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

  • I think your breakdowns make a lot of sense and as you pointed out you occupy two of the categories yourself. I like to think I occupy all of your categories semi equally. My last two movies were Resident Evil 4 and The Deep Blue Sea. I have Skyfall and The Master and We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Avengers in my top ten so far. I think all movies have a shot at greatness.

    In conclusion, look at how great I am.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Well you are pretty Borzaging!

      I do know a few people who seemed to embody them all to some degree.

  • I’m not sure how much I can help you with your main prerogative of understanding The Movigoer since, like Alex, I think of myself as alternately filling many of the categories depending on the day or mood. But I think there are people out there that want to see *everything,* regardless of genre or period, checking off every film imaginable in their impossible quest to see Everything. Or perhaps they’re just the people that want to be known as the people to go to for topical recommendations (ie they are aware of all of the wide releases at any point in time, and have likely seen most of them). They actively want to have an opinion on any new film that someone might ask of them.

    The truth is that most film bloggers I know can’t be narrowed to one or even two of these categories, at least not equivocally. We all wax and wane with this perspective or that over time. I’ve been surprised time and again by putting someone into one box only to learn that they belong in a few others.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Certainly not all their movie-watching habits fit into one of these groups, but I think, in general, most people fit into one or two of these categories, once again, in a very broad sense.

      And there’s certainly something about the mood your in at a given time. Most people aren’t going to watch a 3 hour tragedy if they’re having a bad day.

  • James, I’m pretty much in a similar camp. I’ve had discussions with people about why they’re watching some terrible-sounding movie and they say it’s because they’re a movie fan and want to see everything. Even if that’s the case, there are so many movies from all over the world that fit that requirement. I try not to criticize a person for wanting to see a particular movie that looks crappy to me if it sparks their interest. Like Dylan points out, trying to see Everything is something bloggers strive for, especially if they have more time than me.

    I like your categories and think they’re pretty accurate. I wouldn’t say exactly where I fall, though I’m somewhere in the Curator and Academic zone for sure. I sometimes veer into the Cultist, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert in that zone compared to some bloggers. Even so, it’s fun to speculate.

    Also, nice job putting in the Metropolitan photo!

    • James Blake Ewing

      The seeing everything goal is something I realize is more and more foolish as the days go on. There’s something to be said for having diverse interests, and I certainly watch a lot of films from a variety of places, but you’ve got to be exclusionary at some point. I still like expanding outward, but as the days go by, I find myself more and more dropping picking up new releases to dig back into films from history. I still try to hit some of the major films of the year, I’ll check out Hobbit, Le Mis and Django in the next few weeks, but I’ve maybe seen 4 new releases in theaters in the past few months.

  • Great observations.

    I was a Moviegoer from 19 to about 30, but by now, I’m definitely an Academic at this point. Quality over quantity. I have found that fewer and fewer films really move me as I get older, and taking the shotgun approach yields marginal benefits. If a film makes me feel strongly, I want to spend time to figure out why. ‘Margaret’ is a great example. (Why did I have such negative feelings toward Lisa when I saw the original version in the theater? Where does my lacking sense of compassion lie? I need to break it down …)

    I have to add that I have the most fun talking film (as in, in person, not online) with another Academic or a Cultist (rather than a Moviegoer, Classicist, or Cinephile).

    • James Blake Ewing

      I hear you! I think it’s easier to talk to people you’ve got that similar approach with.

      That also reminds me that I need to see Margaret. Not being much of a Moviegoer, it’s one I meant to check out but, as usual, got distracted by classics.

  • Great post, and a good companion post to Jessica’s in the Velvet Cafe. I like your characterizations of film buffs. If I had the time, I would probably be the Academic, but as it is, I play around at being a bit of each. This last month, I’ve even been making an attempt to be a Moviegoer, but my heart just isn’t in it. I keep thinking “Why should I go downtown to watch Silver Linings Playbook when I have The Day the Earth Stood Still, here on my shelf, unwatched?”

    Perhaps I can be the film buff wannabe? In reality, I see film buffness as a process more than an arrival. Once I’ve watched all the the “film canon” then I can call myself a film buff. Of course, which canon are we talking about? It depends on who you are, I guess.

    • James Blake Ewing

      You will never watch all the film cannon! I think a film buff is just anyone who has more than a passing love of film, someone who will go out of their way to watch movies semi-regularly. I’d certainly consider you a film buff, Steve!

  • I’m definitely a moviegoer, classicist, curator, and academic. is it possible to be al of those? I went to see Twilight to make fun of it, but not to hate it. I think crap movies have their place in the canon. One major fundamental objection I have to those films is the overt anti-feminism. Bella just pisses me off. But I think the whole vampire thing is kind of cool!

  • I agree with you fully on people who go out to see a bad movie just to give it a bad review. Why do you go out to spend money on it in the first place. If I do give a movie a bad review, it’s usually one that I was excited to see but it was disapointing. Two movies I thought I was going to hate but ended up liking were Katy Perry: Part of me, and Step Up 3D. I like to see all types of movies and learn from each film group. Great article.

  • If one looks over the movie blog I write with my partner Karl, it will plainly show he is a Cultest, whereas I am more the Academic with a little Curator sprikled in for taste.
    Film is very personal. Many reasons mix together to give you a personal feeling of love or dislike for a particular film. There is a blending of who you are, what are your interests, and also the powerful emotions of your life experiences that blend like a fine cup of java that give you a unique opinion about the film experience.
    This is a good list of types. I suggest for those who think they fit in all categories to dig a little deeper into why you like particular genres. You may learn something profound about yourself. 🙂

  • I don’t really know what kind of film buff I am. Then again, I don’t really care.

    Yes, I like pretentious art house movies but I also like films that don’t take themselves seriously like 80s action movies. I also like B-movies some times. For me, the 1990s was the best period of softcore porn films. The stories nor the acting wasn’t great but they weren’t boring. Plus, they actually had nice lighting (as some of it was shot by Wally Pfister and Harris Savides in their early years as cinematographers).

    I’ll take anything if it has something of value. Unless it’s some dumbass family film like those awful Chipmunk movies or a flash-in-the-pan concert movie like that Justin Beiber bullshit film. It’s not worth my time.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Justin Beiber movie > Most of Nolan’s films. 🙂

      • You’re aware that 15 years from now, no one will remember that Justin Bieber bullshit.

        • James Blake Ewing

          People still remember Gone With the Wind. Doesn’t stop that film from being terrible.

  • Where would you say I fall, James? I don’t think any of those categories really suit me or what I do. I don’t go to the theater on a regular basis (this year I’ve averages about 2 times a month, if I’m lucky). So I’m not the Moviegoer. Although I do watch them, I don’t go out of my way for classics just because, so I’m not a classicist. I do love sci-fi, b-movies, and horror, but that’s not my focus, and I certainly don’t know or focus on them as much as somebody like Jason… so I’m not a Cultist. I’m definitely not the “Cinephile,” as I don’t hunt down the unknown stuff or sit through 3-hour snoozefests just to say I had. I don’t focus on a single director or list or body of work, so I’m not a Curator. And I’m sure as hell not an Academic (and I say that considering most of the people I’ve clashed with are Academics, mostly because they were one and I wasn’t).

    So what does that make me, since I don’t fall into any of these categories? A blogging anomaly? 😛

    (P.S. I go to Twilight films because, while I know they’re bad, I find enjoyment in them, and I will treat them just like any other movie in my reviews.)

    • James Blake Ewing

      Yea, you are one of those bloggers I think has a pretty interesting approach because I feel you’re kinda dipping your toes all over the place. You’re probably one of the most diverse bloggers I know as far as watching all kinds of different things. So yea, you’re an anomaly, but that’s what’s cool about your blogging. Very diverse.

  • I think my tastes encompass all of those categories with a fairly decent spread. Roughly something like this:
    10% Moviegoer
    15% Classicist
    20% Cultist
    25% Cinephile
    20% Curator
    10% Academic

    • James Blake Ewing

      100% movie buff!

  • I don’t fit perfectly well into any of your descriptions, but I guess I’m closest to being a moviegoer since I love to go to the theatre so much. I don’t write about trailers or movie news or awards though and I don’t read about it either.

    I don’t feel clever enough to be in any of the other categories though.

    Anyway: I think you’re onto something here about how differently we approach movies. Rather than swearing over people who I think are “doing it wrong”, being so negative about just about all movies they see, I should ask the question: what kind of film buff have I encountered here?

    • James Blake Ewing

      Yea, as much as a clash with Moviegoers, I don’t think they’re doing it wrong, they just have a different approach that is equally as valid as mine. We both love movies, we’re just going about it in different ways.

  • James,

    I co-write the blog with 4Kerra, and I’m dfinitely a cultist, wich goes along with my background with working at a drive in during the 70’s. Part of me is also a curator, being a completist with specific directors like Altman, Cronenberg, Frankenheimer, Miike, etc…

    Personally, I think we should have a little bit of all the specific reviewin groups you specific in what we do….by expanding our knowledge, we can bring our individual thoughts to all of cinema…we should all strive for that!

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