Sunday, April 20, 2008

On Blogging

There’s a question I’ve been pondering all week, so allow me to pose it to you—and to myself: What personal functions does blogging perform for you? In other words: Why do you blog?

To answer this for myself, I need to reach back briefly into my autobiography. Not long after I graduated from engineering school, I entered a PhD program. I was in my early 20s, but to be completely honest, I hadn’t yet been ‘turned on’ by my education. I was going through the motions, not disliking school but not loving it either. And the first couple of years of grad school didn’t ‘light my fire’.

The event that changed my life was my first teaching assignment, a senior-level course on information systems. Suddenly I discovered a fortuitous intersection of my desire and my aptitude. Also, it gave me a way to tie two important things together—scholarship and pedagogy—thus firing up, for the first time, my scholarly interests. I had found the center around which I could see my life’s work revolving: teaching and learning.

I relate this story because I find blogging deeply satisfying for the same reason. More than anything else, the film-blogosphere, to me, is a learning community, a giant, dynamically changing group of film-lovers teaching and learning from each other, 24/7.

Another reason why I value the blogosphere is the way it affects the relationship between specialism and generalism. The capitalistic economy puts in place strong incentives for all individuals to develop and sustain specializations. Division of labor is built into the cost-minimization objectives of our economic model. In the pre-blog past, we had a relatively small number of specialist writers and a large number of readers. The blogosphere overturns this, permitting large numbers of passionate generalists to enter the cinema discourse in a serious and engaged fashion. Film-thought need not be left solely to specialists. Cultural works like films ‘belong’ to the community at large and blogs allow that community, via a cost-unconstrained mechanism, to generate and disseminate discussion about cinema. There aren’t that many pockets in our economy where the possibilities for pluralistic expression and communication are relatively unaffected by monetary considerations, but the blogosphere is one of them. I find great promise in this flowering of generalism and its empowerment of non-professionals. My hope is that more professionals will find time (and reasons) to blog, thus further enriching this growing mutual-pedagogical project.

Your thoughts on this large subject of blogging? I'd love to hear them.

* * *

Some of the juiciest chord progressions in pop music were written by Stevie Wonder in the 1970s. Here’s one, on “I Can’t Help It,” [mp3] that he composed for Michael Jackson’s wonderful record, Off The Wall (1979).

Stevie has a way of highlighting the complexity of his chords and their changes by writing little synth bass figures featuring some of the interesting, unusual notes in the chord, thus pulling the strangeness of the chord into the foreground. You can hear that right off the bat in the opening seconds of this song. The rhythm track arrangement is by Stevie and Greg Phillinganes, who plays all the electric piano and synth parts. (He’s also memorable on Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, among dozens of other session dates.)

There are hundreds of ‘perfect’ pop songs, and this, to me, is one of them. Every bar of it is branded on my memory, but there’s one fleeting moment that’s my favorite: when Michael Jackson abandons his high tenor for a second and plunges into the low register (very unusual for him) as he growls “Yeah…,” twice, at 2:00 and 3:07. Goosebumps…

pic: From the nine-minute dream sequence in Raj Kapoor's Awara (1951), one of the most admired scenes in all of Indian popular cinema.


Blogger Elver said...

"Why do you blog?"

While depressed and trying to discover the meaning of life on an acid trip last summer I met an entity that lives outside time in a place called The Temporal Zoo. The entity, as a cruel joke, made me immortal. He told me that to gain back my mortality and end my suffering in this depressing realm I must write ten blog posts that change the world in a significant way.

Well. Three down, seven to go.

April 20, 2008 6:18 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I blog to overthrow the system. No, I'm not being ironic.

April 20, 2008 8:10 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I love that image of Kali, Girish, and find it interesting that you use it to preface this particular question. As if blogging is a dance against the plane of death. In many ways, for me, it is exactly that. Elver's wry response is tangentially my very real response.

A few years back I became very ill and was hospitalized. I nearly lost my left hand and my left leg and had to undergo surgeries. I was forced to retire on disability from my position as a judicial assistant. I was being groomed to bump up to the California State Supreme Court and so this sudden deflation was, needless to say, horrifically depressing.

For months, as I convalesced, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how this had happened to me; how I had taken such a fall. And then I mourned the loss of my ambition, of all I had worked for and attained over the years, and lost in the space of a few months. I found myself receding socially, not wanting to see anyone, not wanting to talk to anyone. No longer being employed, I had no sense of self. I spent days watching old movies on TCM. Even as depression was eating me up alive, my spirit resisted. I told myself, "If all you're going to do is sit here on the sofa and watch old movies, the least you can do is write about them." So I shifted to my downstairs office and began writing about the movies I was watching. I offered some of this writing up in the Movies Conference on The WELL but met relative apathy and, sometimes, downright antagonism whenever I would apply a queer reading or a minority reading to an established film. There was one woman especially who kept hectoring my entries until I finally became disgusted and even further depressed.

Then through either your site or Brian Darr's, I noticed that Blogspot allowed a person to easily create their own blog. I chose the easiest template and dove right in. I had long been an admirer of Sembene who frequently was quoted as saying that movies were the evening class for discriminating adults. I decided that was what I wanted to create. The Evening Class.

Entry by entry, and within the magical realm of words, the safe harbor of language, The Evening Class provided first a focus to help me gain back my physical strength, and then a fulcrum to find a new way to flex my intellect. After I got the basics of blogging down, and after Acquarello taught me how to hyperlink (Campbell always said on the hero's journey there are allies), then I became intrigued by the social weave possible through online journalism and the sociality of film culture. I became interested in critical overviews and researching what and how writers have written on film. I've always been a quotesmith and I took pleasure in finding what I felt were the best—that is to say the most accessible—write-ups. I was immensely influenced by Darren Hughes poetic intelligence and Doug Cummings thorough research and your own facility for engendering discussion. I dreamt that one day we could be friends.

I have a very good friend named Frako Loden who writes for the SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, as well as capsules for programs, and I asked her one day if she thought I could get a press pass from my blog. She said she'd never heard of anyone getting a press pass from a blog but what could it hurt to ask? So she put me in touch with Larsen & Associates, a publicist here in San Francisco. I phoned them up and asked them if I could get a press pass from a blog. Chris Wiggums answered the phone and after my little speal, he said, "Who are you?" I directed him to The Evening Class to sample my writing. Within 15 minutes he phoned back and said, "We like your writing. We'll give you a press pass for the Asian American Film Festival. Cover it and get back to us." That was the start. At the Asian American I met Eric Byler whose film Americanese had opened the festival. Byler was so impressed with my reportage on his film, said it was the best anyone had ever written about his films, and—in his capacity as guest editor—arranged for me to write for a Los Angeles paper called Entertainment Today. Jonathan Marlow read some of my writing on Entertainment Today and asked if I'd like to do interviews for Greencine. And Dave Hudson, of course, has been nothing but my champion.

Nearly three years later, I am an altogether different individual than I was back in the courts. I am still ambitious but from more of a creative angle than before. It's not about money now. Certainly not about money if we're talking about writing about film. It's about self-expression. And it's about feeling that I am still contributing something. The democratization of online journalism is, exactly as you've phrased it, a wonderful turn of events. At first I felt something of a fraud, but, now am quite comfortable in who I am and what I contribute and—I'm noticing lately—that I'm finding my own voice. I know more how to do the film blogging and the resume of interviews makes it easier for me to score more and more interviews. And I've become wholly committed to advocating the role of the online journalist in film writing, which is a thorny field right now. I hope to make it smoother for those in the future. I guess I can't escape legal and am still trying to set some kind of precedent.

That's a longwinded answer; but, basically, I blog to retain creative integrity and to keep pace and to make friends with others in the blogosphere. And to dance against death. That image of Kali reminds me as well of a famous Man Ray photograph of my cultural hero Jean Cocteau where he has many arms and with one he is writing, with one he is painting, with one he is sculpting. This is, for me, the ultimate gesture against the infinite and the only articulation suitable against the ineffable.

April 20, 2008 8:26 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 20, 2008 8:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great reasons here.

Maya, that's a wonderful, moving story! Thank you for feeling comfortable enough here to share it with us. It means a lot to me. What a journey you've been through. And what strength you've drawn from within.

I haven't seen that Man Ray photo but it sounds like a great image.

Alex, I wish you had the time to blog more often. I always enjoy your posts (I still remember the one on Kiss Me Deadly) and your comments at Zach's place.

April 20, 2008 9:05 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Maya, your post is so moving and inspiring. All of these comments are fascinating, amusing, and, Girish, you ask the best questions! One thing I do know is that I blog because of you people! :) Also, I blog, because I cannot not blog! Blogging is art!


When I first created my blog, I wanted to write about the experience of cinema from all sides, to be everywhere at once, and that's how I might describe the blogosphere . . .


Furthermore, I just love to write! To be out here with all of these amazing writers is intoxicating, it's like being in love, it's heaven on earth. (Okay, not every day! But those times when I've been in the worst contentious arguments, I learned how to be a better person and a better writer. The comments take practice!)


I blog because of print media. :)


Finally, I blog because of Marcel Proust! I lived 1,000 lifetimes in this paragraph . . . .

" . . . composed an ephemeral panorama which deaths, scandals, illnesses, quarrels would soon alter; but which this evening was held motionless by attentiveness, heat, dizziness, dust, elegance and boredom, in the sort of eternal tragic instant of unconscious expectancy and calm torpor which, in retrospect, seems always to have preceded the explosion of a bomb or the first flicker of a fire." - Marcel Proust



April 20, 2008 10:48 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Girish, that's a question I ask all the time. For me blogging became an outgrowth of several key things: (a) I had studied film in college - undergrad & grad school - but had fallen away from the topic over the years as life crowded it out, (b) I was not finding a lot of satisfaction in my job, I had tried MySpace, etc., but was not satisfied, and (d) my second child died and I found myself dealing with a kind of deep, low-grade depression that was making all of life hard. I needed a way to connect with something I loved that was a personal, creative, self-expressive activity. A friend turned me on to Andy Horbal's blog, your blog, and a couple others. I suddenly knew blogging was something I could do and have fun doing it. Plus it's a way from me to explore the things I love in both intelligent and emotional ways. And I get to "virtually" meet others I would otherwise never have met.

Maya, thank you very much for sharing your story.

April 20, 2008 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone here seems to have such a compelling (and often heartbreaking) reason to blog. I don't really.

Mostly, my blogging comes from having had a writing bug for as along as I can remember. I kept a journal on and off when I was a kid (I stopped every time my life seemed boring, which was often), I've always written for school papers and the like... Blogging seemed like just an extension of that, and it's only in the last five years or so that my focus has been refined to movies, and movies alone.

I started blogging in earnest about a year and a half ago. Not long after I started my Master's in Physics, actually. And well...I had a very hard time with my studies that year, leading to all kinds of doubts about my abilities and future. Blogging about movies felt like a breath of fresh air to me, it was a way of using the other side of my brain as well. It helped keep me sane.

Luckily, in that year, I achieved a modicum of success (a dozen faithful readers, a paid reviewing job for a Dutch website), and now I can't imagine my life without it.

April 21, 2008 4:01 AM  
Blogger dave said...

Alex, that answer is why I so love reading your blog. And it's related to the reasons I blog: to subtly change the social understanding of the way things work, to reimagine the world having started from zero, to explore new forms of understanding.

That's a start.

April 21, 2008 8:57 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

First . . . damnit, now I have to go buy a copy of Off the Wall.

I started Long Pauses because, after four years of graduate coursework in American lit, I'd forgotten how it felt to read, watch, and write for pleasure. Also, my writing had been so disfigured by that academic training that I no longer knew how to write a sentence that anyone outside of the tower would care to read. So I started blogging for the simple pleasure of it and for the opportunity to experiment a bit with my writing voice.

Seven years later, I still blog (though much less frequently), and my reasons for doing so haven't changed too much. I guess the friendships I've formed over the years play a more important role now (posting and commenting is a way to keep in touch with people I only see face-to-face once a year), and I'm more interested in understanding how films work (formal analysis) than I was in the early years.

At my most idealistic, I would say my reason for blogging goes back that pedagogical cliche, "Writing as Discovery." Maybe this is naive, but I tend to think that if I put some concentrated time and effort into thinking about a particular film or scene (or whatever), then by the time I've finished describing it, I will have learned something. And if I've learned something, then a sympathetic reader might learn something as well.

April 21, 2008 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

The road to blogging involved several steps that basically started with trying to make contact with fellow film enthusiasts in a convenient way--through the Internet.

I'm a professional writer who wanted to have a little fun writing about something that I had a genuine enthusiasm for, rather than what paid, (e.g., direct digital radiography). I had already been writing film reviews for a discussion board where the emphasis was on chatting and short takes on films. I thought that blogging was what I needed to find some people who had more interest and longer attention spans than the crew on the board that was bored and boring. I have some interest in and facility for graphic design , too, so I liked the idea of being able to used photos to help tell my story. I figured I'd be able to teach myself enough technically to run a blog.

Blogging kind of opened me up to try more kinds of writing for other blogs and websites, too. I like writing, whether producing reviews and articles or simply comments. The more I did, the more I wanted to do, and I've just let my nose take to interesting places, from other movie blogs to commenting on jounalism to starting to cover film festivals and director interviews with the power of the press pass. I also wanted to give film geekdom a feminine voice and point of view--film is such a male-dominated arena.

I have to be careful not get too professional, though. I still want it to be fun. So far, so good.

April 21, 2008 12:39 PM  
Blogger nitesh said...

Maya…your story is inspiring. Thank you, for sharing it with us, I think the picture Girish has on the blog is of Shiva and not Kali.

I think starting a blog is one of the easiest thing to do; but, updating the hardest. In a similar case, I had always wanted to start a blog, but was busy doing something else most of the time( bunking college, making short films, watching films) and writing game reviews(which I still do for Rolling Stones, India), last November when I put all my hard-earned college- pocket- money behind a short film, and ended up being a bankrupt Producer( the editing is still due), and being debarred in all my papers in college, and thrown out of my flat where I was staying(having not paid the rent). And in turn jeopardizing my graduation (today I have four days, and two short films to complete for Graduation project) so that night when I was thrown out: I had my laptop, a food packet, bag, and my wireless net… On that day, when I had nothing else to do, I decided to finally start Blogging. It was magical, late night, on the Railway Platform, a bankrupt college Producer and Blogging. Ever since I have tried to express and learn, and also get into a discussion. Till today, it has been pretty magical, not only the writing part, but the reading especially, and lot of Blog which I regularly read (Girish, Maya, Harry, Acquraello) have genuinely helped a lot. For me, blogging is about learning (writing, reading), and I enjoy the process a lot.

April 21, 2008 12:43 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

I dropped out of college four years ago. My college career has been one long, stupid story that began eight years ago at UC Santa Cruz in 2000. After that waste of time, I had a part-time pit stop at a junior college from 2001-03 before transferring to UC Berkeley for the 03-04 school year. I finally realized, with the help of some financial headaches, that I had never enjoyed any of my university level learning. I was, for the most part, happiest in auto-didact mode. I left school and began bouncing around, away from Berkeley, to Seattle and New York and back, not really "doing" much beyond working, reading on public transportation and watching movies.

Like many young people, or so I imagine, I put a lot of value in my taste during that period of my life. I was proud to like this or that; angry if you did not. I bullied my ex-girlfriend and our friends into new opinions, routinely steered conversation back to those silly topics of movies and music and books only to show off some new bit of knowledge I'd gleaned. I think my impulse to return to school, in the summer of 06, stemmed from that snobbery, when I'm honest with myself. I noticed that I hadn't written anything in a long time and before that I'd only written fiction outside of school. (Like the good drop out I was, I wrote a novel--a really awful novel--during my time away.) At work, I spent a lot of time arguing movies on the craigslist forums, where I first encountered, and struck an accord with, Steven Boone and Brian Darr. So, with encouragement from my forum friend Suzi, I went over to that blogspot account I'd started after dropping out and decided I would blog about movies, if only to try to hone my writing skills for my return to school. Looking back at some of those early entries it's a wonder to see how much stronger my writing is, how much more comfortable a writer I am, now. I tried not to self-promote my blog out of timidity, really, although I was much more active on certain blogs' comments threads then. Never did I think I could attract an audience. Much less the eyes of Matt Zoller Seitz, who, by November that year, asked me (and Steve) to start writing for The House Next Door. I think that's when I started to get serious about the blog, about writing.

Then I went back to school. The other day my good friend Cuyler said, "Surprisingly? We've learned a lot in a year and a half." I replied, "Yeah, but it feels like intangibles." School taught me, more than anything, a humility and generosity (that I'm still trying to put into practice) I did not have before. I think I'm a better reader now, sure -- I'm definitely a more generous reader, even though, on occasion, kneejerk habits pop up -- but I think I have a better take on living, too. Even if I still procrastinate; and even if get turned off by certain things (ahem, fellow students/sections) to the detriment of my studies (ahem, GPA).

So why blog? It's a question I ask a lot, too. Part of it, I'll admit, is a kind of careerism. I'm hanging on to that pipe dream that I may, one day, get paid real money to write something. (Or, more simply, that I may write for more outlets when I'm done with schoolwork in the coming months and I get to choose what I write about and when I want to write it.) In the meantime I can throw together little arguments when I please and maybe strike up a conversation about the object at hand. But I often find that the comments threads on other blogs are rarely as generous or humble as the threads we enjoy here at your blog, Girish. Even at my own, when I do get a random thought shared. For this reason I've kind of retreated from blogging in 2008. As much as blogs offer one a public forum to practice writing, there's always the danger of trolls and nihilist cretins out there trying to shut down conversations with posture. I stifle those urges, generally, because I don't want to perpetuate pointless arguments of taste. What I hope to offer is good criticism that argues for the real value of a film, or a book, or a song, or a poem, or a play, or a photograph; that is to say, of life. I'd like my blog to incorporate as much of my worldly interests as possible. I hope I go river rafting this summer. And if I do, I hope to share. Cuz, as fun as movies are, there's a lot else out there. Like Michael Jackson's Off The Wall. Say, Girish, while we're in the arena of almost-dance music, have you happened to listen to Cut Copy? Over on that other (silly) blog Cuyler and I started, freeNIKES!, I've linked to some of their songs. I wholly recommend both of their full length records. They're very 80s in a good way: not glib or facile but smart and fun. Here's my favorite song on their new album. It's superficially saccharine but these boys really know some things.

Thanks again for the stimulating post. It's a big question ("why?"s generally are, aren't they?) so I hope this epic, tangential, indulgent answer isn't boring. Also, thanks, Michael and Tucker, for your honest, open replies. Made me comfortable to share mine.

April 21, 2008 12:58 PM  
Anonymous cinebeats said...

I enjoyed reading everyone's stories and Maya's was very moving.

I've loved movies and writing as well as researching stuff I'm interested in (I find half the fun of writing to be the reading and research I do) for as long as I can remember. I also have some kind of deep unquenchable and strange need to share what I like with others.

I wrote my first movie review for my school paper and throughout my teenage years and into my twenties I wrote for various zines and even published my own from time to time usually covering topics that were overlooked by the mainstream media. For me blogging is really the next step in the zine (DIY) explosion that happened in the eighties.

Many of my favorite film publications like Psychotronic, Video Watchdog, etc. started out as zines and they originally helped influence my creation of Cinebeats. I decided that I really wanted to write about movies I like so starting my own blog seemed like the next logical step. I was also encouraged by the fact that there were so few female bloggers writing about the types of films I enjoy so I wanted to add my voice to the mix I suppose.

It's been a wonderful experience so far and I've enjoyed meeting and chatting other film lovers online such as yourself Girish- even if I occasionally come up across jerks with their own agenda and a bad attitude. I never expected that I would receive comments and emails from directors and critics I admire and that has really inspired me to keep on blogging when I think I should maybe stop and spend that time and energy on other things.

I only wish I had more free time to write since there are so many movies and topics I want to write about, but it's hard to find the free time between life, work and other things.

April 21, 2008 3:18 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Er, people actually READ the stuff I post? (insofar as I actually ever write anything, as opposed to just posting pictures of sculptures)


No, more seriously: I do actually blog to destroy the current regime.

April 21, 2008 6:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jen, Tucker, Sarcastig, Dave, Darren, Marilyn, Nitesh, Ry, Kimberly, Alex--Thank you for sharing these great, personal stories. What a treat to be able to read them. And thanks again, Michael, for your brave account that has emboldened all of us to follow suit!

April 21, 2008 9:37 PM  
Blogger Peter Nellhaus said...

The person I use to live with thought that with my mostly unused formal education in Cinema Studies, a blog would be more constructive than simply expressing my opinions to whomever was around.

Sometime, writing is a sort of addiction that I have to get out of my system.

The best part is being part of a virtual community even though my own site is not one to attract a lot of comments.

April 21, 2008 11:18 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Thank you all for your kind words. Nitesh, I have a bad habit of getting Kali and Shiva mixed up. With all those arms going every whichaway. I know one of them beats a drum to measure time against eternity and the other devours everything. I guess I conflate them into devouring time.

Great stories all around. So cool how so many of us sought out friends. And found them!

April 22, 2008 12:01 AM  
Blogger Paul C. said...

Back in my college days, all of my friends knew me as "the movie guy." They knew I spent much of my free time (and too much of my alleged study time) watching movies, and that I'd have a thought on just about every movie they could throw at me. Admittedly, they threw mostly blockbusters and new releases at me, but what are you gonna do.

As the years went by, I saw less and less of my friends, but I sometimes got e-Mails from them asking about movies that had just gotten released. After a while, rather than waiting on their requests, I started writing short reviews and e-Mailing them. This turned into a Web site, and this eventually led to my current blogs.

The big difference for me now is that the friends I write for have changed. Rather than being people who know me from real life, my blog-friends are almost entirely comprised of people I haven't met. Rather than being thrown together by circumstance and proximity, it's our shared love of film that unites us and makes us a community. The nature of the friendship is different, but we're friends all the same.

So why do I blog? Because it's there. And thank goodness for that.

April 22, 2008 12:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi there, Paul, Maya, and Peter!

Maya, your earlier analogy with Kali still holds with Shiva. He's the god of death and destruction but his dance also represents the act of (re-)creation.

I also posted that image as a self-referential joke: both "Girish" and "Shambu" mean "Shiva". It's like going around being named Shiva Shiva (like Humbert Humbert!)...

April 22, 2008 7:03 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

The plot thickens!! That is so interesting, Girish!

April 22, 2008 10:08 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

...and now I have this rockabilly riff in my head: "Hey Shiva Shiva, can you shimmy like my sister Kate?!!"

April 22, 2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Peter Nellhaus said...

Well since this is a dancing god, instead of Humbert Humbert, maybe Duran Duran.

April 22, 2008 11:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

We have some unusual naming traditions in Tamil Nadu: often, people have just one name (like Prince or Madonna!). Mine is Girish. Usually preceding this name are 2 initials: your village (P. for Paranur) and your father's name (S. for Shambu). So, when I was born, my name was P.S. Girish. (Doesn't that sound like an afterthought, a postscript?) But my dad changed my name soon afterwards, when we moved to Rajasthan in the North, where the naming practices are more Western-like with a given name and surname. But really, I have just one name, which is simply "Girish".

April 22, 2008 2:45 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

This comments thread gets more fascinating by the moment. I honestly can't decide which I like better -- Girish Shambu, which is poetic, Girish Girish, P.S. Girish or just Girish.

In my first post I joked that I blog to avoid buttonholing strangers at the video-rental place. But I really started blogging to keep my mind in gear while adjusting to a new city (Toronto, at the time). Just that simple. I still have no idea what brought Girish to my comments section but as soon as he, Lance Mannion, Alex, George Fasel and a few others started showing up I knew this was something worth keeping up.

April 22, 2008 3:42 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

For some reason I'm reminded right now of my childhood trips to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Which I later realized translates as "the the tar pits tar pits".

I feel like I've talked before about how my blogging was an outgrowth of my discussing film in various online fora (including, now that Ryland has mentioned it, craigslist back when it was a bit more of a San Francisco-centric community) and writing for places like Senses of Cinema.

I don't think I've ever mentioned that though I'd thought of starting a website or blog for years, the impetus to actually do it came from a low moment in mid-2005. Not nearly as low as some of the others mentioned here, but I still find it interesting that this is a recurring story arc.

My low moment was a rough week that culminated in my being let go from my job on my birthday, just before I was supposed to start accruing benefits. I had another part-time job, but I was seriously underemployed for the first eight or nine months of writing Hell On Frisco Bay.

By the time I found a new job, I'd found myself in this community of bloggers that was encouraging me to continue. That kind of encouragement, coupled with e-mails from readers who don't themselves blog, has turned me around from a moment of disgruntlement a number of times.

So, I blog for myself, in the hopes of improving my writing and increasing my understanding of film. I blog for the films and the programmers who spend such great effort selecting and presenting them, and whose efforts I do not want gone under-noticed. And I blog for my readers who have expressed appreciation for the way I carry out my project.

April 22, 2008 4:10 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

Why do I blog? There are 2 parts to my answer. As for blogging itself - blogs seem to be the most active and lively medium for online writing and discussion. I started playing around with blogs 5 years or so ago, mostly because I was reading lots of blogs, and sometimes you want to talk back. I started taking it a bit more serious when I started finding movie blogs, like this one and a Girl and a Gun. Since movies are what I usually want to talk about the most.

The second part of the answer is, I like the conversation, and like online conversations. In some ways, more than face to face - at least for more critically oriented discussions. Writing (and reading) gives you time to think. In another day and age, I would have been a letter writer: I never developed the habit, but when I found online groups, I developed that habit... moving from Prodigy to Compuserve and finally AOL, where I took up with a couple groups that went on for a long time (and still hang out some - at the film & discussion blog for example, which is a direct continuation of the AOL groups.) And the biggest reason I started blogging was probably the fact that the old AOL gang had eroded down to a dozen or so people - there was much more to read on blogs, and reading leads to writing (for me anyway. I'm far more a reader than a writer on blogs, but reading always pushes me to write...)

I do think blogs are about the best form of online writing I have come across. It's easy to do, easy to be part of a community, easy to play with... I like blogs because they are so free. You can write about anything. You can write any way you want. These days, you can do a lot of things besides write - use video, images, music and sound. I like that diversity - I like that there aren't any rules about what you should do with a blog. And at the same time, all these different modes of discourse can interact, more or less as equals. It's good.

April 22, 2008 6:06 PM  
Blogger Pacze Moj said...

What wonderful responses and personal stories. I read all the comments and the post in one go, after telling myself the question wasn't one to which I'd be interested in knowing the answers.

PS: The lighting in the Awara image is incredible.

April 22, 2008 7:03 PM  
Blogger shahn said...

What I like about blogging is being able to share the images in film that make me go "Geez, would you look at THAT!" How else could I capture it? By the time the words pop out of my mouth, the image has changed; plus the other people in the cinema aren't appreciative of my vocalizations. I don't think I'd be able to put into words the way certain images combine to create that indefinable movie magic that draws me in.
Also, the backlit images on computer screens are more akin to seeing film projected in the dark. So I blog because its the best forum for me and my work.

April 22, 2008 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Mikey D. said...


I really enjoy reading about how your first teaching experience inspired you. I always find your personal history posts fascinating, as well as your Artvoice film reviews that combine your history as a cinephile with the movie you are writing about.

"Can't Help It" is one of my favorite pop songs, and certainly one of Stevie's finest compositions. I'm sure you know that Mary J. Blige song that samples this song. I've recently been listening to Stevie's "You've Got It Bad Girl" which is another of my favorites.

Talk to you soon!

April 23, 2008 12:53 PM  
Blogger Moviezzz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 23, 2008 4:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, everyone!

Campaspe, if memory serves, I first arrived at your blog via the late George Fasel. And our first blog comment chat was about Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape and Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway.

Brian, that's an interesting recurring narrative of blogs often being born in times of personal difficulty...

I remember starting this blog on an impulse one night (it was my birthday and I had several drinks in me) but once I did, except for a short hiatus because of injury, I've updated it once a week or so almost constantly since then. It's hard for me to imagine ever not blogging.

Mikey, let's meet up after the concert Saturday night.

April 23, 2008 9:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Any thoughts on the Cannes competition lineup? Here it is at Screen Daily:

Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Three Monkeys
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne - Le Silence De Lorna
Arnaud Desplechin - A Christmas Story
Clint Eastwood - Changeling
Atom Egoyan - Adoration
Ari Folman - Waltz With Bashir
Philippe Garrel - La Frontiere De L'Aube
Matteo Garrone - Gomorra
Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York
Eric Khoo - My Magic
Lucretia Martel - La Mujer Sin Cabeza
Brillante Mendoza - Serbis
Kornel Mondruczo - Delta
Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas - Linha De Passe
Paolo Sorrentino - Il Divo
Pablo Trapero - Leonera
Wim Wenders - The Palermo Shooting
Jia Zhangke - 24 City
Steven Soderbergh - Che -- one four-hour competion title comprised of Guerrilla and The Argentine.

I don't know Ari Folman, Matteo Garrone or Kornel Mondruczo...

April 23, 2008 9:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Also, via David Hudson, the Un Certain Regard lineup:

Pierre Schöller: Versailles.
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: Johnny Mad Dog.
Raymond Depardon: La Vie moderne.
Thomas Clay: Soi Cowboy.
Andreas Dresen: Wolke 9.
Bent Hamer: O'Horten.
Rubin Ostlund: De Ofrivilliga.
Bong Joon-ho, Michel Gondry and Leos Carax: Tokyo!
Sergey Dvortsevoy: Tulpan.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: I Want to See.
Annemarie Jacir: Le sel de la mer.
Amat Escalante: Los Bastardos.
Matheus Nachtergaele: A festa da menina morta.
Antonio Campos: Afterschool.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Tokyo Sonata.
Chung Mong-Hong: Ting Che.
Liu Fendou: Yi ban Haishui, Yi ban huoyan.
Kelly Reichardt: Wendy and Lucy.
James Toback: Tyson.

April 23, 2008 9:52 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Hey Girish,

regarding the Cannes lineup. Strangely, I only read about Matteo Garrone this past weekend when I finished Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah. I read that Garrone would be making a fictional movie in 2008 based on the non-fiction book and to my surprize I saw that film in the competition line-up on wed. So my eyes immediately picked his name out amid the other well known directors.

I see Mendoza's new film has also made the cut. After the Q&A session after Slingshot at VIFF, he mentioned a word or two about his new film. The words "sex in a movie theater" certainly brought chuckles from the audience.

But overall, I am just delighted that I can start planning which festival films to see later this year :)

April 24, 2008 2:42 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

More like next year, for those of us in California. We're just catching up with last Cannes' films like the Man From London, Alexandra, the Last Mistress, Go Go Tales and You, the Living now, as the SF International Film Festival gets under way.

Along with the usual suspects (I always want to see new films by the Dardennes, Jia, Kurosawa, and Martel, but then who doesn't?) I'm intrigued by a new film by Eric Khoo, whose Be With Me showed a lot of sensitivity and promise. I'll tell you what I think about a new Garrel film after I get a chance to see a few more of his older ones next month (I thought Regular Lovers was phenomenal though). And my eyebrow cocked (in curiosity and suspicion in equal measure) when I saw a British film called Soi Cowboy on the Un Certain Regard list. Soi Cowboy is a notorious alley in Bangkok, but apparently the film was shot in Liverpool. Don't know what to make of that.

And speaking of that city, after being enthralled by a recent Terence Davies residency in Berkeley, I felt that inevitable twinge of disappointment when I realized I'd now seen all of his films. Luckily, all it takes to cure that ailment is news of a newly-made film. An out-of-competition documentary, but I'm probably as excited about its existence as anything else on the slate.

April 24, 2008 4:09 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Oooooh Brian, do tell us more about this alley in Bangkok; I'm all ears.

Like Brian, I'm enthused about the usual suspects and am always glad they continue to make movies. Even if I still haven't seen the last two Kurosawa films because they haven't come to SF. What am I going to do when the Kurosawa blogathon comes around? (I worry too much, I know.)

I find myself taking note of the new Hamer film. And am curious about Campos and Escalante.

April 24, 2008 11:39 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Girish's anecdote reminds me of an old Top Ten Letterman joke on then U.N. Secretary-General Butros Butros-Ghali. It was something along the lines of, he could always use the pick-up line "I'm so good, they named me twice." :)

April 24, 2008 1:18 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Girish, I missed your self-referential joke until acquarello mentioned it. Wow :) I had no idea. Now it makes me look at the picture in a completely different light. I suppose that is what happens with certain movies as well. Once we get the subtle hidden context, then we can never look at that movie with the old uninformed abeit curious eyes again.

Regarding double names, until a few years ago I used to get a kick out of "chai tea". I even imagined an extension -- chai tea milk latte. Ofcourse, one could make that into short for chai x 2 milk x 2 or c2m2 for ease. Which makes it look like a famous equation of sorts. I have no idea if Einstein drank tea or not. Errr...sorry got carried away.

By the way, what amazing stories you guys have posted regarding blogging. Maya, I already love your interviews but your story was very touching.

Nitesh, your mention of a night at the Railway Platform reminds of scenes from various Bollywood movies, even as recently as Jab We Met. I can imagine you sitting on a bench blogging away while the characters Adi & Geet are busy arguing in another corner. I think there is a film story buried there :)

April 24, 2008 3:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello, I must add that to my meagre repertoire of pick-up lines. :-)

Sachin, I regret missing Mendoza's Slinghsot at TIFF. And I'm a big fan of Jab We Met, which my mom turned me on to last year. She's promised to track down a copy of Imtiaz Ali's first film, Socha Na Tha, for me.

Brian and Maya, the Terence Davies residency in Berkeley sounds like a wonderful event. I just ordered Distant Voices, Still Lives from UK. (I've only seen House of Mirth and The Long Day Closes.)

April 25, 2008 8:32 AM  
Blogger nitesh said...

Sachin, it’s funny, as I was thinking on a similar line when I was sitting there on the Nizamuddin Platform in Delhi(hoping some day a Producer funds my escapades :)) I haven't seen Jab We Met till date. Though, more than anything the film was a swansong for Kareena and Saheed relationship. Hopefully, I will watch the film now. Even Girish seems to be a fan of the film, now it’s a must watch!!! :)

April 25, 2008 1:08 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

I'm glad to see Mendoza in Cannes. I do wish the festival would include some of our more outre offerings--Raya Martin, John Torres, Lav Diaz, and if Mario O'Hara would please serve up a project this year it would be nice (he told me back in 2003 about a project involving a movie theater and an old prostitute that hand-serviced male movie viewers).

Mendoza's okay, in the classic narrative tradition, spiced up with handheld camerawork; I'm also familiar with Armando Lao, who did the script--terrific writer, one of the best in the industry, and much underrated. The script at least should be good, solidly written.

Don't have much of a story. Been writing since 1992, started that archive in yahoo I linked to above in 1999, moved to AOL in 2003 if I remember right, and to blogspot in 2006. Basically there was a time when my paper Businessworld would archive my articles, and you had to pay to access their archives. I felt the articles needed more exposure, so I started the yahoo groups, linked it to my AOL blog, kind of shut them down (they're there, but not my primary venue), and posted my articles directly on my own blog.

Which brings up an issue for me: should I post my articles, or save them up for publishing? The way things are going in print publishing, I'm not so sure--waiting to have them printed seems to take forever, and at great cost and effort; on the other hand, putting them out online for free seems like, well, throwing work away for free.

It's a problem the New York Times seems to have trouble solving as well, so I'm paradoxically not too worried about it at the moment. I do think the times have changed--I once wrote articles exclusively for print and just posted casually online; now my articles are posted easily online and I'm trying to come up with an original book on print (or an online book, at least).

The blog name, incidentally, came from my first (and as yet only) book. I'd been emailing suggestions for a title to the publisher and neither of us were very happy about any of them. Emailed the list to Alex Tioseco, who comments here once in a while, and he said "I like 'Critic After Dark.'" I threw that into the list because it described what I actually did in my first nine years of writing--go to work as a junior officer in a large Manila bank by day, step out to watch movies (usually by myself) by night. I led a double life, had a secret identity, so to speak.

April 26, 2008 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Filipe said...

Noel, Raya Martin has a film at the Quinzaine. I saw Mendoza's Slingshot at Buenos Aires, pretty good, but easily the weakest among the filipino films that I saw there (Death in the Land of Encantos, and two new ones by Martin). It's funny that when I wrote about them in my festival coverage someone ask me if I thought that they might show up in Rio or São Paulo fests and I told them, that I wouldn't count on Diaz or Martin, but Mendoza wouldn't surprise me, then, one week later Mendoza shows up at Cannes competition.

Speaking of national cinema's I'd strong recommend for new yorks not to miss Eduardo Coutinho's Jogo de Cena at tribeca (the festival title is Playing). It's great and far less dry than the festival program and the village Voice made it sound like.

April 27, 2008 7:45 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

I missed Martin's title at Quinzaine. Good for him!

Not a big fan of Slingshot; I thought Mendoza was trying for something full of noir tropes without quite succeeding. But I'm hoping it's a transitory film, and that in his next project he's able to integrate the effects he tried out in this one more successfully.

Encantos is someting else, isn't it?

I don't remember that particular sequence in Awaara. What I remember is the Wellesian visual style, and threads of dark bitterness running through the film (the question of nature vs. nurture, put to a cruelly practical test). It's one of my favorite Indian musicals, and one of Kapoor's finest films, I thought (though his late projects are equally memorable).

April 27, 2008 11:56 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

There are some compelling stories here. In my case, blogging is probably more of a "selfish" process than for people like Girish or Maya, whose blogs are, it seems to me, conceived of as gathering places, whereas I'm mostly using the blog as a means to gather my own thoughts. Sometimes that seems a little limiting, and yet I also find that going through the process of writing something about each film helps me to better understand my own responses. I can also see that my own thought processes have evolved over time when I happen to look at an older note.

In my case, blogging stems from a similar attempt to record and catalogue that began when I was a teenager, when I'd write something brief about each film I saw, purely for my own edification (in red-covered notebooks, into which I'd sometimes paste stills). The electronic format seems like a natural extension of that.

I find that writing something about each film helps me to "fix" it in my memory much more effectively, but I'm conscious that a film-by-film approach like mine has its limitations, and yet I don't seem to be able to make the jump to more thematic posts! I'm glad that others are more capable.

There are other benefits, too, I find: my family is on the other side of the Atlantic, so I enjoy getting their feedback and they in turn - my father, especially - seem to enjoy the fact that I keep plugging away, so it has become part of a wider conversation with family and friends (they asked me to add the stars, after complaining that they had no idea whether I liked certain films or not!).

April 28, 2008 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Jim Flannery said...

Anybody know what's happened to Hell on Frisco Bay?

April 28, 2008 3:07 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm working on some design changes. The blog got deleted in a moment of misjudgment. I'm hoping to have it back up soon. Waiting on blogger to see what exactly is going to happen (am I going to be able to retrieve my archive? I'm not sure.)

April 28, 2008 4:06 PM  
Blogger David C said...

Blogging seems like an obsession, the way filmmaking is for me. With blogging I can practice it for free, as much as I like. The kinds of movies I like to make can't really be done that way.
So it's a creative outlet for a frustrated filmmaker. In order to be worthwhile, I have to come up with entertaining and interesting things to say, and it seems to be training a different part of my brain, which is interesting. Have to make sure the purely creative part doesn't atrophy though.

April 28, 2008 6:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!

Brian, I sincerely hope you are able to get your archive back.

Noel, Awara is indeed among Raj Kapoor's best films. Great comparison with Welles: it didn't occur to me but you're right, of course. The Indian film scholar Gayatri Chatterjee, who is based in Pune, has written a terrific, full-length book on the film.

Gareth, my own impulses in running this blog are 'selfish' too. Living in a small city, I hunger for the company of cinephiles and the discussions I want to have with them.

David, I can't believe what a prolific blogger you are! I admire that.

I'm in the throes of semester's end, but I'll have a couple of hours after I get out of class tomorrow afternoon. I'll try to return with a post then.

April 28, 2008 9:40 PM  
Blogger Michael Kerpan said...

Right now, I'm still in the throes of a prolonged writer's block of some sort. I can write a few sentences here and there, but just never seem to finish longer pieces. And I;m getting hopelessly behind. ;~{

April 28, 2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

A whole book on Awaara? Cool.

Mike K., glad to hear from you, never realized you had a blog (duh!), hope you get around that block one of these days. For what it's worth, Philip Jose Farmer got around his writer's block by assuming the identity of another writer.

April 29, 2008 1:57 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

girish --

I'd respond by saying that your "selfish" motives are unusually generous in their results, in that case!

April 29, 2008 1:25 PM  
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