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September 12, 2008

Film Culture

China is near: Xu Jinglei - filmmaker, actress and blogger

Last week I went to the one bookstore I was was certain carries "Cineaste" magazine. As it turned out, with a distributor going out of business, "Cineaste" was no longer available. A couple of days later, I found out that the article I wanted to read, the symposium on internet film criticism, was now online. My initial interest was based on the involvement by film bloggers that I had read prior to starting my own blog, way back in the Spring of 2005. Until I read the various entries, I was totally unaware that I was one of the several people named by Campaspe, also known as the Self-Styled Siren. Being mentioned with people much brighter than myself like Girish Shambu or Zach Campbell was an unexpected bonus.

One aspect of the symposium that has bothered me is that part of it is framed around the concept of something called film culture. For me, a definition is needed. Being someone who studied film seriously in the early Seventies, in New York City, I automatically link think of the magazine titled "Film Culture". What the magazine defined as film culture could probably be described succinctly, if not totally accurately, as being poetic expression on film. Even though film culture is presumably not as narrowly defined by the symposium participants, I would like to think that the best of them are fueled by the same motivation, which is to offer serious discussion of film, and more importantly, to bring attention to those films and filmmakers who are undervalued, overlooked, or simply in need of greater critical evaluation.

Those who have checked out this space when I first began may recall that I had a section regarding my own academic background in film studies. My main reason was to let readers know that I wasn't just another guy with a computer and an opinion. Maybe it was insecurity on my part to include that information. What I can say is that cinema studies did force me to watch films that I would not have seen otherwise, and think about films in ways I would not have done so before. Even though I had the fortune of seeing some great movies theatrically that I cannot see now, in comparison, the contemporary cinema student has advantages I could have only dreamt about thirty years ago.

I wish Amy Taubin would explain what she means by film culture. If she means an adherence to film art and criticism as it was understood when I went to NYU, than I say tear down those walls. There will always be films we can see, or see again, but with DVDs I've been able to see films I would not have seen otherwise, both old and new, from a wider number of countries. The internet means that while discussion of films may still exist between a small circle of friends, that circle is not defined by immediate geography. Instead of fretting about traditional film culture being "marginalized" as Ms. Taubin, puts it, I see reason to celebrate that the discussion of film has widened.

That there are too many blogs and not enough time to read them should not be considered a problem. I am comfortable with letting a thousand flowers bloom. Sometimes, if you don't find something online, it may have a way of finding you. There can also be unexpected results. A review I did of a couple of Louis Hayward pirate movies has morphed into a mesage board of notes between some people who cherish this almost forgotten star. Were this real life, I would have gently kicked these people out of my house and encouraged them to seek out a neighborly motel. Maybe it's goofy on my part to allow an extended discussion on my own site, that I'm not participating in. One might also liken the blogosphere to be the true field of dreams, where if you build it, they will come.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 12, 2008 12:02 AM


I see "film culture" as taking on an expansion of immense proportions with blogging. I spent years not talking about movies I cared about with anyone but my wife. I also let classics and big movies I hadn't yet seen slide. So I've never seen this movie, who cares? Now, I'm too deep into the discussion to let stuff like that slide. I've enjoyed a renaissance in my movie watching since I started blogging, because if I want to be a part of the conversation, I have to know the films.

As for the discussion on a message board that can work any number of ways. My early piece on Birth of a Nation which I wrote right after I started blogging became the subject of a rather ill-tempered discussion in which I was called a "historical revisionist," a "reactionary," a "knee-jerk liberal," "politically correct," and so forth. I kept lurking reading the comments about my piece until finally I couldn't take it anymore. I registered on the board and left a three or four paragraph comment addressing every critique hurled at me and provided my own explanations and defence of what I wrote. There was only one comment after that (an innocuous short one about the movie itself) and then nothing. I had successfully killed the thread, and was very happy about it. No one ever expected the author of the piece to show up and call them on their comments.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at September 12, 2008 07:40 AM

To say that there are so many blogs one doesn't have to time to read them is like someone saying, there are too many movies that one doesn't have time to watch them.

Like you, I'd rather there be too much than too little.

Posted by: Joe at September 14, 2008 05:59 PM