Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Up and running again

In a conversation about three months ago with a few close friends over the final Harry Potter film, we mutually decided to embark on a long project. We would convene once a week to watch the seven previous entries in the Potter film series in succession until the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2. We are all fans of the books and movies in various capacities, though I am probably in the minority for aligning more with the movies than the books. I've read maybe half of the novels and reasonably enjoyed them, but my interest was more with the movies. In attempting to articulate my positions on the films —like, for instance, why Prisoner of Azkaban, is the most evocative entry and a great film in its own right— I found myself thinking more about them and the surprisingly affecting mosaic they form. Perhaps realizing that very little serious reflection had been committed to these films, I had idea to write a series of essays. I don't know when exactly it came to me. Nor did I give it much thought. I just began penning reflections on the first film a day or two after watching it.

Turns out that a two-year-plus hiatus from writing about movies left me with a good deal of rust. But thanks to Keith Uhlich, who helped me gain clarity of the project and find a confident voice, I authored eight articles over roughly six weeks. They were posted at The House Next Door in the week following the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2. The series represents my first writing on movies in well over two years. I say, "on movies" because I do a fair amount of writing in my day job as an editor for a monthly medical magazine. Between this, completing my graduate school thesis (which took in excess of one year), and various other personal ventures from home projects to fatherhood in that span, I found little time to update this here blog. As the distance widened from my last update, my desire to return to film writing —even in a more limited capacity— was waning. I've attempted to keep up to speed with movies, still seeing roughly 50 to 60 theatrical releases in a given calendar year. (As usual, I've seen some very good ones and a few great ones. As for 2010, put me among the crop of critics who found The Social Network the only real masterpiece from last year.) I have been content to watch, feel, and reflect without the strain and effort of translating those feelings and reflections into text. To keep slightly abreast of the goings on of film criticism, I would rely on Roger Ebert, Manohla Dargis, and a handful of other critics whose work I have made part of my regular weekly reading for years now.

I never expected to return to this blog. But the unforeseen chain of events that has led to my Potter series has reinvigorated my interest in thinking critically about cinema of many stylings and rejoining this online community again. I should note that I have never had any delusions about the greater significance of this site. As I observed in my last published piece, back in March of 2009, my aim for the site was "to explore the interconnections of film, criticism, and cinephilia in an open forum." However flawed, I feel that in some ways The Cinematic Art achieved that despite my readership never achieving great heights. But as much as I've enjoyed lending my own small voice to the critical discussion, the real joy of it was exploring the work of so many others who are passionate about cinema and writing. In the spirit of the late Manny Farber, Andy Horbal once referred to the ever-expanding plane of film commentary on the web as a kind of "termite criticism." And after years of removal from the film blogging circuit and returning to discover it is as vibrant as ever, I feel that Andy's terming for it is spot-on and very relevant. We are a unique collection of voices. The flaws in our writing and logic are often openly on display, but so is the immediacy of our insights and perspectives. With styles ranging from scholarly prose to fanboy cinephilia (sometimes at the same time!), and everything in between, online film writers are slowly molding new pathways in the discussion of cinema; one that straddles the established structures but that also collapses them. Yes, the old pillars of journalistic and academic criticism will remain the authority on film canon and the officially sanctioned discourse about cinema for a long time to come. But I remain of the belief that a digital discussion of cinema is ubiquitous and can potentially guide dialogues that allow us new ways of engaging cinema, criticism, and cinephilia, by melding them all together. It will not usurp other modalities, but rather deepens the scope of criticism to encompass wider perspectives, styles, and reflections.

It seems that many new technologies and social platforms remove much of the spontaneity from life and our interactions with people, films, and various other things we engage regularly. But they also provide critical potential to harness the nuances and peculiarities of our individual experiences and project them into text and images. That is partly why cinema is so special and maybe why so many of us actively take part in this great experiment of termite criticism and cinephilia. For my part, I am happy to have rediscovered the desire for writing and film, which I hope in some capacity to channel into prose here on this site. In the past I've probably engaged in too much reflexivity for my own good. Going forward, I will try less to provide commentaries about the relationships of cinema, criticism, and cinephilia and focus more on doing my part to create it. I don't know where it will take me just yet. I have a few larger ideas in mind (such as a long-gestating Werner Herzog project that will hopefully unfold in coming weeks and months), but my general attitude is to write about things that mean something to me, to not engage in too much reflexive rumination, and to simply write. Whether it amounts to anything useful in the broader critical dialogue is not for me to decide. It will certainly not have the polish of many published forms of criticism. And there is obviously no guarantee that it will have consistency and structure (as evidenced by my long hiatus from writing). However, the broader canvas it affords me to perform the commentaries I wish will hopefully make it worthwhile. And one thing for sure is that mine will just be one voice amongst many that make this platform so enjoyable to participate in, both as a writer and reader.

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