Sunday, December 26, 2010

ExKin Anniversary: Five Years, What a Surprise!

As of today The Exploding Kinetoscope, bane of the film blogosphere, is five years old! Over the course of this half-decade we have had many adventures, you (theoretical reader) and I (me), from the Curse of Dwindling Posting Schedules/Readership to being Tweeted by Roger J. Ebert. I have fulfilled my destiny by being cited as a something-or-other in the Wikipedia article on esteemed pornography director Alex de Rezny, and IMDb boards still regularly link that essay on The Shining to demonstrate the dangers of crackpot over-analysis. This being the end of the year, most adherents of the Gregorian calendar are looking forward, which means it is time for us to look back for a moment.

The piece I really want to share here every year is my first "published" film criticism, a review of Billy Crystal's 1992 tour-de-Billy-Crystal Mr. Saturday Night, written for my junior high school newspaper. Alas, having searched for this important document for years, I seem to have destroyed all copies in my possession in a fit of late adolescent embarrassment. Suffice to say this notice in the South East Junior High Little Hawk was likely the most glowing write-up ever given Mr. Saturday Night, sole complaint being that the film's old age makeup effects were stellar but "everyone's faces look too tight and shiny." This phrase still echoes around my head, usually while witnessing the glossiest of studio spectacle pictures, be it summer action tentpole or holiday awards season prestige product: Tight! Shiny! Or: Too tight and shiny. Anyhow, this document being unavailable, I did unearth a gem from the archives, presented below.

Back in the times, it was fashionable for young people to have web-logs on the LiveJournal platform, likely due to the air of exclusivity lent by its invite-only requirements and the clubby atmosphere of its social networking elements. I did set up house there for a time, but became puzzled at my readership's lack of interest when I would enthuse about sundry European horror pictures and mid-century monster movies. A funny and mean lady of my acquaintanceship at the time laid out the straight facts: "Nobody has anything to say about movies they haven't seen." Oh, well, that makes good sense, I thought, and set about the business of setting up this joint which is not so strictly face-to-face-pals-only — i.e., a proper blog. This story demonstrates the importance of having funny, mean girls in one's life. It also reminds me to value any readers who feel compelled to comment. My sole blogging resolution for 2011 is to be more present and attentive to the comments sections.

Like any teenager who worries over his garage band's logo before writing any songs, casting about for the perfect blog title consumed many hours. I will cop to being preoccupied with presentation over content, but from a corporate-speak "branding" perspective, title, look, feel are important after all. You don't want a blog title that you will be sick of in six months. When choosing a title — I still remember this process, I swear — I tried to stick to the dicta that it should, be sort of short, evoke our topic ("the movies and T.V.") in some way, and not be too cute, punning or insidery. It should have at least one "interesting" word in it, a certain poetic ring and mystery. Overtones of sex and death are plusses. Basically it should sound kind of rock n' roll.

My first choice title was The Bloodshot Eye, which I still think is pretty good. It's simple, mildly unpleasant, and completely true. Sadly, it was already taken. Fair warning: all that happens for the rest of this ramble is that I talk about titles I didn't use.

Reproduced below is the actual scrawled list generated while brainstorming potential blog titles. Unfortunately it is undated, but it is on Standard Federal Bank (Michigan?) notepad, and has the phone number of someone called Maria on the reverse in someone else's handwriting. I assume this was scrap paper in the office of some job I have forgotten and was ignoring while making the list. Don't strain your eyes, I will decipher and annotate the list for you. And please don't judge too harshly: this is mostly storm and very little brain. It's all for charity, folks.

4 Feet Off the Ground — The tale goes that industrialist Leland Stanford (yes, that Stanford) commissioned Eadweard Muybridge to create his first photographic sequences of a animals in motion in order to settle the matter of whether a galloping horse does, indeed, simultaneously lift all its hooves from the ground. A: Yes, they do, and also this is how horses invented the motion picture. While the reference is pleasingly oblique and in secondary meaning sounds elated, it is just this side of too oblique.

The Circuit Theater — The main thing about the crossed-off ones is that they suck. This one is, I think, an acceptable pun (circuit like a computer! Computers have circuits, right?), but oh, come on.

The Continuity Sheet — Maybe the idea here was that this blog would be a thing people would check regularly for some purpose? Crossed off immediately.

The Establishing Shot — Many of my terrible, rejected ideas were later put to good use by actual websites who don't seem to know they are terrible.

How is Cinema? — The kind of excellently bad idea one has to write down for the pleasure of X-ing out. BUT I still think about this one, pointlessly mashing-up Bazin and the kind of casual, everyday moviegoer conversation that begins "You saw Movie X this weekend? How was it?" This question, understood in the vernacular as innocently intended invitation to voice one's opinion of Movie X, also has the feel of deep/meaningless question that sets aglaze the eyes of the very stoned: how is it? How is it? Woah.

Checking the Gate — Awful, but cementing the idea that the title ought to sound like a location, event or object, more than an action. More than a little mundane, inappropriately associated with film production which little concerns us here, and later used as a blog title by an animal trainer.

Road Show Exhibition — A bit too prestigious/pretentious sounding, while curiously lacking any phonaesthetic loveliness.

Two-Reeler — Nicely antiquated, maybe, but not particularly pretty or cool enough to justify that it has nothing to do with most of the eventual content here.

The March of Time — Not wanting to invoke a specific film, let alone a radio/newsreel series, pushed this one off the list. But I get it: there's an odd push-pull between current events and old timeyness in the reference, and the phrase has always had a delectable fatalistic ring about it.

The Latham Loop — Clearly grasping here, but in defense I was searching film history for a nice found phrase, not straining for obscurity. Another crappy one later used by someone else.

Black Maria Cocktail Party — This, I maintain, is completely rad, and was very, very close to being the name of this space. The words still lurk somewhere in the code of this blog, I believe. It's got everything, really: early cinema, attractive juxtaposition, and booze.

The Exploding KinetoscopeExploding Plastic Inevitable is turn of nonsense phrase and all-time greatest name of anything contender that I've never been able to get over since first hearing it. It's a word-string that I turn over in my head all the time, and I was kind of doomed to rip it off. Anyway, the final pick has two Good Words, classy birth-of-cinema ambiance, overtones of violence and spectacle, and sounds maybe a little sleazy. In our masthead, it is coupled with Official Blog Slogan "Film: The Deadliest Art," an irresistibly dumb, ominous, ultimately meaningless inversion of Arthur Knight's formerly popular book The Liveliest Art (1957), which never hurt anyone, but I am punk rock like that.

Laterna Magika — A heavy contender, utilizing the X-Files foreign language titling trick and looking cool in the process. I believe I simply mis-/wishfully-spelled "Magica," so it's nothing to do with the Prague theater I just read about on Wikipedia. Alas, Kenneth Anger and Ingmar Bergman got here first, thus this was nixed.

Tachistoscope Popcorn Experiment — Would that this were not quite so clunky, because it is so much down the right track, you know? The urban-legendary incident to which it refers is a long-time fascination of mine, as it is creepy, paranoid, and a total lie that lives on as casually accepted fact. It is vaguely film-related without really having anything to do with film, and it has a "scope" and an X in it. I call dibs on this phrase forever.

The House Reel — Mainly rejected for problems of boringness and corniness.

The Flower of Gower Gulch — Firstly, this is a song that Porky Pig sings in "Drip-Aong Daffy". Secondly, that song is a sorta-inside joking reference to the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Gower Street, where in beautiful times long gone, cowboy-type bit players would hang out, and screen-ready Western extras could be scooped up by the truckload. I was, at the time this blog began, living about a block from this historic location, now the site of a not-particularly-charming strip mall, Denny's and Rite-Aid. Time marches on!

Academy Ratio — Boring, and additionally too strongly suggests that this might be an Old Time Movies ONLY blog, which it is surely not. As a side note, my understanding of aspect ratios is basic, functional or slightly-above-average, depending on the room, so why bait for trouble like that? Also, it sounds snooty and doesn't go POP.

This is Cinerama! — Appealing for its exclamation point, but too specific by a mile. Again, later put into use by other blog-minded parties.

Poverty Row Babylon — ... and here is the second choice, the only one that in retrospect I sometimes wish I'd used instead. The historical Poverty Row was not a specific location proper, but several of the studios were located in roughly the same area. As it happens, the hellhole apartment where I lived back then was in proximity to some of those places, and in the meantime I have only moved closer to the heart of the Row as it were. It is important to me that I walk past the Monogram Pictures facilities all the time, a sight that never fails to send a chill down my spine. Those are the kinds of reasons that I really, actually love Los Angeles, and am increasingly disinterested in ever living anywhere else. So associating the dinge-romance of Poverty Row with the horror-glitz of Hollywood Babylon and therefore also with Kenneth Anger (and by proxy an interest in occult studies that I try to keep out of this blog), Intolerance, my actual neighborhood, etc. I reckon it only lost the race because it is sort of a parody title. Nobody steal it, because I'm gonna use it for something.

The Hanging Gardens of Poverty Row — This is, like, the same thing but unnecessarily wordy, obtuse and cute, though it's kind of pretty.

* * * * *

Speaking of L.A. history, glamor and dilapidation, I have spruced up the ol' blog code and look for the first time in several years, aiming for less oppressive and more handmade feel. The Exploding Kinetoscope of 2011: Tight! Shiny! Rising up to the right there is my fairly caricatured depiction of the awe-inspiring Los Angeles Theater. This historic treasure has been nicely preserved, but due to the general rottenness of downtown L.A. is not used for regular film screenings.

Aaaand speaking of regular usage, I know posting around here is spotty in comparison with every other blog in the universe. You know, I do try to strive for quality over quantity (present navel-gazing excepted), so for those who stick with ExKin anyway, y'all are a quality audience, regardless of quantity.

And with that, I've gone on plenty long, so to all readers who have crossed this blog's path in the last five years, whether supporters or dissenters, friends or gawkers, I thank you kindly, and invite you to drop by anytime during the next five. There's usually coffee on.


Outlaw said...

I've only fairly recently discovered both this blog and your fantastic but apparently discontinued Garfield thing, and there are not a lot of blogs whose backlog content I feel compelled to limn, but that is the case with yours, so kudos! Five years, my brain hurts a lot...

Outlaw said...

Oh goddammit, I totally misused the word "limn" — try to be fancy, end up with lexical egg on your face. Not the best first impression but at least I was complimentary.

Jordan said...

Congratulations on 5 years! This is probably my favorite blog, and I even MET A NEW REAL LIFE FRIEND THROUGH IT (Janani.) How crazy is that?

Titling things: I know how this goes. I am terrible at it. I have countless songs with no title (so many of my choruses lack a catchy phrase, so songs end up being called "_______ song.")

When it came time to name my band (after being Booed by an audience when I said "we don't have a name"), I probably wrote down 200 rejected names before arriving at the clearly amazing name "Trouble's Afoot." Some close calls were: The Slouchabouts, Agent Cooper, and various plays on the word "Brain."

Anyway, looking forward to the posts in 2011. My hopes? More X-Files, more Buffy, more funny micro-reviews, some Avatar: Last Airbender TV series analysis, and I'm always happy to learn about movies I've never heard of, believe it or not.


Dennis Cozzalio said...

Chris, congratulations on this momentous anniversary. As you know this blog has been one of the real treasures I've stumbled upon during my adventures in the blogosphere, and I doubt I'm the only one whose life has been enriched because of it. I really appreciated the discourse re the potential titles too, because as you know I went through a bit of an identity crisis trying to find the right one too. Any light shone upon any aspect of the creative process is valuable, and entertaining too when it comes from you. I hope for AT LEAST five more years of similar enrichment courtesy of your writing, and if I can't get it I'll shoot this dog. (Guess you had to be there!)

By the way, the only things I remember from Mr. Saturday Night are the shiny, creepy old-age makeup AND David Paymer, assessing his pal's (brothers?) life with him in a back alley near the end of the movie-- it all boils down to this when Paymer fairly whines at him, "YOU COULDA BEEN NICER!"

Well, you couldn't have been, Chris, nor could many blogs be better than what you've done here. Salud! See ya at the New Beverly!

Greg said...

Well, you don't hear from me much over here but now seems like as a good a time as any to say, in all honesty, this blog has some of the best writing on the internet, period. I don't comment because I can never think of anything other than, "Wow, fantastic!" and that gets kind of boring after a while.

Congratulations of five years of superb blogsmanship.

Bryce Wilson said...

Congratulations sir!

And I'm with the others. If I don't get five more years of film writing so good that it's basically like plutonium for my self deprecating side, I'll be sorry indeed.