How Do I Write About Movies?

The New Year, we’re assured, is a time for looking both forward and back: what have we spent the last year doing and what should we do differently and better in the next 12 months?

I asked myself, among other things, one particular question: what would I do if I could do anything?

Well, fly, obviously. And be invisible. Take endless vacations on luxurious trains. But, despite what I choose to believe, I began to suspect that this is not what the question means. It means, as we all have probably heard too many times by now, if money was no object, how would I usefully fill my time?

So, this time, alongside the endless trips on Orient Express-type trains, I added taking a course in mythology, another in non-fiction writing. And then, I would watch movies and, just maybe, write about them.

But, to paraphrase a well-wrought phrase, what do we write about when we write about film? And why would we even want to?

Film criticism is a relatively well-worn and generally ill-respected way to pass the time. And in the age of the Internet, it has surely lost the majority of professional sheen it once had. Any nerd with an internet connection and a Movie Pass can be a published film critic. And, if anyone can do it, then what is the value of one more voice?

Realistically, there is no commercial or (say the word) artistic reason for me to add my voice to the hubbub. But I have two things: a general ability to add one word to another in a broadly pleasing way; and a genuine and endless love for the movies. So, why not make this a thing to write about? It’s not amusing surgery stories or diary entries about awesome pugs, but it’s another thing that I care about. I should be writing about it. That, of course, does not require anyone else to feel the need to read what I have to say.

But you’re here now, so why not stick around to the end? Maybe even comment. It will almost certainly improve your life. No guarantee.

My first stumbling block is how to write about movies. Because I am not interested in most film writing. Film reviews are fine but I have no interest in summarizing plots, giving my thoughts on lighting or performances or mise en scène. Although I know what mise en scène means, so that’s something. I do read reviews, of course; I want a general sense of what people are thinking before committing my time to a movie I otherwise know nothing about. But I don’t find myself much interested in writing reviews.

Nor do I care for the recent fascination that people have with how much money a movie makes at the box office and on into streaming and DVD and foreign rights and residuals and…ohgodkillme.

Dissecting plot is kind of tedious. Pulling apart Mother! to get at what it means is more a party game than anything else…and not why I love movies. I’m not saying plot isn’t important, but I’m a very straightforward viewer: if I feel like the movie is setting me homework, I tend to switch off. Maybe this is because I’m lazy, and maybe it’s because I’m stupid, but mostly I hope it’s because I want communication from the movie I’m watching – and if that dialogue is of the “If I am a mighty oak in the daytime but a scaly toad on a Thursday, what am I?” kind of convoluted puzzle, then I struggle to remain interested.

And, just to be contrary, I really liked Mother! and I was happy for someone else to explain what Aranofsky was saying in it. So, nothing any of us believe about what we believe is absolute. And understanding that is important too.

Writing scathing reviews of bad movies – meaning, movies I didn’t like or understand or that were not primarily designed with me in mind, so I didn’t make the effort to appreciate them on their own terms – has a certain egotistical appeal, but why add to the negativity of the world? Write about what you love…so others can also find these things and maybe love them too.

I love movies. Good ones. And bad ones, which – if I enjoy them – are therefore good, just in a different way, right? Right? I love stories, getting lost in them, being changed by them, if only for the period it takes for the story to be told. And sure, I can notice how a scene is framed, how the camera lingers on a particular facial expression, a well-turned line in a script, and recall a line of gossip of what was actually happening when Actor X made Actor Z laugh and they kept it in the final cut. But these are extraneous to why I like the movies, and not something I would feel especially motivated to write about – except to show off. And what is writing if it’s not showing off (at least a little bit)?

So…it’s complicated. And none of us are consistent, except in our inconsistencies.

I want to write about how a film makes me feel, where it fits into my life. Film writing as autobiography, maybe. This is why I wrote about my headache rather than about John Wick 2. Why I write about why films from my childhood still play a part in my life now. Is this a legitimate way to write about film? Or maybe, more, is it a legitimate way to write autobiography, or memoir, or what at its base this is: a blog post among millions of blog posts being published today?

One of my interests is why people like what they like, and movies are a great focus for that. Why do people like movies that are puzzles, or movies about giant robots beating the crap about each other, or movies where terrible things happen to good people, or movies of misery and redemption? Well, I don’t know why you like what you like, but I can make some educated guesses as to why I like the mostly lowbrow and escapist stuff I pay so much money to sit through in the dark for 120 minutes at a time.

So, this year – among everything else I hope to do – I hope to increase my film-writing output, experimenting on how it’s possible to write about film in a way that makes sense and is interesting to me. And, as films are forms of communication, then writing about them should be equally communicative; I want to see how well I can make these thoughts interesting to other people – including both of you who regularly read this blog.

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