Saturday, December 3, 2016

2016: An Odd Year for this Cinephile

Here we are approaching the end of another year.  And not just any year, but a strange, contentious, brutal year, filled with stunning political developments both here and abroad, deep divisions between people within our own country and deeply felt losses in the world of entertainment and sports.  At such a time, writing about movies - or even caring much about them - seems to be entirely beside the point. And, at first glance, my paltry output here would seem to reflect that notion.

I launched this blog in January with the idea that I'd write occasionally, as the mood struck me, about films I liked, and the television, music or travel I experienced in between them.

Part-Time Cinephile was the title I chose for this blog, believing it to be eminently apt.  Turns out that a title like "Once-in-a-Great-While Cinephile" might have been more accurate.  To date, I have published exactly six posts (including this one), one of which was travel advice. I've come to believe that the only reasons I've had a blog in the last few years are to publish a ten best list in January and my Oscar predictions in February.

It was not always so.  For many years, I've been a devoted and serious follower of current film fare. But this year was different.  Instead of consistently staying abreast of the 2016 film scene, I did all of the following:

1. Pursued serial obsessions with various filmmakers, after watching documentaries about them

First it was Mike Nichols.  A PBS American Masters program on his career, followed closely by the HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols led to considerable time spent on You Tube watching Nichols and May comedy routines, which then led to streaming a number of his films (including The Graduate, Catch 22, Carnal KnowledgePrimary Colors, The Birdcage). From all the time I spent going down this particular rabbit hole, I've decided that The Graduate is still Nichols' best film and that the interplay between Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson is really just an extended Nichols/Elaine May comedy routine with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft standing in for Mike and Elaine.

Then it was Nora Ephron, a fascination jump-started by watching her son's HBO documentary Everything is Copy. There was some overlap with the period of Mike Nichols obsession, which included re-watching Heartburn and Silkwood, as well as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. I concluded by realizing that - with the notable exception of Julie and Julia - I much preferred Ephron the essayist to Ephron the filmmaker. (But I had fun anyway.)

This fall, a Netflix documentary, One Day Since Yesterday, about the troubled history of Peter Bogdanovich's They All Laughed, paired with a friend's coincidental recommendation to read Cybill Shepherd's autobiography segued into me finding Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love in their entirety on You Tube. The irony of these events is that while I found Shepherd's book to be surprisingly and enjoyably well-written, I was also forced to acknowledge that that most egregious defects in those two films are her nails-on-chalkboard performances in them. (I also bought the DVD of They All Laughed, but have yet to get around to watching it.  My obsessions, however intense, tend to have well-defined shelf lives.)

There are at least a couple of other fleeting obsessions that I'm forgetting, but you get the idea. With all these deep-dives going on, there was just no time to see Batman vs Superman.

2. I watched the US Presidential campaign very closely and obsessively monitored the polls as Election Day approached.

And we all know how that turned out.

3. I succumbed to the lure of binge-watching TV, like never before.

Binge-watching is nothing new at my house.  I was doing it long before the term was invented.  Back in the '80s and '90s, one Indianapolis station broadcast Labor Day Weekend marathons of Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and other series.  I have very clear recollections of hanging with a friend, brewing multiple pots of coffee and powering through God-knows-how-many Twilight Zone episodes on a particularly drizzly/rainy Labor Day.  We'd never have guessed that we were ahead of our time!

But 21st century binge-watching is a whole other thing; with an entire season of one show landing on the same day, it becomes an exercise in exquisite restraint to dole the episodes out to yourself once a week, or even once a day. I failed over and over. Season 4 of Orange is the New Black was devoured in 4 days. All ten episodes of The Crown were viewed in glorious detail during the week of Thanksgiving  -a week when I was out of town and out of Netflix range for three days.

A post on my favorite binge watches is forthcoming.

4. Eventually, I reverted to my old, usual self.

Which means that, around the end of October 2016 - just as I've done every October in recent memory - I became super-motivated to catch up on all the films that I'd managed to miss earlier in the year.  My 'to watch' list is longer now than in most previous years, but I'm confident I'll be able to put up a respectable "Ten Best" post in early January.  And we'll see where it goes from there....

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