Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Belated Introduction, in List Form

Ever since I started writing for The Screengrab a little over a year ago, I've struggled to maintain a balance between my contributions there and the pieces I post here. At first, most of my energies were devoted to proving myself to my former editor Bilge Ebiri and the Screengrab readers, so my posting here went on the back burner. However, since the beginning of this year, things have begun to swing the other way.

Ironically, I think a lot of this has to do with the larger number of posts I'm expected to write for Screengrab nowadays. You'd think that the increased productivity would leave little room for my own blog, but you would be mistaken. Strange thing- now that I'm being asked to write more, I'm unable to post with the sort of depth and passion I once did when I wasn't contributing nearly as much. Sure, I still write some longer posts, but it's hard to stay inspired when I have to meet a quota of 10 per week. There's also the issue of sticking to the Screengrab format, which is fairly loose, but at the same time I can't just post any little thing. Pretty much everything I post over there has to be apropos of something or other, whether it's part of a regular feature or connected to a recent release or news item. I'm not complaining, mind you- I especially love the increased visibility I get from Screengrab- but it's something that weighs heavily on my mind at times.

I have no such concerns over here. I'm running the show, so I can post as I see fit. I may not write as much for this blog, but that frees me to write about things I feel passionate about, rather than simply to make money. More and more, I find that for all the work I do on Screengrab, I'm proudest of my contributions here, because they're much closer to my own sensibility, unmediated by someone else's format.

So for those relative newcomers who are curious as to what I'm all about as a writer, here's a list of five Screengrab pieces I've written since I joined the staff, and five posts from this blog from the same period, all of which I feel a special affection for in some way or other. I've listed them in rough order of preference, on the basis of how proud I am of them. Enjoy.

For Screengrab:

1. "A Stroll Through Jim Henson's Legacy" (19 March 2007)- I wrote this in response to a touring Henson retrospective that came to the Wexner Center last spring. My friend Chris, an assistant film/video curator at the Wex, informed me later that he forwarded the piece to the Henson Foundation, where it was well-received. But the real reason I'm particularly fond of my Henson piece is because it finally allowed me to connect with my mother through my writing. My mother has never been a big movie buff, but she's always loved the Muppets, and I was happy to finally have a chance to write something she would enjoy.

2. "Forgotten Films: Privilege (1967, Peter Watkins)" (2 April 2007)- I wrote this piece a little more than a month after I joined the Screengrab team, and nearly a year later, I believe it's still the piece that's gotten the most attention from the movie blogosphere. In a way, the Privilege piece is a microcosm of what draws me to write about film- the opportunity to view unique and special works and then commend other moviegoers to see them as well. If they can, that is, although a Privilege DVD is supposedly in the works.

3. "The Movie Moment: Cries and Whispers" (3 August 2007)- the month or so after Bilge stepped down from the Screengrab editor spot and Peter Smith took over was a tense time for me. I was worried about how I would fit into the new guy's vision of the site (which was somewhat more populist), and one of the big changes for me was that I had to sweat word counts for the first time. In particular, my first few Movie Moment pieces after the regime change bears the marks of heavy editing, both on my part and Peter's. It wasn't until this piece, which doubled as a remembrance of one of my filmmaking idols, that I was able to find my groove again. I think the fact that it was Bergman allowed me to focus my writing in a way I couldn't have done with filmmakers to whom I wasn't so close. The result, I think, was a fitting tribute to a major figure in my moviegoing life.

4. "The Movie Moment: La Belle Noiseuse" (26 April 2007)- I've sometimes made the joke that "writing would be so much better if I didn't have to actually write." On the one hand, it comes off as a non sequitur a la Yogi Berra, but there's a grain of truth to it. I love to create, but the actual writing can be difficult and even torturous, like trying to squeeze toothpaste from an empty tube. One major exception for me was my Movie Moment piece on this Rivette masterwork. I sometimes tie myself in knots just trying to think of a suitable subject for my Movie Moment pieces, but this time it just dawned on me while I was watching the film. As the scene transpired, I reached for my pen and a sheet of paper and wrote down exactly one note (the line "you get stuck inside of what you’re searching for") then let the piece brew in my head as the film kept going. Then I went home and wrote the piece in roughly 45 minutes, which for me is unheard of. If only it always went this smoothly, I could maybe even finish my screenplay.

5. "The Most Unnecessary Sequels of All Time: Alien Resurrection" (21 June 2007)- I've always had a hard time writing funny. So while I always try to contribute to Screengrab's weekly lists, I tend to fear that my contributions are a little too light on the comedy to fit in with the others. However, I've been able to sneak in the occasional bon mot amid the film-nerdy stuff, and my favorite is still my piece on the gratuitousness and overall suckitude of the fourth Alien film. Now, I'm not usually one to laugh at my own jokes, but I still can't believe I came up with this line: "If Alien³ was beating a dead horse, then Alien: Resurrection was like molding the pulverized horse meat back into a pretty horsey shape, then beating it some more."

For Silly Hats Only:

1. "The Quiet Man in the Easy Chair" (2 Feb 2008)- I normally confine my writing to film-related subjects, but the death of my grandfather was too important not to mention, and I'm happy that I was able to do so in this forum. Thanks again to everyone for their kind sentiments.

2. Muriel Awards 2007 (Feb 2008)- Cheating here, but what the hell. The first year of the Muriels was a blast, but this year was when I felt the Muriels really made their mark. Rather than just a group of people voting for movies they liked and occasionally writing something about them, it became a full-on multi-blog collaboration, and this was Muriels Central. My gratitude to everyone who was able to participate this year, be it as a voter, a writer, or simply plugging the awards on your own sites. I'm already looking forward to next year's Muriels.

3. "The Movies of My Life #3" (22 March 2008)- Too soon? Maybe by some people's standards, but I think that this piece, occasioned by a viewing of 2001 after Arthur C. Clarke's death, is the closest I've come yet to summing up what I really value about Web-based film writing. More than anything I've written here thusfar, I think this post strikes the perfect balance between the personal and the film-nerdy, a goal to which I frequently aspire here but almost never achieve.

4. "gravida (2007, Lucas McNelly)" (8 August 2007)- Even with my Screengrab writing, I'm a little stunned when others refer to me as an honest-to-goodness critic. So I was both taken aback and extremely honored when Lucas, a first-year Muriels voter, asked me to write a review of his latest short film. As someone who struggled for years without success to get a short film project off the ground, I have respect for anyone who is able to see his vision through despite a highly competitive and often hostile environment. That the short turned out to be really damn good only helped matters- Lucas is the sort of filmmaker I would want to spotlight even if I didn't know him, and now that gravida is slowly gaining a fan base, I'm proud to have been involved with the film from a fairly early phase.

5. "Cinema Is a Bird, or Something" (24 April 2008)- As I said before, writing can be a struggle for me, and often I find that I'm too busy hunting for just the right words to be especially self-conscious about my own thinking and/or writing processes. It took a somewhat awkward Q&A with filmmaker Ernie Gehr to help me really nail down my own feelings, first in my mind and then on the page. Enjoy it folks, because it will probably the closest I'll ever get to penning my own statement of purpose as a movie lover.

1 comment:

Evan Derrick said...

Because a little validation never hurts now and then, your Alien: Resurrection line had me (forgive the shameless use of internet slang, but it seems appropriate) ROTFLMAO as well.