A Year of Productivity and Neglect: My first anniversary and why I didn’t get into film studies to save the world

A few days ago it very suddenly dawned on me that this week marks the first anniversary of this blog.

The suddenness of the revelation as opposed to some sort of drawn-out period of anticipation has a great deal to do with the fact that it’s been months since I last posted here, despite having once offered something new on a weekly basis.

So, what happened?

I addressed some of the reasons why I fell off my weekly commitment in an earlier post marking six months of blogging: the burnout that results from how a weekly schedule can turn writing into a chore, especially when met with the apparent indifference of readers to what I was writing. Breaking through the cacophony of film commentary on the web isn’t easy after all.

But most of my neglect of this blog is due to the typically cited invasion of “real life” which has left little opportunity or energy to write. Graduate school is an all-consuming thing. The level of dedication it requires tends to crowd out everything else, and not just because of the demands it puts on your time. Thinking about a certain set of problems in a certain set of ways for most of your day makes it hard to think about anything else.

That stuck intellectual switch is a bigger problem than it may seem in my case because of what being in the “on” position means.

One of the reasons I started this blog is because my discipline is gradually drifting away from the kind of work I do, and I needed an outlet that was under no obligation to follow the shifting intellectual currents that mark Cinema Studies. It was solely up to me what I wrote and how I wrote it, without a moment’s hesitation over whether it went with the flow of those currents or not.

And I got spoiled.

During my undergraduate career I didn’t particularly mind that the questions I was concerned with weren’t the questions the discipline was primarily focused on answering. I have always taken a certain pleasure in playing the iconoclast and it didn’t feel like a struggle to make my own concerns fit the constraints of whatever I was learning. It was something of an intellectual challenge. A game.

But after spending months writing whatever I wanted to on this blog those constraints began to feel less like something to be played with and poked at so that I could write about film in a way that excited me while still fulfilling the requirements of my curriculum, and more like concrete barriers.

And barriers that were threatening to fence me out if I didn’t start going with the flow.

Cinema Studies is a discipline that always seems to be in perpetual crisis, but the advent of digital technologies which have radically altered the three core aspects of filmmaking (production, distribution, and exhibition), along with the rise of other image-based media that have increasingly demanded engaged critical thought, have gradually eroded cinema as a stable object of study.

Existential crises abound.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Media of expression like cinema change and evolve, and so too should the ways we talk about them. Nor should we ignore other media just because cinema is our declared focus.

Having grown up with TV more than movies I never felt its often supposed inferiority to cinema (an inferiority that very few commentators still hold to be true) and have always been interested in how stories get told on TV, how seriality effects how you build characters and narratives, how TV has developed its own stylistic patterns to solve the problems serial narration presents.

Those of you who have a foot in Cinema Studies might have already spotted the problem.

In the “About” section of this blog I told you that I write about film because I find it endlessly and powerfully fascinating. The reason for that fascination is a knotty, impossible problem that I will never solve, but the attempt has led me to focus on particular aspects of the study of film.

Reduced to its barest simplicity, my fascination always draws me toward issues of style and story. Films are complex machines ticking away in front of us, but I’m not content to just watch the hands sweep around the clock face. I need to get a peek at the gears.

It’s wonderful that Cinema Studies tackles broader questions of the politics of identity, of how our perceptions of race and gender are shaped by the stories we consume. Questioning the ideological impact of media is critical in a media saturated world. So is questioning the nature of media itself. Big ontological questions of what media actually are and do.

And that means moving away from style and story to broader concerns of culture, politics, and philosophy.

But I’m a selfish academic. I didn’t get into film studies to save the world. I want to understand something of the nature of how film works and how it works on me.

I want to start with the gears before I ponder the nature of time.

Academia is a competitive field. In order to get funding or get hired your research not only has to be insightful and intelligent, it also has to be sexy. And the gears of the cinematic machine aren’t sexy.

Cinema Studies is consumed with other questions. And that’s fine. But for me the most interesting questions stem from particular films or groups of films and how they work.

Doesn’t this blog provide an outlet for those questions? Sure.

But after months of being pulled in the opposite direction it’s difficult to imagine getting back to where I was a year ago.

I haven’t fallen out of love with cinema, but the feeling that I’ve dedicated myself to a discipline that seems to have less and less room for me has been an intellectual sucker punch that makes mustering the energy to write difficult.

Being an iconoclast can be fun, but it can also be exhausting.

In case this is all sounding a bit too gloomy, the irresistible pull of my fascination for film will always bring me back to writing about it.

If anything can confirm that for me it is what involuntarily escaped my mouth after The Force Awakens.

I turned to my designated movie companion, fully engulfed in post-movie delighted excitement and said, “That was fun as hell and clever in any number of ways… I must study it!”

Tick, tick, tick…


2 thoughts on “A Year of Productivity and Neglect: My first anniversary and why I didn’t get into film studies to save the world

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