Thursday, May 20, 2004

All the Write Moves

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” – The Wizard of Oz

My first film-writing gig opened my eyes in a lot of different ways. For a start, talking to other people who did the same thing, I realised that I had seen more movies than most of my peers. Not boasting, just a fact. However, I do believe that to be good at this, it is very important to have a depth and breadth of knowledge when it comes to the history of cinema. I like to think that good film journalists aren’t just critics shouting, “This is good. See it” or “This is shit. Avoid!” like carnival barkers. I think the good ones are cultural commentators who can say something about the art, craft and entertainment of film and filmmaking, with the ability to discuss movies contextually. If you are lucky, you can cast a sliver of light on things that people don’t tend to see or think about, refracted through your own experience, observations and opinions. And if I can impart even the tiniest nugget of the enthusiasm and giddy child-like wonder I feel about the big screen that I love so much, then I’ve done my job right.

“That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies.” – Grand Canyon

Now, here are a couple of dirty little secrets that the hermetically sealed film journalism community probably don’t want you to know, things that I learnt quite soon after my journey into the rarefied world of press passes and Soho screening rooms. A lot of film journalists don’t have the depth of knowledge to do the job well. A depressing percentage of my generation of writers believe cinema began with Star Wars. Even more mind-blowing, the next generation filling the pages of glossy magazines act as if cinema began with Pulp Fiction. This limited knowledge is hampered by the fact that most of the films they have seen have been churned out of the Hollywood meat-grinder. Access to a wide variety of films isn’t difficult, especially with the advent of multi-channel television and the proliferation of DVD.

Most film writers also suck. The standard of writing on the whole is poor. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots and lots of very talented film journalists out there. Sadly, there is a hell of a lot more bad ones. Like most industries, this is very much an “it’s who you know” business, and doors only tend to open if you know the guy on the other side with the keys in his pocket. You don’t succeed in this game by being the best. It’s all about the contacts.

Some film journos are frustrated wannabe filmmakers, who only are only in this game to get access to the talent and PR companies, thinking that they can sneak in the back door of the film industry. They probably can’t. But, damn, they are obnoxious.

Next time: research versus knowledge, “Don’t give up the day job”, and actually sitting through the movies. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

One last thing. Whilst writing this I’ve been listening to Imagination. I make no apologies for this. They were phenomenal. Don’t be a hater.

No comments: