As the title of this blog suggests, I am thinking, jotting and posting a few things about movies. I’ll do it occasionally, or intermittently. A blog’ll be cool, but I’ve got some other things to do, too. I’ll see you when I see you.
My film selection will be Catholic, in the broad and sympathetic sense of the word. I’m interested in invention and documentation, old and the new, near and far. I’m looking at short and long, easy and hard, ubiquitous and obscure. A few years of that brings you to a lot of times and places, and to a pretty good range of cinematic possibility and practice. To a range of reading strategies too. It leads you to some degree of literacy, even. I’ll give it a shot, anyway.
Contrary to a lot of critical practice, especially in popular settings, these posts will tend not to be strictly or wholly evaluative. There will be room for a discussion of how or whether a film might be effective, but with the understanding that effective contains much more than we often allow or realize. I’ll assume that there are many, many ways for movies to be of merit or, more profoundly, of interest.
As such, I’ll try to combine intelligent rigour with kindly inclination. I’m thinking of three precedents. I like the tradition of the laudatory review (cf. Jean-Luc Godard’s collected, 1972). Laudatory reviews seek the positive, believing that almost every film has a lot to be positive about. As usual—TMA 102, etc.—I’ve got C.S. Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism (1961) and Wayne Booth’s The Company We Keep (1988) on the radar. Lewis affirms the responsibility of the reader, and the fact that the goodness of a book has much to do with how well I read it. Booth says I should approach an honest literary effort with the same kindness and courtesy that I would extend to an honest friend or neighbour.
These precursors help me to avoid the crankiness that characterizes too much contemporary film discussion. On the other hand, though blind partisanship can be fun, this kindly critical inclination shouldn’t be sliding into mere boosterism. Posts will be informed by historical precedent and theoretical discourse. I might also try out some different critical methodologies or critical frameworks. As some of you know, I really like looking for those intertextual patterns, drawing out the practices and sensibilities that go beyond the individual title, or the individuals responsible for it. I think these things are important, whether or not the filmmaker has been aware of the echo, or intended the parallel. They’re fun too, and fun is good, as everyone knows.
Here’s an annoying thing: the discussion here, I hope, moves us from a strictly consumerist/commercial run-of-the-mill to something a bit more educational, even more edifying. This’ll happen if I manage to combine knowledge and feeling. The critical voice I’m trying for is scholarly, but with room and reason for a personal, subjective, even passionate tone. I might say enthusiasm with footnotes or, alternatively, scholarship with a place for the personal pronoun. That was also annoying.
Subject matter? I certainly have an interest in sweetness and light, in things that are virtuous, lovely, etc. So we’ll look at that. It’s also likely that I’ll have occasion to consider artificial sweeteners, or the cinematic/literary workings of smarm or saccharine or even sanctimoniousness.
This, too, and this, other. I teach at a church sponsored school, and its sponsors have an interest in my circumspection. That’s cool. Actually, I probably am reasonably circumspect, even orthodox. But if BYU is a church sponsored school, it is not a Sunday School. Furthermore, this figurative and virtual blog-space isn’t even at BYU.
I think that there are canons/currencies that are proper to consider, even though they may seem, may actually be quite secular. More specifically there are many films that deserve and even require discussion—trending hot topics, things that parents might like to know about, man being born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards—even though they would never appear in the pages, or receive the endorsement of, the Church News.
I’m willing/anxious to explore ranges of expression, to consider the complicated and even, occasionally, to grapple with the unseemly. Conceptually and critically speaking, it’s sometimes needful to plumb the depths. In doing so I’m hoping and intending to strike a delicate, moral balance. I affirm and at least implicitly defend certain fundamental principles. I would avoid sanctimoniousness, and not wrinkle my nose at the whiff of figurative or filmic tobacco smoke. I believe in the Ten Commandments. I’m also open to the possibility that films, or, even more importantly, characters in films, may not always obey them all. And I’ll remember that representation does not always mean advocacy, especially as things are worked out by clear and comprehending criticism.