Archive for May, 2009

The Laserdisc Project: Post #1

May 30, 2009

The Laserdisc Project

Welcome to The Laserdisc Project, a blogging experiment designed to sharpen my critical focus on films and filmmakers.

I majored in film studies in college (I received a Bachelor of Arts in 1992), and film watching remains a major hobby and part-time vocation. I contribute freelance movie reviews to Salem Communications-owned, where I was once employed full-time as Arts & Culture editor several years ago. I also have a Master of Arts from a Reformed Theological Seminary and have spent several years trying to integrate my film writing with my religious studies.

The diminishing returns of that approach have led me to rethink my views on film criticism. The result: Rather than throw in the towel on film writing, I’ve decided to double-down and spend an indefinite amount of time revisiting my college notes from film classes, and reading up on different views of film criticism—views that never were made explicit in my earlier studies (which were, I can say with some confidence, auteurist in nature) but which I’ve absorbed for years through continued reading of film reviews and essays, both in print and online. I have no plans to abandon my religious views in my writing — I couldn’t even if I wanted to, and I don’t want to. Indeed, I’ll also be doubling down on my religion reading, thinking through how to incorporate my faith into film analysis. But I expect that, for the most part, my religious views will be implicit in my writing here, and only sometimes explicit, although I can’t say what the breakdown will be.

The questions I’ll be trying to answer are as simple as whether I’m part of the Sarris school or Kael school—or if that particular battle has been overtaken by other distinctions in the school of film criticism. After all, thanks to the Internet, anyone can be exposed to film writing from around the globe—and to films and filmmakers that go beyond the European/American distinctions that informed much of earlier criticism.

What other critical systems might have developed in recent decades? Perhaps the Sarris-Kael debate encompasses Taiwanese cinema, or Iranian cinema, but maybe the availability of more international films and more online film critics has made such a distinction a relic of an earlier age. I won’t know until I investigate this for myself.

I fully expect to make a fool of myself several times along the way, asking questions that have been hashed out and mulled for years, as if they were new—but they will be to me, at least in a way that forces me to think through the answers on my own, rather than nod in agreement anytime I read a pro or con argument for a particular approach, or a review of a film built on a certain critical approach that needs to be considered in that light.

How will I work through these issues? As the title of this post indicates, I’ll be rewatching a collection of movies acquired mostly in the five or six years that followed the completion of my undergraduate studies. I own a few hundred titles on a now obsolete format—laserdisc. Those films sit on my shelf, unwatched for years, although I have a working laserdisc player. What better way to make use of my collection than to revisit these titles in light of my reading and thinking about film criticism, measuring my current reactions to these titles against my earlier impressions of these films, and thinking through how my evolving views of these films affect, or have been affected by, my evolving views of film criticism?

The Laserdisc Project also gives me the impetus to dive into more regular blogging. I’m late to the blogging party—I have an infrequently updated blog at Crosswalk—and realize that social media already has moved on to Facebook and Twitter. But I’ll gladly stay a step or two behind the online revolution if it allows me the time to think about concepts and evaluate content without having to mull the latest methods to share such musings. Baby steps. That’s how I’ll progress.

And after all, what kind of technological prowess would you expect from someone starting a blogging project centered on his laserdisc collection?

I invite all readers to join me on my journey. Comments are open, although friends who blog have warned me that they had to abandon open comments as a way to prevent spam and flame wars. I may have to do the same.

For now, that’s the least of my concerns. I’d like to leave the comments open to film lovers to share their own journeys. How has your own critical engagement with films evolved over the years, and where are you today in terms of the different schools of film criticism? I have no doubt that I’ll learn more from people who follow this blog than I will from the books and resources I consult in my analysis of the laserdisc titles I watch.

About those sources: I’ll be pulling old textbooks off the shelf along with my old film-class notes, and I’ll be consulting numerous film-studies books and omnibus film-criticism collections available from my local library. (Several titles are sitting on my bedside table as I compose this post.) I hope to share informative excerpts from those writings along the way.

So, that’s the plan. As the project unfolds, I’ll try to incorporate more photos (we have a newly purchased digital camera) and make the blog more visually appealing. My apologies in advance for the rudimentary look of this site. It can only improve. But as much as I want to attract readers, I consider this blog a personal project first—a place to park my changing thoughts—and a graphically pleasing destination for visitors much farther down the list. If I were more savvy with computers and technology, I’m sure that equation would be different.

One more thing about posting frequency. I’d like to watch a laserdisc a week, but I won’t post on each title until I’ve taken time to absorb what I’ve seen, and read up on the film in question. I’ll try to be deliberate about this, but my time is limited to an hour or so a few evenings a week. Between preview screenings of films I’m reviewing for Crosswalk and family life here at home (I’m the very happy father of four children ages 6 and under), updates to this blog probably won’t happen as often as I’d like.

I realize infrequent updates are the kiss of death for blogs, but please don’t write me off. I’ll try to keep the posts coming, even when, as has so often been the case with my film reviews, the content isn’t close to what I hope it could be. But like my parents always told me, practice makes perfect. This blogging project is all practice—don’t expect perfection. If you’ll agree to those terms, I’ll do my best to feed the blog with posts worthy of the time you take to read them.

 Thanks for stopping by.