Thursday, April 2, 2015

My dilemma

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in December 2006)

I’ve loved movies for as long as I can remember, but of course no love affair is static. Sometimes it’s feverish, then it cools off, then stabilizes, then flames up again. My records tell me that at times I’ve hardly watched anything at all for weeks on end, although I can’t remember those periods now (I wish I knew what I was doing instead). When I lived in Bermuda for a few years, in the pre DVD age, I didn’t have access to enough to keep me going, and ended up watching tons of video rental stuff of the kind that’s never made my cut since (for a while I was very well acquainted with the work of Jennifer Rubin). Then I came here and discovered the Cinematheque Ontario, and for a while crammed in as many visits there as I could – scooping up established classics and curios alike. But now circumstances have changed and I can seldom go there anymore. So I concentrate on new movies, supplemented at home mostly by my own DVD’s, which is getting to be a good collection certainly in quality if not in quantity (my wife would dispute the quantity inadequacy too).

New Challenge

When I started writing this column, I usually devoted every week to a single film, just because that seemed like the thing to do. More recently, I’ve evolved toward writing shorter reviews of every film I see and stringing together four or five of those per week, which suits me because most movies don’t naturally generate much more than 200 or 300 words of reaction in my mind. Sometimes that’s a reflection of the movie, sometimes of my own limitations. Because let’s face it, this is my hobby, and a wonderful way to exercise myself while providing some small help to a greater cause, but it’s not a job. Having to generate 800 words on Happy Feet, regardless of what you thought of it, would be work. And like all paid gigs, it would generate other compromises – one reads constant accounts or allegations of established film critics being booted out for being insufficiently well-disposed toward mainstream releases, or for other mismatches between writer and publication.

I have been blessed not to have to live with any of this, and I hope to continue here for as long as I’m allowed to. But now a new challenge looms. I’m changing jobs, starting on January 2, and although I don’t know for sure, I’m expecting it to be quite a bit more demanding (I did get a pay raise after all, thanks for asking, so I figure no one gets something for nothing). My guess is that I’m looking at the trifecta – later hours, weekends, and greater intensity in the office so I’ll have less energy the rest of the time. I’m not worried about any of it. I’m ready to let new challenges occupy the bulk of my attention. My main concern actually is our dog, but if the worst comes to the worst we can get a dog walker (I would view that as a major admission of failure after getting by for eight and a half years without one, but life moves on, and the dog moves so slowly now that it would be a divinely easy gig for the walker).

Deja vu

But then there’s this column. What if I can only get to one movie a week – probably unlikely it’ll usually be that stretched, but possible? Then I’ll have no choice but to write about that one movie (sometimes, you may have noticed, I do mix it up by writing about older films – for example I have articles on The King of Comedy, Cat People and Nicolas Roeg that I’ve written and put aside for a perhaps now-pending rainy day – but I can’t do that all the time). So I’ll have to get my head back into that space of…I don’t want to call it padding exactly, but let’s say of treating single films in a more expansive manner.

For example, yesterday I saw Tony Scott’s Déjà vu (a movie by the way that probably would never make the cut in a schedule where I could only see one or two or maybe even three films a week). Under my current approach, I’d dash off a cursory sense of the plot (cop tries to foil dastardly terrorist deed by means of a time travel device), I’d acknowledge the structure’s intricate cleverness as well as its basic familiarity, while noting (for maybe the fiftieth time) that it’s a continuing shame how such creativity and resources are invested with so little attention to thematic and emotional value. Toss in a few other random comments and I’m probably done at 150 words tops. Not even ten per cent of what I need to fill the whole space. So expect to see a revival of the following techniques:

Expanded plot summary In the above, I expand on “terrorist deed,” “time travel device;” I mention the girl (you knew there was a girl right?), and the crazed killer; maybe I even bring in the murdered partner. That’s good for 300 words minimum.

Subjective fluff about the actors I doubt many film reviewers spend as little time on this aspect of things as I do. I have my likes and dislikes like anyone else, but since most people I talk to barely seem able to talk about movies as anything other than a scaffolding for their lead performers, I’ve grown to dislike talking about them at all, except when the actors are at the very centre of my reaction. Well, forget that. You think I can’t go the distance on Denzel Washington with the best of them (want to hear my observations on how he looks with his shirt off?), on the declining Val Kilmer, on the beautiful Paula Patton? 400 words easily.

Harping on incidentals Déjà vu is about time travel, so you know it’s full of bogus science and implausibilities. They do a pretty good job of it, but you still get one of those narrative loops virtually unavoidable in the genre – if he went back in time and did this, then that would never have happened, meaning he would never have gone back in time, meaning that would have happened after all, meaning etc etc. This kind of thing has to be good for 200 words.

References to other movies Scanning other reviews of Déjà vu, I see people mentioning Timecop, 12 Monkeys, not to mention every other movie that the director and cast have ever appeared in. If I thought about it I could probably come up with dozens more. Not to overdo it, it’s at least a solid 150 words.

Sheer digression, about my life, the world in general, or who knows what This technique was good for about 700 words this week. Why would it be any different from here on? 

(Subsequent update – The new job sucked and only lasted a couple of years. The column continued much as before for seven more years!)

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