Groundhog Day and the 10,000-hour montage

Groundhog Day and the 10,000-hour montage February 2, 2012

Today is the cross-quarter day between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s Candlemas, Imbolc and, here in Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is a strange little tradition, an annual non-holiday marking the midway point of winter and the hope for a coming spring. “If Candlemas be bright and clear / There’ll be two winters in the year,” the old saying said, and somehow we came to decide that a furry garden pest would serve as the definitive arbiter as to whether or not the day was, indeed, “bright and clear.” If the groundhog sees his shadow in the sun, the lore has it, then we’re due for six more weeks of winter. But if he doesn’t, then “Old winter shall not come again” and we’re in for an early spring.

For more than 120 years, the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa., has made a big deal out of Groundhog Day, successfully carving out a niche as the place most associated with the tradition. The town has marketed and defended its claim to be home to the foremost groundhog of them all, Punxsutawney Phil, “seer of seers and prognosticator of prognosticators.” They’ve created a unique little cottage industry out of the tradition, and good for them.

Punxsutawney’s annual celebration got a big boost in 1993 with the release of Harold Ramis’ comedy set in the town on its big day. When it first came out, Groundhog Day was well-received by critics, if not particularly acclaimed (although Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin won a BAFTA for best original screenplay). It did OK at the box office. For critics and audiences alike, it seemed to be a pleasant and enjoyable little Bill Murray vehicle. Maybe not as funny as Stripes or Ghostbusters, but entertaining enough.

But it’s grown on us since then. Here’s Roger Ebert’s original review from 1993. He liked the movie. He enjoyed it. “The film is lovable and sweet,” he wrote, but it wasn’t destined for his 10-best list.

Now here’s Ebert revisiting the movie in 2005, not as a new release, but as part of his series on Great Movies:

Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like “Groundhog Day” to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.

That phrase gets used because it’s useful. The story’s motif of endless repetition is iconic, and it lingers in our language. But that’s not the main reason this story has, over time, become a better story than we first realized it to be. The main reason has to do with something Ebert noticed back in 1993, in the final line of his original review: “Just because we’re born as SOBs doesn’t mean we have to live that way.”

We like this story more than we initially realized we did because it’s about redemption. Lots of stories are about redemption, but this one was different because this one suggested how to go about it. As Ebert wrote after letting this story work on him for another 12 years:

Slowly, inexpertly, Phil begins to learn from his trial runs through Feb. 2. Ramis and Rubin in an early draft had him living through 10,000 cycles, and Ramis calculates that in the current version he goes through about 40. During that time, Phil learns to really see himself for the first time, and to see Rita, and to learn that he loves her, and to strive to deserve her love. He astonishingly wants to become a good man.

… Tomorrow will come, and whether or not it is always Feb. 2, all we can do about it is be the best person we know how to be. The good news is that we can learn to be better people. There is a moment when Phil tells Rita, “When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.” The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.

He uses the same verb five times there: learn. “We can learn to be better people.”

That’s not a new idea. It wasn’t even a new idea when Aristotle was writing about it more than 23 centuries ago. Virtue, Aristotle believed, was a craft — it was something we had to learn. To be a good person, he taught, takes work. We have to learn how to be good, to study it, and then, above all, to practice practice practice.

Aristotle would have liked Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. In his book Outliers, Gladwell suggested that expertise isn’t innate, but is something that only comes from practice — “10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years.” This is true for any craft, including the craft of virtue, of being a good person. It takes time and effort to acquire the skill and to turn it into a habit, a reflex, a trait.

When I first encountered this idea of virtue as craft, I found it exciting and even liberating because it was so different from the idea of virtue I had learned growing up in American fundamentalist Christianity. I had been taught to think of virtue as mainly a matter of avoiding sin — of abstaining from a long list of bad things. Virtue wasn’t something to do, but something you had because of all the things you didn’t do. It wasn’t a craft to be learned, developed and practiced, but a stockpile to be safeguarded and hoarded. It was as though we had each been given an initial supply when we were born again as innocents, and that finite supply had to be preserved, clasped tightly, and kept pure from a dangerous and poisonous world.

The best that one could hope for, in such a view, was that 10,000 hours later one might have vigilantly defended and retained most of one’s original purity so that one wasn’t any worse after all that time. But this view didn’t allow much hope for the possibility of becoming a better person.

So the idea of virtue as a craft gave me hope. And not just a vague, impractical kind of hope. This is the kind of hope that comes with an agenda, a curriculum, a course of study and a course of action and a regimen to practice.*

Groundhog Day is a helpful reminder of that hope. It points me toward an antidote to the negative notion of virtue as abstinence — of goodness as a stockpile of innate purity to be safeguarded. “Just because we’re born-again as SOBs doesn’t mean we have to live that way.”

Apart from that whole matter of virtue-as-purity, Groundhog Day endures as an antidote to something else as well. It directly confronts what may be the most damaging lesson that people my age learned from the movies, the montage lesson. Any problem could be fixed and any life completely transformed, we were taught, in a two-minute montage set to an upbeat pop song.

David Wong describes the dangers of this lesson in his essay, “How The Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World“:

You know what I’m talking about; the main character is very bad at something, then there is a sequence in the middle of the film set to upbeat music that shows him practicing. When it’s done, he’s an expert. …

Every adult I know — or at least the ones who are depressed — continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

… The world demands more. So, so much more. How have we gotten to adulthood and failed to realize this? Why would our expectations of the world be so off? I blame the montages. Five breezy minutes, from sucking at karate to being great at karate, from morbid obesity to trim, from geeky girl to prom queen, from terrible garage band to awesome rock band.

We can’t master karate, fix up the old boat, renovate the old mansion, or get in shape to fight Drago in “five breezy minutes.” It’s more likely such things will take about 10,000 hours. And that’s a lot of work. A lot more work than any of those montage movies seems to suggest.

Those movies show training montages because watching the actual training wouldn’t be entertaining. That’s because doing the actual training isn’t entertaining. It’s doing the same thing, over and over and over.

That’s what it takes, and that’s what Groundhog Day tries to remind us of. Redemption doesn’t come in five breezy minutes. It takes work — hard, repetitive work and lots of it. But the good news is that we can learn to be better people.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I can see the phrase “works righteousness” rising to the lips of my very Reformed friends. They are eager to remind me of Augustine’s warning that work is not sufficient for redemption. OK, but we’re not talking about Augustine here, we’re talking about Aquinas, who reached back to Aristotle to remind us that work and practice are necessary. Regarding the particular story we’re discussing here, one could argue that Groundhog Day shows the necessity of grace in that Phil’s redemption only occurs in the context of a magical or miraculous intervention, but that’s still probably way too Arminian-sounding to my very Reformed friends, as most things tend to be.

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  • Anonymous

    When your arguments against 3D are basically the exact same arguments made against “talkies,” colour and, uh, film itself, you should have your right to be taken seriously as any kind of intelligence on film revoked completely.

    Funny, I can watch silent films, B&W films, and color, full audio films all without spending the next day recovering from a raging headache. 3D may be great for some people, but there’s a significant portion of the population that can’t view it without experiencing eye-strain, headaches, and other symptoms. Estimates range from 15-25%. Speaking as one of these people, I’m glad the fad has passed and I can go back to avoiding paying $2-4 extra to hurt my eyes.

    On a personal level, I don’t think it adds anything at all to the viewing experience, either (and research seems to back me up on this), except for some gimmicky jumping-out-the-viewer shots.

    Ebert’s comments about games were stupid, which is why I don’t turn to him for game reviews. He’s generally got good insights about cinema, though, and as someone working in the film (well, the TV) industry, I find his insights pretty interesting.

  • FangsFirst

    Funny, I can watch silent films, B&W films, and color, full audio
    films all without spending the next day recovering from a raging
    headache. 3D may be great for some people, but there’s a significant
    portion of the population that can’t view it without experiencing
    eye-strain, headaches, and other symptoms. Estimates range from 15-25%.

    See, now that’s a reasonable argument. The point isn’t, “He’s wrong” it’s “his approach is stupid.”

    I think he has an utter lack of insight, as he says things like Inception: “We can never even be quite sure what the relationship between dream time and real time is” (other than the fact that it’s explicitly stated to us…), or Kick-Ass was awful because of a child committing acts of violence (there’s plenty to point out as awful, but that’s so bizarre and insane I don’t even know how to respond to it), or An American Werewolf in London was bad because it set horror uneasily next to comedy (my mother, the non-movie side of my family, immediately responded, “But that’s why it’s so good…”) and he calls those effects an “anticlimax” (mostly because of Bottin’s effects in The Howling which have nothing on American Werewolf, considering they are in shadow and parceled out), he thinks you have to be a super-smart “Level Two” viewer to understand that Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn was a “satire” (proving he also doesn’t know what “satire” is), the thought that Gojira was absolute garbage (mostly because of the insightful fact that “the effects are bad”), his review of Saw basically twists the facts of what exists in the move to support his own point: “He exists not because he has his reasons or motivations (although some are assigned to him, sort of as a courtesy, at the end)”–so, “he didn’t have motivations, only he did,” he says Scorsese is a “clumsy storyteller,” and his movies deal with subjects that are “above the average moviegoer’s head” (more condescension!), said reprehensible things about anyone with intellectual disabilities in his review of I Am Sam, calls Cronenberg’s The Brood “pointless sleazy exploitation trash” (yes, that sounds like Cronenberg…?), fails to recognize the references to Lovecraft in In the Mouth of Madness then makes the oh-so-insightful comment that it sucks because it doesn’t tell a totally different story…

    Nevermind this delightful bit:

    Both movies share the general idea that the rise of the Nazi party in Germany was accompanied by a rise in bisexuality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, and assorted other activities. Taken as a generalization about a national movement, this is certainly extreme oversimplification. But taken as one approach to the darker recesses of Nazism, it may come pretty close to the mark. The Nazi gimmicks like boots and leather and muscles and racial superiority and outdoor rallies and Aryan comradeship offered an array of machismo-for-rent that had (and has) a special appeal to some kinds of impotent people.

    (on Cabaret)

    Which is weird, because he then criticizes a movie about revenge on serial, violent child abusers “homophobic,” in the utterly nonsensical assumption that people only feel relief at the death of serial abusers because they abused boys. Which also means that Ebert is the one endorsing the idea that male abusers of male children are homosexual. I can’t even begin to untangle how stupid that claim is.

    Countless innocent citizens die during this operation, falling from the
    bridge or otherwise terminating their commutes. It seems to me that
    Magneto in this case is — well, a terrorist. So fanatic is his devotion
    to mutants that he will destroy the bridge in the service of his
    belief.

    Really? The terrorist villain of the first two films is a terrorist? I’m shocked.

    There are scenes that could have been lost to more decisive editing, but I found after a few days that my mind did the editing for me,

    That’s about the least insightful thing I’ve ever read about a movie. At least, from someone alleged to be an expert or professional. “Hey, this movie was good, once I forgot parts of it that were bad!”

  • bad Jim

    Our host’s original conception of virtue, as something of which we have a fixed and potentially dwindling amount, is pretty much the same as equating innocence with virtue. John Milton railed against this notion in “Areopagiticus”, and instead equated innocence with ignorance; Mark Twain repeated this theme in “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”.

    They were right. When we’re talking about people, purity is nonsense, innocence is inexperience and virtue is hard work. It takes courage and strength to figure out what the right thing is, and to do it.

  • I also get headaches from 3D movies, so I avoid them whenever the 2D version is available. However, there was one move I was absolutely hellbent to see in 3D, and that was Coraline. Coraline was the rare exception to your totally trufax gripe that “I don’t think it adds anything at all to the viewing experience… except for some gimmicky jumping-out-at-the-viewer shots”. The 3D element added a gorgeous depth to every single scene — I mean, just look at Coraline’s bedroom early on in the film! — and did not, to my memory, provide any jump-out-and-go-boo-moments. (But then again, the scary parts of the film were more of the creeping dread/uncanny valley flavor than the jump-out-and-go-boo flavor anyway.)

    I almost went to go see Hugo in 3D the other weekend, but I was tired and wimped out on the outing. I think it would probably be worth seeing that way, even if I do have to take a couple ibuprofen before I go in.

    Summary: 3D film technology is at its best when it’s used to make the eye-candy even more delicious, and to make the viewing experience more seamlessly immersive. Too often, though, it’s used for cheap spook-outs and isn’t worth the headache.

  • Dmoore970

    (How could this be a conservative movie? The protagonists/antagonists sleep together without benefit of clergy….”gasp”).Plus, anybody who drinks to “world peace” has to be a liberal.   

    Not to mention that she studied French poetry!  And then he learns it too!  

  • Dmoore970

    Incidentally, I will agree with our host that grace plays a major part in this movie.  Having the opportunity to live the same day over and over until you get it right is definitely grace, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

    But since that grace does not take the form of taking Jesus Christ as his personal savior, it will probably not be acceptable to a certain brand of Christians.

  • FangsFirst

     

    I almost went to go see Hugo in 3D the other weekend, but I was tired
    and wimped out on the outing. I think it would probably be worth seeing
    that way, even if I do have to take a couple ibuprofen before I go in.

    Summary:
    3D film technology is at its best when it’s used to make the eye-candy
    even more delicious, and to make the viewing experience more seamlessly
    immersive. Too often, though, it’s used for cheap spook-outs and isn’t
    worth the headache.

    Hugo is worth it in 3D. Saw it with my parents last time I visited, upon the recommendation of my film-loving friend, who told me if I see anything right now, see that, and that it was worth 3D, and screw James Cameron and Avatar, THIS was the point/apex of 3D right now.

    My mom and I saw Coraline in 3D as well. And Avatar, for that matter.¹ My mom and I go to a lot of movies.²

    I usually take the 3D option out of a paranoid fear about missing things, but do not begrudge anyone who skips on the option in the least, nor think it is a necessity.

    ¹A whole sordid story–Christmas Day, I was drunk, she had to drive me, I was angry at my sister who said something disparaging about my SGF, who was in another period of no contact with me.

    ²The funny story is always my mom coming to see me at college (couched for the maximum confusion of others as, “My mother, the preacher…”):
    “Any movies you want to see?”
    Saw.”
    “Okay.”
    So we go to see Saw, then sit and discuss it afterward in a fast food joint. I delight in confusing people about expectations of a preacher OR a PK (despite the above, I actually do not drink much, and did not touch the stuff until long after basically anyone I’ve known).

  • tomkatsumi

    Great great film – we once watched it, talked over the credits and ignored the VCR… which came to the end, automatically rewound and started playing again from the beginning (as some VCRs did)

    We looked at each other – did an “Ok then… lets do this” face and, in the spirit of the movie, watched it again.

    It’s testament to Bill Murray’s genius that he saved that film from Andy McDowell

  • Münchner Kindl

    I’m going to disagree with blaiming Karate Kid’s Montage on the misconception about the price of effort (I can’t post at Cracked without registering at facebook, which is … odd since Cracked also warns about how bad facebook is).

    1. Daniel  (and in the 4th movie the girl) had done a lot of Karate back home, several years. He had a solid basics. That’s why his mother asks him if he wants to join a dojo again after the move.

    2. The montage is not only the part with the nice movie showing him doing katas on mountain tops. It’s earlier when he waxes a dozen cars, sands a whole deck, paints a whole fence. That’s at least 1 000 hand movements, maybe 5 000 movements, which turn out to be blocking moves/ basic movements.

    3. Even as a kid, I never understood the montage to mean “That’s easy to master”, but rather “They can’t show us how weeks pass with practise”.
    And it’s weeks, not months or 10 years, because Daniel gets better, but not a master. the 10 000 hrs. figure is for becoming a master or pro sportsman at an activity.

    To get Daniel from “competent Karate student with basics” to “good enough to win a tournament” ,several weeks  are not unreasonable. (The problem is rather with what is actually shown – Miyagi teaching Daniel the basic moves of blocks, which he should already have down pat, and that idea with the crane technique, that one kick is unbeatable. But I see the Karate kid movies together, and the Crane is deconstructed in the 2nd movie, where the japanese nephew, who has been training much longer than Daniel, easily beats the crane kick.

    4. What has changed – as pointed out – is the amount of effort required in the professional world. In the 50s, a college degree was rare, so the effort put into it was not only sure to be worth it, only people who felt sure that they were suited took that route.

    Today, a college degree is necessary for most ordinary jobs, because a non-college vocation program (school combined with practical work) doesn’t seem to exist any longer. A lot of mid-level jobs have also been eliminated – offices no longer need typists, because people type their own letters (and 10 finger typing is unspoken required, so you better learn it). Mid-level secretaries who cook coffe and take dictation are no longer around – people cook their own coffee, or you need an assistant who does complicated things.

    This leads to people not getting a chance not for lack of effort, but because 1 000 other people with the same effort are competing for one slot, so more effort is required, until people drop out with exhaustion.

  • Anonymous

     You really shouldn’t mention his na

  • Anonymous

    Speak for yourself.  I got a BA in math in 2008.  For that same degree in 1998, I wouldn’t have needed to take nearly so many courses.  NCLB made things significantly harder for anyone in a major that could conceivably be taught in the K-12 curriculum.

    My mother hadn’t even heard of half the courses I had to take, and most of them were reverse-engineered graduate courses.

  • Anonymous

    Plus, the number of credit-hours to earn a degree has been steadily rising.

    My mother used to complain all the time that a “4-year degree” now takes 5-6 years, IF you don’t change your major.

  • Anonymous

     This, verbatim.  At 17, I had the social skills of a 9-year-old, maybe.  Now, I’m at least able to not freak people out. :P

  • Anonymous

     My main beef with 3D films is that the entire gimmick relies on good depth perception.

    A colorblind person can still enjoy a color movie, the deaf can enjoy “talkies” (with subtitles), but you can’t even see a 3D movie without special glasses AND good depth perception.

  • Anonymous

     Coraline is the only 3D film I’ve seen where the 3D legitimately added to the experience.  Avatar was fun because, woah, awesome CG world–but you felt like you were there more because the CG was well-done than because it was 3D, as I learned when watching the movie again on Blu-Ray.

    But yeah, there was a jump-out-and-go-boo moment near the end with the Other Mother.

  • Nick

    I just read that “best conservative movies” article and feel I have grown dumber for having done so.

  • Anonymous

     We need more vocational programs. :(

  • Anonymous

    Just out of curiousity (and not out of sarcasm), do you read Ebert’s work for professional reasons? The fact that you’re able to cite so many movie reviews from a reviewer you hate is a little disturbing.

  • FangsFirst

    Just out of curiousity (and not out of sarcasm), do you read Ebert’s
    work for professional reasons? The fact that you’re able to cite so many
    movie reviews from a reviewer you hate is a little disturbing.

    Professional, no. But, well, one of the big tip-offs for the AS is obsessive interests. Movies are one of mine.¹ I own around 2,700 on a rather low income (mostly by extremely, extremely frugal shopping). My friend who recommended Hugo is also (as noted) a big movie buff. I use reviews to determine whether to purchase various movies found cheap are worth purchasing. I tend to carry Leonard Maltin’s film guide around when shopping, not because I think he’s terribly insightful, but because I’ve found positive Maltin review=good (negative review=?, but it’s still one line to follow consistently…). I used to also use averaged things like IMDb, and a few odd others (asking my father from his extensive experience, etc). I used Ebert for a while, because, well, everyone said he was awesome.

    Then I started noticing, slowly, his reviews were awful. Sometimes dead on, sometimes wildly off, sometimes dead on score-wise, but incomprehensibly stupid on the inside. I would mostly rant about them to my aforementioned friend, and a lot of them stuck with me–plus, I used to log all my online conversations. Mostly for purposes like this: I like being able to go, “Ah, yes, that’s what we talked about,” and “Oh, I did already tell him about this.” But there’s a gradual progression from using him as a legitimate source or metric into an absolute loathing and understanding that a good or bad score from him means absolutely nothing about the quality of the film in question. He could be right or wrong about either good or bad. I mean, the man gave high scores to both Garfield movies (both 3/4, I believe…). And better scores to the Die Hard sequels than to Die Hard (which he thought was “blah”).

    As a side note: I also wrote reviews for my own entertainment for a year or so. About 350 of them. Allegedly, they are pretty decent. I’m disinclined to believe this, as few strangers ever read them. Except once when I mentioned a webcomic author in one because he’d referenced the movie before.

    As suggested by that: things also stick in my head pretty well. “Ugh, he remembers everything you ever say,” my SGF likes to tell my mother, with tongue only partly in cheek.

    ¹Let’s not get into the multiple spreadsheets and complicated systems I developed to entertain myself before I even got to watching them. Those were probably the bigger tip off.

  • Anonymous

    I saw that “Entrance Exam 1900” thing on Facebook a while back with questions like “Derive the square root of 328.” and “Who was third in command at the battle of Thermopolis?”

    And I realized – I know or can find the answer to all of those things.  The latin and greek stuff, not so much, but that’s basically rich person domain logic – sort of like a Poll Tax or something – keep anyone who doesn’t ALREADY speak latin or greek out of the loop.

    But the math stuff, and the history stuff were just strange fact recall question, or mathematical practice questions.

    The questions now would be:
    What is the square root of 328?  (You have 5 seconds.) (18.1107703)
    Who was third in command at the battle of Thermopolis?
    A) It’s Thermopylae.
    B) Probably Demophilus, the Thespian commander.

    Did I know those those things?  Of course not – I looked them up.  They weren’t even hard to look up.  It didn’t take specialized sources or anything.

    People have utterly different skill sets and utterly different needs for college today than they did even 30 years ago.  Here some things that every (non remediation needing) entering college freshman knows how to do that would be completely outside the range of skills for a Harvard Freshman 100 year ago.

    1) Type – probably about 40 words a minute.
    2) Find the answer to any question of fact you are likely to ask in less than 10 minutes.
    3) Know how to find the answer to most basic math problems quickly.
    4) Have a basic knowledge of at least one other cultural tradition.

    The point is – by the measure of things it’s actually useful to know TODAY, today’s college freshman are a lot smarter than college freshman of 100 years ago.

  • Anonymous

    Ok. I mean, I have AS too (although, for me, obsessive interests tend to be a sign that I need to have something else going on in my life), but, um, might I suggest the number of reviews you can explicitly *cite* by a reviewer you dislike is a little disconcerning? I mean, that’s the level of fluency I approach *professionally* once I’ve written some sort of proposal — actually, quite possible more. (My conversations tend to be along the lines of “so the paper in [this journal] published a few years back by that group in the UK looked at [whatever].” Which is about the level that’s expected, I think. You get bonus points for knowing the lead author and the year, but I think people start looking at you funny if you can rattle off the volume and page numbers.)

    (Then again, I tend to drop out of obsessive interests pretty quickly, often *because* I realize they’re obsessive.)

    But, um, do you *enjoy* getting annoyed at Ebert’s posts? (I understand the appeal if you do.) Because, if not, I might recommend just avoiding them? [1]

    [1] I’m reminded, tangentially, of a book I was assigned for a intro-level lit analysis course in college. I dropped out of the class a few weeks in when I realized I couldn’t bullshit to save my life (I can see how a reference changes the entire meaning of a poem, but a one-line change in *metric*? Especially when the poem is old enough that it’s not even clear that that wasn’t just the original meter?), but I read the book in full. It was written by a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who firmly believed that all efforts at literary analysis were either misguided attempts to combat the current system or an attempt to domesticate the proletariate. It was blatantly clear that, despite having become a professor, he absolutely hated his field and despised all of his colleagues. It was fascinating but profoundly depressing: the man should have found something else to do with his life.

  • FangsFirst

    Ok. I mean, I have AS too (although, for me, obsessive interests tend to
    be a sign that I need to have something else going on in my life), but,
    um, might I suggest the number of reviews you can explicitly *cite* by a
    reviewer you dislike is a little disconcerning?

    Well let me clarify a bit:
    You can see me actually quoting only some of them. Those come from what I was pasting to my friend in that log (open it, ctrl-f, “ebert” and I have a ton of examples at hand, and what I don’t specify there, I can easily google up). The paraphrases are the only bits from memory. I don’t remember any of them word for word. Other than the “level two” and “satire” from Evil Dead 2, which just struck me as incomprehensibly moronic. But I couldn’t tell you the entire sentence. I think the phrase “level two viewers, like myself,” but I can’t be sure I even remember that right. That talent is reserved for Transformers: The Movie (the animated 1986 one).

    The obsession comes from the cataloguing of the movies (as you noted, the rather irrelevant factoids like page numbers) which I’ve largely abandoned.² But, as that suggests, my obsessions tend to tie into my legitimate interests, so it can be weird to drop them. I don’t do any of the system I mentioned anymore (though the slips of paper are still around somewhere, and the spreadsheets remain on this computer).

    I do have 4 deluxe editions of albums¹ in front of me that I’m sorting out the MP3s for in my digital library (this was recorded there, so the album title becomes date becomes …so on). That is definitely obsessive, but it gives me a feeling of satisfaction and ties into things I legitimately like–music (and before, I legitimately like movies a lot).

    I do enjoy a sense of annoyance on occasion, that is a factor–but really, I ran across all of these abysmal reviews because I always read reviews of movies I like or love by reviewers to get an idea of their taste. The aforementioned log has me going from, “ooh, Ebert gave it 4 stars!” to eventually “Ebert is a pompous jackass,” but with lots of crossover along the way. So I have this mental “log” of awful/stupid things he has said through the experience of reading them normally more than anything else.

    So, no, my passions (and obsessions) are movies and music. This is tangential, but hits on my visceral dislike of credit given where it isn’t due. It bugs me that he’s quoted as some great source when I rapidly discovered an awful lot of stupidity, and a lot of condescension that was unfounded.

    ¹Radiohead’s The Bends, Sonic Youth’s Goo, and Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Burnin’ and Exodus. Which I always feel like I should follow with, “but I’m not an obnoxious pothead. Actually, I don’t even smoke.”

    ²See also: reasons it’s extremely difficult right now without my SGF around. She was always supportive and uncritical, which allowed me to not have to be defensive about obsessive habits and thus gradually lose them. Of course, it was suggested that I might be obsessive about relationships. Which is such a depressing thought I’d rather not continue it.

  • Anonymous

    Ok. The image of you rattling off a long post — complete with citations — about Ebert was a bit, well, worrying. To each his own, I suppose, but it didn’t seem to make you particularly happy.

  • vsm

    It was written by a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who firmly believed that
    all efforts at literary analysis were either misguided attempts to
    combat the current system or an attempt to domesticate the proletariate

    Out of curiosity, would the tome happen to be Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction?

  • Anonymous

    would the tome happen to be Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction?

    Quite possibly. The picture looks about right, though I thought it had a purple cover. (This would have been close to — wow — ten years ago.)

    The class itself was just taught terribly: “Okay, kids, now we’re going to apply this analytical technique — which we’ve just seen is a misguided farce — to a random story from this time period!” But the book itself was priceless.

  • FangsFirst

    Ok. The image of you rattling off a long post — complete with citations
    — about Ebert was a bit, well, worrying. To each his own, I suppose,
    but it didn’t seem to make you particularly happy.

    I have little doubt there are reasons to worry about me, but thankfully I keep my obsessions to things I enjoy. And being things that people obsess over a lot…everyone just found/finds me a bit quirky. I temper my readings of things that piss me off, as much as I can. Or try to defuse or counter them, where possible. Your concern, though, is appreciated. And it is sound advice, and phrased in a very respectful way, which I appreciate.

    Future warnings, though, on subjects which will also make me appear inexplicably devoted to unhappiness:
    Bringing up Zack Snyder as a good director (I can break down his films way too easily, but I only saw each of them once, barring the owl one).
    Dexter (we’ve seen a bit of that one)
    The Walking Dead (alluded, television show, love the graphic novel)
    Star Wars prequels (also seen, but no one else defended them here so I didn’t go on)
    Zombies-as-viral-infection (or any other explanation, and, by proxy, much of the popular work about them–barring Romero. There are *essays* floating around about why explained or running zombies are stupid. But exceptions can work–like Return of the Living Dead)
    A few others. Many past co-workers rapidly learned it was best to not bring these up around me. So, if they come up–you’ve been warned. I try not to rant, but I get very frustrated when any of these is held up as quality–nothing against anyone liking them, but when it’s “Watchmen was a faithful adaptation!” for instance, my teeth start grinding. (“I really liked Watchmen,” mostly earns “to each their own!” though occasionally it turns into a passionate plea to read the graphic novel, which bleeds into the failures of the adaptation…)

    It would be a lot nicer if the things I didn’t like were already unpopular, really…unfortunately they all seem to be rather popular. (on the flip, and I’ve gotten in trouble *here* before, I liked Twilight. And my SGF read it, mostly to defend me when people talked crap about me to her over that. It ended up sort of a “thing” for us, too, so despite the fact that both of us do have some discomfort with it, we can both be rather defensive.)

    It’s also a lot easier than getting into fights about things that really, REALLY upset me. Helps to vent those things a bit.

  • vsm

     I quite like the book, but it probably isn’t the best introduction to literary theory for the reason you mention. It’s more of a critique and a polemic for a new approach to literature, which was actually quite influential. It is certainly a partisan book and explains just why Eagleton finds his own approach superior, but I wouldn’t say it dismisses all other schools as worthless, even if they are in cahoots with the bourgeoisie. Anyway, for an introduction to literary theory, Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory is probably better. It isn’t nearly as fun, but that’s life for you.

  • Anonymous

     It’s more of a critique and a polemic for a new approach to literature, which was actually quite influential. It is certainly a partisan book and explains just why Eagleton finds his own approach superior, but I wouldn’t say it dismisses all other schools as worthless, even if they are in cahoots with the bourgeoisie.

    Maybe, but the fact that he deconstructs all literary theories, points out that they all existed for a specific *purpose* rather than because they were *true* — and then basically (IIRC) says at the end, to hell with all of this, let’s talk about rhetoric rather than trying to extract out some sort of meaning from between the lines of a text — really makes me skeptical of the utility of any of the approaches to literary theory.

    And, in retrospect, a rhetoric class would have been fascinating. (Even if it took a historical approach. *Especially* if it took a historical approach.)

  • Ken

    If this were a French film dealing with the same themes, it would be in
    black and white, the sex would be constant and depraved, and it would
    end in cold death.

    Did he fall asleep during the part where Phil committed suicide a few thousand times?

    I’ve also always thought the “Bronco Billy” scene implied he’d found a date willing to go all the way – at least, after he’d tried a few hundred different approaches and found one that worked, like with the armored car robbery (another good moral example).  After all he does the same thing with Rita but doesn’t find the right combination.

  • vsm

    points out that they all existed for a specific *purpose* rather than because they were *true*

    Well, that’s the thing with literature. When your object of study is fiction, it’s awfully difficult to establish any kind of truth. Thus, you can’t falsify a literary theory, which is why we have so many of them around.

    As for the call for rhetoric, Eagleton suggested that it should still be combined with political criticism. That’s even the name of the last chapter, if I remember correctly.

  • Anonymous

    Thus, you can’t falsify a literary theory, which is why we have so many of them around.

    Yeah, in that case, I guess we’ll have to differ: as a scientist, I’m not entirely sure what the point is of teaching anyone politically-motivated theories that can’t be falsified. 

  • Dan Audy

     That was a really cool podcast and made me decide to watch the movie again.  Unfortunately my copy is in a box somewhere in my storage room and they wanted $10 for a 20 year old movie on iTunes so I just pirated it.  I would have been willing to pay a couple bucks to rewatch this but Hollywood hasn’t caught on how to price its products yet so they don’t get my money.  Heck if they had a decent system set up they could have amazon-esque referal links the podcast could have included and then the studio could have $2 and I would have indirectly supported the podcast with $0.50.

    Sigh.