Who are you and where do you come from?
The name is David Keyes. I am a 37-year old resident of the Pacific Northwest who was born in West Covina, California, on September 27, 1981. I was the second child of my parents, Sharon and Michael, who had children from previous marriages (two daughters on my mother’s side, one son on my father’s). Their first child died the year prior to my birth. Another daughter (my youngest sister) was born nearly two years after I was.
Our family lived in Southern California until the fall of 1993, when we moved to Oregon to be closer to my grandparents (specifically, those on my mother’s side). Despite the fact they are no longer with us, our family’s roots became too firmly planted in the Portland area to care much about looking beyond its borders. As I age I frequently think about the possibilities of new locations, and certainly I make attempts to visit them… but I am comfortable in the space I have created, for now.
Why movie reviews?
The better question: why not? From an early age I was keen on the idea of probing analysis; if I read a book I loved or saw a movie that I treasured, my mind was engaged far more in the contemplation than just a mere “I like it.” Of course most things you find yourself entertained by are simply enjoyed by consistent viewings, but others seem to mean more when you’re able to talk about it, open it up and see how it functions on the inside. A movie review brings you close to that possibility in the way dissection allows a biologist to understand a body’s chemistry. To understand the source is to enrich our appreciation of the way things work.
When did your love of film start?
I began my love affair at an early age, when my fascination was piqued by the likes of “Pinocchio,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (the first “adult” film I can recall seeing in my youth). A variety of movie-watching experiences filled my childhood – mostly because I was raised in a family that loved passing the time with one another by watching them in abundance – but a select few felt extra-special. I would rewatch these consistently on old VHS tapes or on television, and each time I imagined myself being swept up in the frames, playing key characters in the events that were going on. These stuck with me as vivid memories well into my adolescence, when I began writing stories and discovered a knack for tapping into my imagination; it seemed to be informed by those experiences I had in Oz, Wonderland and Fantasia, where I could be anyone and partake in the adventures of characters I cared so deeply about.
Tell me about your online persona. When did you start writing reviews?
First, a little back story. I joined the newspaper staff in high school at the start of my junior year in the fall of 1997. The experience was a bit of a meandering exercise, at first, because I didn’t exactly know *how* to direct my interests. But after spending time with personality profiles and theater critiques, I instinctively raised my hand during a brainstorm session to offer my services for a movie review, to be written and published for the second issue of the school’s monthly periodical.
Two semesters worth of film reviews for The Reveille lead me down a path I had confidence in, and that summer, a month prior to returning to the staff for my senior year, I started a page on Geocities in order to post a consistent stream of movie related content. Over the summer I had built up a backlog of written exercises, to boot, which meant that those first few months were rather busy in the amount of articles I was posting.
How did the title “Cinemaphile” stick?
When my writing about film began online, the title of the web page was “David Keyes’ THE CINEMA!”. Hardly dynamic, it went through a couple of revisions in the early years, including “Cinema 2000,” often cited as my username in a plethora of online forums. But in 2002 when I was looking for something a little more permanent, I was attracted to the idea of a title that would be semi-autobiographical as well as unique. Many, to my knowledge, have used the term “cinephile” to describe the most loyal of movie buffs, but “cinemaphile” wasn’t in wide circulation then. It just made sense.
Why don’t you write professionally for a publication?
Though it was certainly the goal early on in my internet hobby, writing about film felt more liberating, in hindsight, by being able to write in a medium where I was not limited by column inches or subject matter. The internet expanded that possibility greatly, and being my own boss added the benefit of limitless selection in what I could cover. These realities also had their drawbacks, and as the internet evolved it gave birth to what we now know as the “blogging age,” when everyone with a web connection could have that sort of voice. I resented that notion; many of these bloggers were not at all good, whereas I came from a more educated background and felt my work stood above that. In the grand scheme of things, however, I realized the opinion was naïve. While I do believe there’s a vast amount of internet writers out there who aren’t very good, the talented ones more than rise above that.
What was the first review you ever wrote?
On a scratch pad I wrote my first review (as a practice attempt) for the original “Friday the 13th.” It was an exercise for a more thorough article to be written a couple of weeks after, for “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” That article would become my first *published* work – in the school paper in high school during the fall of 1997 – though I remember little of it other than one key line: “this movie is like a bad dream you have after eating too much spicy food.” From that moment on I began exercising my newfound flair in a variety of ways, mostly with films that I knew well or was interested in based on my watching histories. Rarely did I focus just entirely on new releases unless it was for a specific purpose, and a good majority of those early writing experiments revolved around scary movies, then my genre of choice.
Were all your early film reviews of horror movies?
Not all of them, but at least 80 percent were. Horror is usually seen as the entry point for filmmakers who are serious about evolving their craft; something in me felt a kinship to that philosophy, so I used the perspective to fuel my early experiments as a writer. As such, you will likely find that of my most recent output, new articles on horror films tend to come in much more successive fashion. They are the easiest thing for me to write because I feel I have mastered the exercise, and rare is it for any kind of scare-fest to throw curve balls at me that leave me speechless.
If one were to comb the archives of my work looking for reviews that did not involve such pictures, the selections were usually specific to other tastes (if they didn’t involve new releases, at least). Animated films. Silent films. Movies about the 70s (a constant source of intrigue). Serial killers. As time went on and I grew out of my comfort zones, other genres would eventually see inclusion.
How many movies do you see a year?
On average, about 200. I write about half of those based on time commitments with a job of 50+ hours a week; the other half simply amount to discussions with friends, or serve the purpose of providing me an escape for two hours. Of that amount, about a third are theatrical. These days I spend a good deal revisiting the past to cover bases I had either missed or neglected, though I do venture out into multiplexes for things I feel are essential to cover (i.e., a new “Star Wars” feature) or have a notoriety that inspires emphasis (“Moonlight”).
How long does it take you to write a review?
In an environment that is entirely quiet without distractions – which is rare – I can complete a film review in its entirety between 30 minutes to an hour. The average is about two hours because the bulk of my work is written in spurts – usually during work lunch hours, on breaks, or in moments where I’m waiting on car repairs, cleaning house, etc. Criterion essays, easily the most challenging of my work, can take anywhere from four to eight hours depending on the amount of research I am doing. And that sometimes doesn’t include revisions. For those essays, it’s important to have a voice that is both conversationalist and academic, and the combination is rarely as eloquent in limited stretches.
Why are there only a handful of reviews from the years 2005 to 2012 on this site?
In 2005 I left the journalism industry and pursued work elsewhere; I had grown restless with the idea of only getting income when certain goals had been met, and I craved consistent paychecks. Because of that, writing about film – and going to films themselves, honestly – had to take a backseat. Perhaps a 30-year old with more focus could have juggled both, but a 20-something who had lived in isolation and was now enjoying social stimulation had little interest in that sense of structure. Ergo, I only published a handful of articles each year during those times. I am still in the same industry today, but the goals have changed enough to allow for a better sense of balance.
What is this “Signature Series” thing I keep seeing on certain reviews?
Signature series reviews are articles I highlight as personal bests. At some point, when the time comes to whittle my output down to a handful of essays that I am proud of, those that carry the signature stamp are the ones I am the fondest of – they make their points well and are consistent with personal expectations or goals. That is not to say the others are inferior or bad, otherwise I would never publish them in the first place. But some do rise far above others.
Do you ever think about going back and rewriting reviews for movies that you previously critiqued?
The thought never crossed my mind until I was in my 30s, when I skimmed through a series of old articles I had written for some of my favorite movies and found them to be of poor quality. A couple of others I found involved opinions that I had completely changed my mind on. Up to that point, I preached the importance of the “immediate experience” that framed a film review, and to walk away from that philosophy would have felt like undermining my whole purpose. Yet to deny changing interests is to suggest that our work must be absolute, and opinions are only relative to our experiences. If I was growing up, who was to say my stance on something wasn’t?
The long and short of it is yes, I have thought about it, though my practice has been limited. I have revisited four films in newer articles in the last three years – a small amount – but anticipate there will be more movement with the idea as time goes along. Some of that will involve great films that remain great, others may involve those where I have done a 180. So stay tuned, I suppose.
Do you have a favorite movie?
A real movie buff can never just have one favorite movie. The list is immeasurable. But if we are to narrow the selection down to handful of films that I find myself watching frequently (usually a measuring stick for being a “favorite”), then you can include some of these titles as part of that distinction. “The Shining.” “Magnolia.” “Melancholia.” “Network.” “Princess Mononoke.” “Wall-E.” “Wild Strawberries.” “Elizabeth.” “Rear Window.” “Alien.” “The Black Cauldron.” “The Descent.” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” “Moulin Rouge!” “Seven.” “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” “The Apartment.” “Some Like it Hot.” “Life of Pi.” “Hugo.” “The Hidden Fortress.” “All About Eve.” “The Wizard of Oz.” “Pinocchio.” “Dark City.”
Ask me to name any more and I might have to show you a list the size of a textbook.
What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?
Again, also a hard distinction to offer any specific film. There are a select few, however, that have been the source of many a painful memory – most of them from recent times. “Alone in the Dark” probably has committed the most cardinal sins when it comes to classifying a bad film, and to this day I can’t easily think of a picture I have loathed more.
A few runners-up: “Pathfinder,” “I Spit on Your Grave,” “Caligula,” “Chaos,” “Saving Christmas,” “Fantastic Four,” “The Spirit,” “Balls of Fury,” “Eurotrip” and “The Next Best Thing.”
Are your reviews published anywhere else?
Once upon a time, several of them appeared in mostly local publications, including two school-specific papers – The Reveille and The Advocate – and one metropolitan – The Oregonian. Since then my work has occasionally been syndicated on any number of movie-related web sites (some fan pages, others resources), and my older work (pre-2010) is indexed at the Movie Review Query Engine. Most of those older ones are also quoted on Vudu.com, the best of the online streaming services, and everything I have written over the last 20 years is linked directly to Rotten Tomatoes.
I have received offers to have my work elsewhere, most of which is declined; I prefer to keep my material in a single place for quick reference. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to rethink that decision should an attractive pitch come my way, but for now the Cinemaphile blog is the best solution for my output.
What is your favorite genre and why?
I am a sucker for a lot of things but feel most at home within drama. The underlying blueprint of such films is human behavior, of which I am endlessly fascinated by. Dramas also tend to be the home of stirring literary and visual artists, not to mention very accomplished actors. In a dynamic plot situation, I think you learn far more about cinema than in most other categorizations, though that does not diminish any of the others.
Do you make a point to NOT see anything that comes out, and why?
Not intentionally, although if I am pressed for time and I’m given a choice between an indie flick playing at an art-house theater or the big release available at all the first-run theaters, I’m likely to stick with obscure. As I get older I am far more interested in the voices of the patient and methodical, and less amused by the sensationalists of mainstream blockbusters. Sometimes that leaves others with the impression that I’m a killjoy or a snob, but it’s the consequence of age. There are far more rewarding things about films to discover with patience, thought and analysis, whereas most standard modern day entertainments are manufactured to appeal to one sensibility: dazzling the eyes.
Are there any movies that are beyond critique? Why?
That would depend on the place a movie has in history or in the dichotomous nature of its origin. Examples: D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” is a transcendent work of technical innovation and a deplorable statement of its director’s ignorance – in other words, impossible to classify (although not impossible to have a discussion on). I have felt similar connotations in recent times with the likes of “A Serbian Film,” which is morally questionable all the while representing the impassioned pleas of its audacious director. Can we judge any movie that someone believes so wholeheartedly in that it rests on the merits of stimulating artistry? Certainly. But do we just dismiss them because they have deplorable ideas? That’s where the distinction becomes blurred for a movie critic, I believe.
On the flip side, it’s nearly impossible to say anything substantial that hasn’t already been said about a thoroughly discussed endeavor like “Casablanca” or “Citizen Kane,” although occasionally I have made attempts. For those that leap beyond the notion of a measuring stick and are still worthy of some level of historical discussion, I have felt my “Lessons of Criterion” series to be an adequate platform for the attempt.
Why aren’t documentaries awarded a star rating when you review them?
Prior to 2013, they were subjected to the same scale as any other film. But as the age of information has been devalued into falsehoods and partial truths, I feel it unnecessary (and unfair) to stamp a documentary with any sort of grade when their purpose is far more singular: to inform. Sometimes that means the information is slanted, but that can be a facet of the discussion. Generally if I am reviewing a documentary, it means I feel it is good enough to watch; if I find one I dislike, I’ll spend my time writing about something else. Because they stand outside of critical measures, that is how we ought to approach them as writers.
Why are your reviews usually a mix of new and older subjects?
Because the patterns with which we absorb entertainment – music, film, reading, you name it – are usually about mixing old and new, my focus reflects that. A good chunk of my online audience comes to my blog for the sake of reading up on the most recent releases, but the beauty of my job is that I have no restrictions: I can write about whatever I feel, and the mixture offers them the opportunity to rediscover selections beyond the current releases. The thing is I rarely know how I’m feeling till the moment arrives, and it would be a detriment to me and my audience if I were to put my material in a box that only cares about the latest available endeavors. Without knowing cinema’s past, you are never going to sound as informed about the present.
What films have impacted you the most emotionally?
Though I enjoy and even love a good number of films, the list of those that have had that sort of effect on me is far less encompassing. That doesn’t mean I can adequately reduce them to a list that can be printed here – and of course the depth of the movement differs, often substantially – but a few selections are worth noting. “Schindler’s List” showed me how great spirit can rise from the most tragic scenarios. “Wild Strawberries” and “Ikiru” are moving portraits of a long life that we may all face. “Pinocchio” reflects the fears and desires of all young boys with inquisitive minds. “The Wizard of Oz” is a vibrant reminder that all adventures should lead us back to the safety of home. “Cloud Atlas” forces us to contemplate the ramifications of our actions on the lives of others, present or future. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy stirs our hearts and minds about what affect simple lives can have on the fate of the world. “Moulin Rouge!” is a love letter to a culture of art created by joy. “Yentl” suggests that limits can be overcome by having a courage in conviction. And “Hugo” taps into the unending joy of cinema and its divine possibilities, even in the hands of young dreamers.
If you could live in a movie, which one would it be?
In childhood I would have thrived at the idea of living in Oz, though as an adult fully aware of the dangers and corruption that lurk beyond the frames, I couldn’t imagine being comfortable in any of them for long. I would rather inhabit isolated scenes of some movies, perhaps, just to sense the ecstasy of the moment. To be Frodo Baggins long enough to come to rest at the Elven capital of Rivendell would be the most joyful of all film-bound sensations.
Are there writers you look up to that may have informed your style?
Roger Ebert forever remains the architect of my style and content, though several others have contributed some precious pearls as well. Lately I am drawn intensely to the works of Pauline Kael. Early on, when I was attempting to find my voice online, I had a particular affinity (and still do) with some of the better Internet critics. Dan Jardine. Scott Renshaw. Harvey Karten. Eugene Novikov. And of those that are still branded “reputable” in an industry of diminished importance on film criticism, the likes of Elvis Mitchell and Lisa Schwarzbaum still resonate deeply on my intellectual triggers.
What prompted the decision to publish books of your work?
I think every writer, at some point, dreams of holding a book in their hands that they created themselves. That was part of what inspired the creation of the “Complete Writings” series, which currently consists of five volumes (soon to be seven) printed on demand and sold at online retailers (though some copies have shown up in actual bookstores in recent times). They aren’t a source of great income or anything, but provide adequate professional exercises for my long-term goals. I anticipate this series to continue as I work towards more theme-oriented publications (including a forthcoming book about horror films, due out in the next year).
What if I want to know what you thought of a movie that you haven’t reviewed?
You can always email me at email@example.com to inquire (I respond to most emails), or just submit an inquiry on the feedback page at www.thecinemaphileblog.com. Sometimes I might even be inclined to respond in the form of an essay; though I typically don’t take direct requests for my reviews, sometimes the temptation does manifest into inspiration.
Do you believe you will be doing this for most of your life?
In some way or another, writing is my destiny. Film provides the most rewarding outlet for my words. One cannot predict what form that will take beyond the continued output of my blog, but the journey continues day after day…