Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Film Snob's Dictionary

The Film Snob*s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge
By David Kamp with Lawrence Levi
Illustrated by Ross McDonald
(Random House, 2006, 114 pages)

* Film Snob (n): reference term for the sort of movie obsessive for whom the actual enjoyment of motion pictures is but a side dish to the accumulation of arcane knowledge about them.
Of all the books I picked up during a recent book-hoarding spree at the Daedalus Books & Music warehouse outlet in Columbia, MD, none was more prized than this snarky little tome by the same author of my equally-prized The Rock Snob's Dictionary. (Visit - "the online site of cultural snobbism" - to see these titles as well as the similary-spirited The Food Snob's Dictionary and The Wine Snob's Dictionary.) Yes, I am a film snob and yes, I too once toiled in a video store where film snobs (and film geeks, like Quentin Tarantino) are weaned.

The Film Snob knows "insiderist arcana"!
The film snob is a sub-niche of Hipsterdom ruled by "proprietary knowingness,"  in which the pleasure one takes from watching movies "derives not from the sensory pleasure of watching them, but also from knowing more about them than you do, and from jealously guarding this knowledge from the cheesy, Julia Roberts-loving masses." It is this refusal to educate or share their "insiderist arcana" with the Stupid and Ineducable Masses, the authors argue, that sets the film snob apart from the film buff - the latter described as "the effervescent, Scorcese-style enthusiast who delights in introducing novitiates to The Bicycle Thief [sic] and Powell-Pressburger movies."

Though it's organized alphabetically, like a dictionary, and doesn't have to be read start-to-finish, I am enjoying it so much, that I probably will read it that way. One thing is does do is close the knowledge gap and level the playing field so that, in the words of the author, "No longer must you suffer silently as some clerk in a 'Tod Browning's Freaks" T-shirt bombards you with baffling allusions to 'wire-fu' pictures, 'Todd-AO process,' and 'Sam Raimi.'"

I love the introductory essay by the authors, especially the following section (in which one could substitute "AV Librarian" for "surly video store clerk"):

Who Is the Film Snob?

The archetypal Film Snob is familiar to anyone who has walked through the doors of an independent video store and encountered a surly clerk - hostile of mien, short on patience, apt to chastise you for not intuiting that Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket is in the James L. Brooks section "because Brooks was the movie's executive producer!" Perhaps this clerk has a shelfful of his own recommendations on display - David Cronenberg's Scanners, the complete filmography of Steve Zahn, the Italian women-in-prison pic Women of Devil's Island, and, oh, The Human Tornado, the second of the raunch Dolemite features that starred the blaxploitation comic Rudy Ray Moore in the 1970s. As you walk up to the counter with your copy of Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, this clerk heaves an audible, exasperated sigh, dutifully but contemptuously processing the transaction and sending you on your way with your wretched cinematic piffle.
Before video players and pay-cable movie channels, the ranks of such Snobs were thin. Film buffs enlisted in campus film societies or went to repertory cinemas for their old-movie and foreign-film fixes, or simply watched whatever faded offerings were indifferently shoved on TV via the Late Show, the Million Dollar Movie, or some other grim rubric. [For me, it was WBFF Fox 45, which screened all the Bergman and Fellini movies late at night - because they were "European" and hence "mature-themed" - in the 1970s!] Diehard cineasts who wished to watch one film over and over again really had to work at it, attending the same theater for several consecutive days, or gaining access to a projector by joining their school's AV club (and thereby consigning themselves to leper status socially). But the rise of VCRs and such services as HBO and Cinemax in the late 1970s and early '80s effected a huge change, enabling multiple viewing and wholesale absorption of a film's content and technique. Youngsters who sat impatiently through HBO's airings of Peter Bogdanovich's wilderness-period film Saint Jack (1979) because the cable guide promised "nudity" and "situations" soon found themselves contemplating Bogdanovich's camera angles, Ben Gazzara's line readings, and cinematographer Robby Muller's lighting. Lo, Film Snobs were being born."
Typical entries:
Cahiers du Cinema. The single greatest force in inviting ridicule of French intellectuals as absurdist twits. Founded in 1951, the still-extant Paris-based monthly first attracted American attention when, in 1954, it published Francois Truffaut's AUTEUR THEORY. Subsequent issues built mytholgies around such red-blooded Americans as DON SIEGEL, SAMUEL FULLER, and NICHOLAS RAY, puttingfar more thought into analysis of these directors' B pictures than the directors had put into making them. Cahiers du Cinema also abetted the French mania for Jerry Lewis, deeming him "le Roi du Crazy."
Facets Video. Comprehensively stocked video shop in Film Snob–choked Chicago, renowned for its array of foreign titles and Francophile pretensions; it prefers to be known as a “videotheque,” not a store, and its adjunct theater—which offers “cinechats” with such visiting directors as GUY MADDIN and PETER GREENAWAY—is called a “cinematheque.” Arguably the only video shop with a self-imposed mandate to turn impressionable children into Film Snobs, Facets offers a Future Filmmaker Membership that allows kids to borrow such titles as City Lights and Silas Marner for free.

Film Comment. Smug, aggressively elitist bimonthly magazie published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Where Snobs go to read (or write) dithery articles about BOLLYWOOD and despairing critiques of popular cinema.

Movies vs. Films (Know the Difference!):
It's a MOVIE if  it makes the cover of Premiere.
It's a film if it makes the cover of Cahiers du Cinema.

It's a MOVIE if it's black-and-white because it's old.
It's a FILM if it's black-and-white because it's Jarmuschy.

It's a MOVIE if it has T&A in it.
It's a FILM if it has penises in it.

When Billy Crystal gets the urge to direct, he makes a MOVIE.
When Clint Eastwood gets the urge to direct, he makes a FILM.
It's a MOVIE if its makers slipped lots of amusing stuff into the end-credits so you'd stay behind to watch them.

It's a FILM if it's end-credits are normal, boring end-credits, but everyone around you stays to watch them anyway.

Bruce Willis, a MOVIE guy, gained FILM credibility by being in Pulp Fiction. Steve Buscemi, a FILM guy, gained MOVIE  credibility by being in Armageddon.

It's a MOVIE if there are black people in it, unless the black person is Forest Whitaker or Jeffrey Wright.

It's a FILM if it there are Asian people in it, unless the Asian person is Jackie Chan or Jet Li.
A John Grisham novel becomes a crappy MOVIE.
A Garbriel Garcia Marquez novel becomes a crappy FILM.
It's a MOVIE if its male lead is hurled through plate glass.
It's a FILM if its male lead has sexual urgings for young boys, his sister, or his mother.

The Coen brothers are MOVIE buffs who make FILMS.
It's a MOVIE if it's preceded by a trailer for the latest Jerry Bruckheimer epic.

It's a FILM if it's preceded by an announcement from a pear-shaped, balding man down in front who identifies himself as "Michael, the programming director."

It's a FILM if it's from the Indian subcontinent, even if the people in the Indian subcontinent think it's a MOVIE.

Tom Waits will never, ever star in a MOVIE.
Tom Hanks will never, ever star in a FILM.

Surprisingly, no mention of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is to be found here. Hmmmm.

See also: (the online site of cultural snobbis

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2:53 PM  

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