saw things so much clearer, once you... were in, my... rearview mirror.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Introductory Post ... nothing about movies really

Welcome to my new blog and my first post. If you're reading this you're probably someone I can trust to embarrass myself before. You're probably also someone who's opinion I respect and admire. So please, please, please comment on anything you think needs some improvement, correction, or simply deletion. Moreover, any praise or encouragement would be much obliged! Not to mention I'd really like people to share their opinions about things I've discussed. So with that being said, let me begin with a little intro as to why I want to do this.

Right, so why am I doing this? Well, mostly because I like movies - reason enough? I've always liked movies, for as long as I can remember. Even one of my first employers as a teen back in Jersey was Blockbuster Video. The job was accompanied by the obvious perk; nearly as many free rentals as I could manage to fit in my bag. Perhaps the official policy wasn't quite so generous, but lets just say I've never been one to respect the official this or that very much anyway. At that point the most sophisticated film I managed to take home - that wasn't a mainstream movie on the new release wall - was Chinatown with Jack Nicholson. To be honest, I just rented it, I never actually watched it. Then of course there was the foreign film section, where I first brushed past the film that would one day blow my mind, Tarkovsky's Solyaris. I don't know why I didn't watch it then, for all I know it might have changed my entire life. I finally got around to watching it years later in my second year of grad school, when changing my life was significantly less feasible. Seeing Solyaris was made possible by the then fledgling online DVD rental company Netflix. My apartment-mate at the time and still good friend, Jacobo, had enticed me to sign up for the service with him. He'd rent the most insane sadist Japanese films I had ever seen - or will likely ever see - which opened my eyes up to just how intense movies could get.

Besides a history of cinephelia, I'm also riding high off the rush of the 43rd Annual Chicago International Film Festival, which just packed up and left town after a solid two week run. In just those short two weeks I managed to catch eight film screenings. The movies ranged from the mediocre to the greatest I have ever seen; The Aerial, which made my top 25 list, being one of the latter. There was something so infectious about having an array of over 100 movies to select from, mostly foreign - I saw films from Russia, France, Hungary, Argentina, Mexico and Italy - and few that will ever be seen by the average American audience. Diversity and abundance aren't the only things that make a film festival experience though, there's also the competition. Each film screened during the festival is judged for an award - in Chicago, the gold or silver Hugo awards - by an official festival Jury. But the films are also judged for an audience choice award by none other than... the audience! This was something I really appreciated, casting my vote, even if only on a simple 1 through 5 scale ballot. Of course you can argue that every time you go see a movie you've already cast a vote of sorts simply by purchasing a ticket. This is especially true in mainstream cinema where most movie goers are already well aware of what they'll be seeing before even entering the theater; made possible by an industry of advertising and critical review. At the festival this is most often certainly not the case (although, there are some featured films in the competition that have received critical acclaim or festival awards elsewhere and some straight up blockbusters for good measure). Therefore, aside from a very terse plot synopsis featured in the festival guide, most of the films are totally unknowable until you go see them. This means that as a festival attendee, not only does one get to enjoy some great cinema, but they are also responsible for providing feedback to the filmmakers and spreading the word about films they enjoyed. So you can be sure I'll have a post coming soon about the movies I saw.

As if that wasn't enough activity to stoke my cinematic fire, Doc Films is featuring the films of Akira Kurosawa every Wednesday evening this academic quarter. For those of you not acquainted with the University of Chicago, Doc Films is the resident campus film society. They run a movie theater on campus bringing series of often obscure cinema - each night of the week is dedicated to a particular theme - to the community at low prices, as well as some more conventional blockbusters on the weekends. I don't want to go on about them except to say that they've been in operation for over 70 years and identified by the Museum of Modern Art as the longest running student film society in the US. Now, Akira Kurosawa certainly deserves a few words (perhaps a few thousand), but I don't think I'm ready to tackle him yet. I'll just simply state that I love him. He is one of the most prolific directors in cinema history, producing films for many decades starting in post WWII Japan until his death in the 80's. His films range from what would be best called samurai westerns (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai), to film noirs (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog), to kabuki/samurai interpretations of Shakespeare (Throne of Blood, Ran), to Dostoyevski (The Idiot), to reflections on humanity, mortality and morality (Rashomon, Red Beard). Not only am I sympathetic to and intellectually stimulated by his subject matter, I think he is a brilliant filmmaker perfectly in line with my aesthetic sensibilities. I've already caught three of the films in the current Doc series, Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, and Rashomon. I've seen Rashomon before on DVD but seeing it on the big screen is such a unique experience; somehow it makes all the difference.

That about brings us to where I'm at right now. I also wanted to say something in this post about the nature of art critique. You know, address arguments like... why critique art and not make it yourself; as a critic aren't you simply a wanna-be artist looking for involvement; who cares about a movie critic's opinions anyway, the most popular movies tend to be the poorest; art critique is just another masturbatory academic waste. Yeah, well, perhaps, but I think I'll probably leave that discussion to people who've thought more about it than I have. In the end I'm just doing this because its something I want to do. I like to go on and on about the things in life I enjoy, so what better forum than a blog anyway. If you're interested too then maybe you can read it and take something away from it. If not, at least I get to put my thoughts down.

Lastly, about the blog name/url. I was trying to come up with a name for a while before rearview mirror hit me. I was trying to conjure up something that hinted on the notion of perfect hindsight. Or perhaps that its easy to be critical once something has passed, but making it happen in the first place or predicting its outcome is the hardest part. I mean, no matter my opinion about anything I sit down to watch, the people that made the movie for my viewing pleasure (or displeasure) did the real work and are really deserving of nothing but respect. Well, except perhaps for the makers of movies like Transformers, but shit, even that has its own perverse value. So, rearview mirror evoked the image of hindsight and reflection I was looking for. Not only that but the name phonetically hints at the word review, which is what this is really all about anyway. Finally, mirroring the title then leads to the url,, voilà! All that being said, its mostly inspired by the Pearl Jam song Rearview Mirror off the album Vs. (hence the dark quoted line below the title at the top). What can I say, I'm a product of the American 90s.

Check out this video of PJ at SNL in like '94... Emlio Estevez is hosting, likely riding his Mighty Ducks 2 fame at the time.