Sleepless in Laval – reasons to be cheerful – parte un

Posted on September 14, 2010


“The list is a good thing”

It is midnight on Sunday the 12th September 2010 and I cannot sleep. This week I should be attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), tomorrow night the gala unveiling of TIFF and Cinematheque Ontario’s commitment to film in Toronto, the Bell Lightbox, yet here I sit in my wife’s family home, jet-lagged in the northwest of France and wondering what the hell to write.

Well, not really. Last night I had no idea what I would write but sitting at my brother in law’s wedding playing guess that 80s French pop hit at 4am an idea did start to form, one that has taken gradual form and assumed a reluctant shape.

It occurred to me that having begun this process five weeks ago I was now anxious to write something while away on holiday lest I miss a week, lose the habit and gradually let this (whatever this is) fall away and fade without closing credits. All of which tells me that I am doing this because I want to and enjoy doing so, but why? While I sat there at the wedding, looking I’m sure like some pompous parkbench philosopher, I gradually appreciated the massive efforts being made around me to communicate. In their broken English and my fractured French we mangled two languages in an attempt to connect on the simplest of levels. We talked about rugby, they lorded over me about France’s record against Ireland in the Rugby World Cup; we talked about football, every last one of them apologized profusely for the now infamous Thierry Henry handball incident that obstructed Ireland’s (admittedly plodding) progress to the World Cup in South Africa. I informed them of the Gillette Curse that had this year dragged down three major sports stars and they looked puzzled.
They do however seem to think that the French team’s awful performances, disgraceful behaviour and ignominious exit from South Africa had caused enough national suffering for just desserts to be considered served (somewhere between cheese and coffee). I informed them, full of lovely champagne as I was, that God was angry and Irish, no such penance had been granted and they didn’t yet know the meaning of the word suffering. However, while we chatted, teased and laughed, a realization arrived…I live/love to connect with those around me, as a means of connecting better to myself. Talking with a bunch of drunken Frenchmen reanimated a dormant national pride that hadn’t caught flame in recent times in Canada, in other words…it’s good to talk. And there are enough of you out there each week, commenting, texting, emailing and plain old talking about these articles that I continue to get something out of the exercise every time we do this thing.

But why film I hear you ask? Well, I love film, really love it. I often live and breathe it, I read about it and now I want to write about it. And what gives me the right to do so? Well, the way it makes me feel is enough for me and hopefully the way it makes you feel is enough for you. But why do this at all? That’s a difficult one but I feel an answer forming. It’s in the first five articles I wrote for this site, from Inception and Beyond to Lest I Forget, it’s in the quote underneath this article’s title and soon it will be on a page you can access at the top left of each page on this site. Whenever I come up against a problem I make a list and a timeline for actions to solve it, whenever I am overwhelmed in life I make a list and a timeline, I look at the time available to me and what I can expect to reasonably get done in that time, I prioritize the most important tasks and I get to it. I put the rest aside and I put faith in the list. The other stuff tends to work itself out or I arrive at easier solutions while considering the larger problems and that works for me. Now that I find myself at a place and time where the unconscious desire to reach beyond and find the inner space through outer exploration wells to the surface, so I’ll write about what I know and see what spills over the side. And what do I know? Well, I know film, like I said I’ve seen a hell of a lot of films of all types, shapes, sizes, colours and languages. I’ve read a lot about film, the process of its creation, film history, books by writers, directors, editors, critics and historians, I know what feels right, I know what feels wrong and I know a waste of my time when it’s being stolen from me (thank you Kevin Smith and Cop Out).

You're the one who wanted to work with him

But what makes a film great? Better than good or just OK? I think we do. Our emotional and personal responses to a film make it important to us and something more than just the sum of its various parts. And that is what La Liste is for, it is the culmination of the first six weeks’ writing and represents the beginnings of what is truly important to me (and hopefully us as you begin to contribute) in terms of film and who knows what else? Today is ground zero, nothing is included just because “it should be” or “everyone knows it’s a classic”, because (A) how can it be if I/we haven’t seen it?, and (B), it might have been a classic before and to others but what does it say to me about my life?

In order to rein in some of the wanton randomness associated with such a venture I have come up with some rudimentary rules and a categorization system for La Liste:

  1. Like I said, I/we have to have seen the film in order to include it.
  2. Anyone can make a suggestion but they also have to make their case for it’s inclusion, “Ironman 2 totally rocks” won’t cut it.
  3. You must play nice, or at least be polite. Life is too short to devote time to simply kicking the crap out of stuff in print. If I write an article on a film or the collected films of a director or actor it will be because some of their stuff is at least worth considering for La Liste. And what makes it worth considering? At the very least, a personal connection to the film.
  4. But what about movies that are just plain old good movies? Well, the idea of the list is what is great. This is not an encyclopedic document of everything ever made or a consideration of same, check out David Thomson’s work to see what I mean, but in deference to the question, I think that anything that is considered for inclusion must be good, so even if it isn’t ultimately added to the list, there is a document nevertheless (the article that was written) of its worth.
  5. La Liste is the best of the best, but there will be other categories denoting those well worth our time. Edward Scissorhands is not one of the best movies ever made but it sure said something to me about my life and after last week I am very reluctant to toss it away and move on, so as is the case in Toy Story 3, I must find a way to give my childhood toys away yet keep them close to hand.

The list also allows me to write some pieces in advance when the mood takes me. For example, tonight I couldn’t care less about Martin Scorsese but because of the country I’m in I can’t get Betty Blue out of my head. Maybe I should have written about seeing Betty Blue in 1991 for this week’s article but something about sitting up at 2am listening to the Arcade Fire and writing about Betty Blue seems a bit…studenty?!

But with the list up and running, if that mood takes me, I can write the article in the moment, save it up for another time, upload it and see if it ultimately is Liste material. Another advantage is that the list allows me to write an article at the time of awards season or on the occasion of an actor or director with a new release on the way e.g. with the coming of Black Swan to TIFF next weekend I have been thinking a lot about the movies to date of Darren Aronofosky and how he has developed since Pi. I also hope that if I get the categories right, then someone surfing through the list could pick a movie because of the other entries in that category and enjoy that movie as much as the ones they were already aware of.

I would very quickly point out that this is not ‘therapy by blogging’ or ‘spilling dressed as sharing’, it is not a weekly review column of what’s hot and what’s not. I laughed my ass off at The Hangover and Hot Tub Time Machine but this time next year they may mean nothing more than a collection of chuckles and rude giggles. The list is an admittedly flawed attempt to start something from nothing but it is also an attempt to understand it all a little better by taking the time to stop and consider. Either you get this or you don’t. It’s a daunting and possibly stupid prospect but one with many potential gains. If I can get the same benefit each week as I did from a friend’s comments on Brokeback Mountain, then over the years that will be hundreds of unexpected moments experienced and acknowledged each of them attached to a film that helped midwife that feeling into the open air.

For my part, I am going to trudge through the 50 or 60 films mentioned in these six articles to date and try to find them a suitable place on La Liste but not all of them will make it. While considering them I will hopefully come up with a reasonable categorization scheme as well, in this your opinions and suggestions are most welcome.

Spoiler alert – Brokeback Mountain will be there, even if I have to give it its own category. Grease won’t be.