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A Guide to Cinephilia: How to Love Movies without Going Insane
cinephile-film-real

For the love of cinema…

While it may seem odd to write a “guide” to loving something, how-to instructions for everything from sporting business to bibliophilia to athletics to human relationships do and should exist. Formulating a passion for anything, be it career-oriented or not or human relationship-orientated or not, involves pitfalls that can throttle one’s enthusiasm for a discipline due to no fault of their own; human beings are sectarian, groupthink bandwagoners by default, and forming one’s own informed opinion or philosophy on anything takes work, as well as a guided approach toward passionate lifestyles.

For that is what cinephilia is — a passion, not a hobby.

Hobbies are temporary and surface-level. They can be altered, persuaded, or discarded almost at will, with minimal input from the outside world. Passions are something else, and exist at the intersection of lifelong activities and career interests, the crossroads of armchair philosophers and obsession. Loving something, anything, to the point of passion requires foreknowledge and mindfulness of the drawbacks of passionate interests in said thing. Loving a person, for example, inherently involves good times and bad, passionate warmth with passionate frustration. Sometimes you need an instruction manual.

Here is one young man’s advice on how to love movies without losing your mind:

Searching for Films

One of the hallmarks of my adolescence and young adulthood (thus far) has been my search for films. And by “search,” I mean quite literally, searching for films, both online and in the real world, physically looking for intriguing films on Internet search engines and perusing out-of-town theatres for the latest arthouse hits or sidestream genre movies. Particularly if your film interests (passions) are just blossoming and you’re new to the world of cinephilia, or if you love film but live in a small town (re: under 20,000 people), you will have your work cut out for you. The Internet is a vast, wild, and confusing place, as are the spaces between towns that only have one small theatre per population center.

cinephilia-montage

There’s so much to learn from and about film. In many ways, it is the ultimate measurement and teacher of empathy. You literally see the world through someone else’s eyes.

  • Online Cinephilia: So you’ve decided to ask Google for help in deciding which movies to watch, and believe it or not, that’s not a terrible idea. Google’s (as well as other search engine’s) interface for movie searches is slick and allows easy tangential searches for related films, filmmakers, and regional film movements to your original search request. If you’re just discovering your tastes in cinema, start with the movies you know or the classics you already enjoy, and explore related projects.
  • From this genesis point, your exposure to related, as well as disparate, films will slowly grow, keeping in mind that steady, natural diversification of cinematic interests is longer-lasting and more rewarding than forcing otherwise oddball films down your throat in order to appear “cultured.” Last of all, don’t be afraid to use torrent sites or file-sharing engines to gain access to smaller, foreign, or forgotten movies that interest you if you have no other way to view them (i.e. if they’re out of print).
  • Big Cities, College Campuses, and Independent Theatres are Your Friends: This is where those of us who live outside of big cities or large collegetowns get the short end of the stick. Unless your interests in film end at the top five weekly box office hits of Hollywood (in which case, why are you reading this?), you’re going to be limited at venues that service populations under 50,000 or so.
  • When searching for new release films made outside the United States or smaller, independent American features, look to the closest big cities/large towns in your area and calculate the personal cost of driving hours to see films on the big screen you otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to see. Keep in mind smaller populations with concentrations of art communities, art centers, or institutions of higher education. Snobbish as it may sound, the more hippy and/or educated a community is, the more likely your cinephile tastes are to be satisfied. These communities and college towns often have their own filmic biases, but all things considered, their resources for film enthusiasts and dedication to the cinematic arts are too valuable to pass up. Either way though, be prepared to get weird looks if and when you disclose to others that you traveled significant distances, there and back, “just to see a movie
  • Don’t neglect mainstream Hollywood films out of spite or peer pressure: This is an important point to remember — just because high-profile, wide-release blockbusters are often tampered by commercial interests and the shallow, passive tastes of the masses, doesn’t mean that Hollywood doesn’t make all kinds of good cinema every year. It is popular among cinephile or academic circles to deride popular American film either out of misplaced nostalgia for older domestic film movements or misplaced hipsterism over indie and foreign pictures. Don’t let reverse-bandwagoning (i.e. hipsterism) get to you.
  • If you like Hollywood action movies or you gain valuable insight on filmmaking from yearly Oscar bait, then have at it. At the end of the day, the only person who can tell you what films to watch is you, and that’s the way it should be. Some of the best, most entertaining, and endearing movies from my childhood and adulthood are unabashed “mainstream” Hollywood features, and I make no apologies for that — and this is coming from a guy who’s watched thousands of films and has patronized (re: taunted) other over-educated liberal arts students on their ignorance of Bollywood. As Quentin Tarantino once said: “I’m not a Hollywood-basher, because enough good movies come out of the Hollywood system every year to justify its existence, without any apologies.”
ram-leela-nagada-sang-dhol-cinephile-0

There’s a rather large swath of film of which I would’ve remained completely ignorant had it not been for a crucial person in my life.

Discussing Films

After you’ve found a number of films to watch, contemplate, and hopefully love, what then? An important part of cinephilia, however much fanboys of certain franchises may argue to the contrary, is researching what others think of and have studied about films, particularly films you have experienced firsthand. The reason for this is that other cinephiles, amateur filmmakers, and film academics can enrich your appreciation for cinema; they can provide insight into filmmaking you wouldn’t otherwise have found, they can turn you onto new films you might otherwise never have heard of, and can offer a soundboard for you to formulate your own philosophies on film in general.

However, toxic cinephilia circles can contaminate your love of film. They can make you cynical, they can make film studies a chore, and can make you take films so seriously that you distance yourself from non-cinephiles. So, keep these next few points in mind when considering where to search for additional input on movies.

  • As a general rule of thumb, avoid Rottentomatoes.com: This may sound cynical, but from my experience, the infamous Tomatometer is more a tool for industry analysts to dissect box office performances or for the layman to decide which movies to see in theatres on a given weekend. The most frequent references I hear regarding critical aggregate sites in general (including Rottentomatoes, IMdB, or Metacritic) are comparisons of personal reactions to a given film versus those aggregate, “consensus”-scores.
  • movies-better-than-books-cinephile

    Because MATH!

  • Other than general curiosity, I don’t understand the merit of reducing short-term consensus of a film’s quality to a fruit, nor do I mine much satisfaction from arguing the “fairness” of certain scores compared to others. I have nothing against assigning grades or definitive recommendations for individual movies, but I feel the purpose of aggregate sites like Rottentomatoes becomes misunderstood as definitive, singular scores rather than a broad, general consensus of a particular group of people — in no small fault due to those aggregate website’s misleading interfaces. To that end, critics don’t have to be involved in comical bribe conspiracies to sport obvious biases, and have those biases prevent them from judging films on their own terms. Many critics also seemingly care more about the politics of film production and demographic representation within filmmaking than filmmaking itself, and that misses the entire point of cinephilia. Films are not meant to be used as soapboxes for personal political expression, at least not if that political expression has nothing to do with the craft itself.
  • Seek out critics you trust and whose tastes you respect, including “amateur” film critics: A more reliable guide to seeking helpful film criticism is to search for a specific handful of film analysts whose objectivity you respect and whose critical style you understand. In many ways, amateur film reviewers on websites like YouTube and Vimeo are more reliable and knowledgeable about filmmaking than most “professionals” certified on critical aggregate sites. There is some overlap between these two groups, yes, but insightful, well trained groups like Red Letter Media, Every Frame a Painting, Midnight’s Edge, and GoodBadFlicks provide a level of in-depth analysis and entertaining commentary that you just can’t get from a 500-word article in the New York Times. Just be on the lookout for wannabe talking heads or raging fanboys that aren’t much different than self-conscious, loudmouthed hipsters shouting their opinions into a webcam, including but not limited to The Nostalgia Critic, Angry Joe, Chris Stuckmann, Bobby Burns, Mr. Sunday Movies, Collider Videos, and Screen Junkies. Maybe if you really like discounted subscriptions to Loot Crate, they might be worth your time, but I don’t know…
  • Take film classes but absorb their lessons with a grain of salt, and beware of any and all online fan groups or social media-oriented cinephile clubs: With regards to the former, if you are a full-time student and have the opportunity to learn basic filmmaking craft, history, or theory from professionals who’ve worked in the industry or academics who’ve studied film all their life, that’s too valuable a chance to pass up. That being said, don’t take everything professors or your college-educated peers say as law, given how these sorts of classes are overwhelmingly biased towards certain groups of filmmakers and certain genres of filmmaking over others (i.e. film noir and American New Wave cinema over Hollywood Golden Age cinema, and boring, dialogue-driven foreign films over mainstream action films or hardcore indie genre-movies). I learned so much during my time in film academia, but I also watched some of the least interesting, least cinematic movies ever upon the order of film “diversity” and liberal arts political correctness.
  • All those points should go double for online movie-fan groups. Aside from helping you meet a few Internet pen-pals via Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress (hey!), don’t expect to meet too many rewarding relationships or polite individuals discussing film online. Use them to exchange a few recommendations here and there, but otherwise, those groups are hipster-infested troll-fests waiting to happen. Between that and most people’s horrid writing skills, there’s a reason I don’t follow too many online movie-blogs…
  • Movie Buddies(!): This point almost goes without saying, but watching and discussing films with friends is one of the best parts of cinephilia. If you have a group of friends or a significant other who enjoys watching films… and actually paying attention to them — each movie-viewing experience can become more rewarding by orders of magnitude. There’s something to be said for intelligent, passionate discussions between real-life people who know what they’re talking about.

Watching Films

Oh yeah, I almost forgot… you have to watch films in order to love them. While there’s no “correct” way to watch films, I recommend a few basic principles to keep in mind whenever sitting down to appreciate a movie.

  • cinephile-people-in-horror-movies

    I keep saying it… movie humor is the best humor. 😀

    Be an active film-viewer, not a passive one: Putting away cellphones, laptops, and other electronic media is just the lowest hanging fruit. Most people watch movies as a relaxation tool or as emotional escapism, and while that can be a rewarding activity unto itself, passively absorbing a movie’s content doesn’t help one understand a film’s craft more than a surface-level acquaintance. I’d argue that the defining characteristic that separates movie-lovers from the general populace is that we put more effort into watching and understanding movies, and therefore we think about movies while we watch them. Simply put, we pay attention. You can be attentive to something while still being entertained by it.

  • Be an active cinephile, not a passive one: This is an important, though not obvious point. The best way to learn about a subject is to engage in it in an active way. Instead of just listening to a lecture, listen and take notes. Instead of just reading about a sport, go outside and practice it. Instead of just watching films and absorbing them, contribute something of your own back to film culture. Whether it’s shooting your own amateur films, recording video reviews, writing reviews on a blog (hey, again!), writing amateur screenplays or teleplays, or attending film festivals and interacting with professional filmmakers… do something with your cinephilia. Seeking out and appreciating films are how you enter the world of cinema, but the next and arguably most fun part is celebrating it. Show your love for movies.
  • Have fun(!): This is another point that should go without saying. Cinephilia is supposed to be a labor of love, not a chore; if watching, reading about, writing about, or discussing film isn’t fun, then you shouldn’t force yourself to do it. I can’t think of many situations in which someone would be pressured into following the arts (they’re rather nerdy and/or niche followings), but always keep your wits about you. Perhaps the most likely unhealthy scenario for a budding movie-lover is to be surrounded by rabid fanboys, be they self-righteous film students without a sense of humor, comic book-junkies who treat graphic novel source material like Scripture, or wannabe arthouse hippies who like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014).
  • Loving film is an inherently weird thing — staring for hours at TV or projection screens and then arguing about which bombardments of picture and sound make more sense — but that passion is supposed to be constructive, in either understanding of the craft itself or a visual understanding of the human condition. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when appreciating cinema is to do it in your own way. Everyone brings something different to film culture, and in return they receive something special all their own. No watches or reacts to a single film the same way, and that’s part of the beauty of it all.

Thanks for reading,

— TRB

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