Welcome to the first installment in this new, ongoing column. A lot of this is going to be basic stuff – kind of a preview of what’s to come – but what better place to start than at the beginning? Bear with us, though, and we promise this will be a lot of fun for everyone involved.

So what is the Well-Rounded Cinephile? In a nutshell, it will be a regular column devoted to incrementally broadening people’s understanding of film via engaging, informative, in-depth looks at an eclectic variety of subjects.

To give a slightly clearer idea, each installment will tackle something like an important movement or subgenre (‘70s political thrillers, disaster porn, for instance), a specific filmmaker’s body of work (Kim Ki-duk, Mario Bava, etc.), recurring motifs (tentacles?), or pretty much anything else that comes to mind.

In theory, like a painting composed of countless layered brush strokes, over time, these little glances at particular parts of film history will add up to a complete-ish picture.


Maybe not this complete – source: Kyle Lambert

Here are the rules: basically, everything is fair game, and by design, we’ll be picking subjects that we, as writers, are not already experts on, forcing us to expand our horizons along with anyone reading at home.

Moreover, we’ll never attempt to provide an exhaustive or overly detailed account of a subject. Instead, these columns will be geared at giving you a rough-and-tumble crash course.

Finally, the installments will not read in any kind of sequence – we won’t go chronologically through major filmmaking trends or anything like that. That’s no fun for us or for you. Besides, this way you can jump on and off the Well-Rounded Cinephile train at anytime or backtrack if you missed one or whatever.

But what is this strange, beautiful creature called a cinephile?

Despite whatever snooty and/or criminal connotations words ending in “-phile” seem to have these days, I’m a big advocate for “cinephile” over other terms we lovers of cinema might use to identify ourselves because, well, that’s what it means: lover of cinema.

Cheesy as it sounds, other labels like “movie fan,” “film junkie,” etc. all miss that key ingredient of love (and have plenty of their own negative baggage).

It’s an abiding love or fondness for film as an art form (warts and all) that separates a cinephile from a film snob, someone who defines himself more by what he dislikes than what he likes.

Not insignificantly, the second part of cinephile, “philia” (from the same root found in words like “philosophy” and “philanthropy”), is actually just one of four different words for love in Greek, used to denote specifically “mental” or “dispassionate” love. That’s key to how a true cinephile views movies – whether or not something is instantly your cup of tea, you should be able to analyze it, appreciate (where possible) its constituent parts, and, yes, come to love it on a certain level even if you’d never want to sit through it again.

Developing mental love is crucial to the little journey we’re going to be taking with the Well-Rounded Cinephile, since, as the different installments’ subjects will be all over the map, the column will at times hold more appeal than others.

But stick around through the more eye-catching subjects and the ones that might seem like a bit of a slog at first and you’ll come out on the other side of this whole experience with more than just a crazy amount of movie trivia at your fingertips, but equipped to appreciate everyone’s favorite art form on a completely different level – the cinephile level.

Why you would even want to watch things that aren’t up your alley

Again, kind of basic stuff, but here are a few reasons even somebody who’s perfectly happy to watch nothing but romantic comedies or Blaxploitation movies might consider other types of film, as well:

1. Learning about other movies will help you appreciate the movies you already like even more.

To quote Shia LaBouef – er, Steve Jobs – “Creativity is just connecting things.” Or, as Mark Twain put it, “Substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.”

“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better movie discussions we will have” – source: Open Road Films

“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better [movie discussions] we will have” – source: Open Road Films

Filmmakers love to cram their movies full of references – some are just clever winks and nods; others are meaningful instances of what is known as “intertextuality” – one text (i.e. a movie) drawing on another to build additional meaning.

The more you’re able to catch those references – not just to movies, but all forms of art (as demonstrated, for example, by David Kahen Kashi’s review of The Grand Budapest Hotel) – the more you’ll get out of watching a movie.

2. Variety is the spice of life.

The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. He who controls the spice controls the universe.

3. A lot of the movies that we’ll cover deserve to be seen on their own merits.

Just on IMDB, there are about 2.8 million titles listed, including TV, documentaries, short films, etc. In other words, more than you’ll ever watch. But we’ll do our best to sift through the best and worst of each subject to make sure you’re being pointed at the stuff that warrants a watch-through (even if they aren’t all Cleopatra Jones-levels of genius) and might even have you saying things like, “Hey, Roger Corman isn’t so bad after all.”

4. It helps us communicate with each other, which contributes to more substantive conversations about movies.

Having similar levels of familiarity with film as a medium promotes a kind of shorthand for discussions. There’s a reason Steven Spielberg supposedly requires all prospective employees to have watched every single one of the titles on a list of 206 movies (a.k.a. the Spielberg Curriculum) before he’ll consider hiring them.

And you know, meaningful movie-related discussion is what this site is all about.

Tools for the budding cinephile

We live in a strange era of virtually unlimited access to content. Go ahead and complain about the spotty selection on a streaming site like Netflix – no amount of Asylum-style straight-to-DVD schlock can change the fact that modern film lovers have it easy compared with how things were just 15 years ago.

Basically, the name of the game here is having as many movies accessible as possible at as small a cost as you can manage.

If your local library rents out movies, get a library card.

If you live in the U.S., become acquainted with all the gas stations and convenience stores in your area with Redbox kiosks.

And if you don’t already have one, look into getting a subscription with at least one (if not all three) of the major streaming services: Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant.

"The spice must flow!" - source: Universal Pictures

“The spice must flow!” – Dune – source: Universal Pictures

Hulu, in particular, is a film lover’s best friend thanks to its deal with the amazing Criterion Collection, which gives you access to around 800 of the world’s best films for the price of a hamburger and fries. Yeesh. Talk about an embarrassment of riches, right?

(Unfortunately for non-U.S. readers, Hulu is only available in the U.S. and Japan; meanwhile, Amazon Prime Instant is available in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, and Netflix is offered in a handful of countries. Any suggestions for international alternatives? Please share in the comments!)

On top of that, a DVD and/or Blu-ray player is kind of a must, and a VCR wouldn’t hurt, either.

If you really want to go the extra mile, hit up eBay or Craigslist, and buy yourself a laserdisc just so you can bask in the glory of obsolete high-end technology. (But we can pretty much guarantee you’ll never have to use it.)

Finally, read our blog series on the analysis of movies: How To Analyze Movies Like a Boss.

What the future holds

Well, that’s a bit of a mystery. Part of the fun of this is going to be the seemingly arbitrary selection of topics from installment to installment — like a cinephile’s gashapon capsule toy machine.

We are always open to suggestions, though. We would love to hear from you about any particular areas where you feel you have a gap in your movie knowledge or if there’s a niche subject you feel would be a perfect fit for the Well-Rounded Cinephile.

First up, though, to celebrate the new season of Game of Thrones, we’re going to do a profile of ‘80s sword and sorcery movies (!!).

Were the twilight years of the Cold War a golden age for fantasy lovers, or did all the Frank Frazetta-fueled barbarian epics end up hobbling the genre’s chances at being taken seriously by non-fans?

What topics would you like to see covered? Sound off in the comments!

And don’t forget to share this article with your peers — we would be ever so appreciative! Merci beaucoup!