Thursday, January 14, 2016

Why I am a Part-Time Cinephile

This is not my first blog.

From 2007 to early 2015, I wrote a film blog called Doodad Kind of Town.  In the early years, I wrote a lot and picked up a respectable number of followers.  But as time went on, my writing become more and more sporadic, and the sense of purpose behind it faded.  Every so often, I would announce a new focus for the site in the hopes of rejuvenating it (romantic comedy, musicals, films on VOD), but none of them really sparked for me. Life increasingly got in the way of blogging - intense work deadlines, business travel, relationship challenges and my participation in multiple choral singing groups kept me from writing for weeks and even months at a time. And when the posts dried up, so did my readership.

But after almost a year away from blogging, I find I miss it too much to leave it completely behind. For better or worse, I have a inborn need to discover new movies and tell other people about them, a lifelong compulsion to gush enthusiastically about the films I love - and to sternly warn other people away from those film I loathe.

Even better, since closing down my first blog, I've discovered I had a small but loyal following of which I'd only been dimly aware: the former classmates and current co-workers, friends and relatives who followed me on Facebook and read my posts with genuine interest.  And I really like their feedback. It's gratifying when someone tells me they've watched a film that I recommended and liked it, like the high school friend who left me a comment today to say he'd rented Ex Machina on  my recommendation and found it to be "excellent!"

So here I am again, starting up another blog on an eventful day in the film world.  The Oscar nominations are out, and a film in which Leonardo DiCaprio gets eaten by a bear has garnered the most nominations. (Ok, not eaten - just a little chewed up and mauled... ) We're struggling to process the news of Alan Rickman's passing while just barely getting used to the fact that David Bowie has left us, too. And here I am, preparing to write about all this kind of stuff again.

The difference is that, this time, I know who I am and what my focus is, and I'm going to declare it right up front.  Here's why I'm a "Part-Time Cinephile."

1. First of all, I am a cinephile.

Cinephile is just a fancy word for movie lover, something I've been for as long as I can remember. I've been writing about films - mostly for my own enjoyment, but professionally on occasion - since I was about 13.  The Internet gave me a shot at an audience. And like every writer, I love an audience.

2. Having said that, I am only intermittently obsessive about movies,

Sometimes I take a break from obsessively watching movies to obsessively plan and take a vacation. Or obsessively renovate a room in my house. Or binge watch a TV show. Or read a new book. Or follow a breaking news story.  I warn you, I'll probably write about some of that,too - but, knowing me like I do, I'll probably find a way to tie every one of those experiences back to a movie.

3. As a part-timer, I feel no obligation to see anything  I don't really want to see - even it's the hot new, critically acclaimed box-office blockbuster.

Just a 'heads up' here, as we say at the office: If you want to hear about the latest film in the Marvel Comics or Star Wars franchise or The Hateful Eight, you might want to follow someone else's blog. I don't do action/adventure/superhero flicks; they overstimulate my nervous system and make me anxious.  I can't tolerate excessively violent films at all. I literally checked out into a kind of dissociative state during The Passion of the Christ and can't remember a single thing that happened after Jesus showed his mom that dining table he was building.

I'm not saying that violent or loud, special-effects-laden blockbusters are inferior in any way; on the contrary, I wish I could enjoy them more.  But I'm not built for that kind of entertainment,and I've decided I'm not going to subject myself to it anymore. Doesn't matter to me if it makes me less relevant. I saw Mad Max Fury Road to stay relevant, and I dearly wish had that 2 hours and 15 minutes of my life back to watch Clouds of Sils Maria a fourth time.

If, however, you like to hear about films that make you think, laugh, feel empathy, consider new viewpoints or maybe even want to be a better person... then bookmark this page and come back often! You're my kind of reader.,

4. I've increasingly become one of those people who "wait for the DVD" (or, more accurately these days, for home streaming availability).

For most of my life, I was a person who ran to the theater to see every new movie I could.  Nowadays I find I can easily wait for many new releases to become not-so-new and available on my home screen.

Why? Because I've become cheap and lazy and now believe that people who talk out loud during a movie should be sentenced to a few months of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp.

Ha Ha!! JUST KIDDING!  I'm really not cheap or lazy.

But with so many entertainment options competing for my hard-earned dollars, I do take a look at whether the expense of seeing a brand-new movie justifies the cash outlay.  In the Chicago suburbs where I live, a full price movie with popcorn and a Coke Zero is going to set me back well over $20. If, for example, I'm seeing The Force Awakens or Jurassic World  (it could happen), I'm willing to pony up that cash for the big screen experience. But if it's a sensitive little indie drama (like most of the films I prefer), it's going to be just as enjoyable in my living room with a bag of comparatively very low-priced Orville Redenbacher's.

Translation: I don't see as many brand-new films as I used to. Prepare for lots of advice about what to stream on Amazon or Netflix.

Oh, and about that hard labor sentence for movie talkers. Yes, I'm exaggerating for shock value and black comic purposes.  But I truly believe the theater-going experience has been forever tainted by people who confuse a multiplex auditorium with their own living room. I don't pay twenty-some dollars to hear Mildred and Gertrude argue with each other about how Matt Damon is going to get home from Mars; I paid to hear Matt Damon explain that to me himself in the voice-over.

4. I don't see movies for a living... or for a life.

As an overconfident 16-year-old, I was sure I'd grow up to take over Pauline Kael's job at the New Yorker (or maybe Gene Siskel's post at the Chicago Tribune).  Somewhere between youth and middle age, I took a detour into an IT career. This means I spend all day working on a computer, and I often do not feel like spending the evening hunched over another computer - no matter how much I want to write about that great movie I saw over the weekend.

Translation: I may go a week - or many weeks - without posting anything, especially when I'm up against an urgent deadline at work. This last statement is what we IT project managers call a "level set." I've now set the level of your expectations for the frequency of my blog posts.  And with that, I'm relieving myself of all guilt about sporadic posting.

More importantly,while movies are a significant, highly enjoyable part of my life, they are by no means my whole life. And frankly that's how it should be. My faith, my family, my friends - those come first, and those relationships inform the way I look at movies and what I take from them.

But that's much more than enough about me.  It's time to talk about movies. And I'll be back soon to do just that.


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