This is a call to arms, my friends.
From a recent post by Jim Emerson:
“It's Friday, I'm still at the Toronto Film Festival which winds up this weekend, and I just got back from lunch with Girish Shambu, a movie blogger based in Buffalo, NY. I'd never met Girish before -- I've known him only through his blog, and the community of bloggers who contribute to critical discussions of movies on one another's sites (including my Scanners blog) -- and I've never been more excited about the future of film criticism than I am at this moment…
… the most exciting place for film criticism, and an informed film community, these days is on certain Internet blogs -- where each individual blogger can write in detail (with digressions and tangents into other areas of related knowledge) -- but that is just the beginning of the conversation, since others can post comments, continue the discussion, and elaborate upon the original post. The blogger also has the opportunity to clarify, refine, and move the discussion into a fruitful direction. These are knowledgable, personal voices -- much more fun and distinctive and interesting than most of the edited and sanitized stuff that appears in "professional" outlets -- written mostly by people who are doing it for the love of the medium, rather than because they're getting paid to. As Girish put it today: I feel like we're all little Manny Farber termites carving out our own paths through the cinema…
I'm talking about blogs like Girish and Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and The House Next Door and Like Anna Karina's Sweater and No More Marriages! and Lost in Negative Space, just to name a few -- places where the bloggers themselves write about their obsessions, what they know and whatever they want, when they want. They respect their readers (with spoiler warnings, for example) -- and the readers themselves respect each other in the reasoned comment-section discussions that are ignited. For any film critic, this is the ideal audience -- a bunch of people who are smart, well-informed, passionately interested, who actually go and see the movies for themselves, and then come back to read and respond to what you and other readers have written…
One more thing about the whole idea of film criticism as writing: Written language is perhaps not the ideal medium for discussing film. (To me, film has always seemed closer to music -- patterns of images and movement and color, than to literature or theater or any other art form, and that can be hard to capture solely in words, sentences and paragraphs. Maybe "dancing about architecture" is a good idea...) I've been experimenting with different kinds of film criticism on my blog, and (going back to 1998) on my web site, Jeeem's CinePad -- using images and layout to create ways of exploring film that are not limited to linear text. On CinePad, this includes a whole section devoted to various motifs in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks," and "The Dark Room" (still unfinished), an image map built around a composite movie photo, where you click on various items in the room -- a cigarette, a hat, a dead body -- to find an essay about the significance of these elements and images in film noir; or a multi-part exploration of the use of Plumbing in Cinema as a powerful metaphor. On Scanners, I've been hosting the Opening Shots Project, encouraging readers and other critics and filmmakers to send in detailed descriptions of their favorite opening shots (accompanied by actual frame grabs from the movies), and to explain how these shots work to set up the movies, or how they relate visually to the journey the movie takes…
Girish wrote in the comments:
“Jim, it was a great pleasure to meet you and have that wonderful, stimulating conversation over lunch. I walked out of there with my head buzzing with ideas you'd planted there.“
May I ask a question?
Why aren’t we screenwriters having the same kind of revolution of thought in our own community?
Why do I have to turn to the film scholars (and a few notable screenwriting blogs – like Billy Mernit, John August, and the Unknown Screenwriter to name a few) in order to be fed the meat & potatoes I crave about movies? Where are the great thinking screenwriters of today? Where is that next generation screenwriter who annoys the hell out of everyone by always asking, "WHY?"
Speaking of "why" - why is Emerson the only one doing cool studies like his Opening Shots Project? Why do I have to turn to Girish to think about things like Cinephiliac Moments, the fine art of The Long Take, or the question, "What is Realistic?" Do you think that those subjects AREN’T important to screenwriters today? Or do you think we should only follow the screenwriting gurus and not pay attention to what other informed minds have to say?
(I know. That’s like, more than one question. SO sorry.)
In any case, I felt inspired and frustrated reading Emerson’s post (not because he said anything wrong – I love the guy) but because in comparing their blogs to ours, they make us look like children, quite frankly. We should be experts on a par with the scholars. We should be able to wow them with our insights and they us in equal measure.
OUR SECRETIVE MINDSET IS WRONG
The film bloggers expound upon every little obsession they have about movies - the people they love, the faces they love, the filmmakers they love, the techniques they love, the great compositions of shots, the art of visual storytelling, and on and on. They continually feed each other and they are revolutionizing the way people talk about film.
They reveal everything because they have nothing to lose.
We screenwriters, on the other hand, reveal nothing, because we think we have everything to gain by keeping it all to ourselves.
Who gives a flying flip if you – OH MY GOD - reveal the things you’ve learned about the craft? Or what you love about movies? Or the script-to-screen studies you did six years ago? Or the insights you have about film technique, formatting, characters, dialogue, style, structure, or anything else you love about screenwriting? How else are you going to grow if you don’t talk to others about the craft and ask questions and get the kind of feedback that takes you to a new level?
Another question: Did I shoot myself in the foot by having a subtext study? Did I give up my "advantage" over other writers by revealing my "secret insights" on subtext? Did I give my competitors a better shot at beating me to the finish line in the race to the Almighty Script Sale because THEY are now going to write better dialogue thanks to ME?
How can anyone think that way?
The truth is, revealing what you know means very little. It means you know stuff. That's it. How well you APPLY what you know to your own stories is a vastly different matter altogether. You won’t actually know how well you’re doing until like-minded students of the craft give you feedback. Besides, how do you know that what you know is actually correct?
Coming up with great scenes filled with subtext was very difficult for many, including myself. Why? Because we, as a community, DON’T TALK to each other. In this day and age with over a century of cinema behind us, we should already be experts capable of listing (without even thinking) the scenes we love that exemplify subtext. Sure, some scenes we posted were hit and miss, but hey, at least we’re TALKING ABOUT IT. You should be secure enough in your own talent to engage other screenwriters and talk about anything and not worry or care if they learned something from you. What separates the amateurs from the pros is not simply how much we know but how well we apply the principles and master the form.
Here’s another question. Do you know what it means to have one of your scripts turned into a movie? It means that your weaknesses as a writer will become public knowledge. Do you honestly think that because you have a couple of movies under your belt that you can STOP studying the craft? Are you so naïve that you’ll buy into all the praise everyone heaps on you for a semi-good movie you wrote? Do you realize that you are never more than one script away from a career-halting, publicly-humiliating, box-office bomb?
If you are truly serious about screenwriting, you will be a student of the craft for the rest of your life, am I wrong? Do you not think that your opinions will evolve over the years as you engage other writers and filmmakers? So why not engage them now? I'm sick of the "gurus." I'd rather talk to the people who are in the trenches writing every night like I am. What do YOU think? What excites you about screenwriting? What are your opinions? (You’re not actually afraid to have your thoughts challenged, are you?) What do you love? What have you discovered for yourself that you think is amazing? What are the things that you’ve seen in other screenwriters that you admire? It's a complicated game, this strange art. So what are YOU going to talk about on your blog that no one else talks about? Because, frankly, the world should be looking at OUR blogs and feeling excited about the future of films.
Let me ask one, final question - is it possible to squeeze another question into this post? Is it?