James Hansen

Out 1 Film Journal

Posted by FocusFeatures.com | January 19, 2010
James Hansen James Hansen

The New York-based cinephile opens up about writing and curating the Jacques Rivette-namechecking movie blog Out 1 Film Journal.

Tell us about your blog.

Hello. My name is Out 1 Film Journal. I was born in 2007. I consist mostly of reviews, both of current and repertory films, and will occasionally feature rather lengthy academic-ish articles about films of little interest to 90% of the population. But I hear those other 10% really like me.

How would you describe your readers? Do you have much contact with the people who read you?

To be completely honest, I know we are being read at this point and that’s about all I can say. Our readers certainly aren’t rowdy! I’ve had contact with some people who read us and have created several friendships with those who have reached out, but we tend to not get a lot of commenting for some reason. Our first readers were friends and colleagues from the various places, and I know we have a lot more readers now than we did then, but the connection remains limited.  For those who have reached out and made contacts though, its been great.
 
Tell us how - and why - you started your blog. 

I started Out 1 in 2007 just as I began a Masters program in Film Studies at Columbia University. I had been invited to write for another site who had seen some pieces I wrote in college. I was so thrilled that someone had seen my stuff that I jumped at the offer and since I was moving to New York, film capital of the States, it seemed like an opportune time. After a few months, though, I realized that site had very different aims than I did personally and, since I wasn’t getting paid, I decided to start my own thing where I could do longer form criticism where I could control what and how to write about things. It was just to be a place to write reviews, work out ideas, and maybe eventually publish some articles or something like that. Even though internet criticism had several good voices at that point, I felt like it wasn’t really taking advantage of the positives of internet criticism (i.e. longer, in depth articles, active discourse with readers, etc.) And since I started graduate work, fancied myself a well-versed cinephile and a solid writer, and had found some other sharp friends who were interested, I decided it was worth the time for anyone else with similar frustrations. I initially thought Out 1 would focus on international and experimental work, but now we really just review whatever we can (and tend to prefer international and experimental work, as far as taste and interests go). I also always wanted a small “stable” of writers for our readers to become familiar with individually, but to also see as a sort of collective who share a similar outlook on cinema. I think we’re getting close to those aims.

Describe your blog day - do you work at home? Go to a cafe? Sit in an office?

I’ve never been able to work very well anywhere other than where I live. Occasionally, when its slow, I’ll write in an office where I’m working a part-time job, but I’ll usually wait until I can get to my desk. I literally can’t grasp the idea of working in a cafe, library, or anything else. I have friends who used to meet up and work on things together in places like that. I tried a couple times, but it's useless. I need my own space to think and it tends to be my apartment. Any location in the apartment will do though!

How do you find things to blog about and how do you decide that an entry is worth being in your blog?

With so many movies opening in New York every week, it's easy to find things to write about. We’re review-based, so any new film of interest to us is worth discussing, whether its good, bad, or in the middle. We also will talk about older films and use a DVD of the Week series as an excuse to review and mention something that is worth seeing that we think people might not have seen. Unfortunately, of our three main writers, I’m the only one based in New York right now, so it's also a process of deciding who will write on what (since we often would be interested in the same films) and when it will get published. If something opens here in October, but in Ohio in January, do we still publish in January? I always say New York is Out 1’s home city, but thats only a third true. Its really more of a drifter. Anyways, part of the plan has been longer criticism with a bit more critical thinking and deeper exploration of movies, so I rarely worry about posting half-hearted 400 words reviews the day something comes out. I’d rather take the time and put out something a week later that might actually be of substance rather than regurgitating the same positive or negative reviews with the same positives or negatives about the same films every week. There might be more criticism now, but it's all so boring! Instead of 10 critics analyzing something, there are now 100 who only scratch the surface of movies. Few people really take the time to dig deep. I don’t even know if we succeed or not, but we try to do so.

What is your favorite blog entry?

It's hard for me to pick a favorite. I’m pretty hard on myself about my writing and wanting to keep a high standard, which is made even more difficult since I essentially serve as my own editor. I find it hard to read my own writing once I’ve published it. I always think things could be better - they’re either great or awful. All this aside, I tend to like reviews that combine my disciplines of academic articles and reviews. I tried to combine those in a tongue-in-cheek humorous way for my Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen review, so that's probably one of my personal favorites, even if it's a little silly. I also really enjoyed writing about South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut as a review and piece of cultural criticism, so that's a favorite too.

Out 1 Film Journal

What was your most popular/controversial blog entry?

Its hard to gauge the popularity, I think, but I do know some pieces over time continue to receive lots of hits, so those would be popular. My South Park piece that I mentioned seems to do well, the NYFF coverage is always popular, and an article we published by Maria Lund on Jeanne Dielman was included on a syllabus for a class in Washington, so that was pretty exciting. I’ve personally avoided controversy pretty well, I think, aside from the occasional anonymous commenter who cries contrarian when we publish negative reviews of anything super mainstream. I think our track record shows those claims to be pretty ridiculous, but I don’t worry about it too much. Like I mentioned before, I feel like Out 1 works as a collective of sorts, so the writers and readers alike typically enjoy the same kinds of movies and read the same critics. Controversy for me has been when I’ve disagreed with those I usually agree with. I guess the two instances in things I’ve written were for my disdain for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and my frustration with Waltz With Bashir. Oddly enough, for the site as a whole, the most popular piece we’ve ever published does happen to be the most controversial piece as well. Brandon Colvin’s supreme takedown of Slumdog Millionaire received some of the most comments, praise, and ridicule from varying circles. It's a great piece.

Is blogging the new path to fame and fortune?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it fame and fortune, but I think it does operate in a way that strengthens each one of us at Out 1 as writers, students, and future academics. Each of the main writers, myself included, has done some graduate work and are looking to get PhDs in film/art history or something of that sort. So, while the site itself might not do it, I do think what we do at the site will help each of us quite a lot in the long run. More immediately, it has been a good way to meet people and whatnot. I’ve had a couple instances where I met people (often other, more well known writers) who knew my name and the site, so that's kind of nice. It's also allowed me to start friendships with critics who idolized for a while. Knowing that they read us is still intimidating, but super exciting as well. It's opened plenty of opportunities and made me a better writer and thinker, so I can’t ask for much more.

What separates journalism from blogging?

This is an ongoing question of interest for me. I think the idea of the blog started as “internet criticism” and journalism as something paid and in newspapers. I don’t think that's it, though, especially considering the breakdown of how we read in internet culture. I mean, people read the New York Times the same way they a “non-professional site”, and on the same screen that they watch porn after they are done reading. I’m being a little facetious, but that factor is what keeps my away from things like the Kindle or watching movies on iPods. But since the way we read has fundamentally changed, I think we need to reconsider what blogs and what journalism is. So its an ongoing question. But, for me, it comes down to writing style. Journalism might be a little more clinical, a little more authoritative, and academic; blogging a little more personal, freed up, less based in theory than instantaneous reaction. Twitter is the  ultimate blog, I think. Now, I don’t think “journalism” good, “blog” bad. There are so-called journalists who I think are more bloggers and some “blogs” that are more like journalism. I think Out 1 is somewhere in between. It's interesting to see journalists create and use blogs though. I think that's where you really see the breakdown happening in writing style more than anything else. Both styles can work, and work well, but I think the definitions of the mainstream right now fail to notice the larger differences and instead just say blogs are dudes-in-their-underwear and journalists as a noble-but-maybe-dying-breed.

Who are the bloggers that you read religiously?

I actually don’t read all that much criticism. I just find most of it repetitive and boring, so I certainly don’t browse Rotten Tomatoes reading 2000 reviews of the same movie. For a long time, all I would read is the Village Voice in the days of Hoberman, Lee, and Lim. That was all I needed. Then Dennis and Nathan both left over time and my heart, O how it ached! Now, I keep up with the those guys whenever they write, as well as Melissa Anderson. Since Out 1 has taken off, I’ve added some other journalists/bloggers, most of whom are “friends of Out 1” or something like that. My favorite blog out there is The Academic Hack, which is run by Michael Sicinski who I think is one of the best writers out there right now. Reverse Shot always has some of the best and most interesting criticism anywhere. Jeremy Richey has been a major proponent of our site since its inception, so I’m always interested in what he’s doing at Moon in the Gutter. I love everything that Ed Howard and Kevin Lee do, but I have a hard time keeping up. Joe Bowman, Tony Dayoub, Jeremy Heilman, and Nathaniel Rogers are all friends so I try and keep up with them. I haven’t purposefully attempted to create this kind of a circle of accomplices or something, but since I don’t really like reading a lot of criticism, I read a relatively small crew of people I know.

How has your life changed because of your blog? Has it gone in any new directions because of your newfound prominence?

Since all the writers, myself included, sort of know where we are headed and what we want to do, I think it has made Out 1 an infinitely better site, which has led to much of its success. Now, we (or at least, I in New York) can go to some press screenings, interview directors, and whatnot, so by all markers it has been a big success. I’ve been able to meet several and befriend some of my favorite writers, which has really been thrilling for me. Life hasn’t changed, but it has gotten a lot better by affirming the direction I’m heading in and forcing me to get better at what I do along the way.

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