April 23 - October 7, 2017
Well, the last time I posted was four months ago*, December 20.
Since then, the most productive I’ve been with regards to this blog is simply watching movies and adding it to my list of films that I’ve seen this year (which you can find in the margin at the right, natch!). Although I wish I were more productive in the writing/posting department, I am glad that I seem to finally be watching some movies with regularity, something that I seemed to start doing the last couple years and then really got into the swing of things by the end of 2016. I think a strong finish fueled by my regular attendance to the 10-day Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival in November really helped. My goal was to arbitrarily watch 100 films last year and I wasn’t sure I was going to pull it off by the end of October, but Buffalo Dreams got me into a film watching groove.
Since then, I’ve been on a tear.
My impulsive decision at the beginning of February to audit a Horror Film Class at SUNY Brockport has also helped immensely. There’s still a couple weeks of that class, but it’s been a really great experience watching a number of classic and influential films in the genre. I got into the class a couple weeks late, so I missed some silent films (like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), but I started off strong with FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA (the 1931 Tod Browning directed/Bela Lugosi version) and I also watched the simultaneously shot Spanish-language version (George Melford directed/Carlos Villarias as the Count).
On one level, it’s been great seeing the different trends in horror through the years, seeing the early models for the horror film with the Universal films, but then other efforts like 1942’s CAT PEOPLE, which I really loved and was impressed by. There were also classics that I had seen before and now re-visited, like 1956’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Updates of the Universal monster classics, like Hammer Films’s more colorful and more overtly erotic HORROR OF DRACULA, and the fascinating career “misstep” by respected British director Michael Powell, PEEPING TOM (1960). I had seen the Powell film years ago (ca. 1980) at the Pittsburgh Playhouse but had forgotten much of it. Seeing it again, I was very much impressed by PEEPING TOM, especially it’s sympathy for the troubled main character, Mark, which echoes similar sympathetic (and similarly impressive) treatment for troubled main character Irena in the original CAT PEOPLE. So interesting to know that PEEPING TOM derailed Powell’s career, but that failure also proved to be an instructive lesson for Alfred Hitchcock and his handling of his controversial but instead successful, and ultimately, influential film, PSYCHO, made later the same year.
A quick visit to J-horror territory with RINGU (for the first time) made me also want to re-visit director Gore Verbinski’s American remake, THE RING. I loved THE RING when I first saw it, and now that I’ve seen the original, I actually prefer the remake. But, watching them both made me mentally join the pair of films in the same way I've done to the two 1931 DRACULA films. Regarding the dual 1931 depiction of Dracula: although I definitely have a personal preference - I enjoy the Spanish DRACULA more than the more famous Lugosi film - after watching both it’s hard not to compare back and forth between the two. Interestingly, watching the Spanish film made me also appreciate some of the differences of the English language edition, and specifically, I believe, Browning’s directorial hand. RINGU and THE RING have equally fused themselves as Siamese celluloid twins in my head and it’s hard not to compare the two as I watched one.
With the end of class on the horizon only two weeks away, I’m thinking what attending this class has done for me, or more accurately, to me.
As a self-described aspiring filmmaker and also as a (supposed) cinemaphile blogger, I can tell the class has already affected my thinking in both areas.
From a filmmaking perspective, I’ve been considering the creative choices in these films and how they impacted their audiences, how these films managed to make an impression on a culture, not only within the horror genre but beyond it sometimes. One of the most significant elements in some of these important films is that of ambiguity in the handling of the material which lends itself to more flexibility in thematic interpretation and audience ownership of the film’s subject and (interpreted) themes. This has both a cultural effect (raising a film’s importance as cinematic art) and an economic effect (more people who have a significant reaction to a film results in more word of mouth, more publicity, more box office).
As for my blog, i.e my writing about films, I feel like I’ve been seduced by the “academic side” now: I’m reading more into a film and debating its meanings and interpretations. But, this is also influences my ideas towards screenwriting, wondering how to make the material I’m writing more accessible to an audience as a jumping point for ideas and themes in their own interpretations/reactions to the film I’m writing. Hopefully they’ll be getting something out of the movie more than simply the plot or plot elements, but also possibly something to intellectually chew on as well.
So, potentially, the benefits for having attended this class I think are genuine, but in actuality, now it’s a matter of my executing on these new ideas and ambitions. Dammit! Well, we’ll see how this shakes out in that area.
But, in the meantime, I’ve felt particulalrly fulfilled having watched all these movies and in this academic context, studying them and also discussing them with others afterward. As a matter of fact, even though I haven’t said much about the class discussions after we've watched a film, that part of the class dynamic has also been a rewarding and even eye-opening experience. It’s been a great and educational process altogether and I’m really thankful I impulsively took the plunge to attend Professor Carter Soles’ inaugural voyage teaching this film class.
*Okay, make that almost TEN months ago.