Another film site? When there are already so many out there?
A bit of personal history, and some explanation of how this one came to be.
I’ve been a book critic for nearly twenty years, but the first newspaper reviews I wrote were of movies.
I didn’t stick with the film beat for long. Most Hollywood films are geared toward a youth demographic and I felt I had outgrown them by the time I was into my mid-twenties. I didn’t enjoy going to theatres any more. My friends felt the same way, and, since seeing movies at the time was very much a social activity, movies just dropped out of my life.
I only watch movies on DVD now. I think the last time I went to a theatre was in 2004. This may upset some traditionalists, but it seems to be the way of the world. Staying home is in many ways a more satisfying experience today. Though I know this is a point that people like to argue over.
I think that DVDs have improved film criticism. We can now review movies with the same sort of precision and close analysis formerly the province of advanced literary studies. Not so long ago a reviewer/critic had to sit in a dark theatre with a notepad, and rely primarily on his or her memory of other movies as a guide. And there was frequently a large gap between the movies we saw and the movies we remembered (to make use of Mark Kermode’s distinction). In addition, DVDs have made widely available a number of movies that were almost impossible to see as long ago as the 1980s. Who back then had actually seen El Topo? Fewer people than had read about it, I’d wager.
The class of people David Denby identifies as “moviegoers” have become a niche audience, only found in big cities anyway. I suppose I am what Denby calls a “cinephile”: one of “an innocently arrogant group” made up of “the solitary and the obsessed, who have given up on movie houses and on movies as our national theater . . . and plant themselves at home in front of flat screens and computers, where they look at old films or small new films from the four corners of the globe, blogging and exchanging disks with their friends.”
I still have fond memories of being a moviegoer: cheering the destruction of the Death Star in the midst of a packed house, seeing “midnight movies” at repertory cinemas (as noted above, the only place you could see a lot of obscure titles, back in the day), but these experiences are now part of a vanished world.
It was really only due to a series of unfortunate events that I found myself watching, and re-watching, so many movies at home, starting sometime around 2010. And so I decided I’d post some of my thoughts here.
You can indulge me (or not).
I won’t be writing essays or reviews. People don’t seem to like reading essays online anyway, so I’ll restrict myself to making brief comments.
There will be no spoiler alerts, but plenty of spoilers. I’m going to assume that anyone reading what I have to say about these films is already familiar with them.
Some movies I won’t have much to say about. Perhaps a sentence or two at most. There’s no point going over familiar plots, or discussing matters that have been gone over countless times. What can I possibly say about Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, or Psycho that anyone will find new? I’ll stick to more personal impressions.
This won’t be a series of love letters, though there will be some of those. Most movies, just like most of anything, aren’t very good. If we restrict ourselves to Hollywood’s production of some 400 movies a year, how many of these are really worth watching? Ten? Twenty? Given those kinds of numbers, what does a passing grade or a “thumbs-up” mean?
Complicating matters is the fact that tastes change. Movies thought to be great, or that were immensely popular just twenty years ago, may be nearly unwatchable today. And the flipside of this is revisionism: rediscovering classics in films once counted among the worst ever made.
Then there is the role of technology. While the arts do not progress they do evolve to survive in new cultural environments. Film, in so far as it’s a very specialized and complex technology, does advance along these lines. But not every technological advance is a net gain, in my opinion.
Many of the movies I’ll be talking about here I saw first twenty or even thirty years ago. Distance has (I hope) given me some perspective. While movies have changed, I’ve changed too.
As for genres dealt with, the coverage will be weighted toward action, suspense, and horror. These genres seem to hold up the best. Even when horror movies aren’t scary, they can still be interesting. The same cannot be said of comedies and musicals, most of which have dated badly.
Other biases will become apparent. But I don’t want to say anything more here. Instead, let’s turn the lights down and start the show.