28 July 2013

A Decade of Archives 3: 2010

This is the third in a series of posts leading up to this blog's tenth anniversary on August 18. In each post, I look back on one year, sometimes specifically and sometimes generally. All the posts can be found here.


Munyurangabo
2010 began here with a look at the extraordinary film Munyurangabo and ended with a look at the extraordinary writings of Wallace Shawn. During the year, I turned my general education class called "The Outsider" into a course on the idea of the image of Africa, a turn that revitalized the course for me, personally, but which faced some huge obstacles in making it work for the students. (Nonetheless, one of those students, now a senior, stopped me last term when he saw me on campus and said the course was really influential and valuable for him. So it worked for one person...) Teaching that course also led to one of my favorite posts from 2010: a look at The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner.

Lots more happened. The third and, alas, final volume of Best American Fantasy was released and sold 3 or 4 copies. I exhorted people to read Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, and lo and behold it went on to win the World Fantasy Award. People died and I wrote about them: Howard ZinnWilliam TennDavid MarksonJosé Saramago. We had a Third Bear Carnival. One of the most popular posts in the history of the site is from 2010: "Some Good Fantasy Short Stories Online", popular because it's something people seem to Google frequently (I should update the post to get rid of the dead links, but most of the links are, amazingly, still alive). And toward the end of the year, I reminded us all that Jorge Luis Borges's first appearance in English was in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, translated by Anthony Boucher, a fact that continues to amuse and please me.

What I'd like to reflect on here, though, is a turn the blog took in 2010.


The White Ribbon
It's appropriate that the first post of the year was about a movie, and the last about a movie actor who is also a playwright and essayist, because 2010 was really the year when this blog stopped being primarily focused on books (with occasional tangents to other items of culture or just random whatzits) and became a blog in which movies were just about as important as books. Part of this came from a professional shift: the university where I was teaching suddenly needed somebody to teach an Intro to Film class, and then I also got asked by the Communications & Media Studies department to teach one class per term for them, as well. I'd also started hanging around with local filmmakers (a disreputable lot if ever there was one!) and brushing up on all the film theory I'd missed since my college years. 

Of course, movies were never absent from this blog, nor from my life. But I had conceived of this site as a book blog, and I stuck to that for as long as I could. I couldn't have made it to 10 years, though, if I'd just kept doing the same thing over and over.

And so we see, in 2010, a lot more posts — at least one each month — about cinema, film theory, movies I've seen, film classes I'm teaching or planning to teach, etc. I began to write about film for other places, too: an essay on Rambo II for The House Next Door, a post here for Nick Rombes's great Requiem // 102 project [the Tumblr for which has since been renamed and repurposed], about a single frame from Requiem for a Dream. I was trying to get my bearings, trying to see what I thought and what I cared about.

It might be interesting to see how that progressed month by month:


Innocence
January began with Munyurangabo and ended with Mandingo. Now that would make for an interesting double feature! I've returned to Munyurangabo since 2010, but not Mandingo, a film I watched while still working through the influence of Robin Wood. Actually, I watched both films because of Wood — he was an early champion of Munyurangabo — and in those posts saw them very much through his eyes. January 2010 was a big month for film writing here: see also the posts on Who Can Kill a Child?, Innocence, and In the Loop & The Hurt Locker. All of those films remain quite vivid in my mind, though the only one, in addition to Munyurangabo, that I've returned to is The Hurt Locker, a movie I find even more effective with each viewing. (I have, since 2010, become much more of a devotee of Kathryn Bigelow's work. Though I had seen a couple of her films before The Hurt Locker, it wasn't until then that I began to really think of her in auteurist terms.)

February included a Strange Horizons column on Hitchcock (again, under the influence of Robin Wood) and a post about two films, Hunger and Endgame. The first sentence of that post makes a claim about memory that I can now test: "Hunger and Endgame offer two different approaches to representing history with narrative film, and the differences are such that a comparison may be unfair to Endgame, a film of minor accomplishments that quickly fades from memory, while Hunger, whatever you ultimately make of it, contains many scenes that are difficult to forget." I have not watched either movie since February 2010, and I can here say that, at least for myself, I was right: Hunger remains vivid in my memory, while Endgame has utterly faded. Hunger impressed me enough that I was quick to see Steve McQueen's next film starring Michael Fassbender, Shame, but I disliked it quite vehemently — Ed Gonzalez at Slant pretty well summed up my feelings about it.

March was a busy month for me, so I didn't write much here, but I did take a moment to note my surprise at actually agreeing with some choices for the Academy Awards. Also, the screenplay awards continue to always be wrong.

April was also a sparse month for posts, but included a review of Dread, an adaptation of a Clive Barker short story. The movie stands as an excellent example of how choices in adaptation can change the meaning and value of a narrative.

May brought the end of a school year and a look back on my first attempt to teach an Intro to Film class. I think I learned more from teaching it than the students learned from taking it, but that's often the case. In my experience, I have to teach a class 3 times before I really get a sense for what works and what doesn't. Looking back on my second (and final) attempt, in May 2012, I said, "Introduction to Film continues to be a course that perplexes me." The problem for me in teaching film classes, I think, is that my interests are very different from those of your average undergraduate. The two things that really excite me are film history and film theory. The students I've had are much more interested in "watching cool movies", and often they take film classes — particularly gen ed film classes like this one, open to any major — because they think it will be an easy A and they'll get to sit back and stare at a screen a lot. They get annoyed and frustrated when the class is not that. I actually had a student say to me at the end of this past term, for a different film class, that he didn't need the course for his major and he just took it because he thought it would be fun so did his 0's on assignments really have to count? Oy vey. Anyway...

June included a review of California Dreamin', a fascinating, unfinished movie by the late Cristian Nemescu. I still agree with the final paragraph: "In 2006, a recklessly-driven Porsche robbed the world not only of two young men and a taxi driver, but of someone who probably could have had a distinguished, extraordinary career as a filmmaker. Nemescu did not die without making a mark on the world, though. California Dreamin' is a better film than many directors make over the course of entire careers, with much to show us about power and arrogance and communication, about human foibles and human desires. It's a movie to live in for a while, a movie that lets us feel our way back to our own lives, enriched."

In July I wrote one of my favorite posts about a movie: a review of Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. Partly, I like the post because it's about a movie I am in awe of. But I'm still fond of what I wrote there because of the passion — I was so fascinated by the film that I couldn't help going on and on about it. It's not the best-written review, or the most insightful, that I've ever come up with, but reading it now brings me back to the wonderful experience of watching the film for the very first time.

August included my first real criticism of a critic, with a post called "Mother (Contra Brody)". Richard Brody at The New Yorker continually vexes me, and I'm grateful to him for it. He's brilliant, and our aesthetics are not entirely different, but our perceptions often are. When I agree with Brody, I often want to take his words and shout them to the sky; when I disagree, I stew about it, and sometimes that stewing leads to productive writing, such as with this piece on Mother, a film I've since used in a couple of classes, and which still impresses me.

September was a slow month here, and included only a short piece on "Trashing Films" (mostly a link to a piece by Matt Seitz) and a link to the short film "Plastic Bag".

October included a note on countdowns of the best horror movies and a review of the documentary Theatre of War. The horror movie countdown is interesting to revisit — I'm still stunned anybody would do a serious list of best horror films and not put the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre toward the very top. If I were ever invited to do a Sight & Sound list, I'd be tempted to included TCM on it.

November included various passing mentions of films, but my only substantial film writing that month was a review for Strange Horizons of Never Let Me Go.

In December I wrote about Netflix's streaming service, and though the post isn't even 3 years old now, it feels much older than that because streaming has become so much more common over that time. A lot of the films I mentioned are no longer available as Netflix Instant films, and this highlights for me one of the dangers of streaming — at least the DVDs I own don't (usually!) disappear randomly. (Big Time and The Keep are still available on YouTube, at least, though probably not legally. Shhh! Trust has finally been released on DVD. Etc.) I haven't actually gotten around to watching all of the films on the list of ones I hoped to see, but I did pretty quickly get to Ugetsu, and have watched it a few more times since, because it is, indeed, great. I think I prefer Sansho the Bailiff among Mizoguchi's films, but why choose favorites between nearly perfect works of art?


Ugetsu

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