My cinephilia runs strong and deep. It began when I was but a wee child. Not in the usual way, through seeing a lot of movies, or being transported by the magic of the movie theater, but from the realm of dry facts. The written word is what brought me along. My Dad was a trivia maniac, and so when I reached the age that I could ask him trivia questions, from small paperback volumes, I did so. (This was the 80s – trivia was something then). Many of the books were about movies, and many of those were about films from the “golden era” of Hollywood. He, having grown up in the 1940s and regularly attended movies in the era when a dime got you admittance for the day (serials, newsreels, and several features), liked to reminisce about them. This was my first entrée into the world of film, as a body of lost (or at the very least, obscure to my ten year old self) knowledge of glamorous things.
That was just priming the pump. What took me further was getting sick. In my freshman year of high school, I fell ill and required surgery and convalescing at home for a few months. As a gift in my hospital room, my Dad bought me a copy of Mick Martin and Marcia Porter’s Video Guide – essentially a Maltin style reference book (although they are much better writers and evaluators than Maltin). I read the damn thing practically from cover to cover, and remembered it. This book is really what piqued my interest, and started me going to the video store to rent those cool, then-new movies that were part of the indie/Mirimax boom of the early 90s (Reservoir Dogs etc). I also started watching a lot of the horror films I had been too chickenshit to touch (but had been deeply fascinated by the box art for) as a child, impressionable youth that I was, so my experience with genre films grew faster than anything in this period. As high school dragged ever onward, I got more comprehensive, buying collections of Roger Ebert’s reviews and seeking out books such as Danny Peary’s Cult Movies series. I liked the weird, the obscure, and the foreign; having most of my early experience come from description, those films that were hard to access in any way but through language held a particular purchase on my imagination. The stranger the description, the more likely I wanted to see the movie.
Stage three was going to college. By the time I got there, I was already reading Cineaste, and was a subscriber to a tape-by-mail service called Home Film Festival (yes, people, these were the hoary days not only before Netflix, but before DVD)! I spent my freshman year floundering around a little bit, figuring I’d be an English major. It was the early days of the web, and I wrote a screed-as-webpage denouncing the Academy Award nominations of 1995 that got covered in the Times and on CNN. (Social misfit and professional wallflower that I was, I hoped nobody would notice, and nobody did). In my sophomore year, however, I discovered that my school had a film program. Yes, somehow I’d lucked out, and my local university had one of the best, and most unique, film programs in the country. Concentrating on what might be called “experimental,” “avant-garde,” or “personal” film making, it is the rare production program that is also heavily invested in deep viewing. This is where I was able to start synthesizing everything I’d absorbed before, and where I was exposed to many, many very hard to see films from the history of the American avant-garde. It was a place where film still had a politics, where art mattered in vital, immediate ways – who would bleed the most for it? Who was the most hard-core? It was the place where my allegiance to film as a practice, and the importance of film as a medium, was cemented.
I eventually went on to study film in graduate school, and moving images are part of my practice as an artist, but I haven’t written about contemporary film in a long time. Recently, as I saw more current films, and by way of soothing my psyche and distracting myself from my body, I started posting short, somewhat pithy reviews on my Facebook page, and friends encouraged me to do something more with this impulse. So this is a start – a way for me to get back into the polemics of film, a way to reaccess what made film exciting for me. Cinephilia, somehow unlike other passions, can arouse fierce, sometimes even bitter, disagreements; film touches deeper than any other art form. The value judgments involved have always excited me, and served to further enchant the medium. And, let’s face it – cinema right now needs to be re-enchanted. Part of what formed my own interest in particular films was that they were semi-mystical, and this was often due to their inaccessibility. Being hard to see made them rare, and being rare made them something to quest after – a quasi-religious questing that separated the true fans from the poseurs. I don’t really think in such ways anymore, as that mindset is more the province of the adolescent, but there is much to dislike about our current age of TMI and FOMO as it intersects with cinema. The switch to digital, non-material forms of projection has been a great loss. The rampant accessibility of all kinds of cinema, thanks to the Internet, has allowed me to see many, many more films than I could have before, but although this cloud has a silver lining, I still count it as a loss. The world where experience was hard-won, and most things were rare and obscure, was magical; our current age is often a spectacle devoid of anything worth looking at. In a sense, then, this blog was started out of a nostalgia – and cinephilia has a lot to do with (authentic, I would claim) nostalgia.