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Entering Cinephilia Through the Cerebral Gate

Entering Cinephilia Through the Cerebral Gate

In one of the entries in Slate’s ‘The Movie Club,’ a year-end exchange of films between writers Dana Stevens, Dan Kois, Stephanie Zacharek, Matt Zoller Seitz and former Spout editor Karina Longworth, Seitz argues that “emotion is the gateway drug to all cinephilia.” And once again, due to my heartless approach to film, I’m realizing that I must be either a bad critic or bad cinephile, or both. Here’s more from Seitz’s entry, overall concentrated on the emotional merits of “The Fighter”:

I mean real cinephilia, which is endlessly curious and always on the search for the next innovation, the next curveball, the next epiphany. That comes from feeling—from personal response. Nobody falls in love with movies because some director framed a shot in a particular way or slyly quoted F.W. Murnau. That stage of appreciation always comes second or third or tenth in a cinephile’s evolution. No, people fall in love with movies because they speak to them honestly and directly and with eccentric conviction, like new friends they really didn’t expect to make—people who just sort of came out of nowhere and made them realize, “Oh my God … I’m not alone! Somebody else gets it.”

Actually, I get what he’s saying completely, and I’m somewhat regretful that emotion was not my gateway to cinema nor has it been much of a part of my brand of cinephilia. I’m pretty certain that after growing up with a predominantly passive enjoyment of movies (pretty much all movies, except those I found really emotionally cheesy, like “E.T.,” which I hated as a youth), that what finally did spark my passion for cinema was my notice of interestingly framed shots, along with my growing interest in complex narratives and clever dialogue. I hate to admit this, but like every other kid who went off to film school in 1995, I was especially inspired at the time by Quentin Tarantino, who was not making films that sparked an emotional response from any of us.

I don’t like to think that I’m a cold-hearted or unfeeling person, and I’m very appreciative and surprised when a movie does touch me emotionally. The rare times I shed a tear during a movie really stick with me for this reason, though oftentimes it’s music cues that hit me in the gut and heart. But it’s a fact, not opinion, that my most personal responses to cinema are through my head. I think the same actually goes for my personal responses to people, including sudden new friends. I think there’s another gateway to cinema for people like us.

Interestingly enough, I don’t concentrate too much on shots or cutting or other aesthetic components when I write about film either. I leave that to my more academic writing, much of which I’m bored with. I also am fully aware that many moviegoers aren’t as into the kinds of cerebral interests as I am and I try to find the gate through which to reach those viewers. I’m still searching.

“The Fighter,” by the way, has still eluded me, as have many other films released late in the last year. Now I can’t wait to find room for it soon and see if I can involve my emotions as much as my mind while watching. It should be a fun challenge.

Update: Monika Bartyzel chimes in at Cinematical:

I’d argue that there was an emotional response from the grads of the ’90s growing up on Quentin Tarantino’s catchy wordplay.

We might not have related to killers-for-hire, hard drugs and tidal waves of sickly red blood, but we were a generation responding to the more simple earnestness and mainstream waves of the ’80s. For the teens of the ’90s, film was about noncomformist views, irresistable music and word play. Ours was a generation of ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Clerks.’ Instead of an assault of greater-than-life heroes battling ridiculous villains, we were trained to sympathize with all characters of cinema, finding heart in ‘The Professional’ or finding a friend in a previous foe with ‘Terminator 2.’

I still defend my lack of emotion, at least as a primary response gateway, but I like what she has to say about our generation. Read the rest at Cinematical.

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