It’s interesting to see that, in the 11 years or so I’ve been blogging, my writing has actually changed — for the better, I hope. Whether it’s an improvement in style (debatable), an acquisition of both writing and cinematic vocabularies, or a genuine attempt in taking the stuff more seriously, it’s a reflection of an ongoing, immersive, giddy education in consuming movies. Or, perhaps more aptly, being consumed by them. I can’t think of any other art form that has given me as much pleasure.
It should be clear that this cinematic “education” is not formal at all; when it comes to movies I’m a total amateur — and yes, in the older sense of the word too.
The name of the WordPress blog — film, eyeballs, brain — partly comes from an essay in “The New Yorker” by Jonathan Lethem called “The Beards”. An excerpt from the piece is reproduced in a sidebar, and it should be self-explanatory. (However, I’ve actually taken it a bit out of context. It may be best not to reproduce the succeeding paragraphs as they’re probably a little too revealing — not of Lethem, but of myself. You can find it in anthologized in Lethem’s essay collection The Disappointment Artist, but he rewrote the passage I quote.)
Please add me to your feedreader, link to me on your blogroll, tell friends, and most of all: please leave comments!
(And please don’t tell me that the url looks like it’s four separate words (“Film, Eye, Balls, Brain”) — I know that already. But hey — if Pauline Kael can make explicit references to the erotics of movie-watching in her anthology titles, let it be “balls” then.)
And since this is an “About” page, here are some more random things about me:
1. I grew up totally in the age of videotape, and my parents never went to the movie theaters. (To this date I’ve never been in a movie theater with either of them.) As a consequence I literally saw only about a dozen movies on the big screen before I was nineteen. I’m sure I saw more than a dozen last month alone.
2. The first may have been Sam Wanamaker’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). The second may have been J. Erastheo Navoa’s Pepeng Kulisap (1978). Both movies I saw at the local theater in my little provincial college town in the Philippines. The theater was shut down after its owner, a fertilizer manufacturer who became a movie producer and director, was indicted for a massive Ponzi scheme. There went the local theater.
3. My long and sometimes inexplicable affection for horror films most likely came from the movies that played endlessly during the daytime (!) on Philippine television (specifically, RPN-9) in the Seventies: Roy Ward Baker’s Asylum and Michael Findlay’s Shriek of the Mutilated. These I’ve seen again fairly recently, and they’re both as good/bad as I remembered.
4. My hunger for horror movies was also abetted by my mother, of all people, who rented every slasher flick she could; since this was the early ’80s, there was no shortage of them: Pieces, Happy Birthday To Me, The Prowler, Alone in the Dark. I have not seen any of them since.
5. The early ’80s were also fertile ground for movies of the horny-teenager genre. I wasn’t allowed to see those. No sex, but graphic dismemberment was fine.
6. My mother also rented every Charles Bronson movie she could find. I think my favorite was Death Hunt, only because it also starred Lee Marvin, or maybe The Mechanic, only because it also starred the guy from “Airwolf”. (Every kid I knew wanted to be Jan-Michael Vincent, at least until “MacGyver” came along.) I have not seen these movies since either.
7. The very first videotape we ever rented and watched on our brand-new, cutting-edge piece of machinery — a top-loading Sony Betamax that weighed a ton, later sporting diagonal scratches on the front, after the time our house was burgled, and we found the Betamax sitting in the weeds in the abandoned lot behind our house, presumably abandoned by the thieves because of its weight — was E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. I haven’t seen it since.
8. Because we bought our Betamax at the neighborhood store, we were entitled to a hundred free rentals. I was in charge of listing the titles down in a blue Corona spiral notebook. The ones I saw, which was most of them, were heavily annotated in my scrawl with ratings, directors’ names, and principal cast listings. This may have been the beginning of the end.
9. It took us a while to get through the hundred rentals, because — like Coca-Cola and ice cream sundaes — the videos were reserved only for the weekends.
10. All the videotapes were second-generation copies. About half of the movies were straight-to-video Hollywood detritus, like CFC-stuffed cans of hairspray and expired prescription drugs from the U.S., that washed onto Philippine shores. I ate them all up anyway, for I had no idea what I was missing.
11. I did end up finding out (from Vincent Canby, believe it or not) what I was missing once I got to college — though because it was the same college town I grew up in, I still couldn’t see movies. My mother, a librarian, started bringing home the Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure and Book Review sections from work. It would be a few months late, arriving on a slow boat across the Pacific, but I accepted this blessing with outstretched arms, with fingers eager to be stained by American ink.
12. Oliver Stone filmed Platoon in my hometown the week I graduated from high school. Ten years earlier, Francis Ford Coppola had filmed Apocalypse Now in my home province.
13. This sounds catastrophically nerdy, but I’ve cut classes only twice in my life, and both were to watch movies. One was for Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights, which I saw on an nth-generation bootleg, in turn probably shot from inside a raincoat, at 11:00 in the morning with a group of high school classmates. We squinted at the softcore blur before us and tried to figure out what was going on. The other was for Brian de Palma’s Casualties of War. None of them were worth cutting classes for.
14. I would have loved to tell you how I skipped my classes to see L’Avventura, but unfortunately not.
15. Speaking of “twice”, I’ve walked out of a movie only twice in my life as well. One was Tetsuo: The Iron Man; the other was Son of the Pink Panther.
16. Sleeping in theaters, on the other hand, is another matter. I usually only lose consciousness for a few seconds, but there are two movies (and only two) where I slept all the way through, probably complete with snoring: Mirrormask, and The Philadelphia Story (twice!). I still haven’t seen either of them.
17. The only time I ever shed tears inside a movie theater was at the ending of Cinema Paradiso. My two friends were weeping too.
18. The longest movie I have ever watched was ten and a half hours of Lav Diaz’s Evolution of a Filipino Family, not including an hour-long intermission. The ushers at the Pacific Film Archive had their hands full shining flashlights on everyone who brought water bottles. Yes, I know we’re not supposed to, but ten and a half hours! (Though my longest viewing experience, with a few breaks here and there, was burning through the first season of “Lost” over a weekend.)
19. The fantastic programmers at Cornell Cinema were the people who eventually introduced me to the joy of seeing movies on film, though I can’t say I watched that many movies. Highlights: retrospectives of films by Mike Leigh, Peter Greenaway, and Kidlat Tahimik, and what seemed like weekly showings of every martial arts movie Jackie Chan and Jet Li ever made.
20. I don’t really believe in watching movies on opening nights, though in recent years I’ve fallen in with a bunch of good friends and fellow movie fans who are happy to line up for an hour to see a premiere. My first premiere was in the early ’90s, when I and my excited friends went to the multiplex at Pyramid Mall in Ithaca to see the very first matinee showing of The Terminator 2. We arrived a full hour early, expecting a rabid crowd, and there wasn’t a single person in the theater. We sat there with our popcorn and soda, and stared at the reminders to buy popcorn and soda, and felt, at that moment, that Ithaca had betrayed us.
21. I’ve never taken a single film studies class in my life. This is not a point of pride by any means; one day I want to rectify it. I just watch and read and learn and write as I go along. Readers of this blog can tell, I’m sure. The nearest I ever got to Cinema Studies was when Laura Mulvey showed up at a comp lit grad seminar and analyzed for us students the first few minutes of Hitchcock’s Notorious, and the entirety of Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s video for Madonna’s “Open Your Heart”.
22. I used to say that Apocalypse Now was my favorite movie of all time. I don’t know if I’d say “favorite” anymore, but it’s certainly the movie I’ve thought most about. The first time I saw Apocalypse Now, my parents fast-forwarded through the entire Do Lung Bridge sequence because they couldn’t bear the slow pace. The fourth time I saw Apocalypse Now was in an empty theater on Sept. 12, 2001.
23. The first DVD I ever purchased was probably Pulp Fiction. I’ve lost count since then.
24. I think I watch Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love at least once a year.
25. I once took a date (it might have been our second?) on an Apocalypse Now / Hearts of Darkness double feature. Note to self, and anyone who wants to try this: don’t.
26. The first movie my daughter ever saw in a theater was Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. I wish I could have taken her to a movie of greater profundity for her first theater experience, but unfortunately not. Then again, I don’t think it would have mattered to her anyhow; seeing the giant figures projected on the screen was enough. (On the other hand, her very first concert ever was Gillian Welch, and that I’ve been known to brag about.)
27. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out how movie critics could so easily quote pieces of dialogue, or know endless information about the making of the film and its social context, or write such succinct synopses (which are easily the hardest things to write in a movie blog entry). Then I discovered there were such things as press packets and DVD screeners.
28. There were many reasons I moved to the East Bay from San Francisco — weather, rent, traffic, restaurants, parking, etc. — but proximity to the Pacific Film Archive was one of them. I hold the PFA — and my usual gang of movie-watching friends — personally responsible for the current state I am in.
29. I know I’ll be a movie fan for the rest of my life. When I read the Jonathan Lethem piece (from which my blog title comes), I knew he was talking about me.
30. I’ve never made out in a movie theater, and I don’t know why.