Happy Birthday to us

by MrMoth (and the people of MostlyFilm)

How did we get here? It really starts on the 25th of February 2011, when the Guardian pulled the plug on its talkboards, plunging without warning its userbase into the chilly waters of the internet at large. Several lifebelts were thrown; many users ended up aboard the good ship NotTheTalk, but a backup board created by a member of the film talkboard (who is now worshipped as a god, with sacrifices and everything) ensured the survival of the film community. Like shell-shocked post-apocalypse survivors, we needed to keep moving. Keep surviving.

A blog was proposed as a way of attracting new posters. It would reflect our diversity of interest, be written by us and would be the board (described in its Guardian days as ‘The most intelligent film community on the web’, oh yes) in blog form. This became a focus of action, and the group came together beautifully to pitch in. Just a few weeks later, on April 4th 2011, MostlyFilm launched.

A year on I thought that it would be good to go back to the board and ask them what their favourite post was from our first year as Europe’s Best Website.

‘The point at which I was sure MostlyFilm was going to work was CaulorLime‘s Jamie’s Dream School piece which made me laugh and managed to make some astute points about teaching and education policy. And all in the sweariest possible way. Really Caulor should be made to write something every single week.’ – Ann Jones.

Niall Anderson, one time editor in chief, chose Glamour of the Gods by theTramp for ‘a couple of reasons: the first being that it very nearly didn’t make it. We got to the fourth or fifth draft before we found a way to keep the personal slant and overall tone of the piece without swamping it in practical details. But nobody gave up; nobody so much as raised their voice in frustration, and we ended up with a piece that sums up what I think MostlyFilm tries to be about: a clear look at what’s happening now, informed by a real passion for what’s gone before. I mean, when did you last see a negative review that also reads like a celebration?’ This positivity was echoed by veal who wanted to ‘remind people of CaulorLime‘s brilliant Educating Essex piece, because it’s a reassuring look at state schools in the UK (and at Channel 4 programming) with a secret poignancy because state schools in the UK are about to lose a great teacher, and it’s an all positive critical piece, which is my favourite kind.’ There’s a bit of the community leaking through there, and no I won’t elaborate.

‘It’s difficult to only pick a couple of pieces, as the quality of writing is very high, and the people doing it are engaged and entertaining. Also, I’m one of them, and there’s something vaguely un-English about all this own-trumpet blowing. I feel like I should recommend something from empireonline.com, or something. But why would I do that? That’s all middle-brow shit written by idiots for cretins. No, here are my highlights from the first year of Europe’s best website.

‘I loved Spank the Monkey‘s Tucker and Dale versus Distribution. It was a fiercely entertaining piece which dealt, knowledgeably and persuasively, with a trend in cinema distribution and exhibition which is affecting us all. I loved  Emma Street‘s Smashing the Glass Slipper [on Disney heroines] which had an awesome title and lived up to its promise. It includes the following description “Thoughts travel across his face like cows meandering across a country road” which would have made the website worthwhile all on its own.  Finally, though I could have easily picked thirty others, I’m going to choose Perfect Ten , Phil Concannon‘s enthusiastic and knowing assessment of Kieslowski’s Dekalog. It was, to quote the author on his subject, ” compassionate, wry and inquisitive.” All of these are examples, in their own way, of the kind of extended, intelligent writing that MostlyFilm is really for, and which it has done beautifully, in its first year. I’ve been proud to be involved.’ – CaulorLime.

We never wanted to be just another film website. We had a diverse community of intelligent, funny people with things to say. Josephine Grahl said that the posts she has ‘enjoyed most have been pieces which have put into words the good/interesting things about something which I have also enjoyed, where I haven’t quite articulated that to myself. The ones which spring to mind are Yasmeen Khan on Game of Thrones (both pieces) and Indy Datta on L’Atalante. I’m sure there are others.’ Sarah Slade went for our other selling point: funny. She picked MarvMarsh on, well, Michael Fassbender’s cock – ‘There are more intellectual pieces, I’m sure, but none of them made me and my mates cry with laughter like this one did’.  Fiona Pleasance said that Ron Swanson‘s romcom analysis You Really Don’t Want What She’s Having was ‘a funny and perceptive post which puts its finger exactly on the issues which a much-maligned genre has been having recently and backs this up perfectly with some hard figures. Leaves you wondering why you never noticed these things before.’ Ron Swanson, in a kind of coincidental symmetry, praised ‘the kind of incisive, witty and relevant article, from an informed perspective that you’d feel satisfied by if you paid to read it. It’s what we do best, and Fiona Pleasance’s Yesterday’s Men is a great example.’

Informed perspective is a strong seam in the writing on MostlyFilm. If a poster on the board is involved in something which falls within our remit, we try to find a way to put that on the blog. For example, when Jeremy Tiang went out to meet Malayan communists as research for a book, he wrote up some of his experiences for us. When Simon Aldous returned to posting having made a film, he gave us his insights into the process. When I became obsessed with CBeebies I produced a piece which, according to anise, ‘summed up the bizarre world you start to inhabit on the television when you have children’.

Ann Jones writes regularly on art, and is an artist herself, as well as teaching art. Her name came up again and again in the process of finding people’s favourite post. When asked what our best piece was, Susan Patterson, another one-time editor in chief, said simply ‘Anything by Ann Jones. I think she is our best writer’. anise said that Ann’s piece on Christian Marclay’s The Clockwas a standout and was so inspiring I took a precious day off work to go and have a look.’ Lissy Lovett added on the same piece that Ann ‘writes posts about art which make me think that art might be something I’ve got a chance of understanding and enjoying, and she does this without dumbing anything down at all.  I can feel myself getting more intelligent as I read it.’ Jeremy Tiang said something similar: ‘I like Ann’s pieces because they make me feel cleverer, like I actually know something about art. I steal lines to use at dinner parties, in case I ever get invited to one.’  Ann herself said ‘a highlight for me – surprisingly, given how rarely I get to the cinema – was cinema week. Partly because it reminded me about the strange world of the Scala but mostly because it alerted me to the existence of some amazing (and in some cases amazingly bonkers) cinemas. I still really want to go to the Kinema in the Woods.’

Some of our most popular pieces are group efforts, where several writers pitch in with short pieces on a theme. theTramp particularly loved the way that ‘the combination of mixed contributors putting forward a case for viewing one of their favourite films that most people (inexplicably) appear never to have heard of is a perfect microcosm of the plentiful charms of MostlyFilm. Namely, the collection of a diverse group of contributors, some of whom are in the industry or its fringes and many who are not, all of whom share one love and that love is film.’  Philip Concannon commenting on Mostly Minor Characters that he loves ‘the articles that contain a variety of our voices and this one had some inspired and imaginative choices’. Sometimes the variety is from the people, sometimes it is from the subject. Indy Datta, MostlyFilm’s first editor, notes that ‘we’ve covered a lot of film festivals over the last year. I didn’t really realise, before my stints in the editor’s chair, just how many film festivals there are in London alone. During the London Film Festival I may have gone a bit mad from seeing 3 or 4 films a day, writing reviews, editing and publishing reviews from other contributors, tweeting, and doing my day job. But my metaphorical anniversary hat tip goes to Mr Spank the Monkey for his even more strenuous efforts in covering the Terracotta Film Festival last year, battling through jetlag to bring you the best reviews of movies about Chinese sex shops, and so on.   Now all we need is a UK distributor to pick up Milocrorze, please’. My own personal favourite would be our two-part special celebrating International Women’s Day. As editor at the time, it was a near-constant delight to have a steady stream of contributions, each as beautifully funny, clever and insightful as the last; it really felt as though the piece hit a nerve, too, as a celebration of women.

‘And that folks is why MostlyFilm was born and why it remains. No-one is paid to write, edit, sort out the techy issues, make sure that the annual subscription is paid. They just do it because they love films, well mostly they love films. There’s also TV, art, music, computer games and literature. It’s a rich, diverse, wonderful blog which is fantastic fun to read and explore. And it is now a year old. Gosh.’ – theTramp

MostlyFilm isn’t afraid to walk different paths – we are, after all, only mostly film. We regularly feature music reviews, we’ve had articles on opera and adverts. We’ve even had fiction. But our broadmindedness can be summed up by Hankinshaw in his nomination for Spank the Monkey‘s 32 Short Films About Brian Limond: ‘Most of the internet assumes ‘The Regions’ can go and fuck themselves. MostlyFilm doesn’t do that.’

Hankinshaw, incidentally, can claim our most-read article. Mainly because it, as a mildly critical article on Dr Who, was the subject of an argument I had with Steven Moffat on Twitter. Sorry, Steve! Other highlights of his career include a fantastic piece on old gameshows and his epic digestion of BBC2’s 1983 sci-fi season, If My Calculations Are Correct. They were highlights for Kodiak and  Spank the Monkey who said: ‘Nostalgia-based articles are tricky things. Too far in one direction, you’re dreary old-stuff-is-rubbish snark. Too far in the other, you’re a Peter Kay routine about white dogshit. But Hankinshaw’s four-part review of BBC2’s 1983 sci-fi movie season, If My Calculations Are Correct, got the balance precisely right: ridiculing these films mercilessly where appropriate, but also giving them credit where it was due. I’m as much a fan as anyone else of Ricky’s invective – when it came to his Doctor Who review, he had me at ‘time-perineum’ – but it’s his obvious affection for this stuff that makes these articles my favourites.’ KittyKarate says ‘I remember watching those films on BBC2. I can’t say whether that series turned me onto sci-fi, but they had to be a formative part. It makes me remember when the BBC used to show film series, and make braver choices’, with Pushpaw adding to the nostalgic reminiscence ‘When I was six years old this series was my tea-time nightmare factory. It introduced me to a peculiar bestiary of pod people, Martian dads and marauding IDs, so it’s great that this rarely acknowledged season of films finally got such an in-depth retrospective.’

So those are some views from behind the curtain. Forgive this slight indulgence, but when our plug was pulled last year it seemed like we might never survive. To have created something so exciting since, and to have sustained a level of quality as I believe we have, genuinely feels like a cause for celebration. And we’re still going! Just this month we’ve had a sharply-written profile of up and coming director Lena Dunham, a fascinating look at the world of British Noir and an insight into Kenneth Lonergan‘s screenwriting process. One year old and we’re really on our feet.

About Thom Willis

Thom is the curator of #microwrites - microwrites.wordpress.com - and writes his own stories for thomwillis.uk. He lives in London because, given the choice, who wouldn't?

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to us

  1. It would normally be bad form to select a piece one edited, but as Spank never needs any editing I can mention his dazzling, hilarious Sex and Zen piece as my highlight of a really great year of reading mostly about film

  2. I think the article says it all. A big pat on the back to everyone involved, particularly the editors who’ve done a fantastic job.

  3. Europe’s best website without a doubt. So many lovely people, so much good writing, so utterly perplexing to those of us who have no opportunity to go to the cinema. Happy Birthday, chaps & chapesses!

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