December 19, 2010

Random Posting: Update/Official Announcement

The announcement first: WE HAVE THE STARS ★★★★ is BACK.

I have missed all of my dear readers the half-a-year I have been gone. Half-a-year is too much time to waste.

2010 has been a year of great upheaval for me — more so than I thought. When I decided to go on hiatus in June, I was burnt out after two weeks of torturous finals in late April/early May and was not feeling much for film criticism. The prospect of a busy semester in graduate school (and it was indeed busy) further substantiated my decision to go on hiatus. I figured it was time to wipe the slate clean — to start afresh, anew. I think I was wrong.

Not in a long time have I felt so disconnected from people. It really is a difficult thing to uproot from a place you feel so comfortable and to re-settle elsewhere. I suppose I thought I could replace the best of Nashville with what I have here in Bloomington, but I have come to realize that things will never be the same. At the beginning of this semester, I compared my courses and my friends to "Vandy, Part Two." Now, it has become its own alien entity. I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I also now realize that it was hasty to cut off everything I was doing to throw myself into my new surroundings. This is why I have returned to this blog. I need an outlet for my thoughts, ideas, and provocations. I, indeed, temporarily lost interest, but I think it was more for the sake of starting my new studies. I felt like WE HAVE THE STARS ★★★★ was a younger Ben, more (appropriately) starry-eyed and determined to succeed in film studies after college. I now realize it can still be that way.

I have at least two people to thank for this turn-of-events, Misters Landon Palmer and Matthew F. Moore. Landon Palmer is a fellow graduate student at Indiana University and a contributor to FILM SCHOOL REJECTS. I have been completely awed by his capacity to keep up with graduate studies and to contribute regularly to FILM SCHOOL REJECTS this semester. Even with his new responsibilities, he proves that you do not have to let go of something you enjoy, despite the graduate work load. Maintaining his online output has been something of an inspiration for me to return to this blog, and for that, I thank him.

Matthew F. Moore is a dear friend of mine, an up-and-coming screenwriter in Brooklyn, New York. When Matt came to visit me in November, he and I had many long talks where I routinely divulged my anxieties about graduate school. At the same time, I was fascinated with his focus — his determination to do things for himself. He spends hours every day in the zone, pumping out his screenplay(s). Graduate school is where I must start getting published, and I had too easily forgotten that by approaching my studies in the day-to-day. Over this winter "break," in fact, I must try to complete a draft of an essay I hope to publish in the spring.

In the last couple of years, I have learned a lot about my writing style and film criticism. Two years ago, an adviser of mine, Rex Roberts of FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL, told me, after reading one of my blogs, that "no one wants to hear you speaking." He was referring to how, in the course of the review, I had disclosed my initial impressions about a film, which I used as a foil to explain how all the impressions were dashed. Five semesters' experience later, I have decided kindly to disagree with his opinion. I think the reviewer's voice is as important to a film review as any other contribution. I do not believe in a "totalized" audience or that any one person may have the same opinion about a film that I do.

Granted, to be considered a worthy film critic, one must eliminate that notion and must subsume their own interests for everyone's interests. If you review a film purely to seek your own pleasure, that would be less "seemly" than operating as a critic shrouded in "objectivity," speaking as an expert for the masses. It would also be hard to get paid, and I think that is why Rex suggested any of this to me in the first place (I do appreciate that). Since I do not seek to be paid for my thoughts, I suppose I can maintain my voice in my reviews.

For that matter, I think subsuming one's voice in a film review is a bourgeois practice aiming toward a white, upper/middle-class audience. I adore "Gone with the Wind," as you all know, for its lush art/set direction, gorgeous cinematography, sweeping Max Steiner score, and the tour-de-force performance of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. Conversely, I have heard many black people say "I hate 'Gone with the Wind'" or "It's so problematic...." Am I to assume that just because I like it and that the AFI thinks it's the sixth best American film of all-time that it speaks similarly to all film-goers? While I may take pleasure in the film's a-signified (i.e. pre-meaningful) elements (color, framing, sound, etc.) and its resonance with my penchant for the South, black people have more at stake in seeing their representations. Granted, "Gone with the Wind" could be seen as a triumph for the black community because Hattie McDaniel's performance garnered the first Oscar for an African-American. On the other hand, she portrayed an infamous "Mammy" role....

For that matter, "Gone with the Wind" is not the only film for which I have revised my opinion. Remember my diatribe on "Avatar" when this blog went on hiatus? I may have revised my opinion on that, too. (More on that later?)

In the end, all I know is that I love the movies. I may have been too hasty to say my "critic's eye" had dulled because I still know a good film from a bad one. At the same time, I can still enjoy all films for the meaning of their form and content. Nonetheless, I can no longer say that I speak for everyone. I am just one rabid cinéphile, aiming to get happy again through a medium I adore so much that my life centers on it. I hope you will again take this journey with me. A mentor of mine, Irina Makoveeva, once said that "there is no story that the cinema has not already told." I, on the other hand, have much left to tell. ■

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