hello everyone. i’m planning this as a series of posts to attempt to educate people into how they can get deeper into film, with a heavy emphasis on the practical methods, the new tools at our disposal, and finding ways to enrich your general cinephilia.
as many know, i’ve spent far too much time on movie forums and in movie spaces online. most of this time i’ve regretted in some way, but i guess i have gleaned some good things from it over the years. people often ask me variants of the question in the title: just how do you even find out about most of the stuff you watch? the answer to this sort of question depends on who’s asking it, but since i presume the readerbase here is going to be tech-savvy budding movie-lovers, i’ll try to address it in a way that’s most beneficial.
my go-to recommendation for someone who i don’t particularly get an “artsy” vibe from is generally the imdb top 250 (is it still at 250 now?). over the years, of course, its usefulness has run its course on my end, but it remains a nice list for having immediate access to entry-level filmbro stuff. someone who sees 200 movies on there will likely not be very refined in their tastes, but they can begin to grow the seeds of what exactly they want to get out of their movie watching experience. and it’s also an initial time commitment too; if you can’t get through films like Batman Begins and Se7en, i struggle to think of where else you can go that would be rewarding at that point.
i’ll harp on this quite a bit in this post but i can’t stress the importance of finding your own identity when it comes to your viewing habits. we all have generally the same lists to look at – the letterboxd top 250, they shoot pictures top 1000, sight and sound’s top 250, etc. not everyone is going to end up seeing all of those movies though. me personally, i wanted to complete the TSPDT list by the time i was 25, that was around what i estimated when i was 16 or 17. this is now a feat that i could easily do with my consumption averages, but my desire to see the last 200 some odd movies on the list by now has dissipated more and more. i just can’t see myself ever wanting to endure more bunuel films if i don’t absolutely have to.
but the cool thing about movies is that you’re rarely forced to do these things. movie culture as a whole doesn’t really have a stigma against people who haven’t completed lists or anything; i doubt the people whose opinions i respect the most care at all about their progress on the sight and sound lists. so are these lists useless, if they are rarely ever completed?
certainly not! lists like these offer homogenized perspectives that are great as diving-off points. after you’ve sped through the various bergmans, ozus, and godards on lists like these, you’ll likely begin to get to a point of where you can broadly identify what types of movies you like and what types you don’t.
i’ve mentioned elsewhere that i’m fundamentally against the notion of needing to be “open-minded” when it comes to art, especially in an information era where we have access to tens of thousands of films at any given time. the idea that you need to continually reinforce your negative preferences in some sort of (usually futile) need to expand your horizons is something that can be done with more enjoyment if one simply continues to explore by watching movies they believe they’ll actually like. if you’re watching over 200 movies a year, odds are that you’re probably broadening your horizons plenty; how much you want to get out of that comfort zone is up to you, but as someone who almost exclusively stays in theirs, i wouldn’t say it needs to be demonized much.
at the end of the day, everyone takes risks with their viewing habits. i never really know if i’m going to like something when i begin watching it, but i would almost always prefer to like it. i’ve seen plenty of bad movies on accident to the point of where i wouldn’t want to watch them on purpose. but enough on this.
when you begin to develop your identity (this could be based around a myriad of topics and themes, such as: musicals, political films, silents, ensemble works, classic hollywood, new bollywood, experimental film, etc.), this is where your viewing habits are going to begin to diverge from something that people can really give you a flowchart or a generalized list for. you’re not some algorithm, you’re you! you have opinions! dreams! desires! you can’t possibly stomach another werner herzog movie, and you’re dying to see more things like The Wind! another canon list can only “help” so much (by help, i mean: allow you to discover or become interested in things you weren’t before).
this is where the social element to movie watching gets important, and, along with the obvious easy access to kazillions of movies, one of the primary benefits i think of when i examine how the internet era benefits film fans. i’ve joked before about how i don’t care about quality because i “grew up in the early 2010s as a rivette fan.” i have a dvd of Out 1 Spectre i bought off of a bootleg website that is the movie recorded off of a camcorder recording a TV playing the film which was recorded onto tape in the wrong aspect ratio with italian hardcode subs. nowadays, you can find this film readily available online, in pristine quality.
when i first saw A Brighter Summer Day four years ago, it was off of a dark, hazy laserdisc recording that had become widely available to potential viewers. just recently i watched the 50 gig blu ray rip of it from criterion and almost couldn’t believe my eyes at the difference.
point is, i haven’t really even been in the game that long comparatively. though Out 1 being on netflix is always going to top the list of things that “never would have happened in my days,” there are countless restoration miracles like this happening year by year. every time criterion restores a batch of films, i normally don’t care about most of them, but i usually care about one or two, and down the road i’ll probably care for a few more, and the list of films to watch just expands more and more at an exponential rate.
but even these incredible advances are somewhat meager in comparison to how much interacting with other people can aid you in venturing out in the film world more. because, the truth is, if i didn’t have people recommending me stuff or rating it 4.5 on letterboxd or what-have-you, all the criterions and arrow videos and kino lorbers in the world wouldn’t matter – i wouldn’t have any idea of where to start. the most important thing you can do for your film viewership after you’ve begun to see what you do and don’t like is: find people who agree with you! you’ll find plenty that don’t, but there are always going to be film fans that have those same hot takes and goals for their film viewership like you do.
growing up in rural texas, there wasn’t really anybody in my day to day that i could say was realistically watching films in the same wavelength as me. this isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something that many people are likely to encounter. they go into their film class and feel just a complete lack of connection with anyone. they go to a kalatozov screening and shudder at the boomers complaining about it exiting the theater. for a lot of people out there, there really is nobody that can help guide you on your journey.
that’s where the net comes in though. first thing’s first: make a letterboxd. find reviewers you like – oftentimes i go to films i like with not a lot of views and see people who liked them and check out what else they’re into. comment on stuff. review everything you see – even if it’s just 2 or 3 words, put something on there, because other people are going to be doing this too. we go on social media (especially for interests) to gain something, people like seeing your thoughts on movies if they trust your taste or value your insight. comment on other peoples’ lists and reviews, get a sense of everybody’s taste, as this might be how you find your own more.
i’ve often been disappointed when i try to find IRL film groups because the people who happen to live within a few miles from me are likely not some of the few hundred people in the world i feel really connected with on a cinematic level, but with the net at your disposal, there’s no such thing. i know people with extremely idiosyncratic tastes; 80s action films and structuralist shorts and jesus franco joints. there’s always going to be a way to find like-minded individuals on websites where everyone’s ratings and rants are publicly available.
it isn’t just letterboxd; scour the whole net for these people if you don’t feel like that site provides you with enough. i spent a year on r/movies largely as a test of this very theory, and, surprise surprise, i met some people that i genuinely clicked with pretty well. there are always going to be some people that you can connect with, and this increases as you find yourself. if you don’t know what you’re looking for in movies, other people can only help you so much.
that’s…pretty much all the advice i can give here. i don’t know everyone, i can’t reasonably vibe with everybody’s sensibilities. people educated in film may have tastes that are just antithetical to what i search for in film. this is just part of the process though, because there are so many people who have similar tastes as me that have helped me discover things i didn’t know about or wasn’t as educated on.
you may have complaint here with how i’ve set this up as “find people that are exactly like you,” but that’s not the case. nobody is exactly like you. the people that i follow on letterboxd and get recommendations from and read academic reviews from are from various backgrounds that we have overlap on but i still have huge differences with. one of my friends is huge on shorter, more transcendent abstract avant-garde films. one of my friends is big on no-budget SOV horrors or romances or other such genre flicks. other are big on political films. others are big on vulgar auteurism. some are just the “classical” TSPDT enthusiast types whose favorites from those circles align with my tastes. some of them are populists that i consider to look at films in a progressive or intelligent way. but that’s just me and my own circles; you yourself are going to find your friends, your admirers, the people that you’ll go on to stan.
but we all have to do the grunt work. at least try to go through some of the canon lists, unless you have other lists that you’re going to use instead (which is fine too!). engage with people and get recs based on your taste. some people can jump entirely into the deep end and binge lav diaz but most people aren’t wired for that. take it slow. watch the normie stuff, when you’re done with that, you can work your way into the more difficult material on the sights and sounds or they shoot the pictures or those sorts. don’t just watch mindlessly! you’re going to watch Jules et Jim or something and think “wow this is absolutely terrible, do i just have bad taste?” and the answer to that is: maybe, but maybe someone else will have bad taste too. and it’s up to you to find them.