The Romanticism of Lost Films (2015 For the Love of Film Blogathon)

[This is an entry in the For the Love of Film Blogathon, which supports film restoration and preservation. Please enjoy the post, and look for the link to donate at the bottom.]

Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry. The movies in your head are always much better than the movies you sit down to see. We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we’re missing as even better than the movies we have. In that sense, we need lost movies. They fortify our Romantic ideal of cinema, that’s cap-R Romantic of course.

That’s a quote from a character in Farran Smith Nehme’s Missing Reels; Nehme is perhaps better known in these parts as The Self-Styled Siren, co-founder of the For the Love of Movies Film Preservation Blogathon (though she is not hosting it this year), so you’ll have to forgive me for appearing to suck up a bit by beginning with a quote from her novel. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to write about for this year’s blogathon (or in fact, if I would manage to come up with anything at all) until I happened across this quote.

The speaker in the story is Andy Evans, a colleague of main character Ceinwen’s boyfriend Matthew. Andy is a math professor who happens to be a big collector of silent film memorabilia (and silent films themselves, as well). Nobody likes him much, and in fact, this particular quote is followed by all the other characters saying that this particular sentiment is balderdash, and that Andy’s spent way too much time hanging out with the humanities crowd.

I’m not F.W. Murnau, I’m not Tod Browning, I’m not interested in my own puny concept of what they’d have done. I want to see those movies. I don’t want to get my kicks imagining little scenes with Janet Gaynor.

Harry Engleman in Missing Reels

Perhaps it’s my own background in the humanities (I spend a couple of years doing a masters in English lit, where I did in fact do a very intense semester on Romanticism), but Andy’s words make sense to me – after a fashion. He’s talking here about capital-R Romanticism, meaning he’s referencing the 18th-19th century aesthetic movement of Romanticism and its collective ideals.

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Elsewhere: How to Survive a Quarterlife Crisis

It’s ten years behind me now, but I still remember going through a quarterlife crisis quite vividly, and I’m always kind of drawn to movies that dramatize that mid-twenties period when you feel like you’re supposed to have it all figured out and you don’t. Over at Flickchart, I wrote about three such movies, and ended up talking quite a bit about my own arc as well.


American Movie Critics: Cecelia Ager

[Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and I are reading through the American Movie Critics anthology and discussing each chapter as we go, crossposting on each of our blogs.]

Well, after unintentionally taking a couple of months off from this series, Ryan and I are back to the books with one of the most delightful sections of brief reviews we’ve come across so far. I think it’s fair to say that generally the more broad pieces of long-form writing have given us more fodder to talk about than the weekly reviews, but leave it our first working woman critic to turn that on its head.

Cecelia Ager wrote weekly reviews for Variety (the first woman to do so), finding her niche in covering the fashion in films and moving into more general criticism after that, but always with an eye towards the roles and treatment of women in a movie. She’s also incredibly funny, with a dry wit that often comes across as sincere until you carefully read between the lines. We both thoroughly enjoyed this section, and it was a great way to return to the series.

We’ve only had one piece by a woman in the book so far, and H.D. was more of a poet than a working film critic. I was a little concerned when I read that Cecelia Ager came into writing film reviews through first writing about fashion on the screen – first of all, that’s a topic I’m not particularly interested in, but also, what a stereotypical background for our first working female critic. One reason I put off getting back to this series was quite frankly that I didn’t know if Ager would have anything interesting to respond to (which was itself a sexist position on my part, and I apologize deeply!).

While Ager isn’t as theoretical as some of the critics we’ve read, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed her entire section – we have eleven very short reviews from her in this section. Did you come into Ager with any unfortunate preconceptions like I did, and if so, were they similarly dispelled?

Jandy (insert middle name) Stone Hardesty!! Sexism from you in 2015 – how is that helpful? How is a cretin like me supposed to free his mind if I don’t have you as an example?

I kid, but I do understand what you’re getting at. When someone talks about something they’re passionate about and it isn’t your passion, there’s a lot of chance your eyes will glaze over and the sounds they make will soon sound like the grown ups on Charlie Brown.

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