Webster’s dictionary defines a cinephile as “a devotee of motion pictures.” I first learned this portmanteau when I was 19 years old, in college, beginning my serious study of film. At that time, it made sense to me that I must be a young cinephile; I was in love with movies and had a voracious appetite for consuming them. I had long been a devotee, and I had spent much of my free time and money in high school going to the movies, collecting DVDs, and viewing films with friends late into the night. Like many passions of youth, my love for motion pictures burned hot, and my entry into a formal academic setting where the viewing and study of films was considered very serious business only served to stoke those flames even further. Now watching three films a day was not only not frowned upon, it was encouraged as research.
My desire to study films, and to make films of my own, led me to Pittsburgh, PA, but it was born in my hometown of Charleston, WV. I was a part of a small clique in my school who were obsessed with movies and pop culture. We were equal opportunity nerds when it came to the movies, as enamored with Taxi Driver and The Godfather as we were with Dumb and Dumber and The Chinese Connection. We would watch our favorites over and over and over again, memorizing lines of dialogue and details of shot construction, beginning an informal education in the visual language of the movies. Our curriculum was dictated only by personal taste and by the availability of particular films on home video. We amassed large collections of DVDs and VHS tapes, trading with one another and spreading the movies like secrets.
My personal collection became fairly large during the early part of the 21st century. Over the years, I purchased hundreds of movies, and watched hundreds more. I never thought of myself as a collector, because I didn’t hold much inherent value in the physical media. I was only interested in collecting the stories contained therein. As a result, there was never much rhyme or reason put into what might be added to my personal collection. I liked what I liked, and during that time I was primarily interested in consuming as much cinema as possible as often as possible. However, as access to different sources of media developed, adding new discs to my collection seemed less and less important. I was an early adopter to Netflix’s disc service, and collecting little red envelopes began to supplant buying movies of my own. A few years later, as streaming services became my primary way of engaging with and viewing films and media, my DVD collection became nearly ornamental, a well-organized display of my personal taste choices.
There was also a period of my life during which I completely disengaged from watching movies altogether. After four years of undergraduate film school, and a brief stint in graduate school, I had become seriously burnt out. I felt the need to almost totally unplug myself from that life and that meant largely ignoring my previous interest in movies. During my mid-twenties I buried myself in work, occasionally going to the theater, but rarely engaging critically in the way that I had in film school. I stopped writing entirely. I tried to shake this rust off in 2012, starting a blog that I kept sporadically updating for about half a year, writing short reviews and analysis of both contemporary and classic films. Though I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped in keeping the blog going regularly, I was able to use it as a stepping stone to working on several longer, more involved essays over the next year. I also began going to the theater more frequently and, gradually, my interest in cinema in general began to be reignited.
Since that time, my engagement with the movies has been consistent, even if my engagement with writing about the movies has been less so. I have thought about several potential long and short term writing projects that I could put my mind to, but for various reasons they’ve never been able to come to fruition. Often a lack of free time would derail an attempt to write an essay, and other projects would often take precedence as I started taking on new and different professional and social responsibilities. Sometimes I lacked for a concrete source of inspiration for a writing project, and a sort of stasis would set in. I realized a few months ago, however, that the solution to this problem might have been right under my nose all along. As I sat at my desk one evening, I looked to the shelves where my DVD collection was held, so many of them untouched in years, and I realized I had a previously untapped source of inspiration. I made up my mind to work my way through each disc organized alphabetically on my shelves, from 12 Monkeys to Zodiac, and write a short essay about each one. I was interested to find out how some of these movies that I hadn’t watched in a decade would hold up. I was curious to see if I could remember the story of how each one came to be in my collection, and why it seemed important enough to have stayed with me for all these years.
So, I hope to use this space to release these essays as I work my way through my collection, and with over 200 movies this will certainly be a long term project. My desire is to have one new essay written each week exploring a new film, and my relationship to it, both now and then. Some of these movies I have seen so many times that I could probably write my essays from memory, some of them I have seen only once or twice, and I’m sure there are a couple lingering around that I may have never gotten around to seeing at all. I’m hoping that presenting these films alphabetically, without any thought to chronology (either of their release or of their introduction into my life) or theme, there may be some interesting juxtapositions or that the films may enlighten each other in some way through an unpredictable pairing. There are already some stories that I can’t wait to tell about some of these films and their roles in my life. Most of all, I’m excited to get back to writing about movies on a regular basis, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to revisit some of the more formative films of my cinephilia.