2018 Film Essays

Vague Visages Is FilmStruck: Marshall Shaffer’s #FilmStruckFebruary – The Beginning

Because you just can’t keep this consonance contained, #FilmStruckFebruary is back! If you recall from my 2017 adventure, I undertook a slightly masochistic challenge to make the most of my FilmStruck subscription by watching something on the service every day in the month of February, be it a short, feature or bonus material. As I wrote, “#FilmStruckFebruary helped break me out of a habit of viewing films as a series of fixed points by reminding me that the cinema is a living, breathing, adapting organism.”

So I figured … why not do it again, and better? February 1, 2018 marks the kickoff of my second annual #FilmStruckFebruary!

A few things will be different this year — mainly, my own position. #FilmStruckFebruary was a most welcome tonic after the twin endeavors of 2016 end-of-year screener catchups and 2017 Sundance Film Festival preparation. I was so caught up in the hyper-now, chasing superlatives and highs that I needed something to refresh me, ground me in the pure pleasures of cinema for its own sake.

Around the time I popped in my screener copy of The Square on December 30 of last year, I hit my burn-out point. Watching film after film to ascertain if it was good enough for my Top 10 list took its toll, and I decided I was tired of catching up on new films. I wanted to watch older films to simply bask in their glow as well as sip from the fountains of their history. (Feeling no pressure to immediately rank or review them also felt good.)

At the same time, I was a neophyte New Yorker with a wealth of repertory cinema options at my fingertips — and a card-holder of MoviePass (after a two-month war with customer service that eventually devolved into memes). Instead of furiously trying to track down arcane early works from the soon-to-be exalted directors at Sundance, I was discovering treasures like Insiang at the Film Society of Lincoln Center or rekindling my love for Magnolia in glorious 35mm at Metrograph.

It’s remarkable how much the availability of classic film has already begun to rewire my viewing habits. In Houston, I was essentially reliant on my local Alamo Drafthouse chapter for any programming of repertory cinema. Now, there’s too much to possibly consume. (Sorry — I wish every city could have this!) #FilmStruckFebruary is now, for this New York cinephile, no longer the only way to watch classic film. It’s not a beautiful respite in the year so much as it is a challenge to build on momentum already established in January.

What can you expect from 2018’s edition of #FilmStruckFebruary?

First, it’s not just going to be my attempt to check more boxes on my Criterion Collection list. Last year’s iteration of the challenge led me to shamefully belated first encounters with many cinematic giants — Federico Fellini, Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman and Wong Kar-wai, to name a few. While it’s helpful with this self-imposed spotlight to finally catch up with many classics, there’s more I can do.

Second, it will be conscious of trying to avoid films and filmmakers more traditionally recognized as “canonical.” Of course, this is tricky, given that most of the directors featured on such a curated platform have already received some modicum of anointment. But I hope to dive deeper into perspectives that have not always been well-represented throughout history, be they related to region, gender, sexuality or more.

Third, I intend to actually utilize all that the platform has to offer beyond just binging classic movies. I want to make it all the way through one of their collections and really dig into the connective tissue of the films. (It’s easy to make one film in a NYC rep series but making them all requires a herculean feat of scheduling.) I want to watch one of their double features, be it the Short+Feature pairings or the Friday Night Double Features — though I reserve the right to watch it on a day other than Friday.

Fourth, I want to watch the bonus material and the original programming available on FilmStruck. It’s easy to fall back on my own gut reaction or my conditioned responses to a work. I want to weigh and consider the views of experts in the field, who may be able to better explain how a film works so that I might better appreciate why a film works. (Or doesn’t – I didn’t love everything I watched last year!)

That’s all I have for now – it’s time to actually go watch some movies! You’ll be hearing from me every week during #FilmStruckFebruary in 2018, not just at the end, so I look forward to sharing some of my many adventures along the way.

Follow Marshall Shaffer on Twitter (@media_marshall).


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