Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cinephile in training

music: Patti Smith - Ask The Angels

These days I avoid calling myself a cinephile. There was a moment, a tiny moment, when I felt I had reached that point where I earned the right to wear this label. But I soon started feeling like such a fraud - I realized that I didn't know that much about films. So now I like to call myself a cinephile in training. I guess that's more honest.

Actually, I don't know why it's taking me so long to learn about cinema. It should be easy, right? The problem is that I have too much catching up to do. If I allow myself to look for excuses (and when don't I allow myself that?), I'll have to put the blame on my apathetic environment for my late, my very late, interest in movies. I was reading Andrei Gorzo's text from DoR #5, in which he says that at 16 he started reading books about cinema, and then I remembered that at 16 I was barely renting my first films from a videotheque. Of course, he lived in the capital, I lived in a small town where the only movie-related information was coming to me via magazines like Bravo and Popcorn, and the tv guide.

I realize now that we were lucky to even have a movie theater and not one, but two videotheques. Some small towns aren't that lucky. I often wish I had seen more movies in the darkness of the movie theater, but then I remember why I hadn't. There wasn't much to see - only blockbusters and the occasional Romanian film you had to go to with the class. I've seen so few movies at my local movie theater that I'm pretty sure I can remember all of them. Except that first one. I was ten, it was my mom's birthday but I had an admission exam in French, I was upset because I couldn't remember the name of a character from one of the stories from the 4th grade textbook (damn you, François!), my mom took me for cake to a cofetărie across the street from the movie theater and then she realized we could make it to the 11 a.m. screening. I remember all this, but I cannot remember the title of the movie. It was an American thriller. And then I think: this cannot be the very first movie I've seen in a movie theater. Not having an interesting answer to the question "What's the first movie you've seen in a movie theater?" is one of the things that makes me feel less of a cinephile.

Last year I really wanted to see a movie at my local movie theater because I don't think I've been there since high school. And I saw Splice. And I was the only one in the cinema. Oh, how special I felt! he he I'm sure the lady who sells tickets and the projectionist must have thought I was a weirdo, and I guess I am, but I don't care. Even though Splice was disappointing, watching a movie by myself in a cinema gave me such a warm and fuzzy feeling. (^_^) I'm making this count as a cinephile experience. Yes, a screening of Splice can be on the same list as the screening of the restored Metropolis at TIFF 2010, there's nothing wrong with that. *grin*

Splice (seen at my local movie theater)

Of course, one of the main reasons for which my environment wasn't stimulating was that my friends weren't interested in movies. When I was about 12-13 and I wanted to go see a movie I had to beg them to go with me despite the fact that I was always careful to pick sth they might enjoy, like a comedy (Jungle 2 Jungle) or a horror (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer). At the time I thought they didn't like the movies I picked, but now I think they just didn't like me. And yeah, I guess some of them couldn't really afford a movie ticket and maybe they hated me for putting them in an awkward position by insisting that they come with me, but let me tell you this: if you can find the money for cigarettes, you can find the money for a lousy movie ticket. (There's nothing more annoying than smokers who complain they don't have money for this or that. Um, here's a thought: give up smoking!) And later, in high school, I didn't really have friends. There was the occasional movie talk with my desk mates (I had three), and I even saw a few movies with them, but this never generated that cinephagie I wish I had suffered from at that age.

I guess the moment when my interest in movies became kinda serious was when I got a VCR. I had a pen pal coming over my place (the only one I've ever met in person; boy, how things have changed since then :), and because I wasn't the clubbing type of person I thought the only entertainment I could offer her was this movie we both wanted to see. I won't mention the title of the movie, or the reason for which we wanted to see it, because one's more embarrassing than the other. At that time I didn't have a VCR, and the way I borrowed one is very lanţul-slăbiciunilor. I went to the videotheque, which was right next to my building (how convenient!), and made sure they had the movie and my dad borrowed the VCR from one of his co-workers' son-in-law. That guy let us keep it for an entire week, and since I already had a videotheque card, I went and borrowed a few more movies, among which Amélie, even though I hadn't heard of it. I don't really know what drew me to it, maybe it was that Oscar sign, but what a lovely discovery that was, and one that really opened up my appetite for non-blockbusters. This was July 2003. I know this because I still have the receipts. After that week, I couldn't imagine life without a VCR. Luckily, at that time we could afford such a thing. I remember I wanted a second-hand VCR, and my dad kept telling me that there was no point in getting a VCR because soon they would be out of use. But I wanted a VCR because I wanted to record stuff from tv. DVD players had just started being sold around here, and there was a store where they had one DVDR, but it was so expensive. We eventually got a combo (VCR+DVD player), which really was the best solution because I could still rent videos (they didn't have movies on DVD just yet). Now that I think about it, I can't believe this combo still works after all these years, and it has never been broken, not once. I had tons of VHS tapes, and I still have a lot of them. For some reason, I can't get rid of them just yet. I'm a hoarder, that's what I am.

Obviously, my interest in movies became serious once I got a good Internet connection. At the same time, I was already living in Cluj, I had colleagues who were as interested in movies as I was, I was going to TIFF, so things improved a lot. But you know, I'm slow. I mean, I'm marathoning Pasolini for the first time. Moreover, he's the first Italian director I'm marathoning. I still have sooo much catching up to do. And my cinephile training is still a solitary endeavor, even though in Cluj there are more and more cine-clubs or special screenings, and I guess there's a chance to connect with other cinephiles. But you know, I have zero social skills. And I don't live there anymore, so anyways. A couple of years ago, or so, I wrote a text about cinephilia in Romania for Indian Auteur despite the fact that I knew I wasn't the right person for that. Writing that was quite irresponsible of me. If there's such a thing as a cinephile scene, I'm def not a part of it. So, it's not fair of me to say that being a cinephile in this country is a solitary experience. It is for me. But now that I've been at TIFF for six years I realize that for other ppl things are pretty different. They go to TIFF and lots of other mini-festivals and they connect with other cinephiles, they get involved in or even curate film events.

On this island of moi, the Internet is King. The Internet has done amazing things for my cinephile training, and I'll acknowledge that each time I have the opportunity, I don't care how alienating that might sound. I wrote this text about cinephilia and film criticism in the digital era; the title may announce a serious analysis, but it's far from that - it's really just a pretext to tell ppl about two of my favorite new discoveries: Project: New Cinephilia and Kartina Richardson's film reviews. (Kartina deserves a separate post. Soon. Soonish, I hope.) They're so inspiring and it's things like these that both make me suffer from Too Many Films To Watch Anxiety Syndrome and make me go forward and see even more films and try to understand them as well as I can.

I still have a problem with writing about films, though. Like Fran Lebowitz says, it's not a writer's block, it's a blockade. I know I can't write anything insightful about a film, so I can't write at all. Meanwhile, I adopted the fragmentarium method. Come to think of it, that's a very 2.0 way of talking about films.


nitesh said...

You post at Indian Auteur was definitely important. We all cinephiles training! Lovely post.

PS: Your article on TIFF/Journey is still due :)

plectrude said...

Errr... f(^_^) sorry I didn't get back to you about that txt on TIFF. I was too ashamed to even say anything. I couldn't write a thing during the festival (I didn't think commuting would be so exhausting), then I had sth else to write, then it was too late. I am trying to review an Indian film I saw at TIFF (I still have my notes) but I can't promise I'll finish that txt. Like I said in that last paragraph, it's a blockade! :( (Anyways, if I ever have sth definitive I'll let you know. Even if it isn't IA material, a feedback from you will be much appreciated.)

I appreciate your kind words. You always have sth encouraging to say. Thank you.