Monday, February 3, 2014

Dr. Paul Sell: Or How I Learned To Stop Hating And Love The Film

If there is one complaint I have about written film reviews, it is that they often feel so impersonal. I am merely projecting my thoughts and feelings on any given film through text. You don’t necessarily know me as a person any better. 

I find people often can relate to someone’s opinions better if you feel like you know them personally. Like they’ve always been your friend or a good acquaintance. 

I wish I could get to know every person who reads my reviews, and thank you for taking the time out of your life to read what I have to say about any given subject. Seeing how that is impossible, I figure the next best thing is to let you, the reader, know Paul Sell a little bit better. 

I have spent most of my twenty-four years of living in the Pacific northwest, specifically Spokane, Washington. At a young age, I was introduced to a wide range of movies and entertainment, like most kids in the 1990s. This was a time when VCRs and video tapes were still the primary way to watch movies outside of the theater, and Blockbuster was a constant go-to location for my family. Every Tuesday, we would go to local video store and each member of my family could rent one movie. 

Wasn't I the cutest all-seeing, all-knowing baby?

I often found myself renting the same types of video tapes, mostly Godzilla, Power Rangers, Star Trek and anything Nicktoon-related. I like to think I was your typical TV-junkie kid. After I finished my homework and chores, I would normally watch whatever happened to be on Nickelodeon or Fox. 

I feel this left an impression on me and made me appreciate certain aspects of television and movies. At the time, I may not have understood what my feelings were exactly, but I did know there were certain shows and films that I didn’t care for. Ones that left a bad taste in my mouth and others that I couldn’t get enough of. 

For example, as a kid, I despised “The Little Mermaid.” For the simple reason that it was a girls movie about beauty, love and music, which as a seven-year old boy was unacceptable. In a way, this has still left an impression on me many years later. Have you ever had a strong emotion as a child that translated into your adulthood? That’s how I still partially feel about the film. I admit, it is entirely childish, but it isn’t really a feeling I can get over. 

I still have a hard time listening to “Under The Sea.”

As I grew older, DVDs were introduced to me. I remember my father buying this huge DVD player on the Fourth of July and spending the entire day setting it up. I did my part by mostly standing there, watching him put it together. As the night came, the popcorn came out and we watched our first DVD of “Independence Day,” one of my dad’s favorite movies. 

For a while, this really didn’t change anything. We didn’t start out with many discs and stuck to VHS tapes. I even remember being asked by my aunt if I wanted “Godzilla 2000” on DVD or VCR for my birthday, and I chose the tape, because that was familiar to me. 

Once our DVD collection grew, we still continued to treat everything normally. It was just that everything was on a disc instead of a tape that had to be rewound every time it was finished. 

Even at a young age, I was drawn to the alcohol. 

I still stuck to my VCR, because most of the movies I liked didn’t see a DVD release until many years later. I still own a VCR and tapes to this day, but haven’t used it in years. You never know when I would want to pop in my copy of “Rebirth Of Mothra” and relive some nostalgic moments. 

As the digital age began, I was being introduced to a wide range of new movies and shows that I had never heard of before. New Godzilla movies were popping up, Star Trek films were being released in theaters again, Power Rangers was switching over to a channel that I didn’t have (and had gotten worse) and Nickelodeon was taking a more live-action approach. 

I had to find some new interests.

This eventually led me to the internet. As a kid, this was mostly used to look up stills and sound clips of my favorite shows and movies. Or to contact Humongous Entertainment about when the next Backyard Baseball game was coming out. 

Captain, permission to go trick or treating?

As I became a teenager, I learned that there were many others who shared my interests and that there were whole websites dedicated to them. This eventually led me to message boards and forums, where I could have real virtual conversations with fellow fans about the finer points of Godzilla and Star Trek.

I would spend hours discussing who would in a fight between Space Godzilla and Destoroyah (spoilers: It is Space Godzilla), because it was so fun, so imaginative and so wonderful to talk about that kind of stuff. 

This eventually led me to a realization: That I loved talking about movies. I couldn’t get enough of it. At first, I was really bad at it. Over time I gained a deeper appreciation thanks to others asking me simple questions, like “What is it about this that you like? Why this and not that? Be descriptive.”

I feel this changed things, because now my own emotions became so much clearer. Everything seemed so simple and yet so appealing. 

This enjoyment of movies eventually turned into a passion when two things occurred around the same time: My first film class and the creation of Netflix. Both of these happened during my senior year of High School, and both really changed things. 

Netflix helped by allowing me a much wider range of movies than I had ever been allowed before. Until that point, my go-to movie source was still Blockbuster and even their supply was rather limited. Netflix let me watch foreign films like that of Akira Kurosawa, the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder and Charlie Chaplin. 

My first film class changed everything by letting me see cinema like I never had before. To that moment, film had only been a source of entertainment and point of discussion. After that, film was a gateway to entire new worlds, a mirror to our own society and a portal into the heart and soul of what it means to be human. 

This affected me so much that after I graduated from High School, I enrolled at Eastern Washington University and declared myself as a film major. I was so excited to learn much about the craft and gain an even deeper appreciation for the great works of cinema. 

Eventually, after being in the film program for three years, I came upon a class that was giving me more problems that I had ever imagined. It was a screenwriting class, where over the course of ten weeks, each of us would write an eighty page screenplay. Less than two days into the class, I began to have anxiety attacks, constantly thinking about what would happen if I failed the class. I hardly ate and slept even less.

This was the point when I switched to a different major. I knew I wanted to focus on something that I could enjoy doing for the rest of my life. One thing I knew for sure was that my best subject in film school was film criticism. Not only was I pretty damn good at it, but I really loved to do it. This eventually led me to a focus on Journalism classes, which could help me hone my writing skills.

As a class project for one of these classes, we were told to create a blog and talk about a subject that was ingrained in Journalism. This led to the creation of my blog, “Seeing Is Believing” where I initially intended to post a few of my thoughts on film and some movies that I felt everyone needed to watch. 

When graduation rolled around, the role of my blog expanded. Film criticism was the subject that I was insanely passionate about and it was something that I wished to share with others. Thus, “Seeing Is Believing” became a blog where all of my filmic thoughts would be posted. 

This leads us to the present, where I am extremely happy with how my film experience has unfolded. I am at a place where I am content with sharing thoughts and opinions with anyone who happens to read it. 

If you have been reading for a while, then you probably know I am an extremely passionate individual. I pride myself in having an opinion that others may not necessarily agree with, but something they can understand and relate to. I have the utmost respect for those to both agree and disagree with me. 

If you like “The Little Mermaid,” that’s fine. I understand that. I’ll disagree with you but that doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person. 

The thing about film is that it is a very subjective art form, which leads to many varying opinions and feelings on the same subject. I find the best thing to do is be understanding and respectful to everyone, even to those completely disagree with you.

No one is truly right or wrong. But one can still be informative, passionate and articulate. 

There are many policies which I use when it comes to film criticism. Some of which I even apply to real life. They are as follows: 

- Just because something is ridiculous, doesn’t mean it is stupid.
- Never say anything discriminating against a movie I haven’t seen. 
- It is impossible to have an unbiased film review. Your opinion is your bias.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated: With kindness, respect and having fun.
- Know your movie. Know why it does or doesn’t work and make that point clear and understandable to the reader, more than anything else. 
- Be honest. 
- But don’t be afraid of insulting others. Be unmerciful. If a film sucks, it sucks. 
- Be myself, but be my best self. 
- Create work that I can be proud of, not just what people want to see or hear. 
- Don’t half-ass anything. 
- ALWAYS be passionate. 
- Always be either entertaining, funny, enlightening or insightful. 
- Try to check for opposing view points. At least understand why they feel that particular way and see where they are coming from. 
- Story and characters are key. They are the foundation to any good film. 
- A good film should at least address five basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

I will admit that, as a film critic, there is an element of stubbornness to your own attitude and opinions. I feel, if you’re going to get any traction and confidence, you need to be willing to stand by what you say. Even in the face of opposition and being in the minority, never back down. If that means being seen as stubborn, so be it. 

I feel any instance of stubbornness is often misinterpreted as the person being passionate about what they find good or bad. 

When I watch a film that I feel is exceptional, I am passionate about explaining why the film works on so many levels and letting others know why they need to see it too. When I see a film that is terrible, I am passionate about pointing out everything wrong with it and saying why the film must be avoided like the plague. 

I was a happy kid who loved stand on couches for hours.

One thing that I always focus on above all else is optimism and kindness. I want to not only make myself happy, but my others happy. Life is too short to spend all your time doing something that you hate, so you might as well fill it with what you want to do and making life worth living. 

I am much faster to point out the good things on a film than I am the worst elements, because that is what will always stick with me. The moments that bring a smile to my face are always going to be much more powerful and memorable than those that were gut-wrenching. The same can be said for life.

And that, dear readers, is Paul Sell in one gigantic nutshell. Where I came from, why I love film as much as I do, why I love to look at movies and how I go about looking at a film (and life). I hope this editorial has given you a better idea of who I am and why I do what I do. 

If you walk away from this learning anything, think of this: Be passionate about something in your life. Find that one thing you can’t get enough of and enjoy doing. Then, focus your life and your efforts on that passion. Build your life around it. 

If you do that, then you will certainly find true happiness and comfort in life. 

1 comment:

Ray said...

Great Blog Paul...Very Insightful.