Saturday, August 11, 2007

musing: sergio leone and the infield fly rule, mr. shoop's surfin' summer school midterm, & the movie answer man

As much as I would like to be a brilliant conversationalist, nothing could be further from the truth. Small talk has never been my forte, and as a result I have an anxious streak when it comes to meeting new people, running into old acquaintances, and/or getting my hair cut. I also suffer from a deep rooted inability to discuss my feelings, which creates obstacles in terms of developing close relationships. These issues are, however, comparatively inconsequential when measured against my limited range of interests: film, books, cooking, and film. What else, dear lord, is there to talk about?

I am fortunate, in a sense, that the subject of film is a fairly universal one. Over the past decade most of my peers have been fellow students of the cinematic arts who are more than eager to spend hours on end dissecting, debating, and criticizing along with me. During these same years I have also mingled with other friends, family members, colleagues, etc., and-- save for the rare exception-- they all tend to be avid movie-goers with insightful opinions of their own. And yet, there are times at which I feel the desire to trudge deeper into the chasm of celluloid mania than either party may be willing to venture. In instances such as these, I arrive at my destination via the world wide inter-web.

My first stop (not incidentally my "home-page") is, headquarters of-- you guessed it-- film critic Roger Ebert. In recent time, due to well publicized health issues, Mr. Ebert's contributions to the site have been few and far between. This summer, however, he has returned in top form, with a full slate of print reviews appearing both in the Chicago Sun-Times and on-line. Roger's website (I met him once... I can call him that, right?) was, albeit temporarily, a veritable ghost town. It is, once again, a bustling metropolis. If memory recalls, I have discussed my life-long admiration for Ebert in previous posts, and I'm sure I will regale him with praise again in the future. For the sake of brevity, though, let me confine myself to saying that, as excited as I am to have him back as one of our most literate film critics, I am even more elated that he has resurrected the Movie Answer Man column.

It is difficult to stifle my sense of glee when Roger Ebert responds to people-- whether they be fans or filibusters-- with his trademark wit and self-assuredness. His supporters sound as if they have established a sacred kinship based on the fact that they, well, agree with his opinions. Those who correspond in order to challenge his views seem to think that a cocky attitude will, not only impress him, but also persuade him to see the light. In either case, they seem to think they know the man intimately... What a thing to presume (I understand how it happens, but that's material for a different musing...). A thread will often continue for weeks on the same subject, allowing Ebert to address reader inquiries such as "How could you not like Transformers the movie?" and "Why do you refer to the good Transformers as 'Transformers' and not Autobots???" This little exchange regarding The Bourne Ultimatum tickled me:

Q. Is the movie critic for the Washington Post embarrassed that he was the only critic of the "cream of the crop" on Rotten Tomatoes who gave "The Bourne Ultimatum" a negative rating? He's got to be questioning himself. Carey Ford, Corsicana, Texas

A. I think it’s a badge of honor for Stephen Hunter. When only one review disagrees, read it. I did, and understand his point, even if I disagree. I asked Hunter himself, who replied: “I'm far too shallow to have doubts.”

Q. You gave "The Bourne Ultimatum" 3.5 stars. How much did the studio pay you for that? Not enough to compensate for your lost credibility. I'll never read you again. Milt Heft, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A. See above letter. There is now only one major critic in the country you can read.

The link to Ebert's Movie Answer Man can usually be found near the bottom of his page, not too far from the link to my second on-line destination: Jim Emerson's Scanners :: Blog. A brief apology is due, I think, for my referring to Roger Ebert's site as a "ghost town" during his absence. Emerson is the dutiful editor of this site, and he contributed essays and reviews quite frequently while Ebert was away. He is also an accomplished writer whose insights into film, politics, pop culture, etc. never cease to convince me that movies really matter.

Emerson strikes me as a film scholar, more than simply a critic (in the journalistic sense) or a "blogger." At the same time, his entries never read like text book passages. Well, almost never... The ongoing "opening shots project" provides a forum for both Emerson and his readers to sharpen their analytical skills:

Any good movie -- heck, even the occasional bad one -- teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image ... The opening shot can tell us a lot about how to interpret what follows. It can even be the whole movie in miniature. I'm going to talk about some of my favorites, and how they work, and then request that you contribute your own favorites for possible publication in future Scanners columns.

(June 16, 2006)

For more than a year now, Jim's readers have been contributing on a regular basis, and their insights are posted quite frequently. It's encouraging to see such widespread interest in active spectatorship, and-- had I not found something even better to steal-- I may have thieved some of Emerson's ideas for my own blog...

I was, however, linked some time ago (through a posting on the scanners :: blog) to a site called: Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. It was here that I took the test. An exam, to be sure, but not the kind one can necessarily pass or fail. What lay before me was a compendium of questions designed to infiltrate my mind and scoop out the useless knowledge that I hold so dear. Never, in all my years as a film fanatic, had I been on the receiving end of questions so thought-provoking and, at times, obscure. I had arrived, for certain, deep within the chasm that I sought to explore.

The latest exam to appear on Dennis Cozzalio's SLIFR site is: Mr. Shoop's Surfin' Summer Midterm-- you see, all of the tests are administered by teachers from the cinema-- and it's another doozie. Take a look at a few sample questions:

1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker

10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that seriously affected the way you think about having kids of your own?

20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason.

25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?

24) Favorite Dub Taylor performance. (Okies, even I had to look this guy up on imdb, and I still don't think I'd recognize him...)

I haven't gone so far as to reply with my answers (reader response is often posted on SILFR), but I find that many of the questions stick with me for days: "A good movie from a bad director," for instance, or, " If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?" And, yes, I am geek enough to believe that my opinions should be solidified in my mind as if life or death depends upon it. But in this chasm, I am very much alone. Who, in their right mind, would accompany me on a journey into this realm of cinematic mania?

Well, perhaps I can convince a few folks when I pilfer Cozzalio's exam formula for my own purposes. While I can't expect my friends and family to have stalwart platforms regarding their favorite Rosalind Russell performance, or whether they prefer Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn as a studio head, I can assume that they would be eager to answer some of the more general questions, and I am genuinely interested to hear what they think.

So I will steal this "exam" idea... albeit for more elemantary purposes. I will plagarize the format in hopes that my limited readership will be inclined to respond to my questions... I will post again soon, review any comments that may have been left, and usher in the thoughts of anyone who sees it fit to contribute. As I mentioned up front, everyone sees movies, everyone holds their opinion(s), everyone wants to be heard. My apologies to Cozzalio for bastardizing his concept; please remember that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

And, to my readers: please make me feel loved. If I pour myself into the creation of this "exam", I hope to get feedback. Your comments are treasured, whether you're a film buff or an intermittant movie-goer, or, of course, anything in between. The chasm is deep, but we can meet at the entrance...

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