“What’s Left to Say?”

13 Apr
2012

“What’s left to say?”

This simple question looms over every conversation we ever have. We fret over making sure our audience has all the necessary information and context(s) from which to reach the conclusions we’re hoping they find. As listener or reader, we search for the cues that tell us that it’s okay to begin processing and reacting. At some point, on either side of the discourse, we wonder whether it’s run its course and we’re now free to move on to other things. 

Discussing film works just like any other topic. There’s an introductory phase, full of enthusiasm and epiphanies. You start off going crazy over Star Wars, and from there you’re making comparisons with The Empire Strikes Back. This leads you to Star Wars’s half-brother, Indiana Jones (co-created by George Lucas), and from there to the filmography of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg can lead you to any number of places, from Stanley Kubrick to David Lean. Each of these leads to more areas of cinema. One night, you’re watching Grand Illusion and you get excited thinking about how Captain Rittmeister von Rauffenstein is clearly an antecedent of Darth Vader but then you get sidetracked by the rousing, defiant performance of “La Marseillaise.” Now you can place Star Wars and Casablanca on the same cinematic family tree, and it dawns on you that Rick Blaine is clearly Indiana Jones’s father.

Erich von Stroheim as Darth Ruffenstein

It doesn’t really matter the order in which you first see any of these movies. You could just as easily begin in Casablanca and wind up on Tatooine. This is the process by which we all come to film. We start with something that already has our attention and from there, we spider-web our way through the last century-plus of the medium. Our to-see lists grow with each interview we watch, each critic’s list we read, and each online forum discussion we follow.

Eventually, though, we become aware that someone wants to know: “What’s left to say?”

I encounter this as both a reader and writer of film-centric blog content. I often have a sense of déjà vu because, frankly, the canon of discussed films isn’t quite as large as one might think. Flickchart currently has somewhere around 35,000 films in its database, including short films, TV movies and direct-to-video sequels and prequels. If you only saw the top 3500 (10%), that would be sufficient to carry you through most casual movie discussions. It doesn’t help that Hollywood has historically struggled with originality; between endless sequels, remakes, and obvious imitators, there can often be a sense that if you’ve seen this, you needn’t bother seeing those.

Here’s a microcosm of how that works. Flickchart tells us that The Dark Knight is “The Best Movie of All-Time.” That makes Batman Begins semi-required viewing, and The Dark Knight Rises will be mandatory, but it also means that if you didn’t see any of the previous Batman movies, you’re free to skip them unless you happen to be into the character. Canon only has room for so many Batman movies after all, and the current trilogy has displaced its predecessors (also, its star power has rubbed off on Christopher Nolan’s filmography in general, as witness Inception currently being at #6 on the global chart). If the point of discussions, criticism, lists, and ranking is to offer viewers a guide of where to start, and what can wait, then it should be pretty obvious how one movie can overshadow several others while extending long coattails to other groups of movies.

Yeah, they're Flickchartin'.

I suppose that’s helpful, but as a blogger I still struggle with it. What is left to be said? By the time I might have seen enough movies to offer an authoritative argument for or against anything you might want to see, I’ll still be no better informed about new releases than you are. Worse, there’s always that sort of tunnel vision that accompanies any specialized, niche expertise. Being told how pedestrian my taste in film to date has been is a particular pet peeve of mine, and I’m particularly self-conscious about saying anything that might reek of that kind of snobbery whenever I do chime in about movies. If I’m not an authoritative expert, then, and I’m afraid of going too far down that knowledgeable rabbit hole anyway, then what is left to say?

This is only partly rhetorical, Dear Reader. I actually do have an answer to the question of why we keep talking about movies, despite the dearth of redundancy. No matter how many others have seen, felt, and articulated the same things about a given film, there’s something about having those personal connections ourselves that calls out for expression. Casablanca is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and it’s difficult to imagine anything truly original left to be found in discussions of that film. I went to a screening of the newly remastered digital presentation last month, though, and fell in love with it all over again. I suspect somewhere out there is someone else seeing it for the first time, and she needs to tell the world how it got under her skin. It’s a compulsion we have to share not our admittedly unoriginal insights, but our genuinely strong emotional reactions.

I continue to watch movies, looking for the ones that provoke me into prattling on, because I have to share how funny / terrifying / heartwarming / awesome something is. That’s why I blog about movies, and it’s why I read about them, too.

Still, now is as opportune a moment as any to ask: what topics do you feel are worthy of attention here on the Flickchart blog? Just try to suggest something that hasn’t already been covered.

This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as TravisSMcClain on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.

  • Derek Armstrong

    Agreed and well said. I think this is why blogging is as much (or let’s be honest, more) for the blogger than the reader. It’s a way to have that conversation in print, with only one conversant. Or multiple conversants, if you get some comments. But even if you don’t, it’s important to always be having that conversation with ourselves, which makes our love affair with movies continue to blossom. Or “spider-web,” as you elegantly characterized it. 

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      Derek, I suppose I was really getting at two different experiences. The first is how empty it can be to write something no one responds to; the other is how pointless it can feel at times to just keep having the same conversation and not have a new insight or perspective to show for it.

      How often do we hear something that prompts us to launch into our own rehearsed talking points? When was the last time you discussed a movie and actually had someone get you to see something truly new you hadn’t considered? Not just some form of trivia about the movie, but something that felt like a revelation. It’s rare. I suppose, though, that’s the real reason we keep doing this dance. Every now and again, someone might take an unexpected step and make it interesting.

  • Derek Armstrong

    Agreed and well said. I think this is why blogging is as much (or let’s be honest, more) for the blogger than the reader. It’s a way to have that conversation in print, with only one conversant. Or multiple conversants, if you get some comments. But even if you don’t, it’s important to always be having that conversation with ourselves, which makes our love affair with movies continue to blossom. Or “spider-web,” as you elegantly characterized it. 

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      Derek, I suppose I was really getting at two different experiences. The first is how empty it can be to write something no one responds to; the other is how pointless it can feel at times to just keep having the same conversation and not have a new insight or perspective to show for it.

      How often do we hear something that prompts us to launch into our own rehearsed talking points? When was the last time you discussed a movie and actually had someone get you to see something truly new you hadn’t considered? Not just some form of trivia about the movie, but something that felt like a revelation. It’s rare. I suppose, though, that’s the real reason we keep doing this dance. Every now and again, someone might take an unexpected step and make it interesting.

  • David Greenwood

     I think the notion that there’s some kind of film canon that you must see to be considered knowledgeable is kind of silly.  Obviously, if you’re going to compare a film to another, one would hope that you’ve seen both of them.  But forcing yourself to watch “The Great Movies” simply because everyone else has is a waste of your time.  Watch the movies you want to see, and seek out more good ones.  That’s why we watch movies right?  To enjoy them?

    That said, anyone who has never seen Citizen Kane isn’t a true cinema lover.  And I liked Batman before it was cool. And films were better before everyone could talk.  Back in my day, we had to hike 40 miles through the snow to see movies.  You durned youngster punks.

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      David, I’m conflicted about this. I’m very much against the notion of doing anything just because everyone else is doing it. However, I think it’s healthy to challenge oneself to expand one’s horizons and I see nothing wrong with taking cues from a consensus from time to time.

      I think of it this way: I only saw Casablanca because it was held in such high regard. I figured, at the absolute worst, I could check it off my To See list. I fell completely in love with it, though, so I owe a debt of gratitude to all those who expressed such reverence for it that I felt compelled to expose myself to it.

      Or, if you will: Is there anything advantageous about not taking the chance you might love something just because it’s on some kind of “Mandatory Viewing” list?

  • David Greenwood

     I think the notion that there’s some kind of film canon that you must see to be considered knowledgeable is kind of silly.  Obviously, if you’re going to compare a film to another, one would hope that you’ve seen both of them.  But forcing yourself to watch “The Great Movies” simply because everyone else has is a waste of your time.  Watch the movies you want to see, and seek out more good ones.  That’s why we watch movies right?  To enjoy them?

    That said, anyone who has never seen Citizen Kane isn’t a true cinema lover.  And I liked Batman before it was cool. And films were better before everyone could talk.  Back in my day, we had to hike 40 miles through the snow to see movies.  You durned youngster punks.

    • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

      David, I’m conflicted about this. I’m very much against the notion of doing anything just because everyone else is doing it. However, I think it’s healthy to challenge oneself to expand one’s horizons and I see nothing wrong with taking cues from a consensus from time to time.

      I think of it this way: I only saw Casablanca because it was held in such high regard. I figured, at the absolute worst, I could check it off my To See list. I fell completely in love with it, though, so I owe a debt of gratitude to all those who expressed such reverence for it that I felt compelled to expose myself to it.

      Or, if you will: Is there anything advantageous about not taking the chance you might love something just because it’s on some kind of “Mandatory Viewing” list?

  • David Greenwood

    Sorry it’s been so long since this post before I replied, but I just found your response

    I’m not opposed to watching stuff that list-writers recommend, as a writer of such lists myself. But people should watch movies from such lists because those movies interest them, not JUST that “some critic told me I had to”. It’s a fine distinction.

    In essence, if you can’t stand movies about gangsters, and people constantly pressure you to see the Godfather, I don’t think you need to waste three hours of your life on something you’ll probably hate. Now this assumes that you’re basing your distaste on having seen several gangster films in the past, or having a distaste for the general idea. People who refuse to watch “old” movies, or silent films, or foreign movies are a different matter entirely.

    Now there are some films that I watch simply because they’re cited so frequently that I want to be an informed part of the conversation. But not being interested in watching 8 1/2 or Casablanca or what have you doesn’t make me somehow less of a movie lover. There are only so many hours in the day after all.