This blog is named after the film of the same name by pioneer of animation Wladyslaw Starewicz.
My filmic history? Go back to late 1980 or early 1981, when I’d just turned six, and there’s a distinct likelihood that the first film I ever saw in a cinema was Herbie Goes Bananas. For years I thought it was Robert Altman’s Popeye, but a bit of checking reveals Herbie was the much more probable contender.
As a general rule, I see (and have seen) far more films on the small screen than I ever have on the big screen. I know that if it was made to be shown on the big screen that’s the ideal situation in which to see it, but the actual situation is rarely ideal, for reasons usually relating to the other people in the cinema with me. When I do go to the cinema (which I haven’t done for a few years), I prefer going by myself and going to screenings where I’m probably not going to have too many other people there with me. Not into cinemagoing as a group social activity. (Mind you, though I always used to say my ideal cinema experience would involve me being the only person in the theatre, the one time I actually found myself in that situation—when I saw Bringing Out the Dead at Cinema Paris in 2000 and was indeed the only person there—was admittedly kind of weird.)
Until I was 15, I was only a casual fan of film, and then I saw this on SBS one night. I’m not sure why I was grabbed by it—possibly it was just the idea of Australian television showing a film made as long ago as 1927—but it was kind of life-changing. First I discovered that film was indeed an object worthy of study, with a longer and far more interesting history than I’d ever thought it might (our old Britannica being the gateway drug, then an assortment of books like The Illustrated History of the Cinema), then I discovered you could actually study it at university level, and so I spent five generally happy years at UNSW doing a BA majoring in theatre & film studies.
Then in 1999 I found myself on radio. 2SER 107.3 FM, to be precise, joining the crew of Celluloid Dreams, which I was on pretty much weekly (apart from a few months of further tertiary study) until June 2009… when I had a stroke. Needless to say, that’s got in the way of life ever since in a number of ways. However, one thing it has given me is the copious amount of free time I’d been wanting for ages; I’d been kind of dreaming for a while of being able to just take time off from having to be interested in new releases and focus on catching up with older things I’d never seen before, and, well, I’ve been given it (not in a way I expected or particularly wanted, mind you)…
So, this blog…
This isn’t the first blog I’ve run (I had my first one in 2002), but this is the longest I’ve stuck at one since that first one (the “legendary” Hot Buttered Death), nearly two years at this writing. To some extent I suppose I’ve been influenced by Brandon Bentley’s Deeper Into Movies site, at least in terms of his approach: i.e. to write notes for my own amusement and benefit than for an audience, but if others get interest from it for some reason then fine. The very early posts come from posts I made on the Black Cat Bone message board just before I started the blog. Since then, the posts have gradually got that bit longer and, with a few exceptions, mostly weigh in around 300-350 words. They’re not formal essays, just notes to myself to remind myself what I thought of something after I’d watched it.
The blog is perhaps disproportionately heavy on older films and relatively light on the 80s and later; all I can say is I lived through the 80s and later, I saw a lot of what I wanted to see at the time, and currently I’m more interested in exploring those years I missed out on. Also, I’m starting to realise just how many gaps in my cineliteracy there are. For a few years I was a regular attendee at Mu-Meson Archives, where I got a fair grounding in trash cinema and things that had slipped through the cracks of history. At the time I told myself I was pretty well grounded in mainstream cinema, it was fair enough to now explore the sidelines. But I’m starting to realise just how many “great films” I’ve yet to see, not to mention how many I haven’t seen in years.
Unlike Tim Brayton, I don’t have a thoroughly thought-through aesthetic (I’m not bad at accidental alliteration and assonance, though), and I don’t have any particular vision of What A Film Should Be And Do beyond the fact that I expect to be engaged by what I’m watching. How the film engages me is up to whoever made it; in the case of many films it’s the simple pleasure of a really good story really well told, or it could be a particularly magnetic performance, or sheer visual sumptuousness, or some outrageous conceit (hello For Your Height Only). Grab my attention however you like, but grab it somehow. And I do tend to be kinder towards a film that’s maybe a bit thin on story or something if I think it’s visually interesting. That’s about it as far as aesthetics go; otherwise I tend to be kind of instinctive than rational about my actual likes and dislikes.
I suppose I’m an auteurist of a broad kind, in that I go by directors rather than actors or other personnel when exploring film history, and I do think the director can usually be considered the film’s “author” (with all due apologies to screenwriters, a script is not a film), but I don’t go for the idea that an “auteur” is inherently “better” than a mere “metteur-en-scene”. Auteur status is no guarantee of quality.
Thanks to the formative experience of Alraune I have an ongoing fascination with silent cinema, so I will tend to actively seek out films from that period, though I don’t think I have any real “period loyalty” otherwise. I like a good thriller or crime film, and am partial to a good bit of horror, though I probably prefer the pre-slasher stuff (the “let’s kill teenagers” movie doesn’t normally do it for me). I don’t think there’s any genre I’ll actually refuse to watch, though the musical is probably my least favourite of the “classic” genres (despite the fact that Singin’ in the Rain is one of my favourite films). And I love Warner Bros cartoons from the 40s and 50s (god/dess they made some crap after that, though), the best of which are among the best films made anywhere by anyone at any time.
Perhaps inevitably I’m mainly familiar with American/Hollywood films when it comes to national cinemas, after that it’s pretty much mostly northern/western European (British, French, German, Italian) and Russian. Of Asian cinema, mostly Japanese and Hong Kong with a bit of Korean. And Australian. I’m unfortunately fairly blank on African cinema, Bollywood, South America and eastern Europe.
I don’t do star ratings or ratings of any sort. They’re a lazy shorthand for the reader who wants to know what the reviewer thinks without having to read the review in detail, and usually they’re either too imprecise or, conversely, too precise to be meaningful. I don’t do lists, either, partly because I’ve seen too many films to come up with them easily (and accordingly I perhaps take them too seriously to just do them as a game like most people do), partly because I distrust anyone who actually can/does rattle their top 10 films off without thinking; either they’re being glib or their film experience is more limited than they might like to think or admit. Plus, on a deeper level, I’ve never really believed that art of any sort is there to be ranked or quantified. What is the meaningful difference that separates the 238th greatest film of all time from the 237th or the 239th?
For what it may be worth, I have an account at ICheckMovies. Go and see all the things I’ve watched and compare notes.