Monday, December 4, 2006

On Blogs and Film Criticism (a personal take)

My goodness gracious. Talk about another world out there. Did you know that there are thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of film bloggers out there that can write better than you, that have 100 times the amount of film knowledge as you, that see as many films in a year as you will see in your lifetime? I am simply astounded by all of it, and by how connected all of these folks are to each other. They each have their own blog account and comment on each others’ blogs and meet at film festivals and know all the ins-and-outs of what the web has to offer in terms of informal film criticism. We are all so very, very behind. Even now, this business of casually communalizing over a love for film, of exchanging knowledge, opinion, and recommendation, is already being done all over the web. And I can hardly claim to be a part of it.

Do you have a film blog? What is the significance of film blogs to film criticism? It seems like it's a pretty important business, these film blogs. Magazines, books, newspapers: these are slowly becoming obsolete. The printed word is going out of style. Right? It's all online now, all the information you could ever ask for. Funny though, because for me personally, I have a hard time focusing on an online article. I guess I’m old-fashioned. Even though I've been brought up on a heavy, frequent dose of online perusing, I get my work done best when I’m holding something in my hands. Online, my mind is unfocused as I jump from screen to screen, scanning almost unconsciously, clicking every couple seconds and then trying to remember why I clicked. Surfing the web is a matter of tangents: it is easy to get lost, and difficult to get anywhere that I feel, in retrospect, was worth my while. So, I have a hard time sorting through all of this material online: these well-written, cutting edge film blogs that reveal a wealth of knowledge with a few clicks (and much time peering at the small font on the screen). I guess I’m missing the boat when it comes to film criticism.

What would it mean to be on top of the current state of film criticism? If I read religiously the most popular film blogs, could I claim to be up-to-date on film criticism? If instead, I decided to never go online again, and only read the printed word, would I inevitably be missing out on the best that current film criticism has to offer?

Either way, I cannot claim to be much of a reader. In terms of scholarly material, I’ve read one film book in the last three months, and a couple of online articles on film. I’ve frequented film sites, stomped the hell out of my familiar stomping grounds, and probably spent more time physically clicking the mouse than I’ve spent reading seriously. To wax poetic for a second, sometimes I feel like a shadow of a human being when I’ve spent the evening online. I am a shadow of the people that are doing real things: making conversation, reading books, being creative, eating, exercising, etc. I cannot claim to be much when all I’ve done is lazily passed my eyes over text I cannot remember.

Yet, I am a bright-eyed, 22-year-old lover of film. Pausing for a second, the question is: What does that mean in terms of my ability to be a part of film criticism? Well, I’m not sure. Because I am not well-read, I do not have much of a frame of reference by which I can acknowledge what has come before, be a part of what is happening now, and anticipate what will come in the future. Thus, without this frame of reference, it is almost impossible for me to create a space in which my writing, my opinion, can stand out. But I don’t want to be cynical about this. I am on the other hand, rather idealistic about the whole thing. When I watch a film, I try to make myself vulnerable to it, to flow with the stories and images, to be moved. Oftentimes, I will be moved to respond to the film, whether I do that in conversation, writing, or just by thinking.

It is my written response that becomes my contribution to film criticism, however small. I believe my response is not insignificant: my opinions and feelings draw upon my experience, my knowledge, my instinct, and if I am passionate enough, and meticulous enough in responding clearly, I should feel like I have made a contribution. In the process, even if my work is to some extent a-historical, even if it is not widely-read, it is significant, because it is an exercise in moving outward. Yes, writing (and blogging) may seem selfish at times, because the focus is so much on the thoughts’ of the writer, but it is unselfish in the sense that these thoughts, these words, are leaving the brain and being scribed into a realm in which people can see and share in the inner life of someone else. There is much room for disappointment when it comes to reaching out through writing, but the potential for a connection is too compelling to be tossed easily aside. There is not much that is more noble than the sharing of one’s self and then receiving of what someone else has to share (of course, the process could happen the other way too). Writing is one way to do this.

Until recently, I did not write anything for an online audience. However, there does seem to be something important about film criticism when it is done online for anybody to stumble across, even if it is done by someone with little more reference than their own experience. Maybe the reason I spend so much time online is the potential for a connection to others through ideas, sent spontaneously and instantly through the click of the mouse. It can be a giddy, exhilarating experience. It can also be a brainless, waste of time. In terms of not being able to focus on online material, when it gets to that point, I should probably get offline. For one thing, it’s hard to appreciate a movie and surf the web at the same time. For another, it is my experience that the connection noted above is most deeply achieved in person anyway through conversation (and not in writing). So I think ultimately I’m OK with not being the sort of person who knows everything about film and crafts magnificent, well-connected blogs. I love watching films, I’ll continue to write, and if I have a few friends to enjoy the journey with me, that’s good enough for me.

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