Seeing and Revising

I’ve been reading François Truffaut’s The Films in My Life, a collection of the filmmaker’s criticism and other writings over the course of his life. Tucked away in his 1957 review of Anthony Mann’s Men in War is this parenthetical:

I rate Men in War very highly, higher than Attack. (We have to keep seeing certain films and revising our judgements.)

Part of what I love about Truffaut’s writing is his seeming throwaway brilliance. There is an immediacy, an urgency to every word. He was prolific and yet I don’t know if words were enough to encapsulate his every thought on the cinema. So he just tosses in little nuggets like this one that resonate with me so many decades later.

One thing I’ve been trying to do this year is keep my Letterboxd account more up to date. I’m usually a week or a month or more behind (I log every film I see through a customized version of Phillip Gruneich’s Movie Diary Plus shortcut) but I always like to add in a rating and hopefully a few words when I get to it. The star ratings are non-sensical, and I have been extremely inconsistent in the decade-plus I’ve been on Letterboxd.

Truffaut is pointing out a nice reminder about the value of recording reactions at all. We must continue to see films and revise our judgements. The films may not change, but we do. I have changed my mind on films many times over. Having this site as a record of my film thoughts is proving more and more helpful as the years go on. Seeing them again and looking back on what I wrote is often a joy.

Revising judgement on films, seeing them with new eyes, can be a fun project for anyone. I recommend it.

Film Twitter Needs a New Home

Twitter is over. After declining for months (at least) the sudden, undignified way in which the rug was pulled out from under developers of popular, revolutionary apps seals it. If you haven’t found your new home online yet, the time has come.

For me, I’m going to make a space for myself on Mastodon. After lurking around a few instances I finally joined up this week and have quickly found it to be an active community hellbent on getting short, public posts right. I feel like it’s 2009 again: I’m having fun on the web.

Though there’s a growing community of cinephiles1 using Mastodon, it pales in comparison to the undefined but vocal group that has come to be known, lovingly and disparagingly, as Film Twitter. The folks who post classic Hollywood photos, who eulogize actors and filmmakers in long threads, who walk out of a screening to share a gut reaction no matter how unpolished, who debate to no end in defense of Kael or Sarris or neither. Critics, filmmakers, bloggers, randoms. They all made up this…thing.

And it’s all going away.

So I think it’s time to find a new home for movie chatter online (an idea I’ve been pondering for some time). Mastodon is the easiest answer right now, but I realize it can seem daunting. My advice is to stop overthinking it and just give it a try. Find an instance and sign up. You can even use my invite to if it helps get you up and running faster.

Twitter is going away, but conversations about cinema never will. I hope everyone who wants to can find a space to keep the discussion going.

  1. A good starting point is the #cinemastodon hashtag. ↩︎

Rebuilding the candler blog

A little over a year ago I stopped being able to update the candler blog. The reasons are boring, a combination of my web host shutting down, my CMS not being actively developed and Ruby growing increasingly difficult to work with on macOS. I’m not a programmer, so once these roadblocks cropped up I had no recourse. I decided to just leave the site up and hope I could figure it out one day.

For the most part, I didn’t get much of an urge to write here. I maintain various little journals for myself, so I could scratch the itch of getting thoughts out of my head pretty easily. Publishing those thoughts stopped being a priority.

Then Twitter got a new owner.

Watching its demise play out reminded me not only of the friends, opportunities and experiences that weird little site brought into my life along the way, but also the nature of web publishing in general. Having started the candler blog in 2009, I always thought of myself as someone who came to blogging late. And yet, all these years later, I feel like I got in just under the wire on the web’s greatest moment.

For years, the web has slowly been slipping away. This was made clearer to me as I started trying to sort out the technical issues on my site. In 2012, when I moved the site off of Wordpress and started statically building it with Octopress, there was no shortage of information to help a non-programmer along in getting up and running. Heck, I was even able to contribute to the project by blogging about my own modifications. Trying to solve my problems this time around, I found far less help available out on the web. I don’t think it’s because people are any less free with their helpful posts, it’s just that the community of people willing to do so has shrunk.

I’ve been noticing for years what an incredible loss it is that the blogging community has withered away. One example that constantly frustrates me is camera, or really any, product reviews. As an avid photographer, I’m always wanting to learn about new gear and how it works. Almost all camera and lens reviews have moved to YouTube, which is nice to have sometimes, but more often than not it’s the reviewer staring at the camera reading their review. I want to skim for the information that’s relevant to me, I want to look at photos without a backing track. And yes, I want to read.

Finally it occurred to me that I am part of the problem. Who am I to complain about missing blogging when I don’t even maintain my site anymore? The web is nothing without people contributing to it. The web has no reason to exist without my voice and yours.

Eventually I figured out how to move my Octopress site into Hugo. I went with one of the more popular themes, Paper, because I don’t need this place to feel custom built quite yet. I just need it to work. I expect much to be broken around here. That’s okay.

So what’s there to write about? What can you, the reader, expect to see on the candler blog as it heads toward its 14th year? For as long as I can remember, my Twitter bio has read “I write about movies and tech and wherever the twain meet.” Let’s go with that again. That should cover enough ground for a bit.

Welcome back.

The Movie Lover ⇒

Pauline Kael, reflecting on her career in The New Yorker, 1994:

My pieces belong to the breakneck era before people could rent videos of old movies and before distributors began to supply reviewers with videos of new movies. (Reviewers can use the video as a text.) I wrote at first sight and, when referring to earlier work, from memory. This had an advantage: urgency, excitement. But it also led to my worst flaw as a writer: reckless excess, in both praise and damnation.

One of my problems as a writer in recent years is that I approach my words with too much caution. Deliberation is one word for it. Procrastination is another.

The urgency and excitement Kael writes about is something that has long been missing from my process; I wonder, often, how to get it back.

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The Candler Manifesto

The candler blog is now twelve years old. I sat down recently to write a little about it, only to realize I was saying the same stuff I had said on the site’s fifth and tenth anniversaries. So I just started reading my old work.

In my trip down memory lane, I came across a document I had forgotten about titled “Candler Manifesto.” This was something I had written to be the first post on this site, but ultimately never published. It explains my original intention: a website about movies written by people who make them.

“Critical practitioners,” I called the people I wanted to write here. As in people who worked in movies for a living but would turn a critical eye to them for pleasure. “Rather than give in to the coldness of the process, we will use our experience to find a greater appreciation of the cinema.”

Lofty, but not entirely untrue. My work in film and television does influence how I view works. Weirdly, my experience writing here about non-cinema things has also influenced my professional life. The tech and productivity articles that have proven more durable on this site have seeped back into how I do my work. If the candler blog’s cinema beginnings seem strange to the modern reader, it doesn’t feel all that strange to me.

Why a manifesto? I don’t know. Sounds creepy to me now. I think I was going for something along the lines of the Dogme 95 “Vow of Chastity” when I titled it, something bold and attention grabbing. I don’t think the piece backs up the title, but you can be the judge of that.

In the end I didn’t publish it because, well I don’t know. It felt like the sort of thing that would be accompanied by a real editorial plan, which I didn’t have. I sent the piece to friends in hopes they’d want to write for the site. Some did, but most just sort of said it was a neat idea and moved on.

Eventually I just decided to start the site and go by the seat of my pants. That, I think, was the right decision, but I do wonder what would have happened if I really had built the candler blog of this forgotten piece, which I have finally published for all to see.

“Obviously I can’t stay here.” ⇒

Annalee Newitz, parsing a variety of issues at Substack, this week:

Substack’s business is a scam. They claim to offer writers a level playing field for making a living, and instead they pay an elite, secret group of writers to be on the platform and make newsletter writing appear to be more lucrative than it is.

Me, in 2013:

What if I told you you could be published alongside writers from (but not in) The New Yorker for the low low price of free? In a nut, that’s Medium: a slick, magazine-like publishing and reading platform that writers should be so lucky to contribute to.1

I don’t get the whole newsletter thing, so I never really bothered to figure out how Substack works. Sounds like it’s Medium, but worse.

  1. I’m linking to a piece I wrote here that quotes a piece I wrote on Medium. The Medium version looks a bit wonky now and, at one point, wasn’t loading at all. For posterity, here it is on↩︎

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Blogging from BBEdit again ⇒

Dr. Drang:

I’m going to write soon about how and why I decided to move back to the Mac for most of my work (the M1 is a big part of the story, of course, but not the whole story), but for now I want to go over how I’ve organized the tools I use for writing and publishing this blog from a Mac.

Oh, hello, article designed just for me at this very moment. I’ve been trying to customize my setup in BBEdit a bit lately. Some great ideas from Dr. Drang at the link.

I used to have all sorts of scripts and workarounds and things, but they’ve all broken for a variety of reasons. Looking forward to tinkering and building out my own little system again.

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My Writing Workflow is All Messed Up

A nice thing about having written a blog for awhile is I can go back and see if my younger self has an answer to a current dilemma. Here’s me, 9 years ago:

Life is short and the considerable time I spend wondering which app has the best Markdown implementation is time thoroughly wasted. Write more, shop less; all of this will end someday.

Oof. As the kids say, I feel seen.

To my younger, apparently wizened, self I say to hell with it. I’m going to ponder the dumb question of how I write anyway.

Jason Snell kinda opened this whole thing back up for me with a piece on his search for the perfect iOS writing tool. His issue is that he can’t quite find a solid iPad app that comports with his Mac writing workflow. My problem is that I don’t even have a decent writing workflow on my Mac anymore. It’s all just gotten away from me.

I used to push text around from folder to folder, app to app, without much care about how it got there. Dropbox, for the longest while, was the linchpin of such operations. Then, at some point, I started preferring library type apps, like Ulysses, Drafts and Vesper. I loved being able to dash off a note and know it would be saved somewhere. I didn’t even need to name the files; there were no files, practically speaking.

But it wasn’t to last. My Ulysses library has grown bloated. A bad sync years ago has left me with multiple copies of a ton of sheets, and no easy way to weed out the duplicates.1 Drafts, similarly, has become a silo of disorganization, a messy hoard instead of a manageable archive.

And so I am drawn to the idea of keeping my writings organized on disk instead of loaded in a library. At present, I have no idea how to do this. Should the files just be named whatever I want to call them, or have date-based filenames? Should I make a bunch of subfolders with dates? How granular? It’s a processn…

These days, on the Mac, I prefer writing in BBEdit for reasons I can’t quite explain. It just has a certain solid feel to it, the kind of feeling that great Mac apps have. Organically, I’ve found over the last few months I just end up there. Most any note I have to jot down or text I have to paste, it’s happening in BBEdit.

So, assuming I settle on a naming organization, the questions become: where do I save these files and how do I access them on my iPhone and iPad? iCloud Drive seems to work well enough for saving. It even retains the different versions of the file so I can go back in time and see if I scratched out a brilliant idea.2

As to working with documents on other devices, I’ve been messing around with Taio. It’s a powerful app, but something is missing. I don’t quite know how to explain it. In exactly the same way BBEdit feels solid Taio just…doesn’t.

I don’t know, I’m still tinkering with it. Around every corner writers (including, to an extent, Snell) are recommending iA Writer. I haven’t used it since the whole patent thing, but maybe it’s worth another look on iPad.

If I ever settle on a form of document organization, I’ll need apps to conform to my system and not the other way around. Maybe soon I’ll wrap my head around all this and have a better writing workflow. Yeah, that’s it; it’s just around the corner.

  1. It should be easy to figure out which documents contain the exact same text, and it would be if the duplicate files were just some text files on disk. ↩︎

  2. I didn’t… ↩︎

Why Don’t I Write the candler blog Anymore?

Why don’t I write the candler blog anymore? This is a question I think about often. Is it because I’m too busy at work? Or I have less to say of late? Maybe it’s that my writing workflow has broken down. Could that be it?

All of these reasons are true. But all have been true before.

I’m increasingly convinced that the reason I don’t write the candler blog anymore is that I don’t write the candler blog anymore. Publishing this is one step in changing that. Hello again.

Tot and Writing Again

For a few days now I’ve been messing around with Tot, the new app from The Iconfactory. Smarter minds than mine have put it through its paces if you want a more traditional review. The short explanation is: Tot is a scratchpad for Mac and iOS with seven notes. It’s Stickies only way better.

I wasn’t looking for a new scratchpad app. I’ve never really used sticky notes, be they digital or physical, to great effect. Tot is not here to solve problems I have. And yet I am drawn to it. I want to use it. That feels huge.

Almost everything I write these days, I write on paper. Since I’ve been publishing so little, I rarely write digitally unless it’s work-related (emails, documentation, spreadsheets, etc.). This is due, in part, to a breakdown of my workflow. Putting a new app through its paces turns out to be the perfect opportunity to try to refine, and really re-establish, my digital writing habit.

When I was writing a lot, I wrote almost everything in Ulysses. I still love it, but I find myself less inclined to fire it up to do some leisure writing. The years-long corpus in there makes me second guess the inclination to use it as a scratchpad. This, of course, is all in my head; a blank sheet in Ulysses is no different than an empty note in Tot. It just doesn’t feel the same. Tot feels friendlier, less imposing. I’m writing in it right now.

I’ve tried so many apps for just jotting things down over the years. Drafts works to a degree, but I don’t like using the Mac app.1 NVAlt never fully clicked with me, though the concept has always had a certain allure; we’ll see if the forthcoming nvUltra is a good fit. Agenda, well I don’t actually understand how to use Agenda. Apple’s own Notes app is far too busy for me to fully commit to; it solves none of my problems and instead creates new ones. When I open BBEdit there will always be loads of untitled documents with scattered bits of text, but I’ve never found a great way to actually organize that system in a meaningul way.

Vesper probably came the closest to a notes app I enjoyed using every day. Of course it had no Mac app and lacked some basic comforts, but its simplicity was part of the draw. It’s one of the only tagging systems I’ve ever actually committed to. When Vesper shut down, I transferred my notes, tags and all, to Ulysses, but I never ended up using it the same way. I just stopped taking those kinds of notes. In a way, Tot hearkens back to Vesper. As simple as possible, beautifully executed.

I use a great deal of paper. There are nights when I sit down before bed to write a page in my planner. I may switch over to write for a bit in a Field Notes memo book before, if there’s anything left in my mind, opening a larger notebook to fill a page or two. Across the different books, I’ll repeat myself. I’ll mention that I had written a similar thought in one of the other books.

None of this is efficient or even particularly useful; it’s rarely productive. What can I say? I like to write. Not in the sense that I like to be published (I do) or that it brings me joy to compose a coherent thought (it does). I’ve found that sometimes, most of the time, I actually just like to write.

I like to write with pencils and pens and different colored inks. I take notes at the movies. Over a beer, I may take out a pen to get down a funny thing a friend said. In meetings, sometimes, I will rest a notebook on my laptop (probably open to a note-taking app) to jot down a few important points. Writing is just something I do a lot.

I used to like writing digitally, but life has changed for me. Maybe I write less on a computer because I stopped having fun doing it. A new notebook is a small investment that adds a little jolt of happiness into my life. Changing the ink in my pen is a cheap excuse to actually sit down and commit something to the page. Perhaps on a computer what’s been missing has been just a little extra delight.

Tot is a fun app that has already made me rethink how I write. On both Mac and iOS, it is a great place to focus on just your words. The sync is rock solid thus far, and on both platforms it feels completely stable.

Here’s something unique I haven’t heard much made about: Tot syncs cursor position and text selection. If you’re working on a long note on your Mac, launching that same note on your iPhone will open it at the same spot. If text is selected on iPhone, it is also selected on Mac. I haven’t seen this in any other text editor, but it’s instantly useful for me. I wrote this piece in Tot across two dots, switching from Mac to iPhone continuously as my schedule allowed. Having it always launch right where I left off is huge.

A few stray thoughts:

Tot is free on the Mac and costs $20 on iOS. That’s the cost of a few notebooks and less than a box of Blackwings. Other apps are cheaper, but so what? Using Tot is a joy. It has made a space for itself in my life and, in turn, I have made the time to write. What is that worth?

  1. I could go on and on about why this is the case, but I fear I’d come off too harsh on a developer who is clearly more at home on iOS. ↩︎