Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie Reviews

Leave it to the Russians to be so bleak.

“Their smiles are lifeless, even though their movements are full of living energy and are so swift as to be almost imperceptible. Their laughter is soundless although you see the muscles contracting in their grey faces. Before you a life is surging, a life deprived of words and shorn of the living spectrum of colours - the grey, the soundless, the bleak and dismal life.”

That was a quote from one of the earliest film reviews in the history of cinema, by Maxim Gorky, a Russian. Now, it may be true that unbearable climate and a long history of cruel communism can give one a less-than-optimistic viewpoint on art, but Max, as I like to call him, had a valid reason for giving the film in question such an ominous review. The review was for a collection of silent films by the Lumiere brothers, a couple of French cats who were early pioneers in not only the artistic birth of film as a viable medium but also in terms of technological advancements. They were basically the Wachowski brothers of the 1800s.

What’s important about Max's film review is that not only was it ahead of it's time, but its also an excellent example of how useless a film review can be. Let me explain.

Published in 1896, it would be years before the cinema would be taken seriously as an art form worthy of critical merit; in this regard Max was ahead of his time. But when it's read today, the review itself , although seeming like a "downer", is historically important, not to mention revolutionary, because at the time it was written, film was a new art form and it's full potential had not even begun to be realized. In its day, this critique accomplished what many film reviews have accomplished since ... the delivery of one person's opinion. An opinion that may have been too limited to go beyond the scope of Max's possibly vodka-influenced mind.

See, when I read this review, I not only respect it for what it is, but I'm also reminded of how much I value movie reviews ... and it's not very much. Reviewing film can be as useful as asking someone what their favorite type of weather is; you're going to run the gamut of answers. On average, I'm willing to wager that most people will claim to enjoy bright, sunny days, and detest, grey, rainy days. Those people are entitled to that opinion; I on the other hand really, really enjoy the grey, rainy days just as much as the bright sunny ones. It really is up to the person how the world around them is perceived.

So with this is mind, think about film and movie reviews. How much weight can you put on the value of one person's opinion about something as objective as film, or any other art form for that matter. I do believe that films can be broken down and it's various components dissected(cinematography, editing, writing, directing, etc.), but to give a film as a whole a thumbs up or a thumbs down seems like calling a baby cute versus ugly; it's all in the beholder. There are plenty of films that I cherish, even despite their poor critiques from critics. And on the flip side, I've loathed plenty of films that are beloved by many. Crash, Gladiator and Ironman come to mind. But again, its all in the beholder.

Now I won't mislead you; I read film reviews on a regular basis, however I read them like I would hope most people would...with a grain of salt. Just because I read a negative review, it doesn't mean I won't enjoy the film. And to me, that’s the beauty of the cinema; what one man loves another can hate, but both men can fully appreciate the experience of watching a film. This experience is exactly what ol' Max tapped into all those years ago in Russia (was it even called Russia back then? I don't know, I studied film in college, for God's sake); the experience of watching a film and recognizing it's ability to touch the human soul. In this way, I think a new "type" of film review can be born, a review not merely about a film's worth but rather an examination on it's impact on the person, on society and the world in general, whether that impact be good or bad.

During the course of this blog, I will be writing various types of film reviews in an attempt to create this next evolutionary step in the subtle art of critiquing film. Now whether or not I succeed in this, will be up for debate. And I know what your thinking, "He just said, how much worth is there in film reviews" and I still stand behind that posed question, but keep in mind, if Max can be a revolutionary ... maybe we can too. Take that, red communism!

Be on the look out for my first film review. It's coming soon. In the meantime, here is a miniature film review from my good friend Robert Leal on the 2009 Best Picture "The Hurt Locker."

"Don't See it!" - Robert Leal, modern day Max Gorky


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Open Your Cinematic Third Eye


It's one of those words that can have different connotations depending on who's using it and who it's being said to. Ask an advocate for the humanities or a museum connoisseur what Cinema is and undoubtedly you will spark up intellectual conversation about the nature of film as art. Ask a casual drinking buddy about Cinema while sharing a pint at the local pub and you're more likely to receive the question "Why are you calling it Cinema?! Just say 'Movies' you artsy fart". The great thing about Cinema is that both of those situations are valid, each touches on what Cinema is truly all about.

Whether you are aware of it or not, the world of Cinema is going through a change, as any revolutionary art form should every once in a while. However it's not the kind of change one would expect. This transformation is not about new genres (like the teeny-bopper vampire flick genre), or new cinematography techniques (3-D), or new forms of exhibition (online streaming) or even about the state of the medium in general. No, this revolution in taking place within.
Within us.

Since it's scrappy roots as traveling sideshow phenomenon in the 1800s, cinema has changed and evolved into a multi-billion dollar, world-wide entertainment industry that has become as much a part of our lives as the automobile, the internet and iPods. Everyone, young or old, male or female, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation has experienced cinema in their life time. However during it's evolutionary journey, Cinema has in many ways, become disconnected from the audience experience; films, in our current times, are often little more than monetary-driven, mass produced escapism that doesn't necessarily need to evoke a substantial experience within it's viewer. If you have any question about that just check out the lastest listing at your local movie theater and tell me how many of those films are not A) big-budget blockbusters, b) are shameless star-vehicles C) are produced by Disney or D) star Johnny Depp/Robert Downy Jr/Jennifer Aniston. Not many, right? This is why we, the movie going public, are changing; this is why this blog was created.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some pseudo-intellectual that thinks that in order to enjoy a film, I have to be in an art-house theater, sipping on wine, wearing an argyle sweater and sporting thick black-rimmed glasses. Far from that. I enjoy all genres and types of films. What this blog is all about, is more an alternative for those of you like me who are awakened to our analytical mind and who enjoy rationally thinking about film. Most importantly this is about the change I was speaking of earlier. The change within us. More and more I run into people who are not just simply "watching" film anymore but are instead talking about it, dissecting it, debating it and truly experiencing it. This is extremely encouraging and this is the true revolution in the world of cinema that no one is talking about. But I'm changing that.

This blog will not be an argument advocating cinema as art, although there will be blog entries about that from time to time. This blog will not be about reviewing movies, although there will be plenty of my own brand of "movie reviews" to come. This blog will not be about the latest exploits of movie stars or what studio is scheduled to produce which film, although there will be discussion from time to time about the state of the movie business. This blog will not be about movies . . . it will be about Cinema and everything that comes along with that.

Its appropriate, I think, that Cinema comes from the Greek word Kinema, which means movement. Its appropriate because in no other current art form is there such an important need for constant movement, growth and revitalization, then in Cinema. Its consistently evolving and as the audience, our opinions and thoughts towards it should also be in this same state of flux. We owe it to the early pioneer writers of Cahiers du Cinema.

And if you don't know who or what that is . . . you will. Just keep reading.