Declaration of Principles

I’ve got a colleague named Ralph who’s quick to remind me, whenever I bring up podcasting or hosting screenings, that Thousand Movie Project began as a writing project. He warns me against spreading myself too thin and getting away from that. Which is good.

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of Don Winslow lately, a novelist who writes mostly about drug cartels, and throughout his promotional tour last year for a cop novel called The Force he talked about the slippery slope of police corruption, the gradients and – occasionally – good intentions of it, and he’s been saying that it’s very common for a person, at the beginning of the journey, to not know where they’ll end up.

True enough. That’s the heart of what makes most stories interesting, is the question of where’s this headed.

Then he says that an overlooked component of any long journey is that often, just as the traveler’s gone far enough to now have an idea of where things will end up, they’ve forgotten where it began. Forgotten the principles that set them out the door in the first place. And, having forgotten those principles, have an easier time betraying them.

I worry a lot about getting the right amount of attention to the Project (in case you’ve missed it: one of my major goals at the end of the Project is to be able to write a book about the experience), so I do a bunch of things with social media and public events, and it’s easy to lose sight here and there of the fact that what I originally wanted to do here was just learn a lot and write a lot.

Go back to the previous essay and you’ll see that I recently watched Citizen Kane four times in a row, listened to two DVD commentaries along the way, and read three books about how it was made, and about Welles himself. So now Citizen Kane is like this thing in my consciousness. I keep turning it over and over like a snowglobe thinking there’s some new little kernel of greatness I’ll discover, or maybe some little profundity I’ll only come to understand with time. But when I try to just show respect for how I’m reacting to it now, as a twentysomething with relatively few responsibilities and whose stance on almost every topic is wobbly at best, I find that what rings my bell most ringingly at the moment is this scene toward the middle, where Charles Foster Kane himself is only about my age, and he pulls up a strip of paper on which to write a Declaration of Principles for his newspaper.

He’s pretentious about it, saying that he wants his newspaper to be as crucial to the people in his city as the gas in their lamps (this is the turn of the century), so he tells them, in big letters on the front page that morning, that he will 1) report the news honestly, and 2) stand as a defender of their rights.

It doesn’t work out well and eventually the declaration is referred to as an “artifact,” and shredded by the hands of its author.

I’m not in a position to be promising either of those things, except for maybe the honesty part as it relates to talking about movies, but it’d be nice to give myself a kind of north star to guide me through Thousand Movie Project, keep me mindful of its principles, and so, if you’d care to have a look, I’ve listed down below a formal Declaration of those Principles. Subject to revision, with time, but probably only to add a point or two.

Thousand Movie Project’s Declaration of Principles

  • Thousand Movie Project is a writing project.
  • Thousand Movie Project is an exercise in, and celebration of, autodidacticism. Teaching yourself about whatever it s you want to understand. Going out and exploring a subject on your own: reading widely, considering other perspectives, and experiencing culture for the sake of experiencing it.
  • Great works of art are fluid, they change with time, and it’s perfectly fine to have no definite opinion about a great movie right away. If ever. It’s cool, too, if those opinions change with time. A rigid consistency of views isn’t necessarily a sign of maturity, or dependability. That your views should change with time is a result of living, of knowing people and hearing their side of things, of reflection and critical thought. It’s fine.
  • Great works of art, for our purposes here, are to be conversed with. In other words: watch a movie, pay close attention, then go off and think about it. Maybe do a little reading about why and when it was made. If the movie is a masterpiece of romantic comedy from 1941, for example, you can talk about it critically (evaluating the script, direction, sets and cast and so on) or you can converse with it. Does the movie seem to be saying that love conquers all? Well, show me how it makes that point – then lemme hear why you agree with it. Or why you don’t. Go ahead and talk about your personal life. Digress, ramble, rhapsodize, sermonize. Meet the movie’s opinions with your own. Converse.
  • The price for having people listen to your opinion is twofold: (a) you have to be interesting, direct, coherent and quick; (b) you have to be willing to hear and consider theirs.
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