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Wednesday
Sep012010

If it Be Your Will

A Brief History of a Long Year


We are crushed and created.

We are melted and made.

We are broken and built up

In the very same way.

 --Caitlyn Smith

 

Just over a year ago, I created Kicking the Seat with two goals in mind: 

  1. To get the awful Julie & Julia out of my system

  2. To become a film critic on Rotten Tomatoes

Those of you that know me personally might see these as odd goals, being that I’m a graphic artist by trade.  Two years ago, I was buried in political illustrations and building another Web site called Suitkiller.

A funny thing happened after the election of 2008, though.  A piece I’d done about universal health care had just been selected to appear in the “Manifest Hope” gallery in DC—coinciding with Obama’s inauguration—and I was over the moon.  2009 looked to be the third year in a row of consistent production and creative fulfillment.

Then the well dried up.

My Muse, always a fickle creature, decided that art just wasn’t my thing anymore.  She was not courteous enough to replace it with something else, so I spent about eight months in a desert of expressive despair; with no outlet for my boiling over frustrations, I began to have flashbacks to the last time this happened—the dark, dry period between 2001 and 2006.

Fortunately—or, unfortunately, depending on how you look at things—I went to the movies with my in-laws last August, and barely survived the experience of watching Julie & Julia.  It wasn’t quite the level of panic and rage that led to my having breathing problems during Elizabethtown, but it definitely had an effect on me.  Somewhere in the middle of the car ride home, as I talked myself down from the ledge of giving up on movies altogether, Darlena—laughing as she always does during these exasperated (and, I’m sure, exasperating) rants—suggested that I start a movie blog.

About a week later, I launched the Kicking the Seat blog with a picture of Meryl Streep holding up a raw chicken (and a review, of course).  With an official Web-site-type-thing under my belt, I looked up the submission guidelines for Rotten Tomatoes.  I’d been reading reviewer amalgamation site for years, and figured that if a teenager with no design skills and only passable grammar could hold sway on the Tomatometer, I should have no problem getting in.

I guess the fine folks at RT caught on to this some time ago and began enforcing standards.  While there are a ton of (what I consider to be) uninspired legacy critics lumped in with respected and respectable writers, becoming a new member has become a gauntlet of requirements and patience.

The main hurdle is that new applicants must be a part of an established critical organization.  Since I’m not a professional (i.e. paid) writer, I don’t qualify for the Chicago Film Critics Association; and geography knocks me out of the running for both the Boston Society of Film Critics and San Francisco Film Critics Circle—among many others.  Undeterred, I scoured the list of movie clubs until I found one that seemed perfect: The Online Film Critics Society.

Following the handy link on the RT submissions page, I was taken to a rather low-tech Web site that boasted very reasonable guidelines.  In order to apply, I needed to show proof of:

  • A professional-looking Web site
  • Writing must offer meaningful contributions to the field of film criticism
  • At least one year’s experience
  • 50 movie reviews, with indications of on-going work
  • Reviews should be at least 300 words in length
  • A brief essay on what I hoped to achieve by joining the OFCS

The window for accepting entries was open from early March through the end of July, so I had plenty of time to watch and write about movies, and eventually build an official site that didn’t have “blogspot” in the name (no offense to any hardcore Blogger-ers out there).

Fast forward to the end of July, 2010.  It was a couple days before the deadline, and I was very anxious to submit my application; Kicking the Seat 2.0 had launched successfully a few weeks earlier, and I’d more than met the review quota.  The fact that I was a month shy of a year’s experience, I figured, could be balanced by the handful of reviews I’d written in conjunction with Suitkiller’s “Critic(isms)” page—back when that was just a fun side bar in my life and not a career obsession.

In the early-morning haze of that day, I Googled “Online Film Critics Society” instead of just linking to it through Rotten Tomatoes.  To my surprise, the homepage looked wildly different from what I remembered.  It was slick and bright, unlike the circa-1997 computer graphics that I’d seen before.  I clicked on the “Submissions” button and quickly became very sad.  The guidelines read something like this:

  • A professional-looking Web site
  • Writing must offer meaningful contributions to the field of film criticism
  • At least two years’ experience
  • 100 movie reviews, with indications of on-going work
  • Reviews should be at least 300 words in length

The goal post had been moved.  They’d doubled both the experience and review-count requirements, and the on-line form left no room at all for an essay or an explanation.  All they wanted were links to a handful of my best reviews and confirmation that I met the criteria.  I hadn’t come this far to just sit out another year, so I took the plunge (the worst thing is that I had experience as a critic for a comics Web site about nine years ago; but it folded, and left behind no tangible Web presence).

This past Monday, I received the official rejection notice.  The OFCS Governing Committee had decided not to induct me, but said I was welcome to re-apply in a year.  Because of the volume of applicants, the letter read, they were not able to tell me what, exactly, made me unqualified.  Was it the lack of experience?  Was Kicking the Seat not professional enough for them, aesthetically?  Did they not feel I was contributing to the field of film criticism (maybe the occasional “f-bomb” is a no-no; or it might have been the “guest reviews”)?

I had nothing but a fractured dream and 335 long, long days ahead.

Okay, that’s partially true.  I also had curiosity and fidgety fingers—both leading me to click on the “Member” links of the OFCS homepage.  It seems some of these critics have the same issues as the Rotten Tomatoes alumni; I’m not going to call anyone out, but by popping through a handful of random sites, I saw some unprofessional presentations, for sure, as well as one critic who hadn’t posted a new entry since mid-April.  I quickly put the Petty Monster back in its cage and reminded myself that this struggle is about no one else but me.

Which brings us right up to the present, and to this essay.  What’s the point, you may wonder.  I’ve been asking that of myself since I opened up Word.  This may just be a venting session that I’ve tricked you into thinking would be something worthwhile (perhaps I’ve been listening to too much Marc Maron lately).  But, hey, this is a blog, and that’s what they’re for.

Mostly, I want to keep the handful of loyal readers up to speed with what’s going on here at KtS.  It’s your continued support that keeps me writing.  Yes, it’s fun, and it’s also my one creative outlet—until the Muse decides that it’s time to start drawing again; at which time we’ll have to have a serious talk—but every artist needs an audience (no matter what they might say to the contrary).  And whether there are fifteen of you here, now, or fifteen thousand someday, I will continue to watch and review movies honestly and in the raw, possibly annoying, style to which you’ve grown accustomed.

To that end, I invite you to send me any thoughts you might have about Kicking the Seat.  Is there something you’d like to see more of?  Less of?  Maybe just drop me a line and let me know why you read my reviews, or why you’re on the verge of not reading them anymore.  I love dishing out criticism, but I also thrive on it—though I won’t lie; it stings like a motherfucker.

By the way, I’m going to re-apply to OFCS next year.  I’ve already got something in the neighborhood of 125 reviews—most of them written in the span of 54 weeks—and by next July, that number will be in the 200s.  If they don’t up the requirements again, I’ll be fully armed, ready, and qualified, and will rise or fall based on the strength of my writing.  If I’m still not what they’re looking for, and if they’re still unable to tell my why that’s the case, I guess I’ll just have to build an audience the old fashioned way: one reader at a time.  There are worse things, I suppose.

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