"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movies, movies, movies...

In between eating burgers, drinking Arnold Palmers, and doing other summery stuff, I'm spending my July 4th weekend writing about movies. And movies are perfect for summer, right? I should add that I'm writing two reviews, one about Yann le Masson (a French documentary filmmaker from the 60s and 70s) and one about Bernardo Bertolucci (an italien director of sprawling, colorful, artsy films like "The Last Emperor" and "Last Tango in Paris"). Ok, so I can't really make this sound appropriate to the 4th of July at all.

The Bertolucci piece is about an upcoming retrospective series that my boss wants to review. The other article is for a French website that reviews books and movies - I wrote another piece for them while I was in Paris last fall. It's a coincidence (or the result of poor time management) that the two due dates have fallen in the same week, but I'm looking at it as a good trial run for what it might be like to actually do this as a job.

First of all, I've been reminded that writing about film takes time. There's just no way to rush through movies. If, in the case of Bertolucci, your subject makes 2- and 3-hour films, you better plan in a lot of hours before even thinking about starting to write. Thanks to the training of taking a lot of film classes, I probably have enough stamina to get through two or three such movies in a day, but somehow that seems so much less wholesome than spending an entire day reading or visiting art exhibits. Especially when it's 80 degrees and stunningly beautiful outside.

Secondly, I've found there are unique challenges to reviewing a set of movies instead of just one. Partly, it's really fun, because it's more interesting to suss out the patterns and themes of a director's oeuvre than to decide whether any particular film is great or not. Seeing the span of a career also enhances my appreciation of each individual film, whether for the director's versatility or for his/her ability to plumb the depths of one subject from several angles. On the other hand, when it comes down to fitting an entire career into 500 words, the choices become very frustrating. I love getting down the nitty gritty of writing about one scene, a sequence of shots, or a even a single composition. Those parts are fun to write and fun to read - I tend to skip over other parts of reviews to get to the descriptions. But there is just no place for scene analysis in the reviews I'm writing right now, so it's a real challenge finding the right detail or image to give the reader a sense of the individual films.

Thirdly, there is the ever-present danger of distraction. I've often found myself during finals week, in the midst of writing a paper, falling prey to this most terrifying of foes. One minute I'm looking up a page reference in a book, and the next thing I know I'm 20 pages into re-reading my favorite passage. Thanks to the wonderful technology of YouTube, IMDB, and DVD drives, it's all too easy to fall into a similar trap with film clips. I just wanted to make sure about that one camera angle or that line of dialogue, but look! this scene goes straight into that other scene that was so good, and since I'm on YouTube anyway, that certainly looks like an interesting video.....

Luckily for me, I always manage to get a craving for a glass of fruit juice or a handful of fresh cherries or a few minutes out in the sun before the internet sucks me in too far, and I come back to my computer with renewed resolve. So really, if summer weren't so summery, how would I get anything done at all?

1 comment:

  1. Movie reviews DO take so much time, you are right! I only have the chance to write movie critiques and reviews through a political lens, but I know your pain!

    It sounds like you have some really fascinating work! I've enjoyed your posts immensely. It's always refreshing to read good writing!