What Kind of Film Buff are You?

People are different. It’s so glaringly obvious that I feel that it needs to be stated because of how easy it is to forget it. I myself forget this regularly and end up setting up expectations, standards and views of people that aren’t really realistic for those people to achieve. And, sadly, I think this happens a lot when I try talking with film buffs because sometimes I just don’t get other film buffs.

Here are people with a plethora of resources able to watch films over a century of time and I’m often left marveling at how we can have self-proclaimed film buffs who love movies slogging it at the theater with an obviously bad movie or a film just about every movie buff is going to slam (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2).

If you want to go see a Twilight movie, that’s cool, my first three reviews of the films indicate that I enjoyed them as pretty corny films, but I just don’t get people who talk about how they hate Twilight going to see Twilight so they can write about how much they hate Twilight. What’s the gain from this? What does your seething review contribute? I’ve written my share of scathing reviews, but I try to only go to films I have a somewhat open mind about. When we have the choice, why even bother with films we expect to hate? I’m all for giving films a chance, I watched the Justin Beiber movie and liked it, but I went in open-minded, not spewing hateful talk about Beiber before seeing the film. If I do that, why am I even bothering with the film?

I’ve come to think about movie watching in a very specific way, and over the years I’ve noticed trends in the types of movie buffs that view films differently than me. And I think that’s where a lot of my bafflement with a lot of movie bloggers comes from because sometimes I look at a site by someone I like and see everything they review and ask myself: why are you even watching these movies? In an attempt to figure this all out, I’ve outlined some very broad categories of moviegoers and tried to give a vague sense of how these people approach films in order to try to wrap my head around all this. These aren’t exclusionary categories, I think that most of us are an amalgamation of these groups, but I think they are common trends among movie buffs and understanding how different people fit into these groups will help us better understand one another.

The Moviegoer

Barely a week goes by that the Moviegoer has not made a pilgrimage to the local multiplex, perhaps several. This category of movie buff looks forward to watching the latest, checking out at least one new release a week and devoting section of their blogs to discussing new trailers, highlighting the latest film buzz and predicting award winners. If they can afford the time and money, they’ll go to a film festival and watch at least 20 new films, writing about as many as possible. If you want to talk about the latest hit or dud, this is the movie buff to find.

The Classicist

On the other end of the spectrum, The Classicist usually prefers his or her films in black and white, possibly 4:3 aspect ratio and has seen more films starring Bergman, Bogart, Davis and Grant than Hathaway, Pitt, Downey Jr. and Portman.  While these buffs usually hang out in the 40’s and 50’s, they often explore the decades surrounding them. These buffs prefer to dig into the treasure trove of classics that have withstood the test of time than brave the multiplex.

The Cultist

This rebellious movie buff loves exploring the more marginalized areas of cinema: sci-fi, the b-movie, horror and more. These movie lovers both love to praise the bizarre, bad and broken films for their discovered charm as well as love to hate on atrocities against humanity. A lot of cult classics and b-movies comprise their list of favorites. If a film has the title featuring the word blood, demon, world, or a random scientific terms, this is the moviegoer that has probably seen or heard of it.

The Cinephile

Exploring the other margin of cinema, The Cinephile is a globetrotter who explores cinematic gems from directors you probably haven’t heard of from countries you didn’t even know made movies. The Cinephile singing the praises of 3 hour trials in patience and films that strain the boundaries of what film is.

The Curator

Lists, bodies of works, categories. The Curator is often a completionist, looking to either watch all the films of a particular director, or check off all the films on a list. They are known for focusing in specific genres or being experts on certain directors. They are also known for making and sharing their own lists. These lists can range from genre, year, country or any other cohesive label for categorizing films.

The Academic

Three viewings or more later, The Academic dives into exploring a film or set of films in depth, researching theoretical topics and reading as much writings on the film as they can find. These movie viewers, while exploring, often settle down into specific areas and then hone down on very specific films or topics, devoting many hours to watching and rewatching particular films, digging deep into the details in the hope of discovering and contributing worthwhile, well-supported and deep insights about a particular film or film related subject.

I’m sure there are categories I missed, but I think that accounts for a great majority of film buffs and I wrote more than a few of these with specific unnamed people in mind. I think my problem when interacting with certain film buffs is that as an Academic Cinephile, I really, really, really don’t understand The Moviegoer. I’m baffled at how much time is spent going to the theater (which takes time) and watching a lot of movies. Depending on the week, it sometimes appears you’d  best stay home but it seems these people go out anyway.

I understand if you’re getting paid to do this, it’s a job I’d possibly take if the opportunity presented itself, but if you have a choice, and especially if it’s on your own time and dime, why don’t you just call it quits some week and watch something else from home?

Do you really want to see Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2? But I understand there are other motivations. Some people like being part of the latest conversation. I can understand this, for a semester I went to the theater each week and watched a film (for a class) and from time to time it was cool to be part of it, but most of the times it seemed like the subject was either not worth talking about or that everyone agreed so there wasn’t much left to be said.

I also think there’s another side to it that I also understand but disagree with: views. I think a lot of people want to see new stuff because it’s what people want to read. Twilight reviews will get read because the film is just that popular and it’s also divisive enough that both fans and haters are likely to want to search the web for reviews. Yes, there’s an allure and appeal to getting more readers and having a bigger audience, but I think treating movie going as a way to market yourself and boost a number that doesn’t necessarily indicate depth of conversation of the depth of your writing is just a cheap thrill.

But you know what? We’re different kinds of people and I think that’s great. I’m glad there are people out there watching films like this so I don’t have to. And yes, there’s always going to be that audience for the latest film, so there is some security there, and I imagine there are some people that enjoy the experience of going to the theater that much that they’d love to do it even for movies that may not be that good. At times, I too have felt these draws, but they’ve waned over the years and the further I get away from them and the less and less I see in the multiplex each year, the harder I find it to understand these people.

The point to all this is that I’ve begun to understand that while we may all call ourselves movie buffs, a lot of us have very different motivations for why and how we go about watching movies. It’s not simply that we love movies and that we watch them.  There’s more nuance to that and I think if we can begin to recognize the differences in those nuances, we’ll do a much better job of understanding one another. We’re all movie lovers in some form, but we all have different ways of expressing and exploring our love of films. It’s less about if you are more or less of a film buff than I am, it’s more about the essential question: of what kind of film buff are you?

© 2012 James Blake Ewing