Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mission Statement

Welcome to my blog, What is Great Cinema?.  I began blogging a few months ago to clear my head and to have a useful outlet for what I consider worthwhile thoughts that were swirling in my head.  This is a blog of film theory and general topics in film.  There are a number of reasons I have decided to do a blog around these lines as opposed to other directions I could take a film blog.  The internet is already filled with movie reviews, so to make a blog where I anally review every last movie I have ever seen would be to do what so many others have wasted their time doing.  No one should care to read the ten thousandth review of Up in the Air.  I am not a professional critic and I have no current reputation so I have to stand out from the monotony of the internet by doing something novel.  Film theory is, to me, a higher form of film writing than movie reviews.  Movie reviews are "It was good," "It was bad," "I laughed," but film theory gets right down to the soul of movies.  It is a deep intellectual exercise, the mixing of art and pop.  Lastly, film theory and general topics can be applicable to many movies, if not every movie.  This should have much more value to the reader.

My own ideas of film are complex and growing.  I am a viewer, but I would like to see an increase in my creative output.  I see great art as a deeply intellectual exercise, even though the arts have been bastardized away from that approach.  I come to movies not as a geek, but as a high culture snob with a broader outlook of art that I believe can be translated to movies, although we've been trained not to do this.  Art is a part of man's search for truth and meaning. I consider my ideas similar to the vein of the French New Wave whose writers and filmmakers combined a "geeky" knowledge of movies with a grounding in high culture and the arts and an interest in the deepest principles.  Even the lowest of films could be a place of intellectual excitement for them.  Their greatest contribution, in my opinion, was the elevation of form and the reminder that form is art as well as content.  One of the most important elements to great film which is sorely lacking in our day is originality.  The medium should be expanding, but instead is closing itself off more and more for the sake of an audience that wants the habitual.  We've found the money formula and there is no need to diverge from it.  I've also more recently been drawn to realism, due to events in my own life and the serious things that I see others going through in theirs.  Realism offers us an opportunity to reflect on something that we may otherwise be too busy living out.  There is an entire world of import outside of the movie theater.  I hope to, in this blog, better illuminate what makes a great movie and not just name movies that are great.  I'm not here to argue over individual movies but to discuss larger principles.  I hope this will be a useful and enlightening resource for both viewers and creators.

Also, I am a Catholic Christian.  This is not only my worldview, but my universe-view and reality-view.  It is not merely a part of me, separate from everything else, but it is something that permeates every part of me.  Movies can be about all sorts of subject matter, so it only makes sense that one of the central themes of the human experience will show up on a blog about movies.  For those who don't share my faith background, feel free to apply a filter and move past the insights on the blog that you consider useless and take with you what you consider useful, just as you would with anything else.  If this blog ends up being evangelistic, that's great, but I won't be straining to go in that direction.

Here is the outline of my blog:

I. Introductory Articles
II. Lead-in to Criterion Challenge and Criterion Challenge
III. General Topics in Mainstream Cinema
IV. General Topics in Less Mainstream Cinema
V. Film Aesthetics
VI. Higher Film Theory
VII. Specifically Christian Concerns in Film
VIII. Miscellani
IX. Personal Work

The posts begin in my head.  Some ideas in a general area swirl around.  When I find the time, I google search the topic to make sure no one has already said what I would have said.  If someone else already wrote the general ideas that I was going to write, but usually more eloquently, then I just post a link to them.  If it hasn't been done yet according to my google search, then I start writing the post.  I do the paragraphs or points that are most fresh in my mind first and then I fill in the rest.  I write the paragraphs out of order, but then I put them in order.  I then watch all the movies I have cited before I publish the post.  This way, I know all my citations are truly fitting and I can't get called out for not having actually seen them.  This is why some of my posts are behind.  Usually I have seen all the movies before this.  Sometimes I haven't.  I write my posts out of order, too, but the blogmap link shows all the posts in correct order.  I just write things as they come to me.

In looking back at my writing process, I would like to note a few things I do differently now.  (This paragraph was written much later.)  I nearly always make up an outline first, just saying what all my paragraphs will be about.  I don't do an upfront google search as often now because most of my most basic, obvious ideas have already been gotten out of the way.  I also have seen next to all the movies I would potentially cite now because I just go with previous citations and I've built up a number of choices for myself.

In writing style, I have a very clinical, point-by-point approach.  Big ideas don't require big words.  I do not try to be needlessly esoteric for the sake of showing off how smart I am.  A great philosopher starts by pointing out and naming the relatively obvious and then uses that as a springboard for bigger ideas.  Roger Ebert apparently criticized film theory in colleges saying:
"Film theory has nothing to do with film. Students presumably hope to find out something about film, and all they will find out is an occult and arcane language designed only for the purpose of excluding those who have not mastered it and giving academic rewards to those who have.  No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence would want to teach these courses, so the bona fide definition of people teaching them are people who are incapable of teaching anything else."
Having read an entire large film theory anthology, I can safely agree.  I also like to use pictures and videos where fitting to provide visual interest and remove the intimidation of a huge page of text.  I find graphs are fantastic for augmenting a point.  Blogs are suited to being well-rounded in this way unlike books.  On the other hand, it disappoints me that I can not find or use all the movie clips I would desire.  Fair use laws should technically cover everything I would want on the site, but no one wants to risk copyright infringement lawsuits. 

Although this is a theory and general topics blog, I will cite numerous movies.  This is not to brag that I have wasted more time in front of my television than the reader who may or may not have seen my citations.  Specific movies make ideas more clear.  Also, the underlying joy of movies is not in academics, but in the actual viewing of good movies.  The movies on this blog should be watched and enjoyed in a general sense and not just as examples of whatever idea I'm writing about.  Instead of using great movies as an introduction to ideas, I'm using ideas as an introduction to great movies.  Since the blog is about broad ideas, the examples will mostly be as straightforward as possible.  I will usually make the most obvious or iconic choice that fits my point.  This is to introduce newcomers to important films and to not tax serious film buffs with esoteric namedropping.  Also, not all the citations will be movies that I personally consider great.  My movie citations will mostly fall into three categories: popular movies that everyone has seen, famous movies most film buffs have seen, and personal favorites.  I'll try to repeat citations because I want to encourage people to follow along with the chosen movies and I want that to be a manageable request as well as give a sense of building knowledge.  Depending on where you live, you can find most of these movies through your local library.

I intend to show all my own video work in posts at the end of the blogmap beginning with the videos I have any commentary on.  I worry that people may not click on my YouTube page, so this way they will definitely see it.  I also like having all the movies directly on my blog, short of the comments of YouTube posters and with the template I have here.  It lastly discourages people from leaving the site.

As well as the posts in the blogmap, I will also do some movie reviews for movies that strike me, some book reviews, mainly revolving around art and film, some roundtable discussions among friends, a top 50 favorite movies list, and some reviews of movie best lists geared towards viewing the movies in a best list as a starting point in film appreciation.  I also have added an Amazon associate store as an unobtrusive way to monetize the blog.  It's a great way to support me while buying things you want anyway so feel free to use me as the middleman next time you go on Amazon.  I'm also on Pinterest.  I feel like this is a little dumb considering this is more of a text-oriented blog which is meant to be read in a certain order whereas Pinterest seems to be primarily visual and you just read whatever catches your eye.  Most of my pictures make no sense out of context and I can't even show posts that have no picture.  Nevertheless, I already got one re-pin within an hour of posting something.  For the blog, I currently wish I could do three posts a week, one on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday evenings in anticipation of the next day.

It is my desire that people will comment on the work as often as they have an opinion.  Even just to say "good post" is nice, but you can also ask for a point of clarification or provide an opposing viewpoint.  Also, people can post underneath here what topics they would like me to cover or what movies from the site they would like me to review.  I may get on that.  I will filter mean-spirited posts and spam.  Lastly, you can become a follower by clicking here or the button on the lower-right.  This will keep you updated on the blog without pointlessly checking it a lot.

In closing, I hope everyone gains something from my work and I pray that I will be inspired for the good because I believe this blog is a worthwhile endeavor.


  1. Thank you for this insight into your writing process, Vince. It was very interesting. I remain skeptical of certain aspects of "high culture" (despite the fact that I'm obviously paying my dues studying literature in a Ph.D. program), but I thought this was a reasonable introduction to what you want to accomplish with your writing. I also appreciated that you kept any disparagement of what others enjoy to a minimum. I'm think of starting a blog myself, though probably not until until this summer at the earliest, and it will probably focus more on what I would call "middle," rather than "high" culture.