Saturday, 31 December 2011

Self-Reflection on Saturdays: a Spot of FFoF Post-Game Analysis

I embarked on this yearlong endeavour hoping to learn something about myself. Rereading all the entries this week, I'm not sure I've had any mindblowing ephiphanies but, presented with a chunk of writing (or indeed picks) this substantial, it'd be hard not to spot a few patterns.
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First of all, that I'm not a very good self-proofreader. I've alluded a few times to the number of entries written in a panic, in those final hours before my self-imposed deadline of 23:59 on Friday - a deadline I only missed once, by about 15 minutes - and that meant I didn't get to double-check everything as thoroughly as I might have liked. I can see at least one thing I'd change in every single post - an odd bit of phrasing mostly, a factual error, a couple of typos (or an occasional vestigial "???", my personal notation for write more here).

I won't go back and change them all, though, not even my claim that Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 2003. I'd claim that this about retaining the purity of the thing, but honestly it's just that this list has already driven me mad once, and I don't fancy getting lost in it again.

Perhaps more interesting are the words, phrases, and structures I've repeatedly leant on. Talk of “quotables”, “charisma”, and “cool” need to exorcised from future writing, and recently, a lot of “of course”s and “after all”s have crept in too. (An attempt at keeping a conversational tone, I reckon.)

Thematically and structurally, I reckon I've overused the gap between what I'd remembered and what I found on a rewatch as a springboard. Similarly, a tendency to focus on one element throughout the piece, and then conclude by saying but, wait, there's more to this film! has been too common - a result, probably, of trying to find a variety of ways to gush about a film...

Consider this me burning all my writerly bridges – none of these tricks are ones I'll be able to use again. Good.

The most peculiar bit is how how fond I've been of using permutations of “boy meets girl...” for showing how something sticks to/departs from a standard structure and cinematic traditions, but it's something I think I've only ever used in FFoF posts, so as long as it stays there, that's okay.

Throughout, I've struggled to organically work in a synopsis of the plot – partially because it feels like it ruins the fun of watching it for yourself - but it's something, in all the different permutations I've tried out, I have been working hard to fix. As I've pointed out in some of the posts, I'm less concerned by narrative than other elements of cinema. I'm fascinated by pacing – whether something comes over an hour in, or 20 minutes from the end - and non-traditional (i.e. non-fantasy) world-building. Also, use of music, pure emotional resonance, big Ideas, how a film fits into a director or writer's body of work... all thoughts I've addressed at some point.

Most of all, though, it's been a year of trying to work out how to describe cinema, in terms of what exactly is happening on screen, and whether it's extraneous. Most of the joy of writing about, say, music is just finding words for what's happening; in games journalism, I'm interested in telling stories other people won't necessarily have had. It's much harder in film, treading a line between spoiling a key scene or boring you with something you've already seen. The Apocalypse Now piece's look at the Do Lung Bridge scene is possibly the best example of this – it's a fine piece of visual poetry which I tried to get down in suitably wide-eyed prose. I'm still not sure it's possible.
Fifty Favourite Films, by Decade
A chart showing the breakdown of my fifty favourite films, by decade

As someone on the internet once told me, I need to watch some films that were made more than 10 years ago. The years 2000-2009 make up an overwhelming half of the list, with my single favourite year for films, apparently, being 2004. It's the year Shaun of the Dead, Anchorman, The Incredibles, and my #1 favourite film ever, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, came out. It's also the year I was 15 years old.

I observed it a few times throughout, but I really have a obsession with the links between being a teenager  and cinema. Cinema burnt brightest for me when I was in my teens - almost every year between 1999 and 2009 produced three films on this list, and most of the other ones I saw in that impressionable time too. A lot of the films were included for the warping effect they had on my young brain, and what was on my mind at the time - male friendship, the relationship between individual and state, the loss of youth and innocence, etc.

It also turns out that, statistically speaking, Quentin Tarantino is my favourite director, having directed four of the films on this top 50, with Brad Bird trailing just behind with three. Tarantino is even more prolific as a screenwriter, having written five films on the list. That said, if we're being purely statistical, he would also be my favourite actor, having had substantial appearances in three films, and that is certainly not the truth.

Looking back, there are films that should be higher, or lower – Airplane!, for example, was clearly cheated, while I'm not wholly sure T2 deserves its place around the halfway mark  –  and there are a couple of films I'd like to include – Social Network being the first one that comes to mind – though I have absolutely no idea which films I'd kick off the list to make room.

After all, lists like these are completely arbitrary. That's the truth we can admit now it's all over – they're a bit silly, really, and it's something you can see shining through every time I jokily declare a statement to be fact!.

Nevertheless, as a body of work, it's something I'm very proud of. There's enough there - somewhere in the region of 30,000 words, by my estimation - to fill a small book, and most of it is reasonably good. It's certainly quite wide-reaching, in terms of genre, topic, and years of release... well, okay, no, not years of release, given that the entire '60s and '70s are represented by a single film each.

But I managed to cover all sorts: posts contained thoughts on whole genres, or single shots. I reflected on the nature of Top x lists, my relationship with my sister, how films from children differ from films for adults. My big theory about how detective stories are the purest distilled form of narrative dipped its toe in the FFoF waters more than once. And there is, of course, some fantastically hubristic formalism in there - remember that time I wrote entire the Memento post backwards and then carefully reshuffled it so no one would ever notice?

There's a hell of a lot of intertextuality going on, especially in entries that lie next to each other, intentional - the pairing of The Thing and Zodiac, for example - and stuff that just slipped in  - the mention of Spencer-inherited personality traits in the Spirited Away and Iron Giant pieces, later transmuting into the comparison of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 24 Hour Party People as distant cousins with a single family trait in common.

In fact, there's lots of talk about family trees, and relationships between films. There's a big dusty hall of fame taking up a corner of my brain, with each film and article give its own place, with lines and arrows running between each. The project quickly turned into an attempt to document a sort of personal history, and writing it has created a history of its own. I remember where I was when I wrote most of them – the staff room at school, on lunch from work experience and, most often, on a variety of trains.

What was meant to be a way of getting me to write more regularly turned into an autobiography, really. It's something I tried to chase out - the boring writer peering over your shoulder constantly - but, as I pointed out in the Pulp Fiction entry, it's often hard for me to separate the media I love from the conditions I experienced it in.
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Favourite Films on Friday - The Full List

You, dear readers, met me at a very strange time in my life. I'm heading into 2012 as a more-or-less grownup, with a proper journalism job, a home, and a joint bank-account; but 2011 has been a rather messy year. The one constant has been waking up every Friday and panicking about having not written the week's entry yet. I'm going to miss it, but given the number of nights I've stayed up until the very death in front of a keyboard, I suspect Imogen "Flatmate" Dale won't.

But to see the year out, here is every single one of my favourite films - click the title or image to (hopefully) go straight to the relevant entry. Go chronologically, or just pick the ones you like, whatever. I mean, it's your life.

#50 - The Wrestler #50: The Wrestler
FFoF47 The Thing
FFoF45 Anchorman
FFoF44: 24HourPartyPeople
FFoFWristcutters

FFoF42Memento

FFoF19LetTheRightOneIn


FFoF18EvilDead


FFoF17Aliens


FFoF16Apocalypse

FFoF15MonstersInc

FFoF14Shaun
FFoF13JackieBrown
FFoF12HotFuzz
FFoF11PulpFiction
FFoF10BigLebowski
FFoF9Empire
FFoF8DieHard
FFoF7Incredibles
FFoF6DonnieDarko
FFoF5Matrix
FFoF Ferris
FFoF3 Up
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FFoF1 Eternal Sunshine

About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.