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I grew up in a household that had almost no contact with movies. Occasionally I'd stumble through a reference to some movie in a magazine I was reading, but I had no idea what it meant because I'd never seen the movie and had no guidance. A few years later friends started giving me good advice about which movies to see on my own ...but still no guidance about what exactly I was watching or what the other options were, so I still had no idea why that was good advice. I did slowly learn that out there were lots and lots of movies and they had been a big deal for decades, and eventually that at least a few people were highly knowledgeable about the nuances of movies. Movies frequently examined the issues of the day; they weren't viewed as high art irrelevant to daily life. They were culturally important, and were likely to be the subject of water cooler conversations. For easy reference, I call this the age of Pauline Kael (and I regret missing it).

But soon societal awareness of movies began a long slow decline; the movie literacy of the general population seemed to be ebbing. At first it was just that conversations about movies were a little more superficial and breezy. I call this the age of Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert is famous for penetrating insights into what really makes a movie tick, and for championing excellent but overlooked movies. And indeed if you go back and compare his writing with that of other newspaper movie reviewers, the conventional wisdom is most definitely right on. But if you instead compare his writing with the best of the previous age, it seems a bit thin. It's as though everybody knew that readers no longer had either the time or the attention span to intelligently consume complex or startling things.

Nowadays (what I call the age of nobody) movie literacy is very low. Metaphors that use a movie (or a director) as a common cultural touchstone have disappeared. Water cooler conversations about movies have largely disappeared too. It's remarkable when occasionally a conversation partner actually recognizes the name of a director. Most theater employees can't even verbalize their own description of any movie showing at their own theater. Viewer conversations about movies have been reduced to nothing more than either go see it or don't waste your money, without any description of what or any reason why.

I remember people around me being upset when the first Star Wars movie came out. We were worried that by catering so much to juvenile/simplistic tastes for large amounts of action, lots of special effects, and fantastical environments, it would squeeze out serious films with their frequent use of character development and examination of personal intricacies and complex emotions. I realize now that worry was shared by only a very small portion of the population, and that it was not the whole story. The dearth of populist/escapist films that seemed normal to me was in fact just a temporary anomaly, and commercial film was simply returning to a place it had already been to decades before. The American film industry had been in a slump as the old studio system unraveled without a clear replacement, and serious films had filled more and more mainstream theater screens because there was nothing else. Star Wars announced a reinvigoration of US commercial film and the end of the slump, and drove the alternative films firmly back into the corners. Although some highbrows were annoyed, nobody else even noticed.

In the past few years I've became a whole lot more interested in movies than I used to be; movies have become one of my retirement projects. I'm watching a wide variety of new movies frequently. I'm catching up on old classic movies I've heard about but never seen. And I'm slowly expanding my knowledge of how movies are made. (A particular interest of mine is the history of and various mechanisms behind special effects.) One of the first things I did on diving deeply into movies was explore what film studies programs and courses and knowledge were availble through local educational institutions. Unfortunately the subject that seemed so common just a few years ago has now practically disappeared. With little guidance available, I've had to rely mostly on my own watching and extensive reading. As I've learned more and more I've collected some of my thoughts about movies.

(Of course movies are just part of the wider family of moving images.)

Often just knowing a movie's general genre and the name of its director is enough to decide whether or not the movie's worth seeking out. A movie director is a sort of artistic dictator. The single person of the movie director often has more control over money and people than in almost any other endeavor (excepting nation-state despots of course). Although movie directors often team up behind the scenes with another person (the screenwriter, a professional friend, a studio executive, a likeminded artist, etc.) they're generally the only face seen by the public and by the entire movie-making team. In some cases they channel the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars and the activity of hundreds of people. Although the movie is the result of hundreds of small artistic decisions made by a large variety of people, the overall artistic tone is set by just one person: the movie director.

Watching a movie used to mean going to the movie theater, largely because projection equipment was too expensive and arcane to be owned and operated by an individual. But recent technological advances have changed that completely. Theaters that used to be full now have only ten people in them. Movie theaters are no longer cash cows, rather marginal businesses that must be constantly attended to. Three programming goofs in a row, which used to be embarrassing but not critical, can now drive a theater clear out of business permanently.

These days most movies -even old relatively obscure ones- are readily available, which is a huge change from the situation just a couple decades ago. This considerable change is due to digital technology. The technology that was initially hailed as democratizing has become simply the faster/cheaper way to do things. I've found playing all these discs at home to be an excellent way to watch movies that are not currently in theaters. I find viewing on the small screen at home rather than the big screen in a theater to make little or no difference in most cases, and even in the cases where there's a notable difference (Lawrence of Arabia, Dersu Uzala, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, etc. etc.) to be at least adequate. While not too difficult, finding and obtaining the movies I want to see is eased by knowing when to use each of a wide variety of sources.

Currently I have a region-free Blu-ray player. It took me a while to figure out how to best handle all the various idiosyncracies of this player. (Previously I had a DVD-only player. It similarly took me a while to figure out how to complete its setup in the best way possible. With all the recent equipment changes, little of that is still relevant.) Having both limited space and limited funds, I figured out how to share a single flatscreen monitor between my computer(s) and my disc player. (I used to use a more complex method to share one monitor. But equipment has advanced to the point where this more complex method is no longer necessary [and may not in fact even be easily possible].)

Generally the information available about a movie through reviews and magazines meshes well with my actual viewing experience. But a few times I've found the available information particularly unsatisfying and so have occasionally wound up producing my own analysis. Because it was so difficult to understand, and because I found all the available information unhelpful (and even frustrating), I produced my own analysis of Beyond the Black Rainbow. Because the spin of the U.S. marketing campaign so thoroughly permeated most sources of information, but didn't match what I actually saw, I also produced my own analysis of Clouds of Sils Maria. And as I found the common wisdom about the film to be so misleading, I produced my own guide to appreciating 2001: A Space Odyssey.



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