So funny story. Funny to me at least. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a film buff. Ever since I was a kid, and I saw The Lion King in cinemas, I remember just being blown away by the sheer potential of stories on the big screen, how sweeping they could be, how dazzling they could be, how they could transport me to all manner of places. To this day, I never fail to get the tingles when Simba climbs Pride Rock in the rain. Awesome stuff. Maybe not immaculate on an artistic level, but a purely awesome experience nonetheless.
Last night, I went along to a film quiz in London. It took place in a cinema, and the chairs have easily the highest backs of any theatre I’ve ever been in. Seriously was the place designed by Jim Carrey and David Tennant (my god, what a combo) sitting on children’s booster seats? This quiz I knew going in was to have a largely 1970s theme, so I knew I could expect Rocky and Rambo and the works of Mel Brooks to make an appearance, and Woody Allen of course. Beyond that, my knowledge of that area is fairly limited. At least, that’s how I would have described it before last night. I entered expecting basically a pub quiz that just so happened to specialize in movie magic. I left dumbstruck (kinda literally) at the ‘University Challenge’ competition I had just experienced. Entire rounds dedicated to identifying films based on a single piece of trivia listed on their IMBD page. Questions demanding a comprehensive understanding of any film’s working or alternative titles from that decade. Even the film quote round I hadn’t a clue about. I can quote Lord of the Rings practically titles to credits! With voices! So basically, my film nerd credentials felt a little underserved after last night. But it got me thinking. The people I was surrounded by, nice people certainly, largely, albeit taking it all a little too seriously for what was billed as just a ‘film quiz’. Clearly, we all at least had a love of film in common, but I suddenly perceived the dramatic gulf in our loves. Theirs was seemingly all-consuming, a worship of the silver screen and all it had to offer, hence their ability to name check each and every one of Stallone’s films of the 70s at the drop of a hat. You could just say these people were better prepared than I was, that they’d done some pre-quiz research is all, but you weren’t there dammit. There’s a difference between the kind of person who memorizes a bunch of facts, figures and trivia in readiness for such occasions as this, and the kind who truly lives and breathes the stuff in question, who really knows their shit.
On the other hand, there was me. Little me. Millenial Me. Hey that might make a good new name for this blog! Noted. There I was. Now, in its own way, my film knowledge is to be reckoned with. I know Pixar films, Marvel films, DC films, Warner Bros films (well of the past few decades anyway). I know sci-fi films, talking-point films, Oscar-bait films. I can tell my Tarantino from my Snyder, my Jackson from my Nolan, my Lucas from my Lord and Miller. When it comes to films that people actually talk about, works they actually draw upon in wider conversation, features that actually resonate with broader ‘popular’ culture, I’m your man. And especially when the people in question are Millenials, but that’s more to do with I think the fact that most Millenials I know are more informed and interested in this stuff than most elder folks I know. But here’s the thing I’m trying to get at in my typically super-long-winded fashion; I’ve come to realize that I love film for different reasons than most film lovers. I mean, even reading back on what I’m writing right here right now, I can see I come across as more of a pop culture junkie than a ‘true appreciator of cinema’. I get why someone may think that, but it’s not really accurate. I love films! I love watching them, I love discussing them, critiquing them, comparing them to other works as a means of figuring out how ‘good’ a film is, and talking about what they have to say. But I don’t really come at them with much investment in the view that film is primarily ‘art’. I think I fundamentally don’t believe it is, although it is certainly capable of being art. And when I say art, I guess I mean a spectrum of techniques and stylisations and colours and tones etc. Yes, I appreciate the role each of these can play, but I don’t let them dictate my opinion on a piece of film as a whole. I believe that, ultimately, films are experiences, experiences which offer us opportunities to catch a glimpse of lives, worlds, entire realities that are different from our own, so that maybe we can make a bit more sense out of ours.
Honestly, I don’t really care all that much about ‘stylistic choices’ or ‘compositional integrity’ and all that, at least not when in my view they don’t contribute all that much to the overall experience. Of course I can appreciate style, be it how Tarantino’s drawn-out idle conversation scenes build tension, or Spielberg’s versatility, but I don’t like to let style get in the way of substance in cinema. And even then, ‘substance’ is kinda a subjective thing. Films have the power to speak very differently to different people, even though what they’re all seeing and experiencing is the same thing. I don’t think that will ever not be interesting. I love The King’s Speech and Whiplash, and I like and enjoy Transformers. I don’t pretend they’re on the same level, I recognize the difference is like MacDonald’s and dinner at the Ritz, but there’s a reason there are audiences for both. What concerns me more are those who think Transformers is on par with, say, Blade Runner, or those who can’t understand why Boyhood doesn’t have the same level of appeal as Iron Man.
Basically, I’ve realized I’m still figuring out where I am on the spectrum of entertainment enthusiasm. Towards the critical end, to be sure, but maybe not that far towards it, and like everyone who’s ever tried to turn his or her hand to writing about anything I’m faced with the first (and arguably most important) question to hurdle: what’s my angle? How is what I write going to be different from the sea of other people around the world trying to do the same thing as me? I can’t say I have a complete answer yet, but I think what I said about experience-over-art is something to start with. Far too many people coming at this whole industry and looking for ways to show off how uniquely insightful they are in artistic terms, how intellectual they can sound. I’ve dabbled in that way of doing things, to be sure, but it just doesn’t fully fit. I just can’t let go of my philosophy that film is an experience first, and art second. So I’m going to stop trying. Clearly, that’s not my voice. That’s not what I have to say, nor how I want to say it. Experience first. That’s the key for me, and also another possible contender for rebranding this blog. I’m not saying it’s a perfect angle, nor is it necessarily even an entirely thought through one, but it’s my angle. Something to start with, anyway. So let’s run with it, and see what happens!