Sunday, December 24, 2006

Jack & George

"A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town."
--Harry Bailey

"I, Jack, the Pumpkin King: That's right! I AM the Pumpkin King!"
--Jack Skellington

With Christmas almost upon us I figured I should probably post the obligatory “Christmas-themed” blog, though the subject of this one (inspired by a recent conversation with a friend of mine) may be slightly different than what you are accustomed to. I thought I might highlight a major similarity between the protagonists of two of my favorite Christmas movies, even though, on the surface, the characters (not to mention their movies) are radically different and seem to have almost nothing in common. I am referring, of course, to George Bailey in Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life and the Jack Skellington in Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas.

For those few who still may not have seen these films, I shall briefly synopsize them and, hopefully, in doing so the connection will become more clear:

It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of a young man named George Bailey (played by the marvelous Jimmy Stewart) who lives in a small American town called Bedford Falls. Although George has lofty dreams of “shaking the dust off his heels of this crummy town” and becoming a “big” and “important” architect, circumstances more or less prevent him from doing so. His father, the owner of the Bailey building-and-loans (the only institution in town not run by the greedy Mr. Potter) dies suddenly and George is compelled to stay in town and run the business in his stead. He falls in love with a woman named Mary (the glorious Donna Reed), marries her, has several children and lives happily in Bedford Falls for several years until an unfortunate incident threatens his way of life. On one particularly glum Christmas Eve, feeling that his life has essentially come to nothing, George contemplates suicide. He is saved by an angel named Clarence who gives George an opportunity to see what things would have been like had he never been born and it is a much darker, more depressing reality. George eventually realizes how truly blessed he was and he asks to have his life back, a wish granted to him in a rather touching scene. In the end, George discovers that his problems, which he no longer cared about anyway, were solved for him by his family and friends.

The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in a world where every holiday has its own “town” whose inhabitants work hard to make that holiday the best it can be. Jack Skellington, a spider-limbed skeleton known as “the Pumpkin King” lives in Halloween-Town and is in charge of making each Halloween scarier than the last. However, over time Jack has become more and more dissatisfied with his lot in life. Scaring people isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be and Jack now feels a terrible emptiness inside. He wants more. After one particularly depressing year, Jack accidentally wanders into Christmas-Town where he sees something he has never seen before: a bright, colorful place where everybody is smiling and laboring to make people happy rather than afraid. jack is captivated by this new world and wants to be a part of it. He decides to kidnap Santa Claus, with the intention of taking his place, and enlists the help of his fellow Halloween-town residents to help with his new holiday, which they are more than happy to do... all except for a rag doll named Sally who admires Jack from afar (though he virtually ignores her) and who has had a bad feeling about this whole endeavor. As it turns out, Jack’s attempt at running Christmas is a disaster. Rather than bringing joy and laughter to the people of the world, Jack only succeeds in doing what he has always done: he scares them. Realizing that he has failed miserably in his attempt to do something different, to try to be something he’s not, Jack returns to Halloween-Town with a newfound passion for his work and a resolution to do his job better than he ever has before, because only he can truly do it. It's what he was meant to do. In the end, Jack also manages to finally see something that was right in front of him the whole time: Sally. He comes to realize that she loves him and that he loves her.

As you can see, aside from the immediately obvious connection that Jack and George are the main characters in two Christmas movies (although some don't consider Nightmare a "Christmas" movie), an important characteristic that these two share is that they both REALLY wanted a particular thing which they did not get (and not for lack of trying). They tried something and they didn't succeed. This means that, in the eyes of many, they might be considered "failures," but they both learned an invaluable lesson in the process. They learned that, despite one's wishes and tenacity, one cannot always do whatever one wants. Sometimes, life intervenes and makes it difficult for us to pursue the things we desire. This may not sound quite so profound but when you compare it to the typical moral of our Disney-infleunced culture (i.e. you can do whatever you dream if you just try hard enough, "when you wish upon a star," etc), this is a refreshing change.

What makes their lessons really poignant though (and which I personally find very compelling) is that they learn what they wanted may not have been what they needed. This, I think, is very true to life. We don't always know what's in our best interest. We often search for satisfaction and fulfillment where we shouldn't be looking, not realizing that what we truly need (and probably deep-down what we really want) is right in front of us. Some might call this "giving up on our dream" or "accepting mediocrity," but I call it simply replacing our dream with a better one. John Lennon said "Life is what happens when you're making other plans," and these two characters, fortunately, learn that lesson before it is too late. Otherwise, they could've spent their whole lives searching for something that they'd never find. So, my wish this holiday season, is that everyone's content with who they are and where they are in their life.

Merry Christmas! :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

"Windmills" officially becomes a film blog

"That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies."
--Davis (Steve Martin) in GRAND CANYON

As I look back over the posts I've made since I lauched this site in October, I couldn't help but notice that most of them revolve around the subject of cinema. To know me, this is not that surprising since movies are probably the primary love of my life (after family and friends of course). Nevertheless, I do find this phenomenon somewhat interesting because I did not create this blog with the intention of it becoming a "film blog." I initially envisioned it (as can be read in my first blog entry) simply as an outlet for my own personal thoughts, feelings and ideas on whatever topic I saw fit. I wanted to leave the possibilities open for Windmills of My Mind to become whatever I wanted it to become. Well, it is time for me to admit, finally, that it has become a film blog.

In a way this is appropriate for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that, as I mentioned before, I really love movies. Heck, the name of my blog and its subtitle originate from a movie (extra points to those who can name which one). It is also fitting because the two sites that inspired me to join the blogosphere are both film blogs themselves: Jim Emerson's Scanners and Andy Horbal's No More Marriages. It is also better that I discover this early on in the blogging process as it would've been much more difficult to alter the identity of my blog after, say, a year of posting. So, as we enter 2007 I thought I should annouce to the world what to expect (and not to expect) from this blog.

-I can (and will) write about other things. Although I will focus most of my attention on cinema I will also write about other topics. I do have interests besides movies. In fact, almost all forms of artistic expression (music, theatre, dance, literature, etc) appeal to me. Plus, I may decide to write on something significant that occurs in my own life (as when I wrote about the parking situation at my new apartment building). If my friend Andy Horbal can write about food, I can certainly write about whatever tickles my fancy.

-No reviews. One thing that you will not find on this blog are any movie reviews (at least not in the conventional sense). This doesn't mean that I will not post my thoughts and impressions on movies as I see them, but I have never liked the idea that when I write about a film, that that piece becomes me official "review," my final word on the film. I may see it again later and completely change my mind. I think film criticism is an evolving thing and I do not want to tie myself down with a fixed opinion and any given film. Also, most reviewers feel compelled to give a film a particular "rating," i.e. a number of stars, a "thumbs up/down" or a letter grade (A-, C+, etc), a practice which I despise.

-No year-end "best/worst" lists. As much as I enjoy making lists, I hardly ever feel qualified to make a "top/bottom 10" list of movies. I confess that I have made them in the past, but later was compelled to amend them simply because I hadn't yet seen enough movies that year. Time and finances restrict my theatregoing (last year I saw 24 movies in the theatre; this year I saw only 12). Working in a video store and getting free rentals means that I see most of my movies on DVD. If I could, I would see ALL movies on the big screen as that is where they are meant to be seen, but reality often interferes with my preferences. At any rate, though I may occasional make the vague "this was one of the best/worst movies of the year" claim, I will never get more specific than that by giving it a "ranking" (top/bottom 10, 20, etc). This is also why you will rarely hear me use the handle "one of the greatest films ever made," (though I may say "it's one of the greatest films I've ever seen") because unless someone actually has seen every single movie ever made, I tend to share the sentiment of Kip Dynamite: "Like anyone can even know that."

-Don't expect regularity. In the almost three months since I started Windmills I have made a dozen posts. That's an average of about one a week. Some of them were done in rapid succession whereas others had quite a long time elapse between them. so, what I am more or less trying to say is that I don't plan to be disciplined enough to post a new entry everyday on this blog. I may end up posting several days in a row or, if so inclined, I may post two or three messages in a single day. However, it may be the case that weeks pass before I choose to write anything. My old English teacher used to say: "Just write. Write anything. Keep writing." This always frustrated me because this is not how I operate. I do not write just to write. I don't do anything just to do it. I write when I feel inspired to do so and that is how I will manage this blog. Please note that I am not suggesting you shouldn't check my blog every day because, well..... you never know.

I guess that about does it for now. The rest of the rules we'll figure out as we go.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Spielberg and the "Landscape of the Human Face"

Steven Spielberg turned 60 today and I thought I might take the opportunity to share some musings on this highly significant, hugely influential and hotly debated film director, of whom I must admit I am a big admirer, both as an artist and as a human being. I consider him to be not only one of our greatest living filmmakers but a truly great man.

One disadvantage of being both a dedicated cinephile and a hard-core Steven Spielberg fan is that I am almost constantly butting heads with people who seem to think that the two terms are mutually exclusive. I find myself quite often engaged in conversations with people who feel that all "Hollywood" films are by definition inferior movie products. Thus, anyone who achieves the kind of success and popularity that Spielberg has is inherently suspicious because he must have prostituted himself (or "sold out") in the pursuit of true cinematic "high" art (forgetting, of course, that some bona fide geniuses, such as, oh say... Shakespeare were incredibly popular in their day). I almost always end up defending Spielberg's status as a true artist and not just a "mass entertainer" to these close-minded, abrasive, obnoxious, elitist, pseudo-intellectual cinema snobs.

Not that I am bitter or anything.

It just gets a little tiring to hear that it's okay to revere the likes Kubrick, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Bergman, Truffaut, Altman, Scorsese, etc. but say that you want to include Spielberg among them and you get looked at as if you were trying to suggest Pauly Shore belongs in the company of Marlon Brando. I recently got into an online conversation with someone who suggested that Spielberg was no better than Michael Bay and who actually likened Schindler's List to Pearl Harbor. All I can say is that I'm glad this discussion was conducted over the internet and not in person or the police would still be looking for the body. In a way, this blog is sort of a response to that kind of condescending attitude toward Spielberg and his work. It is by no means a comprehensive analysis of Spielberg's style or craft, but I recently re-visited one of my favorite films of his and wound up reflecting on something that I had not noticed before.

A friend of mine likes to say that one "never really knows what a film is about until the last shot." I have to agree. Until the film is over (really over) we cannot be 100% of the film's, for lack of a better word, "message" or "picture of reality." Of course, an astute viewer ought to be able to figure out well in advance of the closing shot what that "picture" is as it's extremely rare for the final image to completely subvert everything that came before it (although it has happened; Being There comes to mind). Oftentimes the last image merely confirms the themes that have been present in the film all along, but in the same way that (as Jim Emerson has pointed out with his ongoing Opening Shots Project) the first image is extremely important in understanding the language/perspective of a particular film, so I would argue is the last image.

In watching E.T. again, I was struck by this final shot:

First of all, besides being (I think) an homage to the final shot of Truffaut's 400 Blows, it comes at the end of an emotional scene in which the alien creature has said goodbye to all the major characters in the film, boarded his ship and taken off. As the ship speeds away into the night it leaves behind a rainbow (just one of many examples of religious imagery employed throughout the film). The camera then cuts to the face of every character who was present at the farewell. First, the smiling mother (Dee Wallace) with the scientist known only as "Keys" (Peter Coyote) standing behind her, followed by the three boys who helped rescue E.T. and then Michael (Robert MacNaughton) holding Gertie (Drew Barrymore). What is interesting about this sequence of shots, though, is that it cuts back to the rainbow one last time before it cuts to Elliott's face. In my mind this suggests the kind of director that Spielberg is and the kind of stories he tells.

Spielberg has often been accused of making movies that are about spectacle over story, that sacrifice character for special effects. Although I will admit this criticism does apply to some of his films, I think it is a gross generalization and an unfair "dig" at him. This final shot of Elliott's face suggests to me that Spielberg, rather than telling stories that are only about the special effects, tells stories about people. There is always a humanity at the heart of his stories: human behavior, emotions, dreams, fears, etc. The "human condition" itself is the central concern of his work (even films that seem to focus primarily on non-humans: i.e. sharks, dinosaurs, aliens, robots, etc). The simple fact that Spielberg chose to end E.T. not on the shot of the rainbow (the image that most other directors would surely have ended on) but on the face of a young boy, I think, speaks volumes about him. The image he wanted to send audiences home with was not a spectularly breathtaking and beautiful illusion in the sky, but rather the very real, and very intimate, countenance of a child (which in many ways is even more beautiful and spectacular).

The image of someone gazing at something out-of-frame is actually a very common one in a Spielberg film. James Lipton pointed this out to the director in his interview on the program Inside the Actor's Studio and Richard Dreyfus, who has acted in three Spielberg films, has joked that the name of the book he will never write is: Steven, Have They Figured Out What I Am Looking Up In Awe At Yet? Spielberg himself has said that he "likes to watch people thinking on screen because it invites an audience into the mind of that character." This may just be personal opinion, but I think that Spielberg photographs the human face better than almost any other living filmmaker.

If the history of cinema is, as some have suggested, the "history of the human face being captured on film" (since more movie frames are expended on human faces than on any other visual element), I think a very good argument could be made that Spielberg, like Tarkovsky and Pasolini, is one of cinema's great portraitists, that he just has a natural gift for depicting what Irvin Kerschner called, "the landscape of the human face."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

An Interesting Movie Quiz

Here's a movie quiz that a friend of mine showed me. It comes from the flim blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. As my friend said, it doesn't really mean anything, but it's fun.

1) What was the last movie you saw, either in a theater or on DVD, and why?
-In the theatre: Apocalypto (because however one feels about Mel Gibson as a person, as a filmmaker he's quite good)
-On DVD: World Trade Center (because I wanted to see it in the theatre but missed it)

2) Name the cinematographer whose work you most look forward to seeing, and an example of one of his/her finest achievements.
Since we lost Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood) and Sven Nykvist (Cries and Whispers), I'm gonna say Gordon Willis (Manhattan), Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemotion), Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List), Vilmos Szigmond (Deliverance), Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), Caleb Deschanel (The Natural) and Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential)

3) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?
Joe Don Baker.

4) Name a moment from a movie that made you gasp (in horror, surprise, revelation…)
Any number of moments in The Exorcist

5) Your favorite movie about the movies.
I'm gonna be totally unoriginal and choose Singin' in the Rain

6) Your Favorite Fritz Lang movie.
Haven't seen any of Lang outside of Metropolis and M. Of the two I'd pick M.

7) Describe the first time you ever recognized yourself in a movie.
Danny Kaye's character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

8) Carole Bouquet or Angela Molina?
Carole Bouquet. Bond girls are forever, baby!

9) Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.
Almost Famous

10) Favorite appearance by an athlete in an acting role.
Michael Jordan in Space Jam (because it makes me laugh)

11) Favorite Hal Ashby movie.
Being There, but Harold & Maude runs a close second.

12) Name the first double feature you’d program for opening night of your own revival theater.

Bringing up Baby and What's Up, Doc?

13) What’s the name of your revival theater?
Um..... "The Big Screen?"

14) Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould?
Never saw Gould's take on Marlowe. Still, I gotta go with Bogey because.... well, he's Bogey!

15) Favorite Robert Stevenson movie.
I guess he didn't do Treasure Island, did he? So..... Mary Poppins

16) Describe your favorite moment in a movie that is memorable because of its use of sound.

When the woman's scream turns into the train whistle in Hitchcock's 39 Steps

17) Pink Flamingoes-- yes or no?
No. Thank you very much.

18) Your favorite movie soundtrack score.
Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that this is an impossible question for me to answer. I shall have to content myself with giving you just a few of my favorites:

JOHN WILLIAMS - Star Wars, Superman, Schindler's List, Jaws
DANNY ELFMAN - Batman, Beetlejuice, Nightmare Before Christmas
BERNARD HERMANN - Psycho, Vertigo
ELMER BERNSTEIN - To Kill a Mockingbird, The Magnificent Seven
JOHN DEBNEY - The Passion of the Christ
ALAN SILVESTRI - Back to the Future, Forrest Gump
JERRY GOLDSMITH - Star trek, The Omen
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL - Interview with the Vampire
DAVID ARNOLD - Stargate, The World is Not Enough
NINO ROTA - The Godfather
ENNIO MORRICONE - The Good, Bad and Ugly

19) Fay Wray or Naomi Watts?
Fay Wray

20) Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?
Armaggeddon probably

21) Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner.
-AWARD: Best Producer
-WINNER: anyone but Jerry Bruckheimer

22) Favorite Paul Verhoeven movie.
Robocop (runner-up: Starship Troopers)

23) What is it that you think movies do better than any other art form?
Transport us to another world (Sounds corny, I know).

24) Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney?
David Suchet. HA! Seriously, though, I prefer Ustinov's Poirot. I found Finney's to be somewhat annoying (though I actually think he's the better actor).

25) Favorite movie studio logo, as it appears before a theatrical feature.
You know, I really liked the 75th anniversary logo they had for Universal Studios (where it goes through all the past ones). I think it was far superior to their current one. I also miss the old United Artists logo where the white UA is slowly turning toward the camera.

26) Name the single most important book about the movies for you personally.
A History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook

27) Name the movie that features the best twist ending. (Please note the use of any “spoilers” in your answer.)

Psycho is the best. The Usual Suspects, Planet of the Apes, Memento, The Sixth Sense..... They're great, but Psycho trumps them all.

28) Favorite Francois Truffaut movie.
Only seen 400 Blows

29) Olivia Hussey or Claire Danes?
Hussey. Not a big fan of Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet.

30) Your most memorable celebrity encounter.
The night that Ben Stein walked into the video store

31) When did you first realize that films were directed?
Not exactly sure. Perhaps when I first started making movies with a video camera when I was very young.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Everybody Loves Peter

The incredibly versatile character actor Peter Boyle died yesterday in New York. He was 71. Apparently he passed away at New York Presbyterian Hospital after suffering from from multiple myeloma and heart disease. (The actor had suffered a stroke in 1990, and a heart attack in 1999). Boyle has had supporting roles in such varied films as The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Candidate, Taxi Driver, Hardcore, Outland, Joe, Steelyard Blues and While You Were Sleeping. Boyle also turned in a brilliant performance in one of personal favorite films: Mel Brooks' comic masterpiece Young Frankenstein.

Boyle won an Emmy for a guest turn on the The X-Files in 1996 and was cast that same year in the role that would make him a household name: the cantankerous patriarch Frank Barone in the Ray Romano sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The part earned him seven Emmy nominations but never a win. In stark contrast to his TV role, his chilling turn as a racist former cop in 2001's Monster's Ball demonstrated that Boyle could still play intense drama as well as light-hearted comedy. Most recently, he appeared in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Boyle is survived by his wife, Loraine Alterman (whom he met on the set of Young Frankenstein), and their two daughters.

(1935 - 2006)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Preface to A History of Narrative Film

Reading the numerous entries in Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-thon has gotten me thinking about what initially ignited my interest in film analysis/criticism. I've always loved movies but pin-pointing exactly when I began to think seriously about them is a different matter. I think that the shift toward being made aware of movies as an art form and a tool of communication rather than simply a means of entertainment started to occur in my teen years and didn't really hit "critical mass" until I got to college. One of the facilitators of this "awakening" was my good friend Tucker who, when I was 16 years old, held a weekly session on the history of film which lasted for 20 weeks. I was very excited about this because I had never taken a film class before and haven't really since. We watched a lot of great films there (Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, Rules of the Game, etc), many of which, I am ashamed to say, I didn't like at the time. I have since repented of my iniquities.

I do remember, though, being very struck by a sheet of paper which he handed out the first week, a sheet which contained something that would play a big part in helping me formulate my future attitude/philosophy toward movies. It was the preface to David Cook's A History of Narrative Film (a book which I still consider to be, along with James Monaco's How to Read a Film, one of the seminal texts on the subject of cinema). I mentioned that I had never taken a film class before or since Tucker's, but I have managed to teach a couple to other high school students and I always begin by handing out a sheet of paper with the same preface on it. Thus, as a "tribute" to the essay which proved so influential to me personally, and without which I probably wouldn't even be participating in this "conversation" (not to mention a sort of "thank you" to the individual who first brought it to my attention and who subsequently taught me so much about cinema), I thought I might re-print the preface to A History of Narratiuve Film here. This isn't necessarily another contribution to the Blog-a-thon (because I didn't even write it) but it is food for thought regarding the medium of the moving image and a good reminder as to why film criticism is so important.

We spend much of our waking lives surrounded by moving photographic images. They have come to occupy such a central position in our experience that it is unusual to pass even a single day without encountering them for an extended period of time, through either film or television. In short, moving photographic images have become part of the total environment of modern industrial society. Both materially and psychologically, they have a shaping impact on our lives. And yet few people in our society have been taught to understand precisely how they work. Most of us, in fact, have extremely vague notions about how moving images are formed and how they are structured to create the multitude of messages sent out to us by the audiovisual media on an almost continuous basis. If we made an analogy with verbal language, we should be forced to consider ourselves barely literate–able to assimilate the language form without fully comprehending it. We would, of course, be appalled to find ourselves living in a culture whose general verbal literacy level corresponded to that of a three-year-old child. Most persons living in such a culture would, like small children, be easy prey to whoever could manipulate the language. They would be subject to the control of any minority that understood the language from the inside out and could therefore establish an authority of knowledge over them, just as verbally literate adults establish authority over children. Such a situation would be unthinkable in the modern industrial world, of course, and our own culture has made it a priority to educate its children in the institutions of human speech so that they can participate in the community of knowledge that verbal literacy sustains.

Imagine, though, that a new language form came into being at the turn of the twentieth century, an audiovisual language from that first took the shape of cinema and became in time the common currency of modern television. Imagine that because the making of statements in this language depended upon an expensive industrial process, only a handful of elite specialists were trained to use it. Imagine, too, that although public anxiety about the potentially corrupting influence of the new language was constant from its birth, it was perceived not as a language at all but as a medium of popular entertainment–that in this guise the language was gradually allowed to colonize us, as if it were the vernacular speech of some conquering foreign power. Finally, imagine waking up one day to discover that we had mistaken language for a mode of dreaming and in the process become massively illiterate in a primary language form, one that had not only surrounded us materially but that, as language forms tend to do, had invaded our minds as well. What would we do if that happened? We could choose to embrace our error and lapse into the anarchic mode of consciousness characteristic of preliterate societies, which might be fun but would most certainly be dangerous in an advanced industrial society. Or we could attempt to instruct ourselves in the language form from the ground up and from the inside out. We could try to learn as much of its history, technology, and aesthetics as possible. We could trace the evolution of its syntactic and semantic forms from their birth through the present stages of development, and try to forecast the shapes they might take in the future. We could, finally, bring the apparatus of sequential logic and critical analysis to bear on the seemingly random structures of the language in order to read them in new and meaningful ways.

This scenario conforms quite accurately, I believe, to our present situation in the modern world. The language of the moving photographic image has become so pervasive in our daily lives that we scarcely notice its presence. And yet it does surround us, sending us messages, taking positions, making statements, and constantly redefining our relationship to material reality. We can choose to live in ignorance of its operations and be manipulated by those who presently control it. Or we can teach ourselves to read it, to appreciate its very real and manifold truths, to recognize its equally real and manifold deceptions. As a lifelong student and teacher of language forms, both verbal and audiovisual, I believe that most intelligent and humane persons in our culture will opt for the latter. It is for them that I have written this book.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Critic On Your Corner

I really wanted to contribute something of substance to Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-a-thon. I didn't think it would be that hard because, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a "cinemaniac." I love movies. I love watching them, I love thinking about them and I love talking about them. How hard could it to be to find something eloquent and thought-provoking to say about film criticism?

As it turns out, I found I had tremendous difficulty coming up with something that completely satisfied me. Part of the problem was that I don't often think that much about "film criticism" itself so much as I think about films. This is not to suggest that I don't think film criticism is unimportant because I think it is incredibly important, just as I think films are incredibly important, but I could talk forever about films (I have often wondered why I don't just "bite the bullet" and change my blog to a "film blog"). Yet, talking about how I talk about films is a little trickier. Slowly I began to realize that my entry was, as usual, going to have to be highly personal and coming from a completely subjective perspective (lately I find most of my blogs are like that).

Looking at some of the other contributions in this Blog-a-thon I coudn't help but feel that I was a little out of my league. Unlike a lot of other people in the film criticism blogosphere, I do not write for any sort of publication, I do not attend film festivals (for time and financial reasons) and I have never met anybody famous (except for that one bizarre night when Ben Stein walked through the door). I'm just an ordinary guy who loves movies and who works in a local video store: a small, independently-owned video store that's trying to survive in a world filled with Blockbusters and Hollywoods. And yet, despite my lack of qualifications, I do consider myself a "film critic" and there are two reasons.

First off, I have been working in the video business for over 13 years. I grew up in the video business. My father was one of the first people in the video business. I am not saying all this to brag. I'm simply trying to make a point about how much time I've had to think about what it means to work in a video store and one of the things I have learned is that it automatically makes you, in the eyes of the customer, a film critic. This is a phenomenon that I have observed quite a bit and it has caused me some dismay because there is an assumption behind it that I find more than a little frightening: namely, that because you work somewhere, you must be an expert in whatever subject your work is. This, of course, could not be more untrue. Being behind the counter in a video store doesn't necessarily mean I know anything about movies and it certainly doesn't make me an expert. In fact, it doesn't give me any authority wnatsoever. A person doesn't even have to like movies very much (or even watch movies really) to end up working in a video store. It would certainly be preferrable, but it is not always the case. It is especially not the case in a corporate video store where the hiring practices leave much to be desired.

As I began to realize that a lot of people were looking to me for advice in which movies to watch, it ocurred to me that this was an enormous amount of power to have. I wasn't just the merchant, I was the guide. I didn't just point people to where the movies were, most of the time I was pointing them toward which movies to get. Sometimes I wonder if people listen more to the guy at their local video store than they do to Rex Reed or Richard Roeper. Anyway, I realized that it was a great responsibility and I resolved to take it very seriously. I still do.

The second reason I consider myself a film critic (and I know this is not going to be a terribly original, deep or surprising revelation) is because I really consider everybody a film critic. Granted, there are an awful lot of disciplines involved in being a good film critic, or at least a professional film critic, but I would argue that, ultimately, anyone who watches a movie and has an opinion on it is a film critic. This means, I think, that everyone has to take on some degree of responsibility in learning what they can about movies... and not just "what they like," but about their language, aesthetics and history. Not everyone has to become Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert, but trying to deny the fact you're, in some way, a film critic would be like trying to deny that you're a philosopher. The truth is that everyone is a philosopher because everyone has their own philosophy on life. As a wise man once said "You're either a philosopher or you're drug addict," meaning that either you think about life or you just move from one distraction to the next. Well, I would like to offer my own amended version of that quote:

"You're either a film critic..... or you're dead."