ton of films from 1001 Movies, but he’s also reflected on them.  That’s what I want to do. 

But I’m also avoiding placing pressure on myself to finish the list anytime soon.  I’m not racing to the finish line.  To sound incredibly corny, I want to enjoy the journey.

So what do I write about when I write a review?

I was a science major in college, a science grad student for years and years, and now I’m a science teacher.  I love science, always have.  But I’ve also always loved literature classes.  Sure, papers are hard, but I really loved digging into a text and analyzing it.

I love to do the exact same thing with film, and that’s what my reviews really are.  A blending of a review, in which I describe what I thought of the film, what worked for me and what didn’t, but also an analysis of techniques used in the film.  I’ve taken zero film courses, not for lack of interest – BELIEVE ME – but I take my wholly amateur eye to a film looking for symbolism or specific word use or lighting or music choices.  I love discovering layers in a film, of making connections between one film and another.   

So what’s my rating system all about, then?

I know what you’re thinking – how on earth can you use a ten point rating system that includes half points?  Is there really that much of a difference between a 6.5 and a 6?

My answer is yes, yes there is, at least in my head.  And the reason is because I’m a teacher.

To me, there is a big difference between students that get a 100 on my test, a 95, and a 90.  The first achieved absolute perfection.  The second came incredibly close, but made one, maybe two minor mistakes.  The third clearly knows what he or she is talking about, but was a bit too careless. 

I evaluate films the exact same way.

I think about how well this film achieved for me.  Was it perfect?  Or was it a little bit careless?  I constantly compare films to test scores in my classes, and decide a film’s rating based on that. 

As such a score of 6 out of 10 or better implies that the film succeeds, overall.  Anything under a 6 and the film failed for me.

My rating system, just like my reviews, is based on a blend of how well the film works objectively, and how well it works for me on a much more subjective basis.  That’s why it’s arbitrary.  I have to unabashedly love a film to give it a 10 out of 10, it has to excite me, it has to turn me on.  And if a film is capable of producing this feeling for me, I tend to overlook any minor technical flaws and bump up its rating to reflect my personal feelings.

So what sorts of movies do I like and dislike?

I’ll take care of one big dislike first: I really dislike epics.  Nearly all feel bloated and egotistical to me, as if they’re just creating a show to assuage the ego of the director, and this actively pisses me off. 

I have a contentious relationship with Woody Allen.  Some of his films I really love, but most annoy the crap out of me.  Federico Fellini films don’t jive with me either.

Experimental films are hard to love, mostly because they’re weird for the sake of being weird.  Not for me, thanks.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the cinema of the French New Wave.  I understand exactly why it’s so important in film history, but I just don’t love them.  I appreciate them, sure, but not love.

It’s getting harder and harder for me to watch war films.  The violence in these films disturbs me more than nearly any other images I see in films.  It’s not that I dislike war movies, it’s just that they make me have nightmares.  I’m not looking for films to punish me.  I really don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work myself up to seeing the remaining war movies on the list, especially those that contain graphic violence.  I’m okay with that.

Now for the likes.  I really love the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties.  They are not the most intellectual films on the list, but they make me smile.  Same love same reason for the musicals of the forties and fifties.  I love them hardcore, I grew up on MGM musicals, and I will defend them (by myself, apparently) until the cows come home.  Musicals and screwball comedies are my feel good films.  They can pick me up from any sort of bad mood I find myself in.

I also have a bit of an irrational love of film noir.  At first, I didn’t get what was so awesome about the genre, but while I was writing my proposal essay for my second year oral exams, I had Double Indemnity running on repeat in the background, and through this repetition, I really fell in love with noir.

Psychological thrillers really work for me too, along with dramas in general.  I’m a big fan of Japanese cinema from the 1950s, and I tend to gravitate towards small films, the antitheses of bloated epics.  Minimalism usually works well for me.

Well, there you have it.

More than you wanted to know about where film fits into my life, what I’m interested in, and why I write.


  1. Yes, but what do you think about the Kardashians and other equally important things like supersymmetry possibly falling by the wayside? :-)

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I actually found myself nodding in several places (in agreement, not sleepiness). I could have written many of those likes and dislikes myself.

    The place where we diverge the most is that I've had the 1001 Movies book since the year it first came out (2003), but I only checked movies off a few times a year in it as films I saw happened to be in the book. I never actively used it to select films to watch until earlier this year (inspired by the bloggers who were already doing it.)

    And since then my pace has been accelerating and I am becoming one of those blitzers you mentioned. I partially rationalize this last bit by the fact I've been watching a lot of the hard to find movies and they seem to be hard to find for a reason - they're not very good.

    fyi - I've seen Le Million (3 stars) and Trouble in Paradise (4 stars). I'm off to see Pepe le Moko next. Thanks again.

    1. I really think that those who own 1001 Movies book will, at some point, become obsessed with the idea of seeing as many as possible. For me, it was only a matter of months after purchasing it for that idea to take hold; for you, it was longer, but it did happen!

      Re: blitzing. You've spoken about how you remember films really well after just one viewing. That's what I lack, and why the blitzing DOESN'T work for me, but probably does for you. If I can't remember a film, then it almost doesn't count that I've seen it. That's why I kinda regret going so full tilt for a couple years there without recording my thoughts or feelings about a film along the way.

      I like Trouble in Paradise too. Pepe le Moko took a few views for me to really fall in love with, but now I really do love it.

    2. I had used my own year-ending IMDB Top 250 lists to check off movies, as well as the first couple of AFI lists, so the idea of going through a list and seeing all of them was not new to me. I think what made me hesitate on the 1,001 Movies list is that it was compiled by "real" critics - ones who would select movies that no one but another critic would like. I have a cynical opinion of professional critics as a whole. At the time I decided to actively pursue it I had seen just under half of the list, so the remainder also wasn't as daunting. When I first got the book I had seen about a third of them.

      In regards to me remembering films well: Actually, there are something like 3-4 films among the hard to find that all deal with Taiwan after the government fled there in 1949. When I read the title of one of them in your request list I was struggling to recall which of these films' plots was the one that went with that title. I had seen all of them recently in confirming that they played correctly before sending them to you and Steve.

  2. I appreciate the mention, although I take issue with the lack of a monthly Status Report. (I keed, I keed.)

    I've found more often than not that I like what we amateurs have to say about film much more than what the professional critics have to offer. For most of us, it's about our personal journey and our personal connection to a film rather than about where a film falls in the grander scheme. That's far more interesting to me.

    Chip sent me the file of where you are in terms of films watched on the list. How's this for a shock? The list I have for you puts you at 874 films viewed, and that's from a couple of weeks ago. I'm sitting at 877 right now (841 reviewed), meaning that you've probably inched past me in the last couple of weeks.

    1. I always like Roger Ebert's reviews best when he includes some personal anecdote about a film, and when I realized that, I started making my own film writing a lot more personal.

      Oh, you've probably got me beat in terms of films watched, and if you haven't right now, you will soon. I've been emotionally spent this fall semester, and when I get that way, I don't have much initiative to watch films. (I also wouldn't want to force myself to watch a new movie. This isn't work, this is a fun hobby after all.) I haven't seen many new movies at all lately. And that's okay.

      But with Three Kings coming up at the blog club, that's a new one for me. I just have to mail Alphaville back to Netflix, then I'll get it in the mail.

  3. Thanks for letting us get this behind the scenes view of what is behind the posts. I know the films are and should be in focus, but I love seeing the real person behind. Like Chip I also found myself nodding to a lot of your story. There is something about knowing there is an exciting world out there that makes you want to explore it, right?
    I notable difference is the grading. I hate to have to grade. Next to my work I have a teaching job at the university and it is all very nice, but I really do not like the exams. There is also a lot of teaching in my primary job, but when I go around the world with my travelling road show the object is to teach the attendant and they actually get to grade me. Of course they are top motivated and paid a lot of money to learn how to build a wind farm, but it also puts me on the spot. The only learn something it I am good. Commenting on movies is for me an entirely different fun and subjective exercise. Just because I hate the movie others might love it and that us perfectly fine with me.
    I can certainly relate to taking the movies slowly. I love to really dig in an give the film time to develop. No rush there. Thanks again.

    1. I don't particularly enjoy grading, but because I do it so often, it's easy for me to equate the system I use for rating films to the system I use in grading.

      Yeah, I'm not interested in racing through the remaining films. It took awhile, but I eventually figured out that I need to give films a little bit of time to "digest" in order to really appreciate them.

      And like I said, I had really been meaning to give my "backstory" for a little while now.