Taking Movies Seriously, by Tyler Smith
Much has been said on the show about David and I “not taking movies seriously.” This came about due to our mentioning that we hadn’t seen this film or that. And, indeed, this is something that movie fans around the world will eventually run into. None of us have seen everything and, sooner or later, you’ll run across somebody that simply cannot believe that you haven’t seen their absolute favorite film of all time. These encounters usually end with the person emphasizing how good this film is and how much you’ll like it. Sometimes, though, the person will mention that their opinion of you has gone down just a little bit. After all, if you were a true film fan, you would have seen that film by now.
Common sense will tell you that it would be easy to respond to this person with a list of some of your favorite films. And, as always, it would just be a matter of time before you arrived at a film that they hadn’t seen. Whether you actually respond in this manner is usually a function of your definition of self preservation. To some, it means simply knowing that this person is ridiculous and that you don’t want to get pulled into a further debate with this person. To others, it means coming right back and blasting them with a list of the most obscure titles you can think of.
For me, though, the “not taking movies seriously” claim led to a deep introspection about where I had been spending my time. When I was a teenager, and had first started getting into film, I was hungry. Every trip to the video store was an exciting adventure. Everything was fresh. There was no genre in which I had no interest; everything fascinated me. I drank in film, often watching at least seven movies a week. Truly, it was exhilarating.
But, as I got older and graduated film school, I found myself getting pulled in several different directions. I had a job that required about 40 hours of my time per week. I had a girlfriend with whom I was not merely expected to spend time, but with whom I desperately wanted to spend time. Then there were the friends that I liked to be with, and the various church commitments that I made. Soon, it became hard enough to even watch two movies per week, much less seven.
As time went on, and I started the podcast, my movie intake increased, but never quite reached the level of when I was 16.
Though I was doing the podcast and felt that I could hold my own in almost any movie conversation, the word “Fraud” started to emerge in the back of my head. I was hosting a movie podcast and yet wasn’t watching many movies. And there were many notable films that I had never seen. There were respected directors whose works had gone completely unseen by me. I started to feel guilty; like I was putting one over on my listeners every week.
I tried to console myself by keeping in mind that I was busy doing other things that were of equal- if not greater- importance. I was spending time with my wife and friends, working at a good job, and trying to grow spiritually. To be sure, I do value these things and consider them to be more important than movies. But there was the nagging voice in my head, telling me that I was just trying to justify my lack of discipline as a movie watcher. Sure, friends were important, but, seriously, how many friends does a guy need? And, hey, couldn’t I always go out to a movie with my wife? That counts as quality time, right? And putting church ahead of film? Gimme a break.
Then came the inevitable claims from a small number of listeners that we weren’t “taking movies seriously.” It was devastating. I felt like I had been found out. I could no longer perpetrate the fraud. It was all going to start crumbling now. Soon, everybody would realize that I didn’t know what I was talking about and deserved no say in the cinematic conversation.
I mostly kept these concerns to myself, but they were always there. I wish I could say that I have gotten over them, but I haven’t. Not yet, anyway. The constant nagging feeling of being an undisciplined hack is always there, repeating “Fraud” over and over. Sometimes, it’s a whisper that can be very easily ignored. Other times, however, it is a scream that drowns out all other thoughts. Being a critic has its personal drawbacks, and, for me, the most oppressive has been the desperate desire for credibility. And in the world of on-line film criticism, credibility is a hard thing to come by. There is always somebody that has seen more; always somebody looking to take you down in order to puff themselves up.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I caught a break.
My wife and I were talking about how little time I had to watch movies, to write, to really do anything of artistic stimulation. During this conversation, my wife suggested cutting back on my hours at work. This seemed to me to be an impossibility. To cut back on work would mean a significant reduction in pay. Plus, the holidays are coming up. My wife- my beautiful, wonderful wife- suggested that it didn’t matter that much. We would just have to reduce our monthly spending.
I couldn’t believe it. In movie after movie, you see the shrill wife who simply doesn’t understand her husband’s passion. She wants stability, dammit, and his dreams just aren’t practical. But for my wife to actually encourage me to further pursue the things that I love to do and actually make less money as a result? I couldn’t conceive of it.
But, after a lot of talking and, yes, some prayer, I e-mailed my employer and asked to cut back on my workload. She agreed. It wound up only being about a 20% cut in work, but it made all the difference. In the last two and a half weeks, I have watched about fifteen movies. It has been absolutely invigorating.
Some of the movies I’ve watched have been good and some have been bad. It doesn’t matter, really. To simply engage with film again on a level I haven’t achieved in years is more than enough for me. And to think that behind it all is a wife that isn’t merely “okay with it,” but is, in fact, enthusiastic about my finally getting back on track is astounding.
The last couple years have been rough for me. There have been moments of extreme self doubt, anger, and depression. The feelings of aimlessness and weakness have, at times, seemed overwhelming. And they’re not gone; but things are definitely improving. There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
It has been a very dry season. But it’s starting to rain.
Now it’s time to get to work. Stay tuned.