Mission Statement

English: High and Low by Akira Kurosawa on 35 ...

English: High and Low by Akira Kurosawa on 35 mm film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What’s all this?”

Why does this blog exist? Why bother writing about movies (AKA why not get a real job pushing papers)?

It all started after a rather heated argument with a close friend over the merits of a film. It ran thusly:

Friend (for his sake, name has been withheld): “I don’t get why people like The Godfather. I tried to get through it, but I don’t think I made it more than 20 minutes.”

Myself, understandably shocked: “…”

For all my years of reading film criticism, the countless times I’d watched that movie, read the script, studied it, dissected it, hell, even quoted it, I couldn’t respond to that statement. It was like he’d set off an atomic bomb in my brain. At first glance stupefying in its inept insufficiency as a dejection of a masterpiece, it ironically served as the most succinct (albeit inadvertent) summation for today’s disconnect between audience and critic. After all, The Godfather, one of THE GREATEST FILMS EVER (I’m a bigamist when it comes to film, as this site will attest), declared unwatchable?! Surely there was a derangement in my friend’s mental faculties. “But then,” I reasoned inwardly, my brain—struggling to comprehend—grasped at the few pieces of floating evidentiary debris it could latch onto after this sinking of a nigh unsinkable Titanic of film history, “we seemed to be pretty much on par for everything else in our deep and abiding love for other things pop culture, from music to films and even TV shows.” Rather than end the friendship outright, or begin screaming incessantly until my friend ran away, I, like all good friends, let that comment which had so deeply affected me slip past superficially unheeded, while the train of thought left a splinter in my mind that would fester and grow to this moment.

The more people I spoke to on the subject of The Godfather, the more I began to notice a somewhat shocking trend. Nobody I knew really liked The Godfather. Like any good amateur cinephile they’d nod and acknowledge “yes, classic, undoubtedly”, but when pressed for details, few—if any—could give any solid reasons for why they thought so. In fact, the more I pried into the matter, the more I began to understand the shocking truth: many of them hadn’t actually seen the movie.

That was when I started to become frightened. Genuinely frightened for the future of cinema. This was the beginning of an unfathomable end, with their obnoxious banging to cover up my pathetic whimpers: a whole generation of agnostic moviegoers paying lip-service to the venerated beliefs of their fathers. Why, I wondered, would anyone willingly deprive themselves of experiencing the greatness of The Godfather? It’s like avoiding sex altogether, not because you’re worried of STI’s (valid concern), or of an inability to perform, but because you’ve concluded ahead of time that it’s overrated, and so consequently you assume you won’t enjoy it, and besides all that it’s probably just not your cup of tea and should be avoided full stop. And with that analogy I realized that the answer was staring me in the face: They were afraid that it would be exactly the same experience my friend had: confusion. “Why is this wedding taking so long?” Or worse: “What’s up with Marlon Brando’s mouth?” Or the end of cinema as we know it: “Who the fuck is Marlon Brando?”

Such insanity I’ve encountered before. Citizen Kane, 1942, AFI’s #1 film of all time since the list was first started. The juggernaut of all great films, bitch. And most people can’t figure out why. Some actually go so far as to call it boring and overrated.

So what gives?

I’ll tell you what gives. People today have trouble reading movies. It’s not their fault, really. And it’s not Pauline Kael’s, though I lay some of the blame at her misguided feet. Here was a film critic from the 70’s who advocated that it didn’t matter what the intellectual content of a film was, so long as the individual enjoyed the movie (she said a lot more too of course, and like any self-important person she took to writing copious amounts of it down for others to gander at, but that’s the short and sweet for our currently dire straits). The whole situation really is like the sex thing I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t matter why you enjoyed it—or who did what with whom when, where, why and how—simply that it had been done, and done well. To be fair, I agree with that sentiment to a certain extent. I’m talking about cinema at this point, so stop thinking about sex you filthy pervert.

Ahem, where was I? Oh yes…

After all, Akira Kurosawa, whom I hope to eventually have an entire section devoted to on just why this man’s films were so terrific, once remarked “I think we ought to have richer foods, richer films. And so I thought I would make this kind of film, entertaining enough to eat as it were.” He was talking about Seven Samurai, which for anyone who’s watched it knows that Kurosawa made a seven course meal. So really then, is it too much for a film to be intelligent and move us emotionally? Must we choose? Madonna asked herself the same question, and in a display of astonishing astuteness I was heretofore unaware she possessed, boldly declared “No, I want it all”. I think Freddie Mercury may have said that last bit first, now that I dwell on it, but oh well, throwing out Madonna may help boost the Google traffic.

So I, in what I recognize to be a naïve and foolish gesture, wish to contribute to the ongoing discussion of film, to keep that discussion ongoing, and to make it accessible and fun. But more than that, I want to arrive at some understanding of the value film offers, to historians, to cultural anthropologists, and more importantly to viewers. A vast library of untapped experiences, sensations, narratives, images and sounds await you, dear reader, and if you would but let me, I invite you to share them with me. Together we will explore the depths of cinema and see what new values and treasures we can uncover, and if we’re lucky, we might just be able to bring them back up to the surface for others to enjoy with us.

Think of this as a movie club. No teacher, no students, just people united under a common interest: film. Our goal will be twofold: to increase our knowledge of the history and pantheon of cinema (include its major works and figures) and to offer contemporary re-appraisals of films. This does not mean, however, we will be reviewing them. And that is the important distinction I want to make. The world (and certainly the web) has enough would-be reviewers keen to prove their worth by raising certain films onto a pedestal only to knock certain others off. That is not our intent. This site will never feature arbitrary rankings (there are enough of those foolish lists floating around), nor will it ever score a film. The practice of assigning numeric values, letter grades, or even digits is an assault on logic and reason. It suggests in some measure that an episode of Dexter’s Lab s exists within the same criterion as say Lawrence of Arabia. Both I would define as masterpieces of their respective fields, but to suddenly compare scores between the two demonstrates how broken current methodologies of film criticism have become. Such practices demean the study of film, and render cinema into a juvenile show of studios seeking qualitative adoration (Cinemascore cards) rather than using the medium to its fullest effect. Rather than talking about films, we’ve come to trade stats. Why should we care that The Godfather Part 1 is ranked higher than The Godfather Part 2 on IMDB, unless the whole basis of film criticism were some kind of perverted Fantasy Baseball league. This is not to say that all films are created equal, but to argue that they instead be judged on their inequalities rather than their artificial and absurd tautologies, if at all. Otherwise film criticism becomes reduced to some demented alchemical sorcery. Are we merely refining film to its purest essence to arrive at some mystical formula for turning celluloid into gold? If we could just make the perfect list could we do cross analysis and arrive at the perfect combination of features to make the one true superfilm? Let’s cut the eugenics. Instead, let’s actually talk about film. And let’s not just reduce it to qualifications like “good” or “bad”, “sucks” or “blows goats”.

I’ll introduce a film for discussion on a regular basis (consider it like a recommendation if that’ll get you to watch it), and I’ll also post my own insights about the film. Consider these as mere starting points for a much broader discussion, and not final words.

Watch the movies I blog about, read my reflections if you’re interested, but above all: comment! Share your own thoughts and feelings about the film. Let’s get a discussion going. I’ll define some topics of inquiry just to keep forward momentum, but any tangent is welcomed.

“…And here… we… go!”

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6 thoughts on “Mission Statement

  1. I look forward to reading your thoughts. I’ve had similar experiences with people about film. I had a coworker tell me he walked out of Lincoln after 30 minutes because he was bored. Obviously, Lincoln is not on a level with The Godfather or Seven Samurai, but still.
    I agree with you about film rankings. I give a grade, just because it’s easy to do, but the reviews and analyses are much more important. It’s not enough to just score films without discussing them. And in many ways it’s impossible to say on an absolutely level that film A is better than film B.

    • Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can walk out at will on Spielberg. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who analyze and critique films are under considerable economic stress in this period in history.

      I’m not opposed to letter grades, I think they can be a quick and efficient way of denoting a film’s value in a tangible symbol (an A+, a 75, a thumb, what have you). The problem is that people use that to co-opt the discussion. It’s like they don’t need to talk about the movie because they’ve arrived at the tomatometer, now let’s strike the set, burn the film and move on to the next blockbuster.

      While I don’t want to assume what your friend is thinking, I think he may have been bored because he didn’t know what he was supposed to be getting from the film. He didn’t know how to read it, he didn’t figure the significance of meaning of the images he was being presented. Not really anyone’s fault, cinema needn’t abide by any rules, but then we can’t learn how to read one way and then be expected to learn a whole new language every time we see a new film. Originally the film critic arrived on the scene as the interpreter, like Prometheus bringing light to the masses. Now they’ve become corporate drones, more worried about getting the quote than they have the message. It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. But I like what you’ve got on your site, it gives me hope that all is not lost, that there’s still someone thinking in this world.

      • Well, Roger the Shrubber, I’ve considered using strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords as the basis for my movie ranking system, but I don’t think it would work. I agree completely about rankings, mine are arbitrary and likely to change with my mood. The review is the point, not the ranking.
        As for my coworker, I think you’re right. So many people don’t know how to watch film in a way that they can understand it. Unless it’s full of sound and fury, people aren’t able to enjoy it. I can’t imagine what they’d do with something like Lawrence of Arabia or, heaven forbid, My Dinner with Andre. But yes, there’s still hope, and still people who like to get deeper into things. Thanks for the compliment!

  2. Pingback: The State of the Art | digital didascalia

  3. Hi,
    I’m new to the blogging community and wanted to let you know that I find this film blog highly interesting. I appreciate that you are sharing your expertise in film studies and look forward to learning more about the process behind analyzing greatness in film and the history and progression of it.

    From your newest admirer.

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