February 18, 2009

In the Ghetto

Meddling Bloggers! If you're reading this now, be sure to link to it on your film blog.

I'm only slightly kidding, because even if not all of you write about movies in some capacity, sometimes it surely feels like we who do are only doing so for the benefit of one another. So for the sake of argument (read: ineffectual meta-exercise), let's assume that even if you don't have a blog, you're planning to start one this weekend, and let me ask: how do we make a difference, folks?

The tectonic shift in journalism—specifically the firing, laying-off, buying-out, et al. of established print critics—has both strengthened the contention against online film writers (we need the big guns now more than ever!) and considerably weakened it (it's no longer a viable career; or, said big guns have begun their own blogs), thus that's not really on my mind. I haven't been in the game as long as many (my first gig, a DVD review for Premiere Magazine, only happened in 2002), so I've always felt like I straddled the chasm between old- and new-media, and fully understand why we should try to get along in the same sinking ship. I believe the editorial process is crucial for the sake of accuracy, clarity, professionalism and upholding the integrity of language, but I'm also incredibly thankful that so many fellow cinema obsessives are willing to share their writings for free online; their passion is contagious.

Indie Film Blogger Road TripIt's online, in fact, where my colleague and pal Michael Tully recently reviewed a micro-budgeted documentary entitled Indie Film Blogger Road Trip, a seemingly self-important film that I avoided for its subject alone. For me, I wondered what else there is to know about a hodgepodge of opinionated film buffs who already use their forum to project their personalities. As expansive as the web is, online film writers tend to flock together (in real life, on social networks, comments sections), and if David Hudson's indefatigable linkage is any gauge, there really are new sites being created, well, daily. (Related note: Check out IFC.com today for their spiffy new redesign!)

We are many, so many that I can no longer keep up with it all. My RSS feed runneth over with raw streaming data, so on a day like today when I'm scouring for newsworthy or other potentially engrossing topics, the headlines start to melt together into meaninglessness. In trying to stay on the increasingly erratic pulse of it all, I'm spending more time thinking or reading about film than I am actually watching it, and then what about the rest of my being? How do I maintain a healthy, well-rounded life, plus a freelance career that includes this website—which I hope is useful and entertaining for my readers—when the absorbing and filtering of film news begins to take up far more time than the actual processing and writing? I never believed in cultural gatekeepers until the floodgates opened and invited this tsunami of information to drown us, and I don't think it's terribly cynical to say we've become the foamy crest on that tidal wave. Are we merely the 'zine equivalent of trade magazines? Do we reach readers outside of our insular circle of hobbyists and industry pros? Should we be trying? How do we make our collective voice louder and sharper in a world whose distractions multiply with each new viral fad?

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Posted by ahillis at February 18, 2009 10:40 PM


I fully agree with you about the amount of distractions and the irksome nature of the "insular circle" of a film blogger's audience. I feel like I've absorbed enough trivia about the Oscars to last for several years. Sometimes, one should cut down on the information overload for a sense of balance and perspective. And it does seem like one's main readership consists of fellow bloggers. They make for a great, enthusiastic, and very knowledgeable bunch, but I don't get the sensation that there are very many casual readers mixed in with them.

Posted by: filmdr at February 19, 2009 10:25 AM

All the various blog communities that I have explored -- on subjects such as films, books, baseball, menswear -- are indeed pretty insular and clubby. Also incredibly time-consuming, as you point out -- both in terms of writing the blogs, keeping up with other blogs, and participating in the blog communities, via the proliferation of "memes," blog awards, and so on. It is all very reminiscent of print zining back in the day. Because of the Internet delivery system, it has a potentially wider reach, but the triviality of much of the content is a turn-off. In particular, the meme movement ("25 things...," etc.) should be throttled forthwith as nothing more than an elaborate time-waster. Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and John Simon didn't go around tagging each other! I add blogs to my RSS feed pretty promiscuously, to give them a try, but I am ruthless about unsubscribing when I see no signs of actual insight or usefulness. It seems to me that blogging as a whole is in a very pre-adolescent, middle school-ish phase right now -- which means that adulthood is a long way off, if indeed it ever comes.

Posted by: Patrick Murtha at February 19, 2009 11:18 AM

For the record, I'll state that I am not a film critic in any capacity nor do I have my own blog or anything like that. But I do read several film blogs regularly (if not daily), simply because I love discussion and information about good films and there's just no place in the mainstream media to get that. So I'll stand as living proof that these film blogs do reach and, more importantly, matter to an outside audience.

So to all to you bloggers out there: keep the flame burning; don't get discouraged. It might only matter to a few, but it matters nonetheless. Keep fighting the good fight.

Posted by: Urko at February 19, 2009 12:07 PM

I think a good goal of an indie film blog would be to counteract the Courtney Hazlett's of the world, the MSNBC commentator who mocked "Frozen River" -- an award-winning festival film with good theatrical and DVD releases -- as a movie nobody could go see. Don't just write reviews of films, but tell people where to go see them and exactly why these films should be seen. I read a lot of the film blogs, but it's my impression that few, if any, tell me exactly what's playing where and what's on DVD or streaming online.

Posted by: Mike Everleth at February 19, 2009 3:31 PM

Hey! Let's do a blog-a-thon about this!

Posted by: Irony at February 19, 2009 3:50 PM

Oh cruel irony! I couldn't help but post a link to this on my own blog.

Posted by: Joe Bowman at February 19, 2009 5:59 PM

Maybe what individuals are doing are tossing pebbles into the water and creating ripples. Certainly it was encouraging to read the article in Huffington Post giving credit to bloggers for spreading the word on Frozen River.

My question is: what is the point of a collective voice?

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at February 19, 2009 9:52 PM

Provides a hum for the hive.

Posted by: Maya at February 20, 2009 12:05 AM

This is something that I feel and question myself too all the time. Personally, my experiences have been better, since I did manage (even on a small scale) to reach people outside the circle of cinephiles and film enthusiast. This is the reason I could form a small group of writers from a diverse background and start the first serious film e-zine cum website on Indian Cinema.

Though to expand we obviously doing more than being online, since by conducting cinephile meeting across India, workshop and film festival and upcoming film club it’s helping us break away from the mould of being just part of a clique. And allowing us to have discussion, interaction with people from all walks of life.

Posted by: nitesh at February 20, 2009 1:44 AM

Somebody once made the remark that if you wanted to know what good shows were playing on Broadway to ask a cab driver. I feel that film bloggers, at their best, are like those cabbies - more naive, maybe, but blunter and more to the point. And as far as insularity goes, I don't find any circuit more closed than that of professional film critics name-checking Lacan or Bazin or gassing interminably on about Sátántangó.

I miss David Hudson's constancy in linking to independent film blogs here at GreenCine during his tenure as editor; it was the reason I kept coming back daily whereas now I put my head through the door twice a week at most.

Posted by: Arbogast at February 20, 2009 1:24 PM

Sorry to hear of your disappointment, Arbogast. The problem there is that one David Hudson does the job so well on his own, and we wanted our sites to be complementary. He links to pertinent news items over at IFC, and I provide original content such as reviews/interviews. It would be near-impossible to keep up with both of those agendas as a part-time freelancer, but I'm trying my best to provide you with interesting posts. At least you head back here once in a while...

Posted by: Aaron Hillis at February 20, 2009 1:37 PM

At least you head back here once in a while...

Twice today - but don't let that go to your head!

Posted by: Arbogast at February 20, 2009 3:22 PM

Hey Aaron,

On Tue night's IFBRT screening the heavy film bloggers (bloggers who write a lot, not you know, who weigh a lot :) did not enjoy the movie as much as the casual bloggers & the non-bloggers did. 2 of the audience members who probably have only read 1 or 2 film blogs, if any, in their life time said they enjoyed seeing intelligent young people speak passionately about a subject rather than seeing what they normally see in movies - so - both the blogger doc & this indie film blogging scene/community of ours might be more interesting to outsiders than to us who create it. I guess the trick is getting the word out about the film blogs (or in my case the movie) to the outside world - the one beyond our little scene.

Another interesting thing I observed was that even the heavy bloggers did not know half of the blogs/bloggers profiled in the movie. So, I guess there is more to this scene then we might already know.

- Sujewa
Director of Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

Posted by: Sujewa at February 20, 2009 10:20 PM

A rule of thumb that I use is, the blogs that are likeliest to be the best are (a) the ones with the fewest hyperlinks, and (b) the ones with the shortest blogrolls, or no blogroll at all. The more a blog is part of the "blogosphere," the worse for it.

As you can tell, I put no store at all in "virtual communities." Talk about over-promising and under-delivering.

Posted by: Patrick Murtha at February 21, 2009 1:10 PM
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