Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The New Year

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The New Year

And as the sun rises over a new year (forget for a moment that I'm writing this at night), we look forward: what does the future hold for The Dancing Image? Well, first things first, let me play a bit of catch-up. Like many of you, I've been partaking of my own "Dancing Image in 2008" megapost (and if you haven't checked it out yet, please either scroll down or click on this, which ever is easier). I've spotted a few mistakes in the process - follow the jump to discover my mea culpas...

One is the exclusion of Joseph Demme of Cinexcellence, my very first commentator, from my blogroll round-up. To rectify, let me point you to his run-down of The Men Behind the Monsters (sorry, Joseph)...Another accidental exclusion, only discovered months afterwards, is the excellent Holy Grail entry of The House of Mirth and Movies. As I said in The House's comments section, I always keep my word though sometimes it takes an absurd amount of time...

As for me in 2009, I've got a lot of ideas which are scurrying around my mind as it coughs and sputters its way back into activity after a New Years break. Expect the pace to be a little more relaxed around here, but I hope that will lead to tighter and more enthusiastic posts, with plenty of time to discuss - I've really appreciated the back-and-forths which have emerged on this blog, and hope they'll continue.

First up, early next week, will be my review of Synecdoche, NY, the first film I've seen in theaters this year. I may return to see it again before writing down my thoughts, or else I'll let it fester a little longer in my memory and go from there. After that, I hope to offer up some writing on movies which have recently entered my DVD collection. Their subjects range from the yuletide neurosis of a morose animated boy to the restrained passion of two lonely spouses in 60s Hong Kong to the relentless endeavors of a robot from the future/governor from the future to assassinate a hapless young waitress in an uber-80s L.A.

When all the leftovers have been finished, I'll initiate my long-dormant Netflix queue. Though this means more Auteurs (soon to be rechristened) and more of my slow chronological crawl though an absurdly long master list of great films (known only to myself), it will also mean a return to my perusal of acclaimed 21st century movies unseen by me (which fell by the wayside last August) and something new to fill the void in my TV/Experimental/Documentary queue, so long absorbed by the devotion to "Twin Peaks" (interrupted briefly for a rundown of political docs in election season). I hope to explore all three facets of that queue beginning with - respectively - the defunct "Project Greenlight," the impressive Criterion collection of Brakhage shorts, and an offbeat personal favorite which surveys four 20th century left-wing (at least initially) intellectuals. Meanwhile, a reshuffling has led me to replace my Criterion queue (much utilized in '06 and '07 but hardly tapped as of late) with a permanently random one, entertainingly eclectic enough (I hope) to hold your interest. And that's enough Netflix navel-gazing...on to more important matters.

One thread I hope to pursue in 2009 is an interest in "amateur" filmmaking. I mean this in a broad sense, and without the pejorative connotations the term has taken on. To me, it refers to a willingness - often borne out of necessity - to work outside the conventions and superstructure of the film industry, a practice which has produced fascinating fruits over the years. My interest in this matter is admittedly not entirely academic (or I should say, I hope will not be for long), but aside from practical considerations, I find the subject aesthetically rich. I will probably post some entries on this blog (I've been considering Breathless, Within Our Gates, and Be Kind Rewind - which takes amateurism as its subject rather than its form) to kick off a new venture: a blog called Amateur Hour which I hope, after my initial musings, those of you who are interested will contribute to, whether in an ongoing, one-off, or sporadic fashion. I see it as examining a broad swathe of movies, from B films to art pictures to avant-garde experimental works - the good, the bad, and the fascinatingly ugly.

I'm not sure when I'll get this going but I hope some of you take the bait. With the current expansion and affordability of filmmaking technology and the new avenues for distribution provided by the Internet, I see great potential for the "amateur" film in coming years and hope this new (potential) blog can collect interesting ideas and perspectives on the matter.

I also hope to tackle a big series later this year: a rundown of my (possibly 100, more likely 150, maybe even 200) favorite films. I hope to devote an entry to each, with the interest of burrowing inside the picture to relay my impressions rather than providing an objective survey of the given movie's history and subject. And if my computer situation has improved by that time, I can provide interesting screen-grabs and perhaps even snatches of the movies in question, selected by myself.

In addition, I may delve into analyzing the craft of filmmaking from multiple perspectives - perhaps with Auteur-like series on screenwriters and cinematographers, and posts focusing on a specific aspect (story structure, dialogue, photography, editing, art direction) of a particular movie.

I've got other half-baked ideas for the last year of the 00s (and the first year of the Obama administration), but I'll leave them on the back burner for now. Hope you stick with me as we plow on into the unknown territory before us...

17 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...

I'll always stop by to read what you have to say.

MovieMan0283 said...

Thanks, Tony, same here...happy new year!

T.S. said...

I'm definitely looking forward to reading selections from your top films. And Amateur Hour sounds very cool, too – I was toying with the idea of doing a series at Screen Savour in '09 called "B-for-Brilliant" about essential B-films, but decided to abandon it in lieu of other topics. Perhaps Amateur Hour will bring out the B-beast in me.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Great teaser post...looks as though 2009 will be a great year for online film writing, here and elsewhere. I'm particularly looking forward to that "morose animated boy," if it's the same one that I de-constructed. Oh, and Amateur Hour sounds B-utiful -- I'd love to participate when the time comes, if my disjointed thoughts are deemed worthy. Amateur writers discussing amateur film? Why not! (Well, actually I'm a professional writer, probably like several people here, I just haven't been paid to write about film quite yet).

manwithoutastar said...

Nice photo. Great idea to put a photo like this up. I take it you took this photo?

I looked at the sky in London a couple of nights ago and was stunned at how beautiful it was, but didn't have my camera! Must be this time of year or something.. Next time I'll take my camera and put images up on my site, which has been slightly dormant lately..

Ben.

MovieMan0283 said...

T.S. & Jon,

You writing will be very much welcome when/if that venture gets off the ground.

Ben,

I actually got it off Flickr and it is - ostensibly - a still from Lawrence of Arabia. But I'll gladly lie and say I took it.

Dean Treadway said...

Your writing is always fascinating to me, MM! Your blog is one of my faves, and even though I don't comment often, I'm always tuned in.

Wanted to let you know, I've tagged you for the 20 Favorite Actors meme (you knew it had to happen sooner or later).

http://filmicability.blogspot.com/2009/01/20-favorite-actors-meme-begins_09.html

Dean Treadway said...

http://filmicability.blogspot.com/2009/01/20-favorite-actors-
meme-begins_09.html

Dean Treadway said...

dangit....you can figure it out!

MovieMan0283 said...

Yes, I was afraid of that, ha ha...

Erich Kuersten said...

Damn, we knew that actors meme was coming. I am totally down to contribute to the blog you talk about, MM, the Amateur Hour... but I would say maybe a different name? There's a touchy thing going in the writing world over the word amateur in association with the web.... you know what I mean. In art they used to call it "outsider art" and then changed it to "folk art"... what about that The Outsider Hour... or Outsiderist? The Outsider Pontification Place? The Folk Film Notebook? What's outsider in French? Wait, I'll look it up...

I've been trying to do similar things on acidemic and BLAD as you know... it would be great to have a group of good writer-bloggers championing each other's work, sort of like Cahiers du Cinema in the late 1950s, Truffaut and Godard analyzing each others work in great little essays, etc.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Erich:

Cahiers d'Etranger, perhaps? Also conveniently ties in a Camus reference. Then again, not my blog...

MovieMan0283 said...

Well, the decision to use "Amateur" is somewhat conscious...kind of an attempt to capture a derogatory word and put a new spin on it, if you will. I don't condone an amateurism of laziness, dullness, or ignorance, but I do condone an amateurism of limited means, thinking outside the box, and working without official "sanction." And it's a bit in-your-face to the industry Establishment which values the wrong kind of "professionalism..."; I guess what I'd like to see emerge (and what has emerged in the past, which is hopefully what we can write about) is the "professional amateur"...someone working their own way, often without experience in the field, but with a deep knowledge of film form and film history (although there are other, more obviously amateur efforts which are fascinating and which I'd also like to examine too - bad movies which are nonetheless compelling for the way they exist in a parallel universe to officially sanctioned art and entertainment.)

I'm been reading bits and piece of the Godard bio, and what's fascinating is how his behavior and methods conform to some of the worst allegations of his critics. While Godard partisans often made it sound as if he was taking some super-consciously Brechtian approach, fashioning art out of seeming rawness and looseness, he was in fact winging it day to day, scribbling out lines in the morning, giving vague directions to crew and actors, not shooting when he didn't feel like it, shouting out lines in the middle of shooting. I can assure you this kind of behavior would not be accepted for one moment on any shoot ranging from a film student's to a big-budget Hollywood production. And not without reason...I would not recommend this approach to most filmmakers!

And yet, look at the results. There's a freedom, a beauty, a romance, an excitement there which so many inert "big" "professional" pictures don't achieve. So often, I fear, "professionalism" (an important value in many ways) is used as a kind of shield by the industry, a way of keeping control and a status quo in place - a sense that, "you can't make a movie without lots of money and the right connections and lots of experience which is often acquired through some combination of those two." This isn't true, as history shows us.

I also don't think working outside the mainstream necessarily mandates marginalization in content (especially when that marginalization focuses on the quirky lives of privileged youths, as if independent film only represents yet another form of elitism, in ends instead of means) but that's a subject for another post.

Daniel Getahun said...

Terrific agenda for the year. I'll be especially interested to read your thoughts on Synecdoche, which still hasn't settle in my mind after over a month.

MovieMan0283 said...

Dan,

I'm in a bit of a spot with Synecdoche because I saw it during my "time off" and by the time I got back to writing again (really just a couple days ago) I felt the need to see it again to clarify my thoughts. Besides there was so much to take in and my response to it was shifting as I watched it.

However, it isn't playing where I live though it is nearer to where I work, so I'm waiting for the next right opportunity to squeeze in another viewing. If it doesn't end up working out, I'll just write out my reactions from the standpoint of remembering the film from a few weeks rather than having just seen it.

My quick take on Synecdoche was that Kaufman did a competent but not standout job directing the film but that the screenplay was so compelling that the movie still fascinates - and that perhaps Kaufman HAD to direct the movie, whether or not he was up to Gondry or Jonze's skill level. A second viewing my clarify and deepen some of these issues.

Daniel Getahun said...

I agree about Kaufman's work in directing it, but as you say, the screenplay is almost second to none. I read that piece by Manohla Dargis (I think you commented on that Oscar kick-off post last week) dissecting SNY and was reminded/educated on how brilliant that writing really was.

So then I guess the question is, is the best screenplay of the year because it's the richest? Or should it be excluded as a "best of" simply because it's so hard to process in one viewing, compared to some other more digestable, more traditional screenplays?

MovieMan0283 said...

Dan, in response to your questions I would lodge a tentative maybe to the first (it has its flaws, which Kaufman's novice direction highlights, but it is - as you note - so "rich" that these flaws may not matter much in the end) and a definite no to the second.