Sunday 28 March 2010

Strange Currencies - By The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter is a film geek (his words, not mine) from Toronto, Canada - where I hear they also have movies. He writes a wonderful film blog called The Dark Of The Matinee. I always thought being a film reviewer would be quite a fun thing, but as Mad Hatter explains in his guest post, it's not as straight forward as you might think.

Strange Currencies
By The Mad Hatter

When and how did this happen?

One moment, I’m watching movie after movie and soaking each one in for all it’s worth. The movies I watched furthered my amusement and cultured my opinion – sometimes all at once. But then I had to go and do something to screw that blissful existence up. The days of watching for watching’s sake were gone, and the days of near compulsion had begun. The seismic shift that set this tremor of geekdom off was seemingly innocent: one day, I started a movie blog.

It all started innocently enough. I was bored of blogging of my day-to-day life, and thought I might get more of a creative spark – and likewise the potential for a wider audience – if I focused my writings on a particular passion. Movie watching seemed the natural fit, since beyond listening to music it was the only thing I did excessively (sidebar: what would life have turned into if I’d started a music blog instead?).

So with a clean slate and a new url, I began to chronicle my own cinemania, and for a while everything was just fine. Then after a year or so, I started to notice a slight change in how I watched movies and what I watched. I was no longer just watching for watching’s sake. Any new movie I saw was seen through the eyes of a studious wannabe critic. I’d ponder star ratings mid-film, burn quotes into my memory for soundbiting purposes, and even began (horrors!)…taking notes!

That was bad enough, but it all got worse during the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. This is the time of year that I’m actually on vacation – yes, I take time away from work to watch movies nonstop. In ’08, this experience went from being nothing but fun, to actually becoming work. It wasn’t enough to watch three or four screenings a day, I started filling in the remaining free hours of the day writing about what I’d just seen.

The shift in my attitude was probably best exemplified the night I returned to my apartment at midnight, knowing full well I had to wake up at six a.m. the next morning. I thought to myself “I could write about one of the movies I’ve seen today, or I can hit the hay now and get a solid six hours sleep”. To paraphrase INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE: I chose….. poorly.

Am I now writing about the movies I watch, or am I watching movies in order to write about them? Have I become completely incapable of turning my analytical attitude off and quite simply be entertained by a movie I’ve never watched before. My nerdy movie obsession seemed bad enough with the fact that the “To See” list is literally never-ending. Soaking all of these titles in with half my brain focused on what I’m going to say about it later damn near takes that obsession and turns it into full on lunacy.

Now indeed, I realize, that the easy answer is to just “stop writing”. Believe me, this fact isn’t lost on me, and was actually underlined by a recent conversation with a pro blogger who reminded me that while I might not get paid to do what I do, I have the luxury of quite simply deciding not to do it. Unfortunately I fear that I can’t go back; that even if I was blocked from every port of access to the Internet, I could never again watch a movie “just for fun”. I’ll always be making mental notes just in case the movie comes up in conversation and someone asks me “what did you think?”

Sometimes, I think back to the first movie I saw. I remember being that wide-eyed five year old kid sitting next to his granddad and watching Pinocchio valiantly try to escape from Monstro the Whale in his tiny boat. I wonder if that kid would even recognize the hit-count junkie of a grown-up he’d turn into.

But before the shame can truly take over, I remind myself of one simple fact. That I’m writing about something I truly love. I’m doing it even though nobody is paying me to do it…I’m a champion of positivity in a very cynical community…and that I’ve met a lot of really great people, and had some truly exciting opportunities because of it.

So indeed, I might be past the point of just being able to “watch a movie”. I might have fed the figurative mogwai after midnight and now there’s no changing him back. But if that change affords that Monstro-fearing kid the opportunity to express his cinematic thoughts on a limitless scale…then indeed the Gizmo I once was is gone for good – I’m Stripe now, and watching movies just got a lot more interesting because of it.

Read more from The Mad Hatter over at The Dark Of The Matinee.

Care to share?


  1. The question you pose about whether you watch movies to write about or write about movies you watch calls to mind an invaluable quote from Joseph Conrad that I hold close to me: people don't write because they want to say something. People write because they have something to say. Excellent editorial, I've faced many of the same problems myself and also came to many of the same conclusions.

  2. Well, you know when you're seeing a movie because you want to, and when you see when because you feel obligated to (for the review). Best to mix it, if you must.

  3. You need a bad movie marathon Mad, that's what you need :)

  4. I think the important part is the tears - do you still get emotionally attached? I welled-up at the start of The Lion King musical and, obviously, got a little misty with Up.

    I think I have got more emotionally attached to films since deciding to focus on them more professionally - and not the other way around.

    Love the Gremlins comparison! Analysis is inevitably an afterthought - I reckon to some extent you are just processing films faster and have refined your style of watching films - not erased any emotional attachment.



  5. Great post, Mad. I have had some of the same thoughts, but ultimately I think blogging about movies I watch has added to the experience. I think about each film more, as opposed to just absorbing tons of movies and then forgetting them, plus it encourages me to watch a greater variety. I hate that I start thinking of a rating half-way through, but I don't think it's curtailed my genuine passion for cinema one bit.

    I'm glad you haven't been convinced to stop!

  6. Another great post Mad, though I have to admit this something I used to worry about a lot. These days I've mastered doing a bit of both. Some movies I just watch for me, and don't review. And I go in knowing that (usually films from the 80s/90s that are more guilty pleasures than anything serious), so I don't bother about it.

    Hope you figure it all out :)

  7. @Univarn

    That's how I felt about It's Complicated and Sherlock Holmes. Fluff, yet entertaining. No need to write about it.