I saw something yesterday that kind of disgusted me and then made me think of a post that I read on one of my favourite movie blogs Kid In the Front Row. The item in question was on the cover of the current issue of US Weekly that I saw at the grocery store. It had a picture of Kate Gosselin from Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame and the headline was about how she doesn't like her new hair and I got to thinking: who the hell really cares if someone who has done absolutely nothing to deserve her celebrity except for squeeze eight kids out of her likes her hair or not? Are we supposed to feel bad for a non-celebrity's haircut? Back in the day celebrities were looked up to because they allowed us to escape our reality and join them in theirs which was admittedly a whole heck of a lot better. Today, Kate and her hair are a constant reminder of how shallow and pathetic it has become.
And then I read Kid's small, humble article in which he looked back over the history of his blog with disbelief over it's success and found hope in that. Kid is the kind of guy who spends a lot of time keeping the memories of great men and woman in the film world alive like Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder and Jimmy Stewart by revisiting their work with intelligence and passion. He remembers a time when film was made by great artists who told great stories that were performed by great actors. A time when art and even entertainment meant more than who celebrity X was shacking up with. He doesn't care, he lays out in his site's subheading, about the grosses of the latest superhero movie, etc because they mean nothing to him. I know exactly what he means. Film is as magical a medium today as it ever was, but the true magicians are getting harder and harder to find as their work becomes buried under a mountain of superficial items like box office, celebrity personal lives, big budget cash-grabs like sequels, remakes and reboots, etc.
And then, when Kid admits that what he is really looking for is the return of Jimmy Stewart (it's John Wayne for me) I got to thinking: what should be cherished most about Kid In the Front Row is right there in the name of the blog. At the end of the day, when all of us out there who love to watch film put pen to page (or finger to keyboard for the literalists) we essentially revert back into that infantile state of infatuation: we're those kids in the front row, loving every image, cherishing every adventure, embracing every punchline and so on. The heart speaking above all other voices in our body. That's why I write criticism.
The truely great critics; the ones whose opinion we value day in and day out; the one's whose opinion we respect; the one's who we love because of the personality of their writing and not their ability to gauge the worth of a work are not the scholars or degree holders or most technically experienced indviduals but the ones who have sat there in the front row with us. They understand love and aren't afraid to put their mind at rest for a moment to let their heart sing. Robert Warshow once said something to the tune of how a man goes to the movies and the critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man.
For the purpose of this post, that Warshow explanation is the single most important reason why I do this blog. I know how to spot and describe different shots, kinds of lighting, different types of lenses and all the artistic implications of these things; I love reading books about how films are made and how the business side of film works and I love thinking about psychology and philosophy as much as the next guy. But at the end of the day, whether or not I'm watching cars speed down streets at high speeds in The Fast and the Furious, seeing Spider-Man swing from building to building or seeing Marcello on that lonely beach at the end of La Dolche Vita, not being able to comprehend what his virginal savior is saying to him, I'm basically that kid in the front row with you, in the dark, having his heart stolen and his imagination expanded, watching as magical images seem to appear out of thin air.
To me, conveying that feeling is the heart of criticism. It's what I like to read and what I want to write about. Some writers have become so smart, their vocabulary so vast, their oratory skills so finely tuned that they forget themselves as being those kids in the front row and that's when love stops and self-indulgence starts.
That's why I disagree with the majority of film theory and have almost totally shied away from it since graduation: because film theory doesn't even begin to take into account those butterflies in the stomach when Sam plays it again; the jolts of terror as Michael Meyers jumps out of the dark; those tears of joy as the Polar Express nears it's destination; that ping of realization as Rosebud burns before our eyes; the unquenchable laughter that erupts as Bluto sets the ladder up outside the female frat house; or the breathlessness from the unspeakable beauty of the landscapes of Pandorum. Just to name a few through the ages.
Those are the reasons we go to the movies in the first place. They are the reasons we write these blogs with little or no money in return and slave over trying to get them noticed by as many people as possible: because we're all just kids in the front row, in love with a toy of never ending possibilities that we can't wait to discover and continue to rediscover until we have lost the facility to do so.