Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back To The Future

If you’ve read any of my posts here since relaunching Jahnke’s Electric Theatre in blog form, first of all, thank you. There is a LOT of content online bucking for your eyeholes, a lot of which is presented in pictographic listicle form that doesn’t require you to read nearly as much as my run-on sentences do. I appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to click on over to the Theatre.

However, you may have had a couple of puzzled thoughts I’d like to address. The first one (and I’m paraphrasing here) is, “Jeez, Jahnke. You’re posting even less here than you did when you were writing for The Digital Bits. What gives, you lazy choad?” Well, you nailed it on that score. Left to my own devices, I tend to get easily distracted and allow myself to waste ridiculous amounts of time on pointless things. I apologize and I’m trying to fix that.

Your second thought may have been, “Is there, you know, like a point to all this? A lot of what you’re doing here doesn’t seem all that different from what you were doing on the Bits. Why aren’t you just putting it there? And the rest of it’s kind of all over the map. Focus up, dude.”

OK, fair enough. First off, there were a number of reasons behind my decision to leave the Bits. But the driving force was that as much as I enjoy writing about film, I really didn’t want to write about DVD and Blu-ray anymore (and I sure as hell didn’t want to have to write about whatever 4K nonsense is coming next). Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a fervent champion of physical media. Witness the ongoing JET’s Most Wanted crusade over on Facebook. But writing about discs has turned a corner in the last couple of years and is headed down a road I didn’t want to live on.

When you’re writing a review of a DVD or Blu-ray, you are writing about the film as a consumer product, not as a work of art. This is actually an obligation the disc reviewer has to his/her audience. Nine times out of ten, the person reading the review has already made up their mind about the movie itself. These days, they may have already purchased it on different formats two or three times. If you’re lucky, the reader will listen politely to your opinions on the film itself but that isn’t really why they’re there. This reader wants to know how this particular product stands up to every other product that’s come before it. And heaven help the reviewer who misses something because there will always be someone looking at the product with a far more critical eye than you.

To a certain extent, I understand and sympathize with this viewpoint. For years, every new home video format was, at best, a little better than the one it was designed to replace. Then Blu-ray came along, touted as the ultimate home entertainment experience. Of course, now we know it’s not but whatever. After years spent building a DVD library, consumers rightfully demanded to know why they should bother starting all over again.

But the rise of high-definition also helped prove the old adage a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Now that HD televisions were commonplace and people were adding more and more speakers to their systems, it seemed there were a lot more “experts” than ever before. Unfortunately, this all came at a time when quality control at the studio level was on the decline. There have absolutely been far more discs making it to market with serious flaws than should ever be acceptable. But now we have people seeing mistakes where there aren’t any or, at the very least, so negligible that they’re scarcely worth mentioning.

The miracle of being able to own a library of films and television programs, including many that were once virtually impossible to see, has been overshadowed by complaints about color timing, aspect ratios and audio mixes. It seems the only people reading DVD and Blu-ray reviews anymore are the people who intently study screengrabs trying to decide between a US or UK release. That’s only going to get worse in the Ultra HD era, so I decided it was time for me to bow out.

That said, I’ve been writing about the movies in some form or another since I was a teenager. I wanted to keep doing so, even though there isn’t a dime to be made in it. The recent shuttering of The Dissolve, home of the best film writing on the internet, was a bucket of ice cold water to anybody who still harbors dreams of making it as a full-time film critic. Right now, I make no money off this blog, although that’s chiefly because I have no idea how to monetize it. If anybody has some advice, I’m all ears, even if I only make the same amount per post that Lucy Van Pelt earns for a session of psychiatric help.

But writing about “The Movies” is a great big blank canvas that could lead anywhere. I don’t do well with absolute freedom, so I wanted to steer this in a particular direction. After giving it some thought, I realized the answer was literally staring me right in the face.

For years, I’ve had a “Now Playing” DVD display stand hanging in my living room. I’ve always enjoyed rotating wall art, so I decided to switch it out weekly. A couple of years ago now, I hit upon the idea of using this so-called Movie of the Week project as a way to watch my entire collection in chronological order, from the silent era on up. It’s been a fascinating experiment, so why not bring the Movie of the Week to the Electric Theatre?

In fact, I already started this with my last post looking at the Jimmy Stewart/Ginger Rogers comedy Vivacious Lady. I’m now about to embark on 1939, widely considered Hollywood’s greatest year, so I figured that would be the ideal time to jump on board. Bear in mind, this project is only roughly chronological. I’m not such a stickler for detail that I’m looking up exact release dates. Also, if I add something to my library later (say, for example, I pick up a copy of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari in a few months time), I’ll pause and include that earlier title. This project will also incorporate my ongoing themes such as Captures and An Honor To Be Nominated, so watch for those to return.

Dr. Jahnke’s History of Film will be the primary focus here from now on, although I reserve the right to toss in other stuff and non-movie-related content from time to time. What’s the fun of writing a blog if you don’t allow yourself to write about whatever crosses your mind from time to time? Anyway, this should be fun and, if nothing else, my collection is eclectic enough that you probably won’t get bored. Join me next week as we go back to 1939. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. I've been reading your stuff for years and am looking forward to this new project of yours. I've always liked your approach to films - and the fact you've been associated with Troma doesn't hurt.