Mamo #332: Canon Ball

Special guest star Ryan McNeil joins the podcast for a three-way conversation about the place of canon in a cinephile’s life. Are “blind spot” series blinding? Or does the appreciation of the art form improve when you do your homework?

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo332.mp3

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tederick
Guest
Jandy Hardesty
Guest

I probably won’t get a chance to listen to this until Monday, but expect comments then. ūüôā

Sean Kelly
Guest

I absolutely LOVED studying film in university and, even though I probably don’t remember half the films I saw, I believe it really helped me to hone my skills as a writer about film. ¬†As proof, look at my blog archive and look at the point where the number of posts a year suddenly balloon (i.e. around 2007 or so when I was in my second year of film studies).

I think there are good points at both sides of the equation. ¬†For me, I participate in blindspot, since it gives me a reason to finally see films that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time. ¬†I typically write about every film I see for the first time, whether its a formal blindspot post on my blog or a brief blurb on Letterboxd. ¬†I would say that my blindspot posts are half review, half reflection.

I think the only time I really saw a film because of a “Really? You didn’t see that?” was The Godfather, which shocked my (Italian) family members. ¬†So much so, that my cousin got me the blu-ray for Christmas last year. ¬†I actually decided to make it a “bonus” blindspot post in March.

Yes, there aren’t any films that I HAVE to see, but there are still quite a lot that I WANT to see and blindspot is a way for me to do that. It also allows me to check out films I keep hearing praise for, such as a certain John Carpenter film…

ThomasWishloff
Guest

You Know¬† tederick¬†I don’t think you realize how lucky you are when it comes to movie going in the GTA. I looked at showtimes specifically in Toronto Proper and there are according to Google 6 different place with which you could on a whim go and see 12 Years a Slave. That also doesn’t count your ability to go to a surrounding area like Richmond Hill and see the film at a cineplex there.¬†I live in Edmonton, Alberta, where there is one screening (6:45pm) for¬†12 Years a Slave. We have 2 and a half art house theatres, one of which gets by by being specifically a Canadian Content theatre so it can get funding from the government, and the half of which is a multiplex that is half films that are no longer in mainstream cinemas that are mainstream films (like Kick-Ass 2) and half Bollywood films. We don’t even have Blue is The Warmest Color¬†at all, and probably won’t get it until late April, if we get it at all. Each month there is one historical retrospective of a “classic” film, most of which are films that were major North American Pop Culture hits at some point. Case in point this months showing is Die Hard, and most of the films are of a similar ilk.¬†You have a screening of Cabaret¬†this week, I’d love to see that on the big screen, and I probably never will in Edmonton.¬†

That’s why for me a personal cannon is essential, because seeing that 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her will have a showing in the pickup truck capital of the universe (which it won’t) is a personal reminder to me as a cinephile that this is probably my only chance to see this movie on the big screen, or even at all. When I’m browsing through Toys R’ Us for film Nerds (HMV), I use that personal cannon to buy films that I want to see, like when I bought A Seperation, which is one of my personal favourites of all time because I had it mentally filed into a personal must see list. The so called film cannon is what I’m interesting in watching. I’m more interested in seeing Andrei Rublev, than I am in seeing Hunger Games Round 2. I know there a greater chance that I’ll like that dense Tarkovsky movie than I will the handheld shaky cam that I despised so much the first time.¬†

For someone that wants to watch arthouse and classic films, I need some form of a cannon, because I have to find the films myself. I can’t just depend on the film coming to my neighbourhood because It isn’t going to come to my neighbourhood.

Rick Vance
Guest

I have a problem with blind spotting type things mostly because I try to always make the stuff I am watching things I have not seen before in most cases.

Also the idea of a film canon places importance on some movies instead of just on all movies which I have a problem with.

tederick
Guest

Oh I assure you, I know exactly how lucky I am. These points aren’t mutually exclusive.

ThomasWishloff
Guest

tederick¬†Just Checking ūüėČ

trackback

[…] Usually, this sort of position would lead me to pound out a few hundred words in response. However, when the person making the point is a fellow podcaster – and a local one at that – why not sit down over a beverage and have it out on-air. So that’s exactly what we did. […]

Rick Vance
Guest

Having now listened to the podcast (which was fantastic) I now have more weird problems with canon and blindspotting.
I feel like personally I have a very specific taste and it has stayed relatively consistent  throughout my life, to the point where when I have gone back to things I enjoyed when I was younger I found them populated with direct references to things I now enjoy greatly. I think more often than not people come into their taste and then it solidifies more and more.

At least for the stuff in which are the things they greatly enjoy. I can like near any well made movie but it is the ones that lock into that specific taste that will always rise above.
Which by definition makes Canon kinda weird because it is a look at movies as a form which encompasses all types / styles / genres / whathaveyou.

Mike_Rot
Guest

I tweeted about loving The Big Chill to out myself, essentially, self-aware that I was one of the few catching up.  And for me it mattered because it was part of a larger bias towards eighties drama, my own blindspot blackhole.  Stupidly I had perceived the eighties as a time when people were having too much fun (or doing too much coke) to concern themselves with the finer art of storytelling, or gravitas.  As a result, I missed some potentially great movies because of a John Hughesified misconception of the decade.   

As with most things tweeted, it was a conversation with myself, a what the fuck were you thinking not seeing this before? 

My muse is rife with blindspots because it’s as flawed as I am. ¬†I can’t rely on it. ¬†I sometimes require recommendations from trusted sources or to have films curated in such a way as to make the bridge into the unknown more enticing.

Making a list of films that I have left to see would terrify me. ¬†I lack the Matt Brown nonchalance of hitting the grave with the films ya got. ¬†I am an anxious person in general, and this drive I have to push further is not to be a completest for my gold star, but because this is it folks, this is life, there are so many experiences and insights to be gleaned, and then were dead. ¬†And I am well past nihilism and absolutes: life is about creating and playing, and we may not get to all the toys, all the crayons, but damn if I’m not going to at least try.

I don’t see the point of bottling opinions up, keeping your experiences to yourself or resisting the invitations of others. ¬†They’re not precious. ¬†Nor should tweeting something be all that calculated, outside of running for public office. ¬†Some people are worried about Klout, and followers and the syntax of etiquette, but life is too short for these sorts of anxieties. ¬† ¬† ¬†

As N.N.Taleb says, maximize the serendipity around you. ¬†Muse gets you only so far, there’s something to be said for pushing past your threshold of comfort once and awhile.

Mike_Rot
Guest

My opinion on opinions (canonical or otherwise): ¬†“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jandy Hardesty
Guest

Dang it, you guys! I was gearing up to come out swinging, and you actually ended up being way too reasonable for me to argue with you.

Here are just a few extra thoughts. I think the idea of a canon (or a blind spot list based on “canon” or other people’s input) has a two-fold purpose. One is to help us find more films in areas we already like – say I liked Double Indemnity but had no idea what other film noir movies to see. A list of great film noirs will help me hone in on some. The other is to help us expand our horizons and see things we might never have seen otherwise. Now, this case might lead to a dead end if you don’t like the film, but it might open you up to a whole new genre, filmmaker, movement, or national cinema that you didn’t know about before. How else are you going to find out about them if someone doesn’t tell you?
Also, the issue of “if I didn’t like it there’s something wrong with me” is a totally different one than the issue of “other people think this film is great, maybe I should see it.” One is about how you go about choosing what films to watch, the other is about your opinion AFTER you watch it. Now, I do think Ryan is right that revisiting things you don’t like can be a great thing to do. If something is highly regarded and I don’t care for it, I usually make a mental note to rewatch it in about five or ten years. There are too many films that I didn’t get and suddenly DID get on a much later rewatch for me to discount the value of it.

And when it comes to the question of feeling qualified to talk about something, I both agree and disagree with Matt (Brown). On the one hand, you don’t need to reach a certain threshold of knowledge and experience to have an opinion on any one film. I can watch The Hidden Fortress and go “meh, that does nothing for me.” Totally valid. However, I can’t very well extrapolate that to a wider group of films. I can’t take that experience of not caring for The Hidden Fortress and say “I don’t like Kurosawa films” or “I don’t like Japanese films” based on that one film alone. That’s like Ryan’s example of having seen three lesser Coen films and really not being qualified to talk about or understand who they are as filmmakers and why they are so respected. A lot of times when I make Blind Spot lists, this is the kind of thing I have in mind. I’ve seen one Ozu film, one Mizoguchi film, and a handful of Kurosawa films. I am certainly qualified to talk about how I felt about each of them individually. But I am NOT qualified to talk about Japanese film of the 1930s-1960s or how these films fit among their contemporaries, because I haven’t seen enough. This is perhaps my academic side coming through, but if I start to write an article about Japanese film, yeah, I absolutely don’t feel qualified to do it. I haven’t seen enough of the primary texts yet. So I think that’s a distinction that needs to be made – you are always qualified to have an opinion on any given film that you’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about the bigger picture that film is part of if you’ve seen it in isolation.

Finally, one last point. You advocate walking out of films if they’re not doing anything for you (or turning off), but Matt Brown, you said yourself that Beau Travail only hit you in the last five minutes, and only became really special to you in the weeks and months after seeing it. If you had left in the middle, which you said you were suffering through, you would’ve missed that. Are you glad you stayed, or do you wish you’d left and done something else you might’ve enjoyed more in the moment? Or did I misinterpret your comments about Beau Travail?

tederick
Guest

That’s the first time “way too reasonable” has been applied to a Mamo, thanks for that.

For whatever it’s worth, I’m not in any way arguing against fighting one’s way through difficult material, per your Beau Travail question. I’m entirely glad I stayed. That’s sort of a separate issue, maybe not connecting particularly well to my overall point.

coreypierceart
Guest

This episode just made my list even longer, as I’ve never seen The Big Chill OR Moonstruck.
Anyways, going back to the #watchitagain mantra…

What falls under “DON’T WATCH IT AGAIN”, movies that you consider legimitately great but will never retain any of the same magic on even a single rewatch?

Rick Vance
Guest

A lot of the summer movies I see fall into that because I feel there is a huge effect to the huge screen that helps those movies. Some examples would be Avatar, Pacific Rim and the like.

mattmovies
Guest

There are tons of movies I liked so much that I don’t want to dilute the experience. Cronenberg’s Crash, Eraserhead, The Sea Inside, Eternal Sunshine, lots. When something is powerfully emotional and I get all the fruit off the stone I’m generally good to live with it in my memory.

coreypierceart
Guest

In both this and Rick’s examples, I’m more likely to ‘pick the meat off the bones’ and go back to those than I am to revisit to ones that didn’t nourish me initially.

mattmovies
Guest

It’s a balancing, some stuff I love lots and want to go back again and again. I’ve been doing the coen series at lightbox, there’s no limit for me with their films. I’ve seen Wings of desire maybe a hundred times. It’s a bit ineffable.

matinee_ca
Guest

coreypierceart¬†The ones I tend to say I’m done with are the ones that really shake me up emotionally. I doubt I’ll ever rewatch Requiem For a Dream (as brilliant as I think it is). Amour is another recent example.

JamesMcNally
Guest

I think I expressed myself well on Twitter, but hate that things scroll away into thin air. Here is what I said to Matt’s original post:

1. As the ostensible suggester of the Blind Spot series (and someone who’s given up on it already), I concur wholeheartedly. [with the idea that film is not and should not be a “mission”]
2. The Internet has enabled a kind of obsession that I find exhausting and joy-stealing.
3. I particularly loved your advice to LIVE YOUR LIFE. That experience of being a human adds to enjoying films as much/more than simply watching more films.
4. Hardly any filmmakers in history saw as many films as the average obsessive film blogger sees now.
5. My thinking with the Blind Spot thing was to break out of habit and overcome prejudice or laziness.

So when I say I’ve “givein up” it’s not that I don’t think the idea is/was valid. I’m just not so good at sticking to a plan. I did this to myself to try to inculcate a little bit MORE obsession, though I still bristle at lots of other people’s obsessive tendencies. In other words, I’m a natural list-maker but I still hate awards season. Because you know, I also started the CAST Awards, which is a bunch of year-end lists. I can’t NOT do it, but I still cringe when the same old stuff bubbles up to the top. I’m just weird that way, I guess. But completely normal, too, I suspect. ūüôā

KurtHalfyard
Guest

I come at this whole Blindspot thing from the positive point of view. ¬†It’s a movie that has been canonized by the vivid if imperfect calculus of “pop culture + cinephilia + time.” ¬†I’m certainly curious. ¬†It’s not a mission insofar as its is a journey, a happily voluntary and enthusiastic journey with some occasional reluctance that generally results in good things (Call it the Bilbo Baggin’s effect). ¬†

I don’t “PLOW” thru these films (albeit I tend to binge on new stuff at festivals – guilty as charged), but am indeed fortunate enough to live in a city that I can buy tickets to see Au Hasard Balthazar as equally as Come Drink With Me, or Night of the Hunter. ¬†A good chunk of my uber-ciniphilia comes simply from programmers of rep houses and cinematheques taking me along. ¬†And if you aren’t luck enough to live in a city where the buffet is always spread out before you, then online/blogging/forums/social-media and good curators are a boon…heck, the Criterion Collection is as good a start (and really, just a start) as any, I love their essays in particular and blogging is not far from that…¬†

I don’t follow lists, or check of boxes, I just tend to read a lot about cinema online or in books that offer loads of titles to further carry my interest or whim. ¬†Certainly I felt that way with the Mark Cousins doc, plus I tended to like his futile attempt trying to corral the uncorralable. That is the blindspot for me in a nut shell, any implied insecurity (“blind” “shame” etc. is purely in jest, or at least a tacit acknowledgement of the human reaction of making a big show of “You Haven’t Seen XXXXX???!!!” ¬†I don’t take offence to it, any more than I take offence to someone using ums or ahs when they talk, it’s just the way our puny little meat brains work.

What was I talking about again?  Oh, yea.  The opening of Raising Arizona is a doozy.

BobTurnbull
Guest

coreypierceart¬†I actually did Moonstruck earlier this year as part of a Blindspot (along with Fatal Attraction – a double whammy from 1987) that I posted <a href=”http://www.rowthree.com/2013/04/01/blindspotting-moonstruck-and-fatal-attraction/”>here at RowThree</a>. I think together they provide a pretty interesting view of fidelity around that time…
Schindler’s List is one that Iikely won’t revisit.

BobTurnbull
Guest

OK, I obviously haven’t been paying attention to how these freaking Livefyre comments work – how the hell do you do html links on text?

coreypierceart
Guest

For me that’s Hotel Rwanda

BobTurnbull
Guest

KurtHalfyard¬†I think you’ve captured my feelings on it pretty damn well Kurt.
I’m glad Matt P used the term “mischaracterized” early in the episode because I think that’s what’s essentially been done to the term Blindspot. Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice of words to call, but it’s never been about trying to complete a challenge or “the canon” – it’s been about finally catching up to those films you’ve always wanted to see (with the occasional “pushing my boundaries” selection).

I think the comments about people leaning on a CANON are a bit of a strawman to be honest. Whenever I’ve encountered the “You haven’t seen…!!??” it’s typically come from a position of “I love this film and I think you will too…”
And when it comes from Ryan there’s also a bit of “Nyah!” attached to it too…B-)