When Did Movies Become Work?

I’m serious when it comes to film. I enjoy watching films, but they can take a lot out of me. It took getting a full-time job to realize something I’ve suspected for years: movies are work to me. They’re very fulfilling, highly enjoyable work, but they’re still work. This means that when I get to the end of a work day, watching a movie is not relaxing, watching a movie is more work.

When I watch a movie, I can’t turn off that part of my brain that processes movies, thinks about composition, examines story structure, tries to dig into the themes or contemplates a film’s connection to a similar work. Even movies I’ve seen time and time again end up leading my mind down new rabbit trails as I notice new things about them.

I think the way I’ve structured how I approach my site and write about it has been somewhat constraining. While I like the idea of marathons, in practice they’ve become restrictive and obligatory. Most of what I write on the site feels like it’s associated with a marathon and comes from this overarching structure of what the marathon is supposed to be about and I find that stifling.

Committing to writing once a week to Movie Mezzanine is also becoming less and less viable and I won’t’ be writing for them for the foreseeable future. While I’ve enjoyed writing The Second Criterion, a lot of the posts are rushed to meet a deadline and not inspired. There have already been some vast gaps between posts and some of the ones I rushed to write felt like they got cast out there before I honed in on what I hoped to say.

There’s something to be said for these constraints and deadlines. They’ve forced me to write in times where I might not have otherwise. However, I’m getting a stronger desire to push myself as a writer and I think one of the ways I need to do that is by exploring. That’s part of the reason behind the TV posts. It’s a way to try a new structure and write in a different way.

I’m getting tired of straight movie reviews. I often fall back on a formula when writing reviews and reviews rarely challenge me as a writer. It feels like busywork, something I do without even thinking about it. I certainly don’t plan on abandoning them altogether, but I think I need to pick up a new structure when writing about movies.

I don’t know what that looks like. Part of that is exciting to me. Last year felt like I stagnated as a writer, this year I want to give myself the space to explore. What does this mean? For now, the marathons are going to be on hold. If I get the inclination to watch something from a marathon, I might write about it, but I might not. I’m going to write about a movie if it inspires me to write something about it, not out of any sense of obligation of a desire to fill in some list.

Essentially, I’m not making a commitment to write anything. I’m sure I’ll still end up writing a lot, but I’m not going to do it out of obligation. My time is becoming more and more valuable and as I take on more commitments, I don’t want movies to feel like another obligation. If you ask about my thoughts on a film, I might just give you a sentence or two and that may be all you ever get. I may never finish any of the marathons on this site, in fact, I’m tempted to take them down.

I want to explore. I watched an Yasujiro Ozu film (Late Spring) the other day and it’s spawned a desire to abandon all my movie-watching plans for this month and dive into his work. I’ll probably end up writing something about his films, but they won’t be reviews. I need that kind of freedom. It has me excited to go home and watch the next film and instead of first feeling obligated to write something down for every film I see. I’m letting the films spin in my head for a while and we’ll see what comes.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing

  • I can definitely understand the feeling of movies as work at times. I used to write for PopMatters and some other sites, but it got to the point where it felt like a job and not something fun. That’s one of the reasons I started my blog in the first place. I’ve had times with it where it’s also started to head that way, though. It’s forced me to re-focus why I’m doing it and what the goals really are. Lately, I’m still doing some marathons but also just writing about a lot of things that I watch beyond that point. It’s felt a lot freer and has been more enjoyable.

    I think the ease of access to films makes it easy for us to think that we NEED to watch certain movies. I think there are real limitations to that approach, and it can really contribute to making movies feel like work. Unless it’s our full-time job, we’re doing this for fun. If it isn’t enjoyable, changing the approach is definitely the way to go.

    • James Blake Ewing

      When I was in school, I could justify it a bit more as I used it a lot of times to get background for things I would write or potential future projects. Since I finished my thesis in February, it’s basically something I do for fun, but I still think way to seriously about it most of the time.

  • Lately my blog has been a lot of lists. That’s fine, I think, and it gives a super easy structure but it’s not challenging nor do I go into much depth on any one topic at a time. It’s going to be at least a year and a half until I get into grad school, I think now’s the time to start getting into a serious kind of writing mode. If that means less movie based things that’s fine, my website is set up for that. It’s exciting, as you said, to commit to writing more but not know exactly what that means. Very exciting.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Yes, I’m wanting to write more, but it might be less about movies or less of the kind of stuff I’ve written in the past. In grad school I’m honestly not sure how I ended up blogging and writing for school at the same time. It was an insane amount of writing each week. Then again, it was pretty much the only thing I was doing.

  • I can relate. A lot of the time watching movies feels like work… especially when I’m thinking about how I’m going to write about them. I’ve given up on marathons except for Noir-vember, and even that is starting to wear on me and I cut way down on it last time. Lately I’ve been watching movies without writing a review about them, which would have been unthinkable for me a year ago. It’s liberating.

    • James Blake Ewing

      There have always been movies I’ve let slip through the cracks and not written about them, but the marathons were ways to always have certain films I had to write about. Now I’m finding that some films don’t motivate me to write anything and since no one is paying me, I shouldn’t feel obligated. Felt like I should have come to this place a long time ago.

  • Slowpoke

    All artist go through the process of loving what they do. Learning the mechanics, making all the notes, and sight reading, and comping until is becomes second nature. Then the go through the love/hate of the process. Then they mull and simmer and stew for a while.
    Then and only then-they will come back to their first love. – Music

    I assume writers have a similar journey. Breath in the bone and marrow of each day. It will shape all you tomorrows.

  • So much of this post fascinates me in ways that I’ll explain when I can leave a longer comment.

    As someone who has followed your work for several years now (where does the time go!?), I care about *you* as much as I care about your writing…and probably more if I’m honest. So with that in mind, I Want *you* to be well, even if your writerly output has to suffer.

    What I’m saying is, it shouldn’t be work, so if it means stepping back and reassessing…then by all means, please do that. We’ll all be here for you no matter how you respond to the work you have to/choose to put in.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Thanks, I appreciate it!

  • For me, if it becomes a chore and something where it becomes the idea of work. I’d stop for a while or just stop altogether because it’s supposed to be fun.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Last year I did have a lot of breaks where it just became too much and I abandoned watching and writing about films for a while. Those breaks can be very helpful. I think I usually take them when I try to watch a lot of movies at once and get burned out. I’m hoping to pace myself going forward so that I’ll have less of these breaks because I’m getting tiny breaks between each film I watch.

  • Probably the best decision I made as a film reviewer was to start up Your Face with Jason and Nolahn. r2d2 was great, but it was basically becoming a collection of giant marathons (the Video Game Movies series, 60/60 List, 50/50 List, etc.), and it was so for its last 2 and a half years or so. And keeping up with that tiresome schedule really was draining, and a lot of films became just part of a checklist rather than something I felt I *wanted* to watch. With Your Face, we do content every single day, but we each only individually post (roughly) twice a week. To add to our interests and camaraderie, we have the 100 Challenge to look forward to each month. And when all else fails, as cheesy as it sounds, we aren’t alone. We aren’t solo bloggers, but we aren’t the big “conglomerate” movie sites/magazines, either. We’re just a trio of friends who have fun watching movies and talking about it. And that really brought down the stress level and amped up the enjoyment factor.

    So long story short (too late), I completely understand where you’re coming from. Marathons are exhausting and become not-so-fun pretty fast (I’ve even promised myself that I’m rarely going to do theme months on the site anymore, as even those get constricting and tiresome). Writing for the sake of writing rather than writing because you enjoy it (same for watching movies) can be disheartening. But you can find a situation that suits you. There’s one out there for you. Just think about what *you* want out of all this and do that. Don’t worry about what you think other expect from you.

    • James Blake Ewing

      Yes, you three coming together certainly was a great fit and it seems like you all benefited from it. I’d still like to keep my site a solo act for now, in part because I also don’t want to have a schedule to be held to. Right now, I’ve got some interesting ideas of what my writing might look like in the future and a few pieces written that I think are very different from what I’ve written before.

  • Prince Bansal

    Hi, I have been following your blog for quite some while. And lately I have also been thinking of film criticism in general. I think a lot of what makes what you are doing work is –

    1) like many critics you try to find something good and/or different in everything you see. While in general it is a good thing, you can’t apply it to all movies.

    2) All your pieces are lengthy, which means that sometimes you are writing stuff just to write and not because it comes to you naturally.

    3) All films do not lend themselves to the type of pieces you write. eg for me every Kubrick film is different and it would be easy to write pieces for them, but a lot of Ozu films are same and I wouldn’t have something as interesting to say about each one of his films without repeating myself. Even though I like Ozu more than Kubrick.

    And of course as you said deadlines, commitments, marathons all are factors. Plus sometimes one may reach a saturation point sometimes but after a suitable gap may get into things again.

    By the way on Ozu – Many japanese directors like Mikio Naruse, Keisuke Kinoshita, Yoji Yamada, Hirokazu Koreeda, Hiroshi Shimizu, Sadao Yamanaka etc have made films that are very similar in flavor to Ozu film. I am not saying that they all necessarily borrow from Ozu but the affect that their movies produce in me is very similar to an Ozu film. I have always been curious to know whether they are inspired from Ozu or all of them including Ozu are inspired from something else in japanese literaure or culture.

  • stevekimes

    I admit that watching movies is often work, or at least “homework”. But for me, that’s what I need. I must be doing something “significant” at all times. I have a hard time relaxing. So the “work” of movies is actually rest for me, an opportunity for me to zone out even as I analyze. I can often enjoy myself in the midst of my “work.” That’s a real benefit to me.

    BTW, don’t feel sorry for me and my workaholism. Feel sorry for my wife.

    • James Blake Ewing

      I think the same way, I certainly have workaholism as well, but I’m also finding more and more important to have times of rest as much as it goes against my nature.

  • I usually hit one tough patch a year where writing about movies feels a bit occupational. But it usually lasts about a month and I still get content up. But most of the time it is a ton of fun and as long as I enjoy it and other people are too, I’m going to keep on.

    Great post!

  • M North

    If you plan to move from reviews to analysis then I’m sure your writing will be all the better for it. From what I’ve read here (and at the Movie Mezzanine) then you have the ability to do just that. Second Criterion has been a really good feature there.

    Good luck to you.