Friday, March 13, 2009

Celebrating 1,000

Those of us who keep lists -- especially lists that accrue over time -- tend to like recognizing milestones on those lists.

And so it is that I proudly announce: Yesterday, I submitted my 1,000th piece to the film website that employs me as a freelancer.

It was a review of Taxi to the Dark Side, the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary examining abuse of suspected terrorists by the U.S. military. It was directed by Alex Gibney, who also directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. I don't consider that title to have any metaphorical significance. At least, I hope the other side of 1,000 reviews is not the "dark side" of my career.

I'm a bit numerologically superstitious when it comes to such milestones, so I didn't want to plan for a certain movie to be my 1,000th reviewed. I had hoped to have a big list to choose from, and just review the first film that clamored to the front of my brain on that particular day. (I did specifically select the 2,000th movie I ever saw, deciding to recognize that 2005 milestone by finally seeing Casablanca, the movie I was most embarrassed about never having seen).

But when it came to be yesterday afternoon, and I hadn't received approval on my latest list of requested titles, and I had an itch to write something, Taxi to the Dark Side was one of my only choices among approved titles that I'd seen, but not yet reviewed. So Taxi to the Dark Side it was.

(My intention is not to speak ill of this excellent film -- only to say that I did the math a couple days ago and knew it would probably be the choice, since I was finding a hard time figuring out what I wanted to say, and had been putting it off. Funny, when I actually got going I wrote it rather quickly).

With most milestones, there is also some kind of asterisk. Or two. Or three.

* Not all 1,000 pieces I've written are reviews. To be exact, I've written 948 reviews, 51 plot synopses (which express no opinion on the quality of the film), and 1 DVD review (which focus more on the extras than the film itself). Why only one DVD review? Well, it happened to have been the last piece I wrote for the site in October 2003, before their freelance budget was slashed until the beginning of 2005, when I started back up with them. I'm pretty sure it was just a coincidence, and now they've shifted focus back to regular reviews.

** Before the hiatus that began in 2003, I wrote 20-30 short biographies of actors and directors, which paid by the word rather than by the submission. Those are not included here. While I enjoyed those to some degree, they had the problem of never really working as enduring pieces, because you had to keep on updating them with new projects to stay current. I don't really know how they handle that part of the site nowadays, nor do I really worry about it. I should say I've also written three feature-length commentaries that appeared on the front page of the site. That was nice just to switch things up.

*** Approximately 30 of my reviews are not currently on the site. In most of these cases, it's because one of the staffers didn't agree with my viewpoint, or really burned with their own desire to review this particular film. Two reviews I submitted a good eight months ago have never appeared; I've asked about it multiple times, but they are still lost in the ether. I've even volunteered to resubmit them, to no avail. And then there's one film -- John Badham's Point of No Return (1991) -- where the review just disappeared, but was never replaced with another writer's work. My theory is that my review was so negative that they decided just to pull it altogether, though it's hardly the most negative review I've ever written.

But otherwise, yeah! It's 1,000.

I had the forethought to start keeping this list when I began writing for them back in December of 2000. Number one on that list was Michael Winterbottom's Go Now (1995), starring Robert Carlyle as a Scottish ruffian with multiple sclerosis. Now, approximately eight years and three months later -- with a 16-month gap in the middle -- I've hit #1,000. Rounding off to a solid seven years of writing, that averages out to about 143 pieces a year. (Though that average is inflated by the something like 400 reviews I wrote in the year 2001, when I was trying to make this my exclusive source of income).

With the help of diligent backups of my data, this Microsoft Word document has never been compromised either, surviving several computer upgrades in the interim.

The reason I'm so proud of this milestone is that it reminds me again that I actually did it -- I actually became a film critic. No matter what the thrust of the rest of my professional career is, no one can tell me I didn't have a career as a working critic.

And it's important to remember this, just as it's important for all of us to be proud of the achievements we sometimes take for granted. Just because you're doing one thing for your primary job, that doesn't mean it defines you. All these years when I was waiting and wondering, trying to figure out if film reviewing would ever be my full-time job, here I was, carving out quite a nice little body of work. Which I can now legitimately say is a big body of work.

And they've been paying me, so I don't even have to delude myself. I can shout it out loud:

I'm a real critic!

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