Year-end highlights and reflections
Permit me a bout of navel-gazing (this post is not the round-up of other bloggers' best work; that will appear here in a week or two). In past years, I have offered resolutions which were rarely fulfilled; this year, I'd like to focus on the past rather than the future. Apologies for the self-serious tone and inordinate length. I got tired of revising it: blame the blizzard...
Anyway, I am very happy with 2010, though it's hard for me to believe a mere twelve months passed - it was a year of ups and downs, twists and turns, but with a definite narrative and a true progression. This is true for my "offscreen" life as well but, as concerns us here, it's certainly true of my blog. The path of my blogging through 2010 had a few central themes: 1) consolidation, as I centralized my diffuse activities, initially scattered over several websites, back onto The Dancing Image; 2) visual presentation, as I started using more screen-caps, presenting "visual tributes," and making over the blog so that it was more appealing and navigable; 3) self-expression, as I moved away from trying to fulfill certain criteria and moved towards simply saying or showing what I wanted to say or show.
On November 1, 2009, I was reviewing independent films for the Examiner website, and writing occasional pieces for The Dancing Image. But I wanted to reserve the latter site for more ambitious undertakings and ongoing projects, while still putting up regular, random postings and linking up my Examiner articles. So I decided to start a new blog, The Sun's Not Yellow, which would be both a conventional outlet for my musings and a locus-point for my increasingly scattered output. I was visiting friends in New York, and it was my twenty-sixth birthday. I made a resolution to myself to focus on writing about movies for the next year, and to temporarily put aside other goals (save for meeting my financial obligations month to month). It would be the Year of the Blog. What follows is the story of that year...
Cut to January 2010. I had just completed my last pieces for the Examiner, so the month mostly saw a series of random posts on The Sun's Not Yellow, some only marginally related to movies (a political musing and a rant about a broken TV set come to mind). However, I did pen a reflection on Triumph of the Will which I'm proud of, as well as a more tongue-in-cheek celebration of Patriot Games.
At the end of January, I excerpted Fitzgerald's "My Lost City". My one "big" piece for the month (the only one to appear on The Dancing Image) was a round-up of other bloggers' work, Blog 09. Meanwhile, inspired by the work of Jeremy Richey and Ed Howard, I also unveiled my first image-only post, a visual tribute to Syndromes and a Century.
The visual theme continued into February, when I loosened up my style a bit to incorporate a grabbag collection of as-yet-unused screen caps, a representation of Godard's famous epigram, and a morbid meditation on dancing corpses. I also offered two new pieces on The Dancing Image, and both of them were dominated by images: my entry in the Film Preservation blogathon highlighted "holy grail" films, and a nostalgic journey through my childhood moviegoing lined up over a hundred posters.
Then I moved in a new direction, from the past to the present. I surveyed the contemporary scene on a brand new blog, Lost in the Movies, which was meant to both establish a regular reviewing habit and earn me a little advertising revenue (fail, on both accounts but especially the latter - I never made a cent!). I began by diving head-first into the Oscar pool, reviewing nominees like Avatar, Up in the Air, Inglorious Basterds, and Bright Star.
Meanwhile, I took a more in-depth view of 2000s cinema by resuming my "Best of the 21st Century?" series on Wonders in the Dark. The series was a holdover from the Examiner, as a way for me to explore independent films in an interesting fashion. I renewed it on Wonders in March as a way to thank Sam Juliano for cross-linking my Examiner pieces.
I did so by reviewing a film that killed two birds with one stone: The Hurt Locker was the highest-ranked film on 21st-century guide list and also the front-runner for Best Picture this year - so it fit into both series. "Best of the 21st Century?" would continue until November, when I reached #100 on the guide list - throughout the ever-changing year, it was the one constant.
When the Oscar race ended with victory for Kathryn Bigelow, I jumped from catching up with 2009's prestige pictures to covering the latest new releases. I reviewed the weekend openings every Sunday and new DVDs every Wednesday on Lost in the Movies (this practice led to pieces on Brothers, How to Train Your Dragon, and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story).
I also continued with random pieces and directorial poster line-ups on The Sun's Not Yellow, but quickly lost patience with this approach. In April I declared a temporary break from blogging (promising "I'll be back") which turned into a two-month hiatus. During May I had my lowest output in two and half years of blogging, with only two posts going up (reviews I'd already committed to for "Best of the 21st Century"). But I was still busy.
During this time, I was developing projects that required a break from the day-in, day-out hassle of reviewing, blogging, and maintaining three sites. I was watching all of the Star Wars films in preparation for a piece on their status as a saga, I was researching Field of Dreams in anticipation of an essay on its connections to the 1960s, and I was digging into The Wind in the Willows and its various screen adaptations with the ambition of exploring them in an extensive series.
Then, in June, I threw in the towel. Distracted by real-world obligations, disillusioned with my work on these side projects, and fed up with various aspects of blogging (from online arguments to self-imposed deadlines), I announced that I was closing down Lost in the Movies and The Sun's Not Yellow, archiving all my material on The Dancing Image, and abandoning all my projects. Then a funny thing happened.
At the very time I was preparing to call it quits, Blogger introduced new templates and expanded options into their program. I found myself giving The Dancing Image an extensive makeover: redesigning the layout and unveiling a new banner, expanding the column size so that I could utilize bigger images, and adding tabs for a variety of pages that broke away from the chronological, diaristic format of the blog: a collection of my best work, a relocation of my directory, and best of all a picture gallery to mark my new devotion to the visual approach.
Unveiling a new format without new content seemed a wasted opportunity. So I resumed my blogging, but with a difference. Now I limited my output to one post a week, alternating between links to my Wonders series and a fresh piece with the "what" and the "how" entirely of my own choosing. This sounds like a no-brainer, yet for about a year I'd been trying different obligations on for size: write professionally, write perpetually, write about new releases. No more.
In this new atmosphere, all of my abandoned projects were eventually concluded: from "Field of Dreams & the 60s" to "Notes on the Star Wars saga". Later in the year I would even unveil the long-announced and perpetually delayed Willows series. (Now the only remaining long-term project is my canonical series, which will be impossible to complete until at least several years have passed.)
I also wrote "Cities of the Imagination", a piece that was a break from my more conventionally formatted posts of the past. "Cities" included many screen-caps from the film The World and Michel Gondry's music videos, alongside musings on "city dreams" in literature and cinema. In this same vein, July also saw more visual posts than ever before - I initiated the "picture gallery" meme, offered a screen-cap coda to Allan Fish's countdown, and presented Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side.
This practice continued into August, when I celebrated the British documentary series "Civilisation: A Personal View with Kenneth Clark". And I kept posting once a week, which allowed me to focus more attention and ambition on each one. This method continued until the week of Labor Day, with my entry in Tony Dayoub's Cronenberg blogathon, a consideration of the two versions of The Fly.
Then, in September, I introduced a new schedule. I would hold onto it for six intense weeks; this probably represents the high-water mark of my commitment to blogging and the discipline of that effort.
Monday would be for the WILD CARD: a random post - sometimes a review, sometimes a response to a meme or blogathon, sometimes something more freewheeling. Entries included a Facebook response to The Social Network, a list of my 32 favorite directors (complete with clips from their work), and a selection of my comments from IMDb back in the good ol' days.
Tuesday was reserved for a MICROSERIES (that is to say, a series of limited duration, somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen entries). I had several planned, but I knew which one I wanted to jump into first: an exploration of The Wind in the Willows, which had first been broached in January 2009 before being endlessly placed on the backburner. If you like the book or are curious about its history (or maybe just want to look at some nice pictures from the adaptations, which I screen-capped the hell out of), I encourage you to visit the entries, each of which take a look at a different aspect of the story. The entries are all lengthy and some admittedly ramble, but the tightest and most informative pieces are "Dolce Domum" (dealing with Kenneth Grahame's biography and the story's "psychological geography" and "Toad Hall" (investigating the socio-political underpinnings of the narrative).
Wednesday saw links to my latest entry in BEST OF THE 21ST CENTURY? as I finished off (and eventually curtailed) my commitment to review the most acclaimed films of the past decade, occasionally reminding readers that the title was a question rather than a declaration - an important distinction to make when I occasionally answered that question with a "No." Most of the pieces were written in one sitting, following my first-ever viewing of the film in question; one major exception was an essay on Let the Right One In, which I viewed several times in addition to reading the book and watching the American remake.
Thursday was the most exciting day for me, as I got to turn my taste for VISUAL TRIBUTES into a regular habit. Usually I tried to give the images a certain flow: in the best of these, I was able to tell a story or create a kind of pattern out of the various screen captures. It also gave me an excuse to explore a wide variety of films and visual atmospheres, from the delicately exuberant theatricality of "The Nightingale" (an episode of Shelley Duvall's "Fairie Tale Theatre") to the animated fantasias of The Mascot and Dumbo to the gruesome fantasy/sci-fi setpieces of The Company of Wolves or Fire in the Sky.
As for Friday, it will hopefully be accounted for until 2020. The ongoing series REMEMBERING THE MOVIES was inspired by a radio show playing songs that entered the charts this very week forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, and one hundred years ago. Though I'm unable to play the movies the way a radio host can play the songs, I gather up images, trailers, quotations from reviewers, and (when possible) my own recollections. This feature has become one of the most popular on the site, and I plan to keep it as the centerpiece for the next decade (until the circle has been completed with an entry on September 2010). When all else is quiet on the blog, as it will be on many occasions, this will continue.
Anyhow, with the schedule in place, these various commitments kept me occupied, and since I leapt into this schedule on a whim, I did not have much prepared. Many nights were spent catching up with my self-imposed deadlines (though it's 100% certain that only I cared about them), particularly when it came to the Willows series which, despite all the springtime preparation, had not yet been written.
Adding to the grind, I began another series on Wonders in the Dark in October: "The Sunday Matinee". What began as an opportunity to discuss favorite classics that had been overlooked on the site (Fists in the Pocket, Before the Revolution, Daisies) turned into something else: a chance for me to explore various European New Waves I'd only dabbled in previously.
An entry on This Sporting Life turned into a dual review with another 1963 film, Billy Liar, and this in turn became an extensive overview of the entire movement. Meanwhile, a discussion in one thread led to the acquisition of many Czechoslavakian rarities and a review of the masterpiece Miraculous Virgin. In the end, I can only hope the series was as educational for others as it was for me: "The Sunday Matinee" concludes next week with another all-time favorite, Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us.
Before long, it was November 1, 2010. I happened to be in New York City again, but now with much water under the bridge. At twenty-seven, I could look back on the Year of the Blog with satisfaction, while recognizing that it was probably time to move on and readjust my goals once again.
Still, it was hard to break the momentum I'd built up and part of me wanted to keep on writing every day for a while - nonetheless, I soon found myself exhausted and faced with an opportune moment to take a break. The Willows series had just ended, I had reached #100 in my guide list for "Best of the 21st Century?", and the visual tributes I'd prepared ahead of time were about to run out.
So in November I backed off, posting once or twice a week, reducing my involvement with Wonders in the Dark, and redesigning "Remembering the Movies" so that it was at once less time-consuming and more visually appealing. The Year of the Blog had come to a close.
Even so, as December brought the end of the calendar year, I still found myself writing new posts every week - on Disney films like Snow White and Lady and the Tramp, on my #1 animated film and #1 horror film, and in a trio of visual tributes just last week. Old habits die hard, don't they?
2011 will see "Remembering the Movies" chug along every Friday. It will be mostly quiet on the blogging front, but I do have a few ideas I'd like to explore. One involves incorporating filmmaking into the blogging fold but (for fear of jinxing it as much as anything else) the less said the better, for now at least.
I also have several ideas for microseries. One is "The Beatles Onscreen," exploring the cinematic output associated with the band - the films they've starred in (as a band and as individuals), the films about them (documentary and recreated), and the films about their phenomenon. It would include short entries on classics, groaners, and rare gems (like the Maysles' Brothers' What's Happening!, arguably the best Beatles film).
On a more serious note, I would also like to do a series on "Post-9/11 Cinema," covering films from the last ten years than have dealt with September 11, the war on terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, and any related issues. It would require much research and preparation, and its aim would be to offer a brief look at every single American movie (fiction and documentary) touching on the aftermath of that day.
Meanwhile, from time to time I will revive the every-day schedule I established this past fall. Obviously, with the "Best of the 21st Century?" series concluded, Wednesdays would be open, but I already have an idea for a substitution.
Since I started blogging, I've been disappointed with the lack of formal analysis or discussion of filmmaking in concrete terms, particularly in my own work. To help rectify this, I would like to offer up posts which would use words, screen-caps, and clips to explore not just what is being achieved onscreen, but how it's being achieved. I realize this is probably already being done in a variety of online venues, but honestly it's as much for my own purposes as anyone else's.
It's much easier to write about the themes or the story or the feelings of a film than it is to grapple with it in specific terms, evoking its poetry while remaining conscious of its physical make-up, the way its magic is expressed through conscious decisions (or even happy accidents) in the editing, composition, camera movements, lighting, etc.
Yet despite the difficulty, this approach is exactly what I need right now, both to draw me back into the conscious contemplation of cinema as an act of creation rather than just a magical object to be observed, and also in order to challenge me and motivate the further development of my blogging. In this way, the Year of the Blog can continue in spirit if not in form.
So here's to 2010, and 2011 - Happy New Year to all of you!