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A question that I’ve heard a lot recently (at least 2 or 3 times a year) is how come I stopped blogging?  Was it because I no longer care about films?  Too busy with family or school?  Lack confidence in my rapidly decaying writing abilities? Lost the initial buzz and couldn’t rediscover some motivation?

The answer to all of those questions is yes and no.

I set a high bar for myself.  I wanted to write engaging, thought-provoking and convincing analyses of all sorts of films, from obscure silents to this year’s blockbusters.  I found the process of formulating my thoughts on a film and committing them to writing immensely rewarding but it took an inordinate amount of time and effort to execute.   Watching a film now required much more attention to detail which was difficult to muster while still enjoying the film for what it was.  On top of that, I’d have to watch parts of the film several times, read others’ commentary to see if there were issues that I was missing, grab screenshots and most importantly string it all together into a uniform review that was entertaining to read, even by people less enthusiastic about the film than me.

I often considered writing shorter, simpler more “magazine-friendly” reviews but always ended up deciding against it.  Why bother doing something that doesn’t have much inherent value and is already being done by thousands of people who can probably do it better than you?  My only hope of obtaining relevance is by writing in the genre in between the vacuous commercial reviews and the ivory tower formalistic essays of the high-brow film world.  I’d like to argue that there is another way to watch films.  You can be more serious than the passive blockbuster attendee without recourse to the voluminous and  tenuously relevant world of “film studies.”  There’s room in the world for a cinephile.  If you read Truffaut’s “The Films in My Life” you’ll find he was somewhere in this in-between world.  I don’t intend to hold him up as some gold standard for how things should be done (though that wouldn’t be a bad way to start) but his success demonstrates that a fertile middle ground exists.

In the time since my last blogging I’ve watched many tens of hours of film, learned to appreciate new facets of filmmaking from technique to broader context and reformulated for myself what exactly I’m doing here.  With this added experience,  the next crop of reviews promises to be more entertaining, deeper and more circumspect than the first.

So what’s in store?

  • The long awaited Dark Knight review, incorporating a review of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman
  • A survey of Japanese cinema based on the late Keiko McDonald’sReading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context.” Using this book will provide me with an eye-opening path through films I haven’t seen and a new perspective on ones I have.  Also it provides me with a persistent interlocutor for the duration.  The first installment, a review of Mizoguchi’s “Sisters of the Gion” is half-written already.
  • More posts on non-film subjects.  As this is my only soapbox (for the time being), I may as well exploit it for all it’s worth.

I hope that my readers old and new will enjoy accompanying me on this next phase of souls on the road.

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Well, I’ve received a fair amount of feedback about the blog so far and a recurring theme is, why would I want to read 2000 words about a film I haven’t seen? That’s fair criticism, at least if the paradigm to which this is being compared is the “film review” as practiced by men like Roger Ebert, Peter Travers or Kenneth Turan.  One major problem that I find with these reviewers and their style is that they are strictly commercial.  Unlike Frank Zappa, the irony is sadly lacking.  This isn’t to say that film reviewers don’t know how to watch films but the forum in which they must discuss the films is restricted to helping people decide whether or not to spend their money on a ticket or not.  As such, they cannot “spoil” the film by discussing it in too much breadth nor can they “talk over people’s heads” with too much depth.  Rather they must walk a delicate tightrope, titillating the people with witty expositions, covering the “spoilers,” and leaving them with a clear and often silly quantification of their opinion in terms of “stars,” “thumbs” or “tomatoes.”

The truth is, the sort of thing that I’m trying to write is closer to the essays that you’re likely to find in a Criterion DVD, something like Philip Lopate’s essay on Night and Fog or Donald Richie’s essay on Ikiru.  I wouldn’t be so naive as to say that these essays are not also essentially commercial but they are targeted at a different audience, one who has presumably seen the film (you don’t spend $40 on a DVD only to watch it once) and is interested in thinking about the film more deeply (also, you wouldn’t spend $40 on a blockbuster time-passer).

For my own critical versatility I should learn how to write a “review”–perhaps alongside the longer remarks, perhaps instead of them.  Or maybe I should make an artificial delineation of films in release and films no longer in release.  As is customary, today’s films would merit a more commercial, less circumspect appraisal and older films would deserve deeper thought.  Such a delineation doesn’t really make any sense from an artistic perspective but it would probably serve the readers of this blog (in case there are any) better.  There is a certain argument that if the reason that the film is being reviewed is simply because it is newly released, it deserves the treatment of a commercial film review.  If the film has been around for ages, then the only reason it would be worth talking about is that it has some sort of deeper merit.

So we’ll see.  Though I do cherish the freedom of this platform where no one can tell me what to write or how to think, I’ll try to be attentive to feedback.  Film, more than any medium, is fundamentally popular so why not let people have a say?

For quite some time now, I’ve been posting brief and largely superficial film reviews on Amazon as well as Facebook.  Since I would ultimately like to comprehend films on a deeper level and to be able to express that comprehension, I’ve decided to take advantage of the new democratization of media and create a platform for myself.

The truth is that I have a secret agenda: I really want to direct films.  Unfortunately, I have no training in filmmaking and I can’t exactly start over and pursue a film degree.  So I’m laying the groundwork for a ‘New New Wave,’ waiting for the day when a person who has proven himself capable of watching a film, of understanding it and expressing that understanding to others might be trusted with a camera and a budget.  And if that day never comes, at least I will have watched a few more films and appreciated them more.

The films that I review will be the films that I’ve chosen to watch–at least, until someone starts paying me to watch other films.  As such there will be a lot of classic cinema, especially Japanese cinema.

The reviews will be the best I can muster.  They will focus less on my personal feelings and more on “readings” of the film that are based on some set of cogent arguments.  Yes, I know that the last sentence is deeply problematic and yes I will contravene it quite frequently.  And yet, at least in my opinion, that is the ideal to which criticism of a film should strive and it implies the ideal to which great film should strive–namely, to be worthy of such readings.  As such the reviews may seem longer than the reader might be used to.  I’ll try to keep them at their shortest.  I don’t like fluff either.

The title of the blog is taken from a 1921 Japanese silent film directed by Minoru Murata and Kaoru Osanai.  It is considered the first great Japanese film (Anderson and Richie, p. 107) and its very title evokes a spirit that I would like to embrace in this blog.  I wanted to begin by reviewing Souls on the Road but the only copy of it that I can find has no subtitles.  Though it has a lot of  purely cinematic sequences whose elegance and clarity need no translation I find it to be unpropitious to begin my labor of understanding films with a film that I cannot hope to fully understand.  Hopefully, the translations of the inter-titles will show up someday (or better,  a subtitled benshi track) and I’ll be able to weigh in on that special and historically significant film.  I may just as well have chosen Intolerance, but it would have unavoidable connotations to less savory ideas.

Previous generations could blame their failure on an inability to be heard, that nobody bought their book because nobody knew about it, the decks were stacked etc.  The internet has disqualified, or at the very least weakened a lot of those excuses.  In the absence of established media outlets, we must answer ourselves: Is this blog worth your time to read?  Will it be worth my time to write?

I hope so.