Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Cinephilia



This week: casting a sentimental glance backwards, trying to retrace the footprints of my passage into cinephilia…

Is it possible to identify a point in time, a moment, for such a passage or ‘conversion’? I can’t speak for anyone else—and I’d like to hear from you about this—but in my case, I think yes.

I’d always been movie-crazy as a kid, and my interest in film grew steadily over time. But my movement from devoted film buff into full-blown cinephilia occurred in the spring of ’99 when I wandered into a screening at the Cinematheque in Toronto. I remember the three films that ‘initiated’ me that week. They were part of a Brazilian Cinema Novo program: Vidas Secas (“Barren Lives,” Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963); Macunaima (Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1969); and Iracema (Jorge Bodansky & Orlando Senna, 1976). Marvelous as these films are, it was also a matter of circumstance—I happened to meet them at the right time, when I was ready to make my leap.

What exactly marked this passage from film buff to cinephile? In my case I can point to two things: (1) The awakening of a serious sensitivity to film form (how a film tells its ‘story’); and (2) The act of making an intellectual commitment to cinema—not just watching it but also reading, reflecting, talking and writing about it, even if it was just in my journal.

I vividly (and sentimentally) remember that spring at the Cinematheque and its profusion of new discoveries: an incendiary double bill of Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns and Elio Petri’s The Tenth Victim; Aki Kaurismaki’s Drifting Clouds; Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow and Hamoon; Mitchell Leisen’s Remember The Night; Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur; Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout; and Sarah Moon’s Mississippi One. Also, to this day, my most pleasurable screening experience ever: seeing a restored Scope print of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort for the first time with a packed audience that responded, vibrated, to every tiny modulation and frisson in the film, musical or otherwise. Cinematic bliss, or as close to it as I’ve managed to get.


* * *

When it comes down to it, I owe my cinephilic coming-of-age to one person, James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario. Though we didn’t actually meet up in person until a few years later, right from the beginning his influence was formative and critical, specifically in two ways. First, opening up a world of great films through his comprehensive and painstakingly assembled retrospectives (Bresson, Rossellini, Godard, Ichikawa, Fuller, Nick Ray, Sokurov, and so many others). Second, the fleet, erudite, singing prose of his essays and program notes. My long-time Toronto cinephile comrade Andrew Proczek, who I also met during that first fateful spring, gave me a gift of a thick stack of old Cinematheque program books going back several years. For the autodidactic cinema student and auteurist in me, these director-centered ‘texts’ turned out to be foundational and invaluable.

I’ve always regretted that because Quandt writes mostly for the Cinematheque calendar/program books, his work is perhaps not as widely read as that of many film critics who write for cine-journalistic outlets with national or international reach. I even took out a subscription to Artforum a few years ago when he started writing regularly for them. A great example of a work that combines these two key aspects of Quandt’s contributions to film culture (curating and writing) is the Bresson book that he put together in 1998 to accompany the retrospective. Is there a richer single-volume collection devoted to a filmmaker in recent (or even not-so-recent) memory?


* * *

If you feel like it, I’d love to know: What films or people or writings are important to your passage into cinephilia?


* * *

A couple of links:

-- The new Cinematheque Ontario season gets underway this week. Some essays: Quandt on Tomu Uchida and Max Ophuls; and Andréa Picard on the Zanzibar films.

-- The big event of the week in the blogosphere is undoubtedly Matt’s Close-Up Blog-A-Thon at The House Next Door.

50 Comments:

Anonymous Klaus said...

Hi there,
interesting that you just mention James Quandt! I was about to buy his book on Shohei Imamura this weekend, but shied away from it after reading a horrible roasting of it on Amazon. Have you read it and if so would you recommend it?
thanks, Klaus

October 15, 2007 5:02 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Milestones in my "passage":

1. Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. After college in the rural Midwest I moved back to San Francisco, but it took me a while to get plugged into the local moviegoing scene. I was still a casual filmgoer, excited to take advantage of the "indie" films playing Landmark screens, the kind of thing not easily found in Iowa. But I still had not discovered the Roxie or delved into the Castro programming, and wasn't even aware of the existence of the PFA across the Bay or the Stanford down the peninsula. I still rented my movies at Blockbuster, but when I picked up this one it immediately struck me as an example of a far more serious approach to the aesthetics of filmmaking than I had encountered previously (even though it's a very humorous film, I still think "serious" applies when compared to the kind of Oscar bait that had previously been my definition of "ambitious" cinema).

2. Joining an online community of cinephiles. Interacting with people like Zach Campbell, Ed Gonzalez, Damien Bona, Peter Patrick, Eric Henderson and many others in an online forum, and reading their persuasive, eclectic, and often contradictory expressions of taste showed me that there are a myriad of approaches to the breadth and scope of film history and the wider film culture. And just as important if not moreso, they dropped a lot of names of films and filmmakers that became essential signposts on my voyage of discovery.

3. Pen-ek Ratanaruang's 6ixtynin9 and Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger. In 1999 I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to teach English and exist in a foreign culture for the first time in my life (beyond the month spent in England with my family one childhood summer.) Unfortunately, my limited Thai language skills combined with a virtual stranglehold of Hollywood product in the cinemas and video stores I frequented, made me all the more starved for an alternative. Toward the end of my 15-month stay there, I started to realize that there were stirrings of an indigenous art cinema scene in the country, and that certain titles were available, in a limited fashion at least, with English subtitles. Renting Pen-ek's film from the only video store I ever saw it on the shelf, and watching Wisit's during it's week-long engagement at the local mall theatre, were crucial to helping me shift position a bit from my heretofore all but completely Ameri-centric view of film culture (I remember in college buying the line that the foreign films available in the USA represented the "best of" the rest of the world, which seems hopelessly naive to me today.)

4. Kevin Brownlow's Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood. Upon my return to San Francisco from abroad, there was practically nothing I wanted to do more than immerse myself in a program of film history self-study, starting from as close to the beginning of this history as possible. The only silent films I'd seen were by Chaplin and a few avant-garde artists. Brownlow's six-part documentary opened my eyes to a continent full of unexplored silent treasures, many of which I rented as soon as possible, though I eventually decided I so much preferred the experience of seeing silent films in cinemas with live musical accompaniment that I'd patiently wait for such opportunities. Brownlow's clips and remarks in these videos still provide a major guide to my priories when it comes to seeing silent films in theatres.

5. The San Francisco Bay Guardian film writers, particularly Johnny Ray Huston. Though I'd read the local alt-weeklies' film coverage before my excursion abroad, it was only after returning that I really found myself paying attention to what they were writing, and who was writing it. I'm sure the fact that he took a special interest in writing about Thai film (I particularly remember a piece on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mysterious Object at Noon) helped make me pay particular attention to Johnny Ray Huston's pieces, but I quickly grew to find that the directions his articles pointed were usually very fruitful ones for me. He and the other sfbg writers helped me navigate local film festivals, directed me to venues like the PFA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and SF Cinematheque, and much more.

I'd say that by mid-2001 I'd been fully launched as a cinephile, though I've continued to utilize these sources and add others (particularly books, blogs, and cinephile friends I've made along the way). But these are the five touchstones without which I can't imagine my cinephilia being in the state it currently is.

Hope this answer isn't too long for you, girish!!

October 15, 2007 5:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, that is brilliant.
A complete and rich cinephilic narrative compressed into a single montage-style blog comment. Thank you!

"I'd say that by mid-2001 I'd been fully launched as a cinephile."

I'm still chuckling over this line.

Klaus -- The Imamura book is quite a bit slimmer than the one on Bresson but a very good collection. Ignore that roasting.

October 15, 2007 5:53 AM  
Blogger Tucker said...

"(1) The awakening of a serious sensitivity to film form (how a film tells its ‘story’); and (2) The act of making an intellectual commitment to cinema—not just watching it but also reading, reflecting, talking and writing about it, even if it was just in my journal."

That's a great summation of what is different between common "movie love" and cinephilia. The realization of film form is like a bright light illuminating a once darkened room and finding that room to be filled with the most wonderful things. The best films always reward intellectual curiosity in spades. I find it interesting when some might ask why don't you stop thinking so much and just enjoy the movie. Taking that intellectual step is another bight light.

For me, my cinephilia came in the mid-1980s when I was an undergrad studying film history, television production, and mass media. That is why many films of the 1980s are important for me, especially non-English language films. And I am glad that much of my initial cinephilia came about as I dove into the “canon” of film history.

But the seed was planted years earlier when, as a kid, I saw Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen at some local retrospective. That was the first time I had a deep sense that films could be for adults, with depth and seriousness and more going on than I could comprehend - and I knew I wanted to comprehend it. Up to that point movies for me were just childish diversions.

For the past 10 years or so my cinephilia has taken a back seat to other things, but I sense that it is re-emerging, in no little part because of the blogoshpere.

October 15, 2007 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

My getting involved as a student volunteer at the Museum of Modern Art helped me understand more personally the reason why all films need to be preserved as well as the need for non-profit film venues. Charles Silver of the Film Study Department liked me enough to let me watch anything I wanted to in the museum's 16mm collection, something I did not take full advantage of, although this was how I did my personal study of Curtis Harrington. Also, I was able to arrange for one of my classes to see the otherwise unavailable Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks.

October 15, 2007 11:09 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

As ever, the perfect educator asks the perfect question.

My forays into film are from a realtor's perspective. It's all about venue. Location, location, location!

The Castro Theatre. The Pacific Film Archives. These two venues have had more to do with my engagement with film than anything else. Gratefully, Quant's write-ups are frequently used for PFA's programs, because of the longstanding association between the Bay Area and Canada.

Modesto, California as a location also springs to mind. In the mid-80s I opened the first video store in the San Joaquin Valley and was hired to build the inventory. I gained a healthy respect for titles that would pay for themselves three times over in order to fund titles that were barely rented out--foreign films, classics--which I introduced to that cowtown.

Turner Classic Movies as a venue likewise springs to mind for Charlie Tabesh's exquisite programming and Robert Osborne's consummate hostship. Watch and learn, children, watch and learn.

The San Francisco Jung Institute as a venue, and Dr. John Beebe in particular, held several seminars on film that applied Jungian theory and archetypal amplification. Dr. Beebe taught me that the way you enter a film is as important as the many entrances possible.

And online venues: Strictly Film School, Long Pauses, Film Journey, and this eponymously named site have served to create community and further insightful discussion. Years back when I first read you commenting on Darren's site, Doug's site, Acquarello's, I decided then and there I wanted to be a part of this crowd.

Of course, there was only one way to do that: I had to watch movies and (lately) read about movies. I had no idea when I started that I would end up talking to so many of the creative talents that make movies themselves.

So for me there's no better investment than real estate. Venue venue venue. The movie palaces of yesteryear, the festival circuit, the online forums, the variant classrooms.

Yesterday, for example, instead of sampling new Romanian cinema at Mill Valley, I opted for a Maria Montez triplebill at the Castro Theatre because--face it--when would I have that chance again? As I sat there enjoying (not just watching) these three Technicolor marvels--Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Cobra Woman, Arabian Nights--I was struck by just how many levels of appreciation I was using to view these films. First, the ready queer schtick, which is always a reminder of the value of spectatorship and how movies can be read in so many different ways. Then there was the ghost of Jack Smith hovering around pointing towards the history of avant garde cinema in the U.S. Then there was the ghost of Sabu and East Indian representation in Hollywood films. Then there was that whole sad mess of the failure of movies to fulfill our dreams. Montez drowns in her tub after a heart attack. Her costume designer drowns herself in her pool. Jon Hall kills himself not being able to handle the pain of cancer.

The multivalency of the cinematic image informs me with intended and intruded pleasures, with disparage histories, with assessments of social and biographical concerns. And all because of the spirit of place.

October 15, 2007 11:38 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

...and, yeah, Johnny Ray Huston and the SFBG staff ROCK.

October 15, 2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger Russell Lucas said...

Girish, I'm still trying to figure out whether I can point to a specific moment or film in response to your question, but I was really jazzed to see you mention Rochefort. I've never seen it projected, but an HD movie channel we get has been showing it, and we've fallen in love with the "We Are Twins Born in the Sign of Gemini" sequence. I play a game with my older daughters where I'll whistle the first few notes of that catchy song, then stop. After a moment it bubbles out of one of their embedded consciousnesses and one of them will start humming or whistling it.

If I was in charge of selling hi-def televisions at a big box store I wouldn't run an FXtravaganza or a nature show, but the bright vibrant colors and wonderfully-rendered set design of Demy's film.

Maybe that's why I'd never be put in charge of something like that.

October 15, 2007 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

That blonde in the photo above -- I was at a party with her last night.

Bonus points: daughter Chiara Mastroianni was there as well.

I'm rarely starstruck, but this time I couldn't help it.

October 15, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Lapper said...

I've written about my own love for film as a child before. So many of us have a love for film and storytelling but there is a separation between the cinephiles and the average child. When I was around seven or eight I started to see older movies on television and would compare them to children's movies and television I had seen intended for my age group. I began to notice early on that while friends would be impressed with whatever was thrown up on the screen I was more analytical. I noticed acting and cinematography, and later director's touches, editing techniques and foley work. By ten I had read the encyclopedia entry on "Motion Pictures" a hundred times over and by eleven I was already getting movie books and posters for birthdays. By twelve my mom's friends would ask me who starred in what movie in 1937 when they couldn't remember.

By the time high school rolled around I was immersed in acting and the theatre and studied both film and theater in college. I still have film and theatre text books that I hold dear. My forte seemed to be acting as I was always cast in leads and major supporting roles and well-regarded by my peers and the directors I worked with. But my heart wasn't completely in it. What I really wanted to do was... well, that was just it, I didn't know. After college I dropped out of the theatre, dropped out of the arts and wandered aimlessly in dead end jobs, occassionally putting pen to paper, writing up a film or just recording thoughts. I wandered in and out of relationships (and then wandered while in them - that caused problems) and one day decided: I'm going to just start one of those damn blogs I'm always reading.

Most people probably don't want to admit it but when many of us start a blog we have expectations that do not match any of the rewards that actually come from it. You think you're going to write about A, B and C and people will come to you and be enlightened and entertained. You have it all planned out. And then you get your first comment. And you respond. Then you comment on other sites. And they respond. And then a conversation starts. And then you link them and they link you and before you know it you're a part of the "Online Film Community" as it were and you feel utterly refreshed and alive after years in the dark. And then you realize, as I did, that you don't know nearly as much about film as you thought you did. The flurry of emotions one experiences doing this blogging duty can be overwhelming at times. There are times when you feel envious of the way someone else is able to summarize a film. Or immeasurably excited to find that a favorite blogger loves the same obscure movie you do. And so you're encouraged to keep writing, keep commenting, keep expressing yourself day in and day out until there's nothing left to say, a day which hopefully will never come.

To keep up you start watching more and more movies and reading more and more about movies and taking in whatever you can whenever you can.

And then it hits you: All those years you thought you were a cinephile you really weren't. You were a movie buff. And now that you're engaged with the community around you and engaged in the act of watching and dissecting and sharing you're a cinephile.

That's when it hit me. I've always told people I've been a cinephile all my life. But the truth is I just became one in the last few months through blogging. A fellow blogger, Dennis, recently called me a "serial commenter extraordinaire" in one of his posts. I am, I admit it. I comment often, I comment on a lot of sites, and I sometimes go on for paragraphs. I feel a sense of engagement with the film blogging world of cinephiles I never felt before this past summer when I started. So I hope I don't annoy people with my serial commenting, I just love taking part in the conversation. This is my first comment here (and after seeing its length you're probably hoping it's my last) but I hope to comment more often here in the future. Quite frankly, I feel out of the loop on some of the films and festival events discussed here and so have avoided commenting until I can get my learning curve up a bit. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express myself.

October 15, 2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger bradluen said...

In 2000 I started reading Kael and the Village Voice film section, and found both pretty convincing. I've been trying to resolve this dissonance ever since, though my lingering preference for "movie buff" over "cinephile" suggests Pauline has the upper hand.

October 15, 2007 4:29 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

My love for cinema was marked by two events.

-- One was a friend who introduced me to the world of foreign and independent films. He dragged me out to a beat up art house theater, against my wishes, to see the Japanese film Shall we Dance and Mike Leigh's Career Girls. Prior to that, I only fed myself on commerical movies. But after that incident, I flipped almost completely -- I tried to see as many international & independent movies as I could. One of the biggest helps in my quest for searching for film directors was acquarello's website. As I spent countless hours looking at old VHS tapes in an independent video store, acquarello's list of film director's came in handy. (And Girish, I only came across your blog via his site :)
Inspired by all these new movies, I even started writing about movies and got some articles published.

-- Those published articles led to the second event when I got a chance at programming films for my local film festival. My cinematic world opened up even a bit more. I learned to appreciate documentaries and shorts, something which I had ignored in my quest for hunting down only international films. It was at this point that I started reading film magazines and books.

I truly felt a light bulb go off after these two events -- a rich cinematic world awaited me. And if my friend had not helped me onto the path less travelled, well none of this would have been possible.

But like Jonathan points out nicely above, these two events still only provided me with a tiny look into the giant world of cinema that exists out there. I thought my knowledge was decent but when I was at VIFF last year, I came across films fans with a built in memory of 20+ years of film watching. All my knowledge was built on watching movies by all those famous directors over a span of 5-7 years. But I saw the movies without any historical context. Sure, I read every now and then about how such and such a movie fitted in with historical events. But not having experienced those events first hand, I found myself wanting in some regards.

ok. must stop now.

October 15, 2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tucker, Peter, Michael, Russell, Filmbrain, Jonathan, Brad, Sachin -- Thank you very much for taking the time!

I just crawled out of my grad night class totally wrung out and it's a pleasure to come home to all this fun reading. I'll try to add a few words when I'm done with my classes tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, thanks again, everyone.

October 15, 2007 9:44 PM  
Blogger Edo said...

Whenever someone pops the question, I immediately think of the first time I saw "Goodfellas". I had actually seen it once before, since my parents were not averse to letting me watch violent films at a very young age, but I didn't really 'see' "Goodfellas" until I was around 13. The shot that really made me 'see', that really made "experience form" for the first time, was the steadicam long-take which follows Henry Hill and Karen as they enter the club through the basement. It seemed to me a perfect unity of narration through camera movement, milieu, sound and music.

Shortly thereafter, I got into my first real argument over the question of whether "Goodfellas" was a better or worse film than "The Godfather". From there I followed what now seems like a much-traveled path for the cinephile, beginning with more obvious figures like Francois Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa, whose films, especially "The 4OO Blows" and "High and Low", left indelible impressions on me.

Stephen Prince's "The Warrior's Camera" would become the first work of serious film scholarship I was to read, and a second step in a deepening understanding of film form and mise-en-scene.

Major works for me at the time - this was during high school - were "Once Upon a Time in America", "Once Upon a Time in the West", "In the Mood for Love", "Barry Lyndon", "Brazil", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Gimme Shelter", and "Aguirre: the Wrath of God". And after seeing "Collateral" on a digital screen, Michael Mann was and is to this day a peculiar favorite. Indeed, I loved a lot of films, which I'm not sure I really could've fully appreciated even then, especially the Leone ones given what they were doing with genre.

It wasn't really until after high school that my outlook started to expand. Bresson, Fuller, Cassavetes - all of them I encountered in rapid succession thanks to the surprisingly deep programming offered at the Seoul Cinematheque. These outings were followed by my first sustained exposure to one filmmaker's oeuvre. The Korean Film Archive was running a full retrospective of the work of the criminally obscure Lee Man-Hui, and lucky me I caught nearly all of it. Out of 22 films I saw 20 & 1/2 to be exact. I awoke to the possibility - at that time already a whisper in the back of my head - that great and important work could come from anywhere.

In retrospect then, it's strange to think that I found someone like Lee Man-Hui before Otto Preminger, Douglas Sirk, John Ford, Max Ophuls, Vincente Minnelli, Josef von Sternberg, and supremely Kenji Mizoguchi. But on the other hand, I'm not sure I would've been as open to these possibilities without the experience I had in Korea, where I learned that cinema existed and will always exist beyond my small island of knowledge.

October 15, 2007 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I was 17 years old, it was my first semester at UC Santa Barbara, and I signed up for a course in Avant Garde cinema, taught by someone named Jonathan Rosenbaum.

That course, and the others I had with him, opened my eyes to a new way of watching and appreciating film.

October 16, 2007 12:13 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Filmbrain, you and your blondes! You lucky dawg!

October 16, 2007 1:19 AM  
Anonymous Becca said...

Hi there girish. I like your blog. I've never commented here before.

I grew up with virtually no exposure to any kind of moving picture media - no TV, and very few movies.

When I was in high school, cinema started trickling into my consciousness - I had a few friends who worked at the little art house in New Haven, so when I could get out I'd sneak into things like The Dreamers and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner - but nothing that really got me excited (though the old York Square Cinema itself was a very exciting place).

The first really profound experiences I had at the movies came during the summers of 2003 and 2004 at the Northeast Silent Film Festival at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport, Maine. A few specific films stick out from those festivals - A Florida Enchantment, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Way Down East, and It - but it was really the whole experience that did it for me. The archivists talking about discovering prints buried in abandoned lots in Hollywood and restoring them, the live piano, the old projectors in the lobby of the theater, one film after another (I'd never seen more than one movie in a row before), sitting in the dark with a bunch of enthusiasts, the clean, beautiful prints - projected at the proper speed, even! Coming out of the theater was like coming out of cold water early in the morning.

But outside of the festival, I didn't really know what to do with my interest. I wasn't terribly interested in commercial films, and after seeing all those silents for real, DVD seemed like a pretty disappointing alternative. And I didn't know where to start, anyway. There were clearly great movies out there - but how could I recognize them? I was clueless. So my enthusiasm stayed dormant for awhile.

All the talk of the minutia of archiving and exhibiting film at the NSFF had left me with a lingering desire to get to know the celluloid itself - so I was fortunate to end up at the University of Chicago, where I started volunteering as an apprentice projectionist at Doc Films.

And that's how I got serious. Doc got me hooked up with a variety of knowledgable enthusiasts (the above-posting Edo among them) who I've been shamelessly sapping for knowledge. After a certain key conversation with one of them, I skipped class to go see Soy Cuba at Doc, and then saw James Benning's One Way Boogie Woogie at the U of C Film Studies Center a few days later - and that was that. Since then I've been going to something like 7 or 8 screenings a week (I've had to cut down a little lately, but nonetheless one of the highlights of my week is going to the screening for Tom Gunning's Cinema Methods and Issues class), reading whatever the library can offer me, reading this and a couple of other blogs, and so on. It's still the beginning for me.

October 16, 2007 2:40 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Like Martin Scorsese (bear with me, this is the only time I will ever be able to use that opening phrase) I was an asthmatic child who spent a lot of time watching movies, so in some sense cinephilia was a state I acquired quite early in life. I've written before about how my father helped foster my love for movies, but I haven't mentioned another thing he did. He subscribed to the New Yorker and that, of course, meant Pauline Kael. In particular I devoured her capsules in the opening of the magazine, because that was where she turned to the old movies I loved so much. And any time she reviewed a revival -- oh, what bliss that was. Sure, I disagreed with her many times, who didn't? but it was Kael who showed me that no movie is disposable if you bring real intelligence to looking at it.

October 16, 2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

It was sometime in 1965. In a crowded theatre sucking on a SweetTart about the size of a hockey puck, eyes fixed on a screen pairing World Without End with Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster and a Kartoon Karnival, all for fifty cents. It was downhill from there...

October 16, 2007 1:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Edo, Filmbrain, Michael, Becca, Campaspe, Flickhead--Merci!

Edo said: "I awoke to the possibility - at that time already a whisper in the back of my head - that great and important work could come from anywhere."

I also started feeling this way during the onset of my cinephilia. In contrast, my early days as a film buff were marked by a parochialism that I now find embarrassing.

Becca, that's a fascinating narrative you trace. I hadn't heard of Doc Films until recently. Dave Kehr was telling me about moving to Chicago to go to school there, getting involved at Doc Films right away, and getting a job as a film critic at the Chicago Reader (all the while still a college freshman!). That Margaret Sullavan series that's on now looks great. "It's still the beginning for me," you say. Perhaps you'll write about your future cinema discoveries. Drop me a line and let me know; I'd like to hear/read about it.

October 16, 2007 5:44 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Strangely, my tale involves the University of Chicago as well. Though perhaps more bluntly than the more sublime and beautiful ones here: I got into movies in a pathetic attempt to get into somebody's pants (or, my tale is about tail).

Didn't watch 'em before, didn't like 'em, thought they were full of shit: my dad thought the height of the art was Rambo, my mom thought it was Mystery!. Ok, didn't get much respect for the art from home. College in LA didn't improve my opinion: my roomate was the school's film critic, and he thought Basic Instinct was the world's best ever movie because you got a glimpse between Sharon Stone's legs (seriously, this guy watched Basic Instinct every single day).

Fast forward eight years to graduation from the University of Chicago's MBA program - it's 2003, no jobs for MBAs, no job for me, I room with a bunch of undergrads for the summer. One of them's a nineteen year old film studies major, another's a stripper......you get the picture.

Strangely, it was the Siskel Center that did it for me (Siskel was near work downtown when I eventually found employment after that summer of joblessness) - while I was an actual student at UC, I went to maybe two movies at Doc.

October 16, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

I wrote about this for the Robert Altman blogathon last year - seeing an Altman retrospective in 1992 changed the way I experienced films. It took a couple years to really take, but it grew from there, and never faded. It's odd because I had felt similar inspirations before: in grad school, I saw Ivan the Terrible on TV, and was utterly intrigued; and seeing Blue Velvet was a revelation about just how good and serious films could be. I read up on films, I rented bunches of films, I went to the occasional revival - but it didn't stick, quite. But the Altman did.

I think it changed the way I acted: it made me realize the sheer pleasure of going to films - it took a while to really get in the habit, but it built steadily over the next couple years. I liked the routine of it, going in the Harvard Square (usually), seeing a couple films, going through the book stores and record stores, that sort of thing - and actually started doing it regularly over the next couple years.... The other part I mentioned in the blogathon post - Altman fit in very well with the novels I was reading, and the connection got me to thinking about film as an art form. I'd had an intellectual connection to film before - but it was driven by philosophy and criticism - it was about the ideas in films, and only incidentally about how they were expressed. But with the Altman series, thought much more about how he told stories, how he showed the world - and I that interest in the form just grew. And drew me to books about film, and history of film, and all the rest...

Anyway - after that there were a series of steps to the real thing, a lot of them rep house series: a screwball comedy series - Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart series - a growing fascination with Bogie and John Wayne films, including the realization, somewhere in there, that an awful lot of my favorite films in a bunch of different styles were directed by Howard Hawks... John Woo movies, Jacky Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh movies... a silent comedy series... more extensive exposure to favorites from my first film obsession like Eisenstein and Godard and Kurosawa... books - Sarris, Stanley Cavell, things like that... all of it kind of culminating in a big Japanese series, where I saw - probably for the first time - Ozu, Mizoguchi, Imamura, Oshima... then I moved to Cambridge and started attending every show at the Brattle or the HFA that I hadn't seen, and most of the ones I had...

October 16, 2007 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

This is really a hard question for me to answer because I've been nuts about films off and on all my life. WTTW-TV in Chicago had a program called "The Toy that Grew Up" that showed nothing but silent films. These appealed to me at an early age. They also did some adventurous film programming; I remember watching Rashomon while I was still in the single digits.

I developed a tweenage crush on James Cagney. I bought a paperback called "TV Movies," written by Leonard Maltin, and started ticking off all the Cagney films I had seen. This was before videotaping, so I had to set my clock to wake me up in the wee hours of the morning to catch some of them. Now, even TCM doesn't show some of the rarities by Cagney I saw in those day (e.g., A Lion Is in the Streets).

When I hit high school, I became a theatre techie and got a theatre scholarship to Loyola University of Chicago. My mania for theatre cancelled out everything else. When others were talking about the films they saw, I'd only have my theatrical experiences to relate. Nonetheless, programming in the 70s in Chicago was very eclectic and free, and I saw In the Realm of the Senses, Supervixen, and a very obscure porn comedy called A Labor of Love that I wish I could get my hands on now, all at my neighborhood theatres.

Of coures, I was a fan from their very earliest days of Siskel & Ebert. Ebert is still one of my favorite critics. I couldn't stomach Dave Kehr--he was too lofty and hard to please--but I read him because I was devoted to The Reader.

It wasn't really until was going through a divorce that my film mania kicked in. I had a lot of trouble concentrating at the time, so films were a lot easier to handle than books or theatre, which both require a lot of participation. I started posting on the New York Times Film Forum, which became like a drug for me--a bad one after a while, but still it gave me input on films and directors I'd never heard of. I started taking a maintenance drug that still greatly impairs my concentration for things like reading. Ironically, as a professional writer, I have had no trouble at all spitting the words out at length and often. I, too, am a chronic commenter.

What might have really tipped me into the cinephile category was the first class I took at Facets, one on Luis Bunuel's Mexican films, one in which I learned that I had a fairly analytical mind with regard to film. I was so knocked out by this class and director--he's still my favorite--that I had to see what else world cinema had to offer.

It wasn't too far a leap to blogging film reviews, which I do joyfully and abundantly, but mainly on what I call "offroad" films. This is how I share my enthusiasm for the lesser-known world of cinema. I hope I'm not just preaching to the choir--at least, that's my mission.

Coincidentally, I did my 200th post on The Illusionist a couple of weeks ago as an explanation of my love of film and a tribute to my late mother, who was my earliest and most lasting influence as a film buff.

October 17, 2007 12:25 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Maya, I can assure you that you have well repaid whatever inspiration you received at Film Journey--I always find your interviews and writing (and personal friendliness) of the utmost interest.

Cinephilia--I suppose that can really be defined in different ways. I can honestly say that I became obsessed with film technology about the age of seven and began collecting magazines and books about it; as an adolescent, I was more interested in aesthetics than technology, and as a teenager, I was watching my first foreign films (largely due to an English teacher's encouragement), and have never looked back. (Got a film degree, too.)

The English biography of Dreyer is taken from a statement he once made that film was his "only great passion." In some ways, I can certainly relate, although I'd like to see cinephilia as a doorway into the world rather than an end in itself.

October 17, 2007 1:44 PM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

I don't know if I could give an exact moment. Two landmarks for my cinephilia:
-- Seeing Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused at late night TV in, I think, 1995. The first time I notice there were something special about a film from which I had no reference (didn't even know who directed it since I missed the credits).
-- Moving to São Paulo in 2000, which made possible for me to finally see more stuff on theatres (till then most of my cinephilia was done by necessity through VHS/DVD, I actually used to won client of the month in my videostore 11 months a year for I think 96-99).

October 17, 2007 2:37 PM  
Blogger joasia said...

Hello -- what a beautiful question, thanks for it!
I fell in love with cinema the same time I fell in love with the idea of being a free agent, that is... an adult. The director who sparked my fire was Kieslowski: his Decalogue (1988), seen on the big screen (in a small DC cinema that no longer exists) over two days and nights was life affirming/changing. The humor of those films and the fact that they involved everyday people and places was devastating: Kieszlowski gave me hope on so many levels, not least of which was the idea that I could make films too. Sokurov's Mother and Son also affected me profoundly when I saw it at the Telluride Film Festival in 1997. A revelation. I was there as a student with some friends, one of whom told me later that I looked as if I'd fallen into a trance and didn't noticeably move during the whole piece! Sokurov was there and made a short speech after the screening, which was thrilling. The experience of an in-person presentation was amazing, kept me up all night, I was completely high! Intellectually, I am devoted to Agnes Varda and Agnieszka Holland's early films, all of which I saw in my late teens as a student. Because of my heritage, films that reveal/ed to me WWII and post WWII experience in Central Europe really resonate most. Germany, Pale Mother by Helma Sanders-Brahms, somehow I see strands of the protagonists life in my own. I must mention that all of these films and so many more made life so much more interesting to me in the immediate, but also stayed with me, revealing themselves over time and repeat viewings like old friends. Thanks --

October 17, 2007 11:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Alex, Sam, Marilyn, Doug, Filipe, Joasia--Thank you. These accounts are great fun to read!

A few more thoughts/recollections.
Around the age of 17, I started turning away from the "commercial" (Bollywood, although that's a relatively recent and imprecise word) films that I was raised on. I discovered both Bengali cinema (Ray, Sen, Ghatak) and also the Indian New Wave/Parallel Cinema (e.g. in my case, Hindi-language filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani). Lately I've been feeling bad about having neglected that Indian mainstream cinema that was so formative for me as a kid. One of my resolutions/projects is to return to those films. I'm curious to see what I'll find in them today. I suspect that they are a lot more formally interesting and playful than I realized or knew as a kid.

I've always enjoyed watching this kind of cinema (Hindi, Tamil or Bengali mainstream cinema) with my parents, and it's something I'm looking forward to doing when I visit India over Christmas. My mom even offered to make up a list of a few "essential" Hindi and Tamil films of the last 20 years. We'll try to check a few off that list.

October 18, 2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger celinejulie said...

--Girish, I have no knowledge about Bollywood films, but I just want to tell you that my friends and I saw an Indian film called MY BROTHER…NIKHIL (2005, Onir) last year and like it a lot. I don’t know if you know this film or not. It’s about the ostracization of an AIDS patient. The film has no dance in it, but it features a song called Le Chale, sung by Sunidhi, which is a very catchy song. I can’t call this film “great”, but I think it’s very enjoyable. After my friends and I had seen this film, we walked out of the theatre and started singing some parts of “Le Chale” altogether. I can’t remember any other films which make us do something like this—singing its song together just after watching it for the first time.

A videoclip of Le Chale from MY BROTHER…NIKHIL can be watched here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J3wiUQO4Ts


--The turning point in my film-watching life is in 1995. In that year, I said goodbye to my family and started living on my own. I was too poor to buy even a TV set then. I had some spare time so I think I’d better go to see free films shown at the Goethe Institute in Bangkok. The first film I saw there is CLASS ENEMY (1983, Peter Stein). I was shocked. The film is very powerful, but what really shocked me is the fact that though I had read some Thai movie magazines for many years, I had never heard of this film or Peter Stein before. I began to realize at that time that the most interesting films in the world might not be the ones nominated for an Oscar, nor the ones praised by Thai mainstream film critics, nor the ones reviewed by Leonard Maltin, nor the ones released by Miramax.

I began to go to see films at the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Francaise in Bangkok frequently, and have become a film addict since then.

--Brian said, “I remember in college buying the line that the foreign films available in the USA represented the "best of" the rest of the world, which seems hopelessly naive to me today”

I think my experience is a little bit like him. In early 1990’s I used to believe that foreign films released by Miramax or available as videos in Bangkok represented the best of the world. But in late 1990’s, after some experience at the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Francaise, I turned to believe the opposite. I turned to believe that films available as videos in Bangkok at that time were highly likely to be “compromising films.” This is obvious in the case of the New German Cinema. In late 1990’s, it was easy to buy a video of Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Volker Schlondorff in Bangkok. But do they represent the best of the New German Cinema? No, I don’t think so. What I really need is the videos or DVDs of Herbert Achternbusch, Hellmuth Costard, Alexander Kluge, Werner Nekes, Ulrike Ottinger, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Christoph Schlingensief, Werner Schroeter, Robert Van Ackeren, and Herbert Vesely. I still can’t find them now.

--The person who has been very influential in my film-viewing is Sonthaya Subyen, who has shown many great films for free in a bookstore or in a university auditorium for about ten years. He has a Thai blog at www.twilightvirus.blogspot.com . He showed such films as VIOLENCE AT NOON (1966, Nagisa Oshima), EL TOPO (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky), SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970, Gordon Hessler), NEWS FROM HOME (1977, Chantal Akerman), ZERO HOUR (1977, Edgar Reitz), RHEINGOLD (1978, Niklaus Schilling), ANGUISH (1987, Bigas Luna), EGG (1987, Danniel Danniel), TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL (1988, Guy Maddin), and SUMMER VACATION 1999 (1989, Shusuke Kaneko).

--The books which have been very influential in my film-viewing are also the books edited and published by Sonthaya Subyen, especially Filmvirus 1 (1998) and Filmvirus 2 (2001). These books have some articles about Ray Carney, Krzysztof Zanussi, Alexander Kluge, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Philippe Grandrieux, and Fred Kelemen. I still re-read these articles from time to time.

--I’m very glad that Sonthaya still shows some movies and publishes some books from time to time. His latest Thai book about Apichatpong Weerasethakul will be available within a few days. Sonthaya will also hold an event called "THE NOCTURNAL WORLD OF FRED KELEMEN" in Bangkok in early November.

--As for something mainstream I might have neglected during the past twelve years, I think it’s TV series with very interesting female characters. I have neglected them because I don’t have enough time to watch the whole TV series any more, and I regret it because many interesting female characters are likely to be found in TV series, not in mainstream cinema. My most favorite female characters of all time include Eve (Liane Langland), the woman who is obsessed with killing her sister in the mini-series MASTER OF THE GAME (1984); the evil heroine (Maggie Siu) of a Hong Kong TV series called CONSCIENCE (1994); the female serial killer (Nisa Wongwat) in a Thai TV melodrama called PLEONG PAI (1990-1991), and, of course, Amanda (Heather Locklear) in MELROSE PLACE. Oh!, I wish I had more time.

October 18, 2007 12:19 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - I too am pretty ignorant about Indian commercial cinema, and I have a feeling that it has a lot of interesting stylists who wouldn't necessarily be famous. Anyway, two classic films that I'd recommend, which you may know already:

Pakeezah: a very well-known film from 1972 by one Kamal Amrohi, starring his wife (or ex-wife?) Meena Kumari. It has some eloquent slow lateral camera movements.

Gunga Jumna: a 1961 action film that showed once in LA as The Bandit, on a double bill with the more acclaimed but decidedly inferior Mother India. The credited director is Nitin Bose, although the IMDb reports that star/writer Dilip Kumar may have had a hand in the direction.

Neither of these were great films, to my mind, but they each had something going for them in terms of style.

October 18, 2007 1:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

CelineJulie -- I haven't seen My Brother...Nikhil. As you likely know, for the longest time we in India had no pop music figures outside the film industry, so as a child, music meant pretty much 'filmi' music and little else.

You are lucky to have such an active Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise in Bangkok. I would go to the AF to see French films in Calcutta but the showings were infrequent and the choices unadventurous.

Dan, my parents took me to see Pakeezah when I was 10 or 12 when we lived in Jaipur, Rajasthan. I have no memory of the film except a dance on broken glass (about as overtly transgressive a scene as I can remember from a Hindi film of that period). This morning (before you left your comment), I happened to put it at the top of my Netflix queue.

October 18, 2007 2:53 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

It's interesting how many of these comments describe a journey as much as a specific moment.

Like several other people, I can trace my interest in movies back to a parent, in my case my father, who was a huge watcher of movies as a younger man (he recently retired, and it sounds as though DVD is helping him refresh his interest). When a particular favourite of his came on the TV, I'd be granted a special bedtime dispensation to stay up and watch with him (and my mother); I think the sheer illicit delight of those viewings was a major factor in my subsequent interest.

In terms of a moment where I felt as though the scales had fallen from my eyes, though, I remember particularly happening on a TV screening of "Dr Strangelove" and being immediately struck by Kubrick's use of different filming styles at various points in the film, and being aware of the impact this had on me as a viewer. I went through a period of time when the only good film was a black and white film for a while thereafter...

As with many others, college broadened my horizons further, mainly because it gave me access to more films, whether in the library or in the collections of some of my more committed friends (one friend's apartment was almost completely inundated with CDs and VHS tapes, which he generously sent my way every few days).

During a brief period of time off work in 2000-2001, I also had access to a great library of world cinema, and that was what awakened my interest in films from Africa.

I feel that my cinephilia comes in waves, flowing around other things in my life; with a busy life right now, it is taking a back seat, and many films I've seen of late have been undemanding, whereas next semester there might be another run on French films from the 1930s, or whatever my latest interest is. From the most recent comments, I'm feeling something of a need to return to the sources, too, though in my case that would mean more films from Ireland rather than India (the choices would be a little more limited!).

October 18, 2007 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Steve Erickson said...

I can point to three turning points in mine: seeing WINGS OF DESIRE (largely because I heard that Nick Cave performed in it) and DEAD RINGERS in 1988 in Boston shortly after I started college, the New York Film Festival in 1994, and starting my website in 1997. The first was perhaps not the start of cinephilia, but merely of being interested in cinema at all. I didn't see many films until I started college, although a few - BRAZIL, BLUE VELVET, horror films like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and RE-ANIMATOR - made a big impression on me. My parents never got a video membership until shortly before I left for college and the offerings available in Connecticut theaters in the mid '80s were not very inspiring.

October 18, 2007 8:46 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Girish, I can echo your sentiments about being raised on commerical Indian cinema and even I turned away from it a while ago. But a part of me still tries to keep looking every now and then to see if a major change has happened or not.

There have been some independent Indian film movements especially in North India that have come and gone but now aleast there are some new young film-makers who have found a way to work within the Bollywood system and produce some decent movies with relevant stories, Bolly stars and no songs. Khosla Ka Ghosla and Being Cyrus are two examples from 2006 that come to mind. Both movies manage to capture a section of the Indian population accurately without resorting to stereo-types.

But from what I have seen, it is still Bengal and South India that are producing some of the better works.

I am not sure if I mentioned these films to you before? Govind Nihalani's Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1998) is about the Naxalite struggle and Aparna Sen's Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) and 15 Park Avenue are quite good. And I am a very big fan of Rituparno Ghosh's slick black and white Dosar from last year.

October 19, 2007 1:24 AM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Girish, two more Indian titles. Both are director Vishal Bharadwaj's adaptations of Shakespeare as crime/underworld movies. Maqbool is a crime-mafia film adapted from Macbeth. Interesting to see how some of the characters are transferred.
Omkara is Othello. Now, this film does have some songs (typical Bollywood stuff) but also manages to capture some of the political games of Uttar Pradesh nicely. Both movies just emphasize the universality of Shakespeare works.

October 19, 2007 1:34 AM  
Blogger shahn said...

i can pinpoint the exact moment that i discovered what cinema could be - the night a friend took me to the pacific cinemateque to see "un chien andalou." i sat there with my mouth open, thinking "this...this is ART!" it blew my tiny little mind wide open.

if the cinemateque has back copies of its schedule, i bet i could identified the exact moment it happened.

October 19, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

I think I pretty much pinpointed my moment in my contribution to the closeup blogathon.

October 20, 2007 12:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you--Gareth, Steve, Sachin, Shahn, and Noel.

One factor that played a big part in my teenage discoveries of non-mainstream cinema was scarcity. It's a bit hard to imagine in our over-plentiful times, but India in those days had strict import controls on foreign cultural product in order to encourage indigenous cultural production. Video players existed in the West but had not yet arrived in the East. Doordarshan (government-run TV, the only kind that existed at the time) showed maybe one non-commercial film a month (either Indian or foreign). The theatres in downtown Calcutta played a very small number of non-mainstream films in any given year.

So each non-commercial film (Indian or foreign) was monumental news. We'd spend weeks anticipating and talking about a single film until it took on an almost absurdly iconic status in our heads. We'd try to commit a film to memory by seeing it often (as often as our meager allowances would permit), talking about it amongst ourselves constantly (and even dreaming about it several nights a week!). The closest I've come to experiencing that narrowly focused devotion since then is during a single-film blog-a-thon (Brian--thank you for continuing to champion those).

Becca spoke above of her memories being tied to specific locations/venues (York Sq Cinema, the festival at Bucksport, Maine, Doc Films) and the same was true with my early film experiences in Calcutta. The venues--the Esplanade cinemas like the Metro, Elite, New Empire, and the Globe--were as specific and differentiated as the important movie discoveries we made there.

Somehow, it seems to me that with the huge range of options available these days that puts even the most esoteric cinema reasonably within our reach, some of that allure born of scarcity has faded...

October 20, 2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I love reading your memories, Girish.

At this year's Arab Film Festival Moroccan director Moumen Smihi brought his latest--A Muslim Childhood set in 1950s Tangiers, about what it was like growing up so many multicultural influences, not the least of which was American cinema. He has a lovely montage of the various theatre houses that ran movies in those days and vintage posters of American films rendered in Arabic. I was quite touched by the sequence, if not by the whole film.

October 20, 2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

...growing up *with* so many multicultural influences....

October 20, 2007 7:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Michael. I don't know A Muslim Childhood. But I'm very interested in moviegoing experiences in other countires because I'd like to know if any Movie Mutations-style 'global simultaneities' might exist in those cinema discovery experiences for movie-lovers from disparate nations and cultural environments.

Meanwhile, a post is bubbling under; shall return with it in a few hours.

October 22, 2007 7:29 AM  
Blogger Derek said...

I can trace my epiphanic entry into cinephilia to two different experiences:

One. Bertolucci's otherwise quite bad THE DREAMERS so brilliantly melded sex and the cinematic experience in my impressionable and horny undergraduate mind that I decided I would fuck every film I could from here on out. I had always been a rabid consumer but only then did my compulsion become part of my personality and approach to living.

Two. Discovering Guy Maddin. Not only his films, but his approach to flam-bouyant fandom changed the way I watch and appreciate movies. His writing is brilliant, his films redemptive and joyous.

October 22, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Movie Mutations-style 'global simultaneities'

That sounds interesting, even if I'm not quite sure what it means. Heh. Steeped in the Arab Film Festival, I've been researching Lebanese cinema and the quality of "latency" so frequently cited in recent years. Researching Mohamed Soueid whose remembrances of watching cinema in Beirut were, as scholar Laura U. Marks relates, "always borrowed, from Hollywood, Europe, Bollywood and Hong Kong, tentatively held, and all the more passionately cherished." That reminded me of your experiences.

October 22, 2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oops sorry, Michael. Offhandedly making an allusion without accompanying explanation: bad educator! :-)

The book Movie Mutations (ed. Jonathan Rosenbaum & Adrian Martin, 2004) brings together several cinephiles and critics from around the world and reveals how they share similarities in taste and views on cinema despite their geographical separation.

I like that Laura Marks comment about "borrowing". Looking back, I can relate to it.

October 22, 2007 2:27 PM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

Great topic. I'm not sure I could point to a single moment when my love of movies transformed into something deeper, but one crucial moment was when I took over the campus cinema column for my college newspaper, and wound up receiving my first big exposure to foreign and experimental cinema. Most of the films I saw probably weren't so good, and I don't remember most of them these days, but at least two screenings have truly stayed with me.

One was seeing Gus Van Sant's Gerry at a private screening for myself and one other local journalist. Seeing that film on the big screen, in total isolation, was an awe-inspiring experience, and it was probably one of the first times when I was aware of being so viscerally affected by the formal elements of a film rather than its characters or emotions.

The other screening that continues to stick with me was a showing of three short experimental documentaries by Warren Sonbert. I doubt I'd seen anything even remotely experimental up till that point, and Sonbert's abstracted montages of his travel footage, set to classic rock and with a steady pulse to the editing as well, proved a perfect introduction. I would love to see those films, or some other Sonbert, again, but haven't had a chance in the years since.

The other major cinematic discovery at the time, albeit unrelated to my cinema column, was Mulholland Drive. I saw an afternoon screening, and when I walked outside afterwards, the sunny afternoon normality seemed downright bizarre to me, I was so unbalanced by the experience. Between these three screenings, I was introduced to the idea of cinema as a serious artform as opposed to the entertaining spectacle I'd previously mostly gone to it for. It's been a continuing education ever since.

October 24, 2007 3:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ed, I've longed to see Warren Sonbert's films but haven't had the chance yet.

October 24, 2007 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Mark Peranson said...

La chinoise at Moma. then, of course, James.

October 28, 2007 6:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, Mark. I should've also mentioned that coincident with the onset of my cinephilia in '99 was also encountering the first issue of Cinema Scope during TIFF (Tim Roth on the cover!). I haven't missed an issue since--thank you for that.

October 28, 2007 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anuj said...

So I just watched “Les Enfants du Paradis” and found a link to your review on Senses of Cinema, and wow, disocvering your blog has been a revelation, Girish. Where do I begin...

I knew cinephilia was taking over my life when I started to watch films endlessly during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college (I'm in my junior year as an undergraduate so that was a little over three years ago). I was a volunteer at the local public library which has an amazing collection of films, foreign and otherwise. The public library system here in Columbus, OH has been voted the best in the country. Anyways, it was watching Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" that was the epiphany. I saw two nights in row and then a third night with Peter Cowie's commentary, and I've been hooked ever since. I've never thought of making a life or career out of it yet (I'm studying pharmaceutical sciences, of all things) but I've taken a couple of film classes here at Ohio State that expanded the horizons of my film appreciation. The class I took on Ingmar Bergman (as a freshman!) and the class I’m finishing up on the French New Wave right now have been excellent in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of the form.

Some of my favorite online resources include:
- They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?
- Senses of Cinema
- Strictly Film School
- critics like Ebert and Rosenbaum (somebody mentioned taking a class instructed by him, that's amazing)

And I too was raised on lots of Bollywood fluff, a lot of which I will still argue is still crap. But there are better recent efforts, from "Khosla Ka Ghosla" to Madhur Bhandarkar's loose trilogy ("Page 3", "Corporate" and "Traffic Signal"). And I have seen "My Brother, Nikhil" and loved it. Its funny b/c the actor who played Nikhil's boyfriend was a popular VJ on an MTV-style music channel I watched a lot as a teenybopper; seeing him play a character so different was nice.

November 23, 2007 1:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Anuj.
Starting out, I also was fortunate to have the resource of a great public library video section here in Buffalo.

November 23, 2007 5:06 PM  
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