Wednesday, November 27, 2019

CONSUMPTION AS IDENTITY: Movies, Fandom, & Critical Thinking

“Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.” 
Pauline Kael 

I love watching movies. A claim that until recently also meant I love going to the movies. But as I've grown older, I’m afraid the whole communal experience thing has begun to lose some of its appeal for me. Which is really too bad, timing-wise, since moviegoing has never been more user-friendly and tailored for customer satisfaction. Take, for example, those new-fangled, high-backed, individual armrest w/cupholder, semi-reclining stadium seats designed to accommodate the plush expanses of the American Big Gulp/Super-Size derrière.
Or the more-democratic return of reserved-seating, which, in my day, was exclusively a roadshow luxury afforded the elite (i.e., folks with social calendars and reliable babysitters). Concession stands, once just a place to buy popcorn, over-carbonated beverages, and DOTS™ candies to strew in the aisles for other patrons to step on; now offer a veritable food truck variety menu. And in many theaters, a real, live person comes out just before the film starts to remind patrons to turn off their phones--just like in the days of the silents when title cards reminded ladies to please remove their hats.
But over the years I’ve accepted the fact (my partner would say "embraced" is more like it) that I’ve become far too crabby and curmudgeonly for these tantalizing innovations in movie exhibition to exert much influence over my resistance to seeing films with an audience. In whatever graveyard one might find buried the ornate movie palaces of old...those with uniformed ushers and $1 souvenir programs; sneak previews that were actually a surprise; or double-features and open admission policies...there is where you’re likely to find what once made seeing movies in theaters so much fun for me: a youthful disinterest in monitoring the behavior of others.
On the other hand, what hasn’t changed a bit over the years is how much I love to talk about movies. When I was young, Saturdays meant my three sisters and I would spend entire afternoons at the local movie theater immersing ourselves in colorful worlds and lives far different from our own. Our method of prolonging the experience and making the movies last until the following Saturday—when, more than likely, we'd see the same exact double-bill again—would be to engage one another in conversation about the movies we’d just seen. In exhaustive, expansive detail.
The necessity of having to sit together in silence for long stretches of time in a dark theater (we were far too strictly brought  up to be the kind of kids who talked during a movie), meant that once the screening was over, we'd be fairly bursting with all we'd been storing up to talk about. Thus, no afternoon at the movies ever felt complete without the accompanying animated conversations we'd have on the bus ride home. We’d talk about the plot, which performances we liked, recount favorite scenes, recite passages of dialogue, and share with one another our varied, seldom intersecting, opinions on what we thought of the movie overall.
Due to there being so many of us, each having our own unique take on the same movie, I came to understand then what has remained true for me ever since: when someone shares their thoughts about a movie...their personal response to it, their critiques, their likes and dislikes...movies are so subjective, what is being relayed always reveals more about the individual speaking than it does about the film itself.
Unless talking about a film's aspect ratio or running time, little about movie discourse is ever objective. Claims of a film being either "good" or "bad"--even when those claims are from esteemed sources---are not statements of fact. Talking movies is an exercise in subjective observation, personal tastes, and individual aesthetics. But listening to an individual share their thoughts on a film not only affords an opportunity to learn something about the particular person; it also allows for the chance to experience a film from a fresh perspective. An experience that can call our attention to things we might not otherwise have noticed.

"It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good."   - Tina Fey 

Going to the Movies: Communal Act / Private Experience

My sisters and I were pretty good about not letting our differences of opinion get in the way, but that's not to say all was smooth sailing. Anyone with siblings will tell you that disagreeing on things—make that, everything—is a fact of life. The only reason our weekend post-movie confabs didn't habitually end in reenactments of that ladies' room scene in Valley of the Dolls is through the honing of certain skills. Each of us had to learn the fundamentals of tact, debate, listening, and not being judgmental when it came to other people's tastes. And let's not forget the all-important, knowing when to keep one’s yap shut.
Take, for instance, the time I managed to look both supportive and straight-faced while my eldest sister, after taking us to see The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for what must have been the 6th consecutive time, explained at length why George Harrison (his being “the quiet one” and all), never got as much attention as the others, and was, therefore, the only member of the Fab Four deserving of her lifelong devotion. 
Curious George: George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night (1964)

And if a similar familial diplomacy was responsible for the peaceable resolution to a starchy standoff between me and another sister over the relative merits of Debbie Reynolds’ eager-to-please performance in 1964s The Unsinkable Molly Brown (she was pro, I was con); I credit my preteen Spidey-senses for knowing I'd be saving myself a lot of grief by waxing enthusiastically about the beauty and talent of up-and-comer Faye Dunaway in The Happening (1967) rather than gushing the sentiment I really wanted to express: that for the entire film I couldn't take my eyes off of co-star George Maharis.
Gorgeous George: George Maharis in The Happening (1967)
Our tradition of after-movie chat sessions continued well into our teens. Rather a remarkable feat, given the closeness of our ages and the way puberty plays the dirty hormonal trick of ratcheting up adolescent hypersensitivity at the very same time it kicks teenage know-it-all-ism (typified by the frequent, unchecked volunteering of inflexible opinions) into overdrive.
But as our individual personalities began to emerge and our tastes grew more disparate and self-defining, the biggest change I noticed was that while my sisters continued to enjoy movies in much the same way they always had; I'd graduated on to something that fell geekily between enthusiastic interest and all-consuming passion. Gradually, as I began to self-identify more and more as a movie buff and film enthusiast, my contributions to our post-movie discussions took on a decided air...much of it hot.
Alas, I was almost always "that guy" in the movie line.

The Funicello Fracas
To give you an idea of the kind of hurdles that had to be surmounted before my sisters and I were ultimately able to hammer out an honest, mutually respectful way of sharing our differing tastes in movies and pop culture, I offer up this case history: When I was but a wee lad, I harbored a latent crush on Annette Funicello in reruns of The Mickey Mouse Club on TV.
I was equally closeted in my infatuation with Frank Converse on Coronet Blue and Richard Chamberlain on Dr. Kildaire at the time, but I guess my sisters picked up on something they saw in my eyes each time Annette adorably dropped her chin and spelled out "...K-E-Y" during the Mouseketeer sign-off. Whatever it is they saw, it launched them on a merciless campaign of teasing me about it that lasted for several days. The more they teased, the louder and more fervent came my false denials, until one day I broke down in tears and barricaded myself in my room.
The Mouse-Eared Troublemaker
Teasing wasn't anything new between us, but any of us being responsible for making the other cry was a definite no-no. So my sisters' way of apologizing and remedying the situation was to take crayon to construction paper and hastily fashion signs emblazoned with slogans declaring “Kenny Doesn’t Like Annette!” and “Kenny says NO to Annette!" and then march back and forth in front of my bedroom door as though participating in the world's smallest, least consequential protest demonstration.
In what would be her final film for AIP, the studio behind all those Beach Party movies, Annette Funicello co-starred with pop star Fabian in Thunder Alley (1967). A racing car drama in which the former Mouseketeer fends off a date rapist and gets to play her first drunk scene

I’d like to say this was the last time my sisters ever teased me, but that would be a lie. But it WAS the first and last time any of us ever teased the other with the intention of making them feel small because of their personal tastes.
In fact, some years later, it occasioned we all went to a double-feature, the bottom half of which was a low-budget race car drama titled Thunder Alley (1967), starring a considerably more mature Annette. And although it was clear that I was the only one enjoying it (being that my secret love was no secret anymore), when I sheepishly asked if we could PLEASE stay to see it a second time, my siblings readily consented, with nary a smirk, jibe, or rolled eye between them. I like to think I paid back my debt of gratitude when, not long after during their Clint Eastwood phase, I managed to stay awake, non-protesting through two screenings of Paint Your Wagon.
As we grew older and Saturdays changed to going to the movies with friends instead of family (in my case, friends for whom "That was good!" or "What a piece of shit!"  represented all that needed to be said about any given movie), I took to filling the film critique void with trips to the library. The late '60s and '70s were the absolute heyday of film journalism, so it was there where I'd lose myself in books and magazines devoted to cinema essays and film analyses by my favorites: Pauline Kael, Peter Bogdanovich, Stanley Kauffmann, Andrew Sarris, and John Simon. That I didn't always agree with their opinions was never the point. It was my love of movies that kept me at the table. 
Most eye-opening for me was how these writers balanced respect for the emotional persuasiveness of film while still applying critical thinking to what they deemed to be a movie's flaws and merits. The objective was not to tear movies down or spoil anyone's fun, merely a belief that films had both the potential and responsibility to be better: better entertainment, better art. These writers taught me how to look at film and evaluate cinema in ways that extended beyond the purely sensate. Suddenly, how a movie made me think came to be as important to me as how a movie made me feel.

"The unexamined film is not worth seeing."  - A film buff's take on the Socrates quote

After years of being regarded as a purely escapist entertainment medium,
the serious and thoughtful critical evaluation of film seemed to be everywhere.

If those years spent watching movies on weekends and reading about movies during the weekdays represent the Appreciation & Evaluation stage of my love affair with film, then high school brought me to my Identification & Proprietary phase. As a Black, gay adolescent forging an identity for myself while attending an all-boys Catholic school while living in a predominantly white neighborhood; movies provided me with escape, motivation, and emotional catharsis. Relating on deeply personal levels to the movies I consumed, I found in the films of (significantly, but not exclusively) Robert Altman, Ken Russell, and Roman Polanski…inspiration and a dream of—if not entirely the person I was at the time—then most certainly the person I wanted to become.
Being neither a jock nor a joiner, I was largely invisible during my freshman year, but due to always having my nose buried in a book about movies, by sophomore year I was known around campus as The Movie Guy. A label that stuck and an image I enthusiastically cultivated for the entirety of my years at St. Mary's.
This pseudo-notoriety led to my participation in such geeky extracurricular pursuits as writing movie reviews for the school paper and posting fan-art movie posters in the library. It also led to my getting to meet the other movie buffs (a.k.a., the other gay kids) at school. And while it was great to find individuals with whom I could again talk movies...this time with guys who (to say the least) shared a similar enthusiasm; I gotta also say that I was less than thrilled that it also occasioned my first face-to-face encounter with blinkered fandom and the vociferously proprietary side of celebrity worship.
The fundamentally solitary, insular nature of being a film fan (It's not a team sport. It's essentially a person's internal relationship with the flickering images on a screen) doesn't easily lend itself to open-forum discourse under the best of circumstances. Much less socially-awkward adolescents in the first hormonal flushes of pop-culture infatuation and film-based cultural identity attachment.

Since this was more than a decade before Siskel & Ebert at the Movies demonstrated that even erudite middle-aged men were not above resorting to ad hominem attacks when in disagreement, I blamed it on our youth when nearly every movie discussion our group had splintered off into white-knighting protectiveness (only sycophantic praise allowed, critique not tolerated); proprietary elitism (no one loves their favorite as much as they); and emotional defensiveness (subjective criticisms of a favorite film or celebrity was perceived as a personal attack). Where were my sisters with their picket signs when I needed them?
Them's Fightin' Words
A Generation-Z internet spat over Beyonce or Taylor Swift is child's play compared to the maelstrom of social media vitriol Baby Boomers are capable of unleashing when a favored classic film or screen personality falls under critical scrutiny.

Having wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 11 when I saw Rosemary's Baby, after graduation, there was no question that I was going to film school. A move that marked the end of the informal phase of my cinema education and ushered in a period in my life that I now look back on and call the Status & Ego epoch.
In many ways, film school was everything I hoped it would be. Not the least of it being my “How long has this been going on?” reaction to the idea of earning academic credit for that which I’d been gleefully doing all those years for nothing. The transition from film-consumer to film-maker was fun and challenging, but...being the talker that I am...I got the biggest charge out of the Film Study classes.
Classes with names like Classic Film Theory & Aesthetics, where movies were thoughtfully and critically discussed without the assumption that scrutiny automatically signaled a fault-finding expedition, brought back memories of the fun I had talking movies with my sisters as a kid. For the first time in my life, in an atmosphere where I was free to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe movies to my heart’s content, I felt completely in my element. So much so that I scarcely noticed that I was surrounded by, and had myself, morphed into, this:
I don't mean to generalize (yes, I do), but when someone says something like this,
the least of what's intended to be conveyed is that they're going to the movies. 

There are worse things than being a film snob, but few as boring to be around. I don't know how my relatives withstood it. Quicker and more painlessly than I'd like to admit, I'd allowed myself to become the '70s version of what I call the Criterion Collection hipster: the self-styled cineaste overheard at film festivals saying things like, “You mean you’ve never seen ‘The Bicycle Thief’…not even once?”
Hungry for the instant (meaningless) status and ego lift and kinship of belonging to a community of film lovers, I deluded myself into believing that seeing movies in arthouses was superior to a cineplex, and that watching films with subtitles and dropping the names of foreign film directors gave me some kind of cultural cachet.

"The fact that the [Marvel Universe] films themselves don't interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament."   - Martin Scorsese 

Maybe film schools should offer a course teaching movie fans that no matter how esteemed, awarded, profitable, critically acclaimed, or beloved a film, franchise, or cult favorite; it's perfectly OK and absolutely natural for someone else to dislike it. Those individuals are not wrong, they're not jealous, they aren't haters, and they don't misunderstand it... they simply hold a different opinion.

Movies had always had such an expansive effect on my life, yet once I embarked on a course of formal cinema study—taking both film and myself far too seriously—my world only narrowed.

But, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, "Everybody has to go through stages like that." It took the distancing of time and an intervention from a highly unlikely source (see: Xanadu post) before I was able to find my way back to that kid who fell in love with movies on Saturday afternoons because of the dreams they inspired, not the identity-association and ego-status I sought to acquire via its consumption (i.e., you are what you watch).
And I’m afraid I’ve never lost my passion for talking about movies, and happily, for the last 24 years or so I’ve been able to indulge my mania for post-screening armchair movie quarterbacking with my partner. A fellow of unyielding good taste (he’ll appreciate my adding) who shares the belief that fandom, comfort movies, and franchise loyalty are all an important part of what makes movies so much fun, but upholds the principle that film has always been at its best when it is also inspiring new thoughts and ideas, not merely confirming the ones we already hold.
Show Me The Magic

Copyright © Ken Anderson

18 comments:

  1. Great essay! It's fascinating to see how your life was shaped by your love of film. As I've read your reviews, I've envied how accessible films were to you as you grew up. From my own life: I think I've mentioned in past comments that where I grew up had only one theater that played only determinedly mainstream films. I didn't realize how varied films could be until I was in college and discovered in the library a bound collection of New York Times film reviews. I spent hours (when I should have been studying) reading about films I never even knew existed (this being long before internet days). Since that time, I have read many movie reviews, most of them movies I haven't seen and some I probably won't ever see. Not sure why I do it but it's an indulgence that gives me a lot of pleasure. P.S. One of the funniest movie reviews I've ever read was Hal Hinson's review of "Wild Orchid" (You can access it via IMDB.) Whenever I feel a bit down, I read it and never fail to laugh.

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    1. I think (as I would, I suppose) that your interest in reading film criticism is very understandable! It’s fascinating to read about films, even those you have no intention of seeing or have never heard of. It’s kind of broadening. Genuine film criticism…true analysis of a film and its themes and not just recounting the plot and writing to serve as a consumer guide for readers …doesn’t get the credit today it once did. Studios love that the public now seems to prefer getting its movie info from advertising and marketing hype machines, or those PR mouthpieces called entertainment news programs.
      But for a time, criticism was where you could find some of the best, most thoughtful analytical writing around.
      As for your not having access to many films growing up, I think I might have relayed to you in a previous comment that, like you, my partner grew up in a small town with only one movie theater. He too developed a love of film later in life, but not growing up around movie maniacs like me, he has always remained immune to the addictive side of cinema. It’s been my experience (personal and observational) that if a person attaches themselves so strongly to a movie that they begin to feel a slight against the film is a personal slight against them, the chances are better than good that that particular film was seen when they were very young or in adolescence.
      My partner was more or less “spared” that identity-consumption umbilical cord, and perhaps you were luckier than you think, as well.

      It's nice to think that I was “fortunate” to have access to so many movies growing up, but the truth is, most kids merely enjoyed movies, I really NEEDED them. My family was not the most functional, and film gave me a perspective of life and the world I really needed at the time.
      Oh, and I checked out that review of WILD ORCHID! It’s hilarious, I love writing like that!
      Thanks very much for commenting!

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  2. This column was worth waiting three months for! I envy you having family members with whom you could share your opinions. But it all got me to thinking…

    I started going to movies alone when I was about eight-years old (small town, early 60s, relatively safe) and I consumed everything without judgment. I had favorites, and wasn’t wild about westerns, but everything fueled my imagination.

    Your great essay made me wonder when, exactly, I became a “critical thinker.” I knew in the late 60s movies were going in directions that I found exciting (Point Blank, Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary’s Baby, 2001) but I was still pretty much in awe of everything. Then suddenly came The Hellfighters. So thanks to that John Wayne/Vera Miles stinker, I realized that…oh movies can be bad! That excited me, too. It was a different experience to be a dismissive eleven-year-old. It’s also when I started keeping index cards of the movies I saw. It made so happy to give it one star. I probably even smirked.

    And a million thanks for bringing Annette into the discussion. Not to mention The Happening. (Although I had one eye on George Maharis and the other on Michael Parks). And why, by the way, has The Happening never had a release on any format, ever?

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    1. Hi Max
      It really HAS been a long time between posts, hasn’t it? Thanks for noticing.
      The question you pose to yourself in your comment—when did you become a critical thinker in regard to the movies you consumed—is a good one. It’s something that happens to every film buff, but I hadn’t really thought of it, otherwise it’s a question I would have posed to readers. It would be fascinating to know when it hit. I know of only one acquaintance for whom that time never came; for she enjoys movies a great deal, sees even more than I in an average year, but she can and will watch anything. But she’s also not much on talking about them either. She’s expressed that they’re little more than just a pleasurable way of being entertained for the time. When they’re over, there’s not much to dwell on.
      I love that THE HELLFIGHTERS is the film you associate with the awareness that some films can be bad. I’d happily forgotten that film, your mentioning it reminding me that I actually sat through that stinker twice because it topped the double bill of a movie I genuinely wanted to see a second time.
      I also think it’s marvelous that you had an index card – star rating system! Your mentioning of having taken note of the direction films were going in the late 60s; it’s hard not to imagine that the very unusual and challenging nature of some of the films coming out at that time didn’t encourage critical evaluation from the viewer. Each of the films you listed are great examples of movies that lend themselves to rumination and discussion.
      Ah, yes…Annette. It’s hard to imagine anyone NOT having a crush on her. And while we’re giving shoutouts to George Maharis and the attractive Michael Parks, I should mention have to add that my older sister (the one gaga over George Harrison), ever the champion of the underdog, had an eye for Robert Walker, Jr.---who I would always get confused with Michael Anderson, Jr.

      And I, too, wonder why THE HAPPENING has gone MIA in all formats. I have an iOffer DVD of it that looks to have been strcuk from a cable broadcast. Otherwise, the filmis crying out for a Blu-ray restoration. If only for Faye Dunaway trying for "light."
      Thanks very for still checking in after my 3-month hiatus. Your contributions are always most welcome.

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  3. Hi Ken. I tried adding to this through mobile, but I don't think either of my comments stuck, so here goes:

    I've always noticed an air of acceptance of and a kind ear to people's differing experiences with the movies on your blog. Not to mention a wonderfully autobiographical sense of fun. And now we know where it came from!

    Being an easily-(though not clinically) depressed person thanks to the feeling of powerlessness in the world today, movies for me are escapism and need to have their fun, even if they have elements that don't work. I can't tell you how many times I've watched 1993's "Dennis the Menace" just for Walter Matthau and Joan Plowright alone. Despite being only in my twenties, I find myself relating to fictional curmudgeons a lot more ("A tragedy of this magnitude has to be someone's fault, Martha!"). But I digress.

    Being more introverted as a kid, I was perfectly comfortable sitting at home watching (my undeniable favorite then) "Home Alone" on VHS. The original release with the Pepsi commercial at the beginning, no less! To my knowledge, there was only one movie theater in town, and that was the one formerly called the Fiesta that had opened in its then-current form in 1972. Soon, however, we'd get the two mall theaters that still stand today, with the Fiesta being closed for good. With two small kids, it was also just better for my parents to buy tapes.

    What got me to thinking more critically about movies was the online video critics formerly of Channel Awesome (the whole downfall of which I won't get into here), but suffice to say, once my brain had a channel for my analytical nature, there was no turning it off. Your "Peter Proud" post (and its alliteration in addition) noted how characters often don't act like human beings, but as mechanisms simply to advance the plot, and in watching video analyses of movies like "Suicide Squad" and "Crimes of Grindelwald", that practice unfortunately seems more common than ever.

    Given the state of the world, I think we all need to have a laugh at a silly drive-in movie or two. Again, a wonderful post, Ken.

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    1. Hi Chick
      I’m sorry you had a problem leaving a comment earlier. I thank you both for your persistence and being so complimentary about my essay.
      What you relay about the role movies play in your life (escapism, fun, and a way to cope with the times in which we’re living) is precisely the reason I strive not to make my blog yet another interspace for rudeness, name-calling, arguments, and bullying.
      I’ve received my share of comments that fit into the above-named categories, but it’s my policy not to post those that are disrespectful to me or targeting readers in a manner that’s unkind or offensive. It’s so hard to find any film-related chat room, fan page, or online forum that isn’t just people being mean to one another. Over movies!!...a thing that gives us joy!

      I totally “get” the appeal of movies like DENNIS THE MENACE (you’re so right about how delightful Matthau and Plowright are) and HOME ALONE. I find that certain films are capable of delivering the goods, so to speak, without ever truly coming together (my personal favorite, 1967s CASINO ROYALE is a movie that falls apart right in front of my eyes, but that has never stopped it from being an absolute pleasure from start to end).

      It sounds as though the development of your critical mind was a natural phase accompanying your evolving love and appreciation of film. It doesn’t replace the heart or the soul as a pleasure gauge, it merely fine-tunes it.
      And indeed, as the world sometimes feels like it grows darker with each day, the last thing we need to do is deprive ourselves of the silly and fun side of movies.
      Thanks for sharing a little autobiographical backstory with us here. You’re obviously a very perceptive film enthusiast. It’s nice to know how such passion and interest came about.

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  4. Ken, Thank goodness you're alive! I've been checking your site religiously each day for the past two and one-half months. My imagination ran wild with possible reasons for your absence. Picture: the fade to out of focus ending of "Dark Victory!" (Actually, that wouldn't be such a bad way to go, when you consider all the more painful, messy possibilities.) Anyway, I'm glad your back (in the saddle, again) because I so enjoy reading your take on my favorite art form.

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    1. Hi Robb
      Such a nice welcome! I'm so flattered knowing you checked in so often to see if/when I would post again, I almost wish there WAS a suitably dramatic reason (barring, of course, a DARK VICTORY or LOVE STORY-style glamorous demise) for the long hiatus.
      Your very kind comment reminds me that the "missing" wasn't entirely one-sided. I missed all of you who continue to visit my blog and so consistently share your opinions with me and others here in the comment section.
      Thanks so much, Robb. The enthusiasm of your entry made me feel like Dolly Levi returning to The Harmonia Gardens.
      ...although I don't recall a lyric in which any of those dancing waiters presumed she had died! :-)

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  5. Dear Ken: Hello!

    Thank you for this wonderful essay! And thanks once again for the glimpse into your personal life and your family experiences growing up. I love reading your memories of you and your sisters, and I'm envious that you and they would spend time talking together about movies you had just seen! My sister and brother both like movies as well, but they are not talkers--their comments tend to be more like, "I liked it because it was fun" or "I didn't like it because it was too slow"--very straightforward stuff. Whereas I wanted (and still do) to talk about the performances or the camera work or the thematic elements or the costumes, or anything!

    Like you, I grew up as a gay boy (although I didn't realize it yet!) in an environment where that was not understood. Movies also became an escape for me, and a place to find the emotional engagement I was not getting due to lack of friendships and socializing. I completely understand what you say about the solitary nature of being a film fan--as I fell more and more in love with the act of watching movies, I realized I preferred watching them by myself, so my emotions could get completely and un-distractedly caught up in the lives of those wonderful, larger-than-life characters.

    Then, also like you, I went to college and found a community of fellow film buffs. But even then I was an outcast among the outcasts. For some reason I tended not to have the same beliefs and reactions as my college colleagues--for example, I didn't consider Norma Shearer to be a talentless hack just because she was married to Irving Thalberg. And I didn't care whether the film version of a Broadway musical was "as good as" the original stage version, since I'd never seen the original stage version anyway! (Neither had my classmates, but that didn't stop them from voicing the received wisdom.)

    Finally, I'd like to think I'm like you in your generosity of spirit--how you are just fine with other people having different reactions to films you love, and you don't take their differing opinions as a personal attack. That shows real maturity on your part, and is so refreshing, especially in the world of Internet film discourse!

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    1. Hi Dave
      Glad Blogger didn’t give you any trouble leaving a comment! I’m pleased you liked this essay, thank you. It was very nice that my sisters liked to talk movies as much as I, but mind you, talking film was a very useful way of avoiding having to talk about any of the stuff that was bothering us. That’s why, until somewhat recently, as adults we were all pretty much estrange. We didn’t really know or understand one another.
      It was important (as a Black family that had to represent our entire race in almost every environment growing up) that we submerge the self for the larger social good, and the price paid was not being able to talk to anyone about what was going on inside of us.

      What I relate to in what you wrote is that I almost always felt I was the odd man out in groups. That I felt and perceived things that my peers didn’t. In real life I often felt I was the only one feeling a certain thing…I never met other guys like me until college. But when I went to the movies, I saw parts of myself (my feelings, not my Blackness, or gayness) reflected back at me, and I became addicted to the recognition.

      Your description of the disconnect you felt with your college peers is what I gradually began to feel as well. The elitist side of film appreciation never felt authentically me, either. I liked trash cinema too much, and when given a preference over which I’d rather be lead by when watching a movie-heart or head---I’d always choose my heart. Which is not too popular a position to take with the self-serious cineaste crowd.

      Wonderful that you shared so much of your own personal history with us here. When it comes to your appreciation of film and its place in your life, it sounds as though its alignment with the lighter side of your feelings (escape, uplift, enjoyment) is perfectly understood. It sounds as though you know precisely what you want from the movies you see, perhaps explaining why you most definitely DO have a generosity of spirit regarding others holding differing opinions to film. Your relationship to the films you like is so uniquely your own (you’ve never been attached to groups and group mentality) you don’t feel threatened.

      Which make your visits to this blog and the comments you share such a welcome contribution for me. Thanks, Dave!

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  6. Glorious odyssey through the ideas and images that shaped your erudite psyche, Ken! Which is why I feel so connected to you and your readers as well--you present the cinema as a very potent and very personal dream world that fires the imagination, the soul and the loins with flickering and sometimes colorful imagery, music, poetry and prose! And yet it is also a collective experience, as many of the images are shared in common with others, who mix and match them in their own personal away, creating a rich field of connected consciousness.

    I still love the immersive and shared experience of going to the movies, though it is no longer the democratized mass dream that cost our grandparents a dime or a quarter (and I paid $1 or $1.25 for a day at the movies growing up in the 70s). I don't dream the same dreams as late millennials or Gen Z, but I still find some potent storytelling...the new Almodovar was spectacular!!

    Thank you for, to paraphrase Rice and Lloyd Weber, "teaching the world new ways to dream"!
    -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris!
      Hearing from you reminds me of how long it's been since I visited the sites of some of my favorite bloggers. You're right about moviegoing being uniquely personal and communal. And when I think back on the numerous times we’ve written about the same film, simultaneously on occasion; I’m convinced that there is indeed a collective consciousness that connects film fans as well.
      I most miss the experience of sharing a movie with an audience when it comes to comedies. Hearing the laughter of others is often so contagious and add immeasurably to my enjoyment. I have great memories of the way the uproarious laughter from the crowd made WHAT'S UP DOC? and ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE such fun to see in a theater.

      It's weird to think back at how much inexpensive movies once were, even making allowances for inflation. I took for granted how so little afforded an entire afternoon at the movies, what with double features and cartoons. And affordable candy at the concession stand!
      I still recall how friends balked back in 1975 when TOMMY came to theaters with an inflated price of $3.00.

      Movies haven’t lost any of their ability to feel like magic to me, only now it feels as if I’m lucky if just ONE movie comes out a year that sets my imagination on fire. And as for my anti-social side, I’m just glad it started to develop in in tandem with the advancements in big screen technology, HD, Blu-ray, streaming, director's cuts, deleted scenes, and commentary tracks.
      Appreciate your reading this and the kind words expressed. Also, I’m going to have to check into that Almodóvar film you mention. Thanks, Chris!

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  7. On a hiatus of my own, I checked in here to find you've been doing same! And a wonderfully insightful post to break the drought I must say.

    It's becoming abundantly clear to me that approaches to film are becoming very vacuous: revisionist critics waffle on with analyses which don't even address the elements of film e.g. script, visual components and sound. Last week it was pundits commenting that "Ben-Hur" hasn't held up well because they don't like the story. This week they're picking at the new restoration of "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" because it doesn't have the formulaic Hollywood happy ending. Half a century of predictable stories played out by plain actors of ordinary looks seem to the modern idea of what constitutes film. Damien Chazelle allegedly is in awe of "Umbrellas", yet his "La La Land" tribute can't do any better than substituting a forgettable woman and the eminently forgettable Ryan Gosling for Catherine Deneuve. How did we get to the point where beautiful men and women weren't an important aspect of the cinematic experience?

    Critics do need to be called out for their moronically pedestrian approaches to the experience of cinema - if indeed they're able to articulate an experience beyond watching a comic book "come to life". Unedifying digital photography, a boom crash opera for a sound design and a shitty clipped action story featuring ordinary citizen escapees from TV commercials really should offend any astute critic. It's not that most cinema buffs are stuck in the past - it's that cinema as a unique artform is dropping dead before our eyes.

    And gay men can, and should, celebrate their experience of cinema as something we have always brought to culture. I hope we don't allow that to become marginalized as normalcy seeks to prevail. Far too often important aspects of our cultural contributions are dismissed along with a love of tragi-divas, and all things flaky and superficial. Going forward, I'd hope that newer generations of gay men add and build onto that unique thing of our cultural inheritance which has allowed us to experience film with involvement and passion, whatever that may be and whatever form it might take.

    That having been said, having one's eyes glued on George Maharis (aka "Wearer of The Tightest Pants In Hollywood")is as much a valid cinema experience as many others hyped beyond their worth. Why only last night I treated myself to 1963's "D'où viens-tu Johnny?". While the lighting and storyline were a bit off, I can't think of a better way to spend 90 minutes than gazing at Johnny Hallyday's ample rump packed into scandalously tight white jeans...for the entire movie. The director certainly got that aspect of continuity very right!


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    1. Hi Rick! I’m pleased your return to the fold (as it were) included a visit to my site. An occasional hiatus does wonders for perspective, doesn’t it?

      As much as I still love writing and talking about film, I’m afraid I share a great many of your feelings when it comes to the contemporary approach to film. There’s more than enough room for differing tastes and attitudes, but the internet (which one assumes would provide the vastest canvas of perspective) seems inordinately ruled by the Parkay Margarine blandness of fanboys & fangirls serving as major studio PR mouthpieces…hawking the marginal delights of disposable product while tirelessly challenging criticism of tentpole genres and franchises. It puts me to sleep.

      You sum it up rather nicely by pointing out the low bar set and achieved by LA LA LAND in paying tribute to a film the director dearly loves. And I have to say your entire paragraph calling out critics and their approach to the cinema experience is like echo poetry to me.

      There are a wealth of absolutely amazing films being made today (OK, that’s a bit of overstatement, but I find there to be quite a lot of now films that have surprised me), but the criticism doesn’t seem to keep in step. The good film critics of the ‘70s were like gatekeepers and guides, helping viewers to adjust and adapt to the new artistic demands of an evolving pop culture art form.
      Today I see a fabulous film like MIDSOMMAR and the bulk of what I come across is the need to “explain” the film. The pieces I’ve read serve the function of title cards and summary explanations at museum exhibits, helping people who don’t know their feelings are about what they’re looking at until someone names it and defines it for them.

      As you note, there is a flattening-out effect going on. Years ago gay culture or Black culture could come up with something that was our own for years before mainstream culture took it over and battered the life out of it (Valley of the Dolls was blissfully hidden and “ours” for decades…then the SEX and the CITY crowd of found it and bulldozed the camp out of it. Now I literally see online postings about the empowerment message of Jennifer North). Pop culture now is absorbed so quickly and sweepingly, the fresh and innovative becomes old hat within a month.
      Black gay slang morphs into a corporate cash cow almost immediately (he says after visiting a department store and seeing overworked phrases like SLAY and FIERCE plastered over mundane items like hand towels and bedroom slippers).

      With everyone striving so hard to be part of the commercial mainstream, you make a great point about gay artists and the need to retain and honor the integrity of our unique and enduring contributions to culture. Contributions that are all too quickly appropriated before proper credit is given or acknowledged.

      On a closing note, you hit the nail on the head (or butt) in citing that an appreciation of George Maharis in tight jeans is a valid cinema experience. Movies get longer, noiser, and busier every year, but when you talk to people about what moved them in a film, what captured their imagination or effortlessly lingered in their psyche, it's frequently something fleeting and small, but distinguished in its connection with the human ability to hone in one on isolated look, vocal inflection, or dazzling visual in the midst of all else.
      That's the magic of movies, for me anyway. Thank you for so eloquently defending the preciousness of that unique quality of film.

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  8. What's up, Ken.

    Since I'm also one of those movie guys, you'll understand how identified I feel with everything you say.

    Thank you very much for sharing with us so many and such beautiful inspiring feelings.

    Juan

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    1. Hello, Juan!
      It was my hope (and hunch) that others would see bits of their own experience in my autobiographical essay, as movies have a way of touching lives in such unifying ways. I'm aware of the great influence movies have had on your life, so your kind words are doubly gratifying to me. Thank you.

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  9. Hi Ken-
    When I started reading your blog the other day, I never would have guessed I would get to read such a personal and inspiring entry such as this one. It's like walking into a place expecting a happy meal and walking out from being served a seven course dinner with aperitif. Having read the usual style of old-school critical reviews which usually keep things clinical rather than personal, the mixing of the two is quite refreshing.
    Thank you for sharing so much of your experiences and acquired knowledge with us. It's a gift.
    Pete

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    1. Hi Pete - Why, thank you so much! Very happy you enjoyed the piece, which more directly reflects the internet diary roots of how this blog came about. People watch films for all sorts of reasons, but my relationship with movies has always been so personal, I'm not sure I could write about film academically if I tried.
      It's always nice when something written for oneself is enjoyed or related to by another. Confirms that we're all so different yet still share so many things in common. Sincerely appreciate your reading this and commenting, Pete!

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