Happy New Year!
Morning on Greenwich Bay, Rhode Island, December 2019
We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.
—E. L. Pierce
As I wrote last year, “I have never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve, but I am a big fan of New Year’s Day and the feeling of optimism I always seem to have on January 1.”
When I wrote that one year ago, I was feeling remarkably optimistic about life in general and very much looking forward to 2019. However, although I can’t point to one specific tragedy or crisis, it ended up being one of those hard-to-explain-but-somehow-difficult years for me. I felt listless throughout, grew rather tired of living in San Francisco, had multiple work projects derail (which resulted in the cancellation of my summer travel plans), developed severe reader’s block, and barely wrote anything for this blog.
That last fact is particularly disappointing since my primary blogging resolution last January was to be more regularly active here. Oh, well, the road to hell, as they say.
This year, I am not making any specific resolutions, but I do have a major project in the works—a sweeping review of the entirety of cinema history!
A Century+ of Cinema
Starting this month, and at the end of each month over the coming year, I will be posting my thoughts on the cinema of (roughly) one decade, moving chronologically, to cover over a century’s worth of films by the end of 2020. When it makes sense to do so, I will be publishing one-off posts on key directors, genres, or national cinemas of the period.
In many ways, this project was a natural evolution of my Great Unseen project of 2017, where I challenged myself to see at least three new-to-me significant films from each decade from the 1920s to the 1990s. Not only did that effort lead to some wonderful discoveries of films I had been meaning to see for ages, but it fostered an interest in silent films I never knew I had. This is why I decided to begin my project with the earliest days of cinema rather than the 1920s (which would have meant looking at an exact century but wouldn’t have divided so nicely into twelve months).
With so many movies to cover each month, I began watching new-to-me “essentials” in earnest in 2019, with a focus on the silent era in the first half of the year and on the 1930s, 40s, and 50s in the second half of the year. This year, while I am covering those decades with monthly posts in the first half of the year, I will also be filling in the gaps in my viewing filmography with movies of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. How did I decide what was essential? Well, that involved research into award winners, canonical works and technical examples referenced in film texts, and numerous cinéphile lists. I avoided animated, avant-garde, experimental, and documentary films unless there were very compelling reasons to include them.
And here’s where you can join in if you like. I have posted a list of what I consider the essential films for each decade at MUBI. Each month I will challenge you to watch up to three new-to-you films from that list over the coming month. For January, this means films from 1895 to 1909, or #1–25 on this list. Most of these films are quite short, ranging from one to fifteen minutes, and most should be available on YouTube, so you have no excuse!
Whether you join me in this crazy endeavor or not, my Century+ project is not the only thing you can expect to see at Sly Wit over the next year. First up are the Oscars, of course, with the nominations on January 13 and the ceremony on February 9. Then there is women’s history month in March, when I hope to finally conquer the subject of female warriors. Spring brings two classic programs at the San Francisco Ballet that I really hope I can get tickets for (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jewels) and Ernani and Partenope at the San Francisco Opera. And then my beloved #Noirvember will return as the days themselves get darker. Finally, I really hope to get over my reader’s block and give more time to reading and reporting on books throughout the year.
Regardless of whether any of this actually happens, I’m happy to be leaving 2019 in the dust and optimistic that things will be looking up in 2020. I hope you are too.
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri, September 2019