The Green Notebook

Three years ago (two years and ten months ago, if you want to be technical about it), I cracked open a rather unassuming-yet-eye-catching green notebook that had been sitting theretofore unused on the desk of my freshman year dorm room.

Initially I had bought the notebook, a 100% post-consumer recycled paper-made journal, with the intention of using it for one of my classes. When it became obvious after a week that its services would not be required in the academics department, I decided to repurpose it for something new.

I entered college with a particular cloud of obligations floating above my head: the obligation of watching movies I had heard about but not yet seen. In my senior year of high school, as the co-director, co-writer, and editor of a student made short film in my school's film festival, I began to discover the joys of moviewatching. Previously, I had only made trips to the theater when the latest installment of Harry Potter, Star Wars, or the Pixar franchise hit the big screen, but after taking a creative writing class followed by a short film production class my junior year, I began to broaden my theatergoing horizons to include movies of any shape, size, and budget. 

It took me until my first semester of college that I finally decided to get working on the list of Movies I Have to Watch that I had culled together from my film teacher's recommendations (“Markatos, what do you mean you still haven't seen L.A. Confidential?!”), the “wisdom” of the Academy Awards, and the internet. I started with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, not curious to dig a bit further back into the history of cinema, followed that up with Vertigo

Enter The Green Notebook. Purely on a whim, I decided it would be interesting to keep a log of all the movies I watched while at college, writing up a 1-page review of each (and sticking firmly to that length, even in cases when I could wax poetic on a particularly awful movie for journals upon journals) and slapping on a grade based on my initial impressions. Amazingly, I who am known to start keeping journals on a whim only to abandon them after a few weeks (or even days), kept up the movie reviewing to the present day. At the time of writing this blog post, The Green Notebook has room for only 4 more movies, and its successor—The Cerulean Notebook—waits impatiently for me on my bookshelf.

I love showing The Green Notebook around and gauging people's reactions. Some will flip through until they find a movie they recognize (“You gave Les Misérables a ??!!” [true story!] ), others will take a more painstaking approach—like my dad's movie-loving, 80-year old cousin Eleni, who, despite claiming to know not a lick of English, carefully studied every page, congratulating me on the more obscure foreign directors I had seen (“Kiarostami? Ωραιο!”). My grading criteria, though I try not to make it arbitrary, boils down to a system of recommendations: anything in the A range is worth your while, films in the B range didn't float my boat but may float yours, films with Cs and lower are not recommended or outright duds.

The Green Notebook also serves as a good reminder of how my writing style, tastes, and knowledge of cinema and filmmaking have changed over the years. Take, for example, this early review and compare it with a more recent one:

J’accuse
Directed by Abel Gance
Written by Abel Gance

Wading into strange territory here...A silent French film about World War I. Makes use of all the cutting-edge new technologies in filmmaking of the day—so naturally, it’s a mess in spots.

This sprawling mini-epic covers a lot of territory: Love! War! Poetry! Illegitimate children! The superfast editing makes some scenes unintentionally comical (though I suppose I can’t hold that against poor J’accuse, can I). The actual footage of World War I is used sparingly, but to great effect. One can see how people like Virginia Woolf were influenced by this film. Jean’s psychotic period at the end of the movie is responsible for the creation of Septimus’ character in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Gance is quite fond of the image of skeletons dancing Ring-Around-the-Rosy. How morbidly creepy. You really have to appreciate silent film stars: all their acting is done mostly with their eyes. Body flailings are also pretty common here.

Unexpected supernatural conclusion is unexpected! Jean’s transformation from brooding poet to raving lunatic is frightening; Francois’ change from angry drunk to doting husband is heartening. Edith, poor thing, even after getting abducted by the Germans, hardly changes at all. Alas, a tradition of static female characters in film is born.
— c. October 2011 (also written in conjunction with an English class)
Early Spring
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Written by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu

If you’re anything like me, you won’t realize how devastating “Late Spring” is until maybe a day or two after watching, when trying to explain it to your friends. Melancholy is the name of Yasujiro Ozu’s game, and his minimal-frills approach to the story streamlines the emotions at play right to the heart (or pit of the stomach, as it were).

Noriko (Setsuko Hara, more on her later) is perfectly content—cheerful, even—to live at home and take care of her single father (Chishu Ryu). Everyone in her life (father, aunt, friends, the works) is impatient for the 27 year old to hurry up and get married already. Noriko’s free-spiritedness is naturally opposed to the grave watch-tapping of everyone around her, yet as the nagging persists, Noriko’s carefree joyfulness gradually begins to lose its luster.

The turning point in her mindset comes at a pivotal scene where father and daughter attend a Noh performance. Without saying a word, Setsuko Hara through the duration of the performance spectacularly conveys a slow realization and sapping of happiness on her visage alone. Subsequently Noriko opens up to the marriage idea, culminating in an eery pre-nuptial scene where Noriko sulks wordlessly under a face-obscuring wedding kimono while her father and aunt attempt to lift her spirits.

Her father isn’t immune to the emotional turmoil either, and the film’s final shot shows us all of a father’s regrets funneled into a slowly-falling apple peel. The spare/bare style of Ozu’s filmmaking may necessitate some adjustments on the part of the viewer, but his stripped-down storytelling is unquestionably effective at eliciting an emotional response—even if it is a delayed one.
— c. October 2013

My reviewing style has evolved from somewhat random and scatterbrained to more polished over the years, but I still allow myself some room to have fun: I wrote up Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects to resemble a propagandistic television medication ad and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel in the format of a Q-and-A with Ralph Fiennes' character.

As far as spur-of-the-moment traditions go, keeping a log of my cinematic adventures is one I'm glad I started. Having a written record of the movies I've seen and the opinions I've held of them is useful not just as a reminder for myself, but as a source of inspiration to share with others. So next time you see me toting around that little green journal (or, soon, its hardbound big brother), you'll know what's up—and maybe you'll even hazard to ask me what's worth watching this week!