Thursday, December 02, 2004

Movie Nerds 101

Did you try to convince your girlfriend to watch an African circumcision movie with you your first night back from a vacation? Do you plan on being an hour and a half late to a pal's birthday party so you can squeeze in the rare screening of Ozu's Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family? If so, congratulations! You're a certified movie nerd!

Of course, it's no fun being a movie nerd. You watch a ton of movies all by your lonesome, sacrifice your social life for the sake of completism, compile lists that nobody cares about, and acquire a ton of knowledge too obscure for even Trivial Pursuit and completely off-limits at cocktail parties. (Social no-no: "Funny you should mention Milla Jovovich's bizarre outfits, as Bresson, of all people, made a weird, fascinating movie on Joan of Arc in 1962, during his conventional middle period, which I just saw last Friday evening at the Cinematheque.") It's like being a dorky wonk who knows every detail about East African debt forgiveness programs, except you're not helping anybody and you can't get paid. Worst of all, art connoisseurs (artfags, movie nerds, bookworms, indiegeeks, classic music buffs) have a particularly obnoxious reputation -- just one step above snotty foodies and wine snobs -- so it takes blood, sweat and much tongue-biting to not make yourself a social pest.

Funny thing about the internet: It makes obsessives more obsessive, mainly by connecting you to other strange birds similarly enchanted by celluloid (and listmaking). A cultish cinephilia has flowered online, watered by an endless stream of trivia and reconsiderations, so that "priority" moviegoing never ceases. Just when you thought you've covered the canon, you learn that Walter Reade has just uncovered a hitherto unknown masterpiece by Polish great Andrzej Munk! What?!? How can you dare presume to know anything about postwar Polish cinema without seeing this precursor to Wadja and Polanski? And did you know the Jean-Claude Van-Damme/Rob Schneider turkey Knock Off is some kind of gonzo classic? Have you seen it? Yeah? But have you really seen it?

As you can see, the connoisseurship never ends.

I became a much bigger movie nerd after I joined a group of nerds, selected by Esquire critic Mike D'Angelo from posters to the now-dead rec.arts.movies.current-films, to participate in a movie survey now called the Skandies. I joined in 1997. (Mike has helpfully provided a short history of the group, as well as last year's results, on his blog.) Most Skandies participants take their voting obligations with the utmost seriousness, busy tracking down screeners of Undertow just to make sure they aren't missing out. Call me biased, but I think the Skandies results are more consistently interesting and "correct" than awards from any other group. (Witness deserving Best Picture wins for In the Mood for Love, Yi Yi, Out of Sight, and Being John Malkovich, in their respective years.) Only the Village Voice and Film Comment polls come close, and those polls don't highlight overlooked performances/movies the way the Skandies does.

But really, nobody cares about the results except Skandies voters and a handful of groupies. The more significant thing is the comraderie that's developed between the "regulars." Those of you who browse this blog regularly -- those who are not part of the nerd posse, that is -- surely have detected this. It's weird. In a way these guys are just "movie nerds I know from the nerd discussion group". But I know some things about them -- namely, taste -- that their parents and s.o.'s probably don't know, and they me.

Thus an internet "community" formed. Ours is emblematic, but there are pockets of movie nerd communities all over, from the Kubrick fanboys at alt.movies.kubrick, to the cultists on the Mobius discussion group, to various HK cinema aficionados, to Cinemarati and the Rotten Tomatoes message board, and finally, the Little D'Angelistas and the Auteurist Zombies, who emerged from our wake. With the blog explosion, I've stumbled across a whole another community of movie nerds that exists in parallel to our own, the links of which the Greencine blog collects. This includes, Like Anna Karina's Sweater (which has some great stuff on Korean cinema), Rashomon and Cynthia Rockwell (both of whom I've linked to), and some others.

There's not enough idle time to keep track of it all, but one thing's sure about the internet: no matter how peculiar your obsessions may be, you'll find likeminded folks just a click away.