Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Confessions of a Classic Movie Blogger


I live in Huntsville, Alabama, where the big blogging news right now involves a local reporter who lost her job after posting "Confessions of a Red-Headed Reporter" about her less-than-professional practices. The story seems to be going viral, and the reporter appeared on the Today Show this morning, which just goes to show how bad behavior can get you all the attention you crave if you just behave badly in a public enough forum.

I don't really blog about myself. I'm not nearly as interesting as the classic movies I write about here at Virtual Virago, and I generally prefer to keep the focus on the films. Still, it seems a shame to pass up an opportunity to make a few classic movie confessions while the topic is hot, and my fellow Rocket City Bloggers are having a ball writing their own posts. So here goes.

Confessions of a Classic Movie Blogger

1) I start every movie hoping I'll really like it. Even when a movie lets me down, I try to say something good about it in my review. Every film has its fans, after all, and there must be some reason people like a movie even when I don't. For that reason you won't often see me pan a film outright, even though a lot of reviewers get more traffic from bashing pictures than they do for praising them.

2) I love classic Westerns, but I don't like Sam Peckinpah. He's just too violent and depressing for me. Give me John Ford, Anthony Mann, Henry Hathaway, and Delmer Daves any day. I don't like Quentin Tarantino, either. I love classic movies because I don't really want to be horrified and disgusted by the things I watch, and graphic sexual violence against women tops my list of things I don't want to see. Sam and Quentin will have to entertain other people with stronger stomachs for that sort of thing.

3) I have a pathetically low ranking on iCheckMovies. I just can't make myself care enough to sit through the 3 hour violent testosterone fests that make all the top movie lists, so I hover around 1800-1900 in the rankings. I can watch a dozen movies in a row without any of them being on a single list. Sometimes I have a highly ranked movie in one hand and a 1930s musical comedy in the other, and I end up picking the musical every time. One of these days, I tell myself, I'll slog through all of those depressing foreign dramas and man movies, but right now I'm just too busy with Jean Harlow, Mickey Rooney, and Doris Day.

4) I keep David Thomson's Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films next to my bed at all times. Yes, I really do, and I pick it up and read entries in it any time I have trouble sleeping. I don't always agree with him, but I do find Thomson highly readable, and I love picking through his entries for all of the films from a single year or starring a particular lead. I think he gets bogged down in the technical aspects sometimes, but I like the way he sums up films without needing to tell everything about them. I wish more classic movie bloggers understood that the key to a great review is to give the reader just enough to think about, not a scene-by-scene summary that gives everything away.

5) I love genre films, even cheesy ones. If it comes from Hammer, stars Bela Lugosi, or involves Roger Corman, I'll watch it, and I'll probably love it. There's a difference between a great MOVIE and a great FILM, and I enjoy a fun movie even if the plot is ridiculous and the strings are showing. William Castle? Heck, yes. Val Lewton? Bring it! Old horror and science fiction movies are some of my very favorites, and I never get tired of watching them.

6) I don't get Turner Classic Movies. I love everything about TCM, but I don't have cable. I buy their DVD collections and books, though, and one of these days I hope to attend the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood. It's on my bucket list. I get access to the movies I write about by buying them, renting them through Netflix, or streaming them. Warner Archive Instant is my current favorite thing on earth next to cupcakes and ice cream. If TCM ever starts a streaming service I'll probably never leave the couch again.

7) I wish I knew how to promote my classic movie guide and blog without being a pain about it. I'm a terrible salesperson, and it turns out that self-promotion is kind of essential to success in the indie publishing and blogging worlds. Sure, I want people to buy my book and read my blog, but I don't want to annoy them into doing it. Speaking of which, if you're reading this post, thanks! By the way, did you know about my book? I hear it makes a swell gift for movie buffs...

8) I take notes when I watch movies. Most people just sit down and enjoy a movie, but to me every one is a text, and I spent too many years in graduate school to resist the urge to take notes. I have a huge binder full of notes; sometimes I draw sketches of characters or scenes to remind me of something I liked about a costume or a camera angle. Sometimes I don't have a chance to write a review until later, and then the notes help me remember what happened and what I wanted to talk about. I never write a review of a movie without watching the whole thing carefully, unlike famous film critic Rex Reed, who recently got into trouble for panning a picture he didn't actually watch.

9) In my other life, I was an English professor. Before I began blogging and writing "full-time," I taught English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville for 14 years. I have a PhD in 18th-century British Literature with a focus on feminist criticism and theory. I left academe for a number of different reasons, but I loved teaching and researching and writing, and blogging about classic movies is a way to keep doing those things. My film reviews often refer to literary terms and texts, and because of my scholarly background I pay a lot of attention to the movie as a narrative. I like to talk about themes, characters, symbols, and other elements that lie at the heart of the English major's work.

10) I love what I do! No, it doesn't make money, and sometimes it feels like nobody is listening, but I keep at it because I enjoy doing it. Having something to be passionate about and having something to write every day gives my life purpose. I like having work to do, and this is the kind of work I have always relished. There are plenty of talented and more successful classic movie bloggers out there. I know I'm not inventing the wheel, but I'm having a great time, and if a handful of people find new classic movies to enjoy because of me then I'll call that a win.