Hello there!

Since I've never had occasion to produce a proper introductory page, and this site, while largely moribund, has been seeing some action lately, I thought I would correct this oversight and say a few words about what exactly I am trying (so feebly) to do here.

1. The Academic Hack is a collection of writings (mostly not-for-pay capsules, as well as links to paid work) by me, Michael Sicinski. I write film criticism for a number of publications, including (but not limited to) Cinema Scope, The Nashville Scene, Cineaste, Cargo, Fandor, and Mubi.

2. My specialty as a writer and academic is avant-garde and experimental cinema, with a smattering of video art. I do my best to represent this on the site, but sometimes work obligations can make the whole thing lopsided toward commercial or narrative film(s).

3. Other than capsules on this site, I no longer write for free, as a rule. So in general, I'd prefer you didn't ask.

4. My exception to the pro bono rule is avant-garde cinema, about which I will often write for free, if I think the filmmaker or the work is worthy of attention. The makers probably make even less money than I do, which is saying something, let me tell you.

5. I no longer post review pages by the month. It has simply become too much to keep up with, and I want this site (such as it is) to be fun, not a constant nagging failure. So I am adopting new strategies for organizing the latest capsule reviews.

6. In addition to themed pages, like the current [Q1-Q2 2014] Cannes '13 page, I am going to use seasonal pages -- spring and fall, rather than March and April. I have decided to simply use Letterboxd for almost all writing on new releases. This will encourage me to be more selective. (I hope.)

7. For ultimately random reasons, I rate films on a zero to ten scale. This started mostly because, when I first began taking cinephilia seriously, I spent a lot of time logging ratings into the IMBb. (No, really.) So I just ended up thinking in the 10-point scale. While good friends like Mike D'Angelo have pointed out, quite correctly, that this scale lacks the nuance of the 100-point scale, I personally think that I appreciate the blunt-instrumentation of 10 points. If I had more, I'd get bogged down in numerical minutiae, which would serve as yet another sidetrack to my writing and analysis.

8. When beginning this site, knowing that I would be devoting a fair amount of coverage to avant-garde film, I felt it was important to have a rating system. There are all sorts of valid reasons why rating films is silly, most of which I believe. The experimental film community often blanches at the idea of judgment and evaluation. (It's getting better though.) For this reason I knew I wanted to grade avant-garde films with the 1-10 scale, mostly as a provocation, but also as a means to drive other interested parties (and perhaps the conversation) toward certain works that I felt were not only crucial, but would define the art of film for the long haul. In a field as underappreciated and underfunded and undertaught as experimental cinema, I feel that those involved with it have a responsibility to actively shape a canon, to bring the best of the best front and center, so as to make the entire enterprise appear aesthetically indispensable.

9. Sometimes, for example during festival reports, I conceal my avant-garde grades, so that readers who do not want to see number grades by those films can avoid them. Those who are interested can find them elsewhere on the site.

10. The grades are fairly self-explantory, I think. But:

[10] - An almost flawless masterpiece, certain to be one of the best films of the decade. Very rare.

[9] - Very great, hobbled only by a few missteps. I truly love this movie. Lock for my year-end Top 10. Re: avant-garde film, likely showing me something in the medium I have never seen before. A rare treat, like a good Eritrean meal.

[8] - A very good film, cannot quite go the distance due to formal or thematic shortcomings. Still likely to be one of the year's best, likely Top 10 finisher.

[7] - A good, solid piece of filmmaking. Trusty effort from a respected auteur; well-crafted documentary; skillful piece of experimental filmmaking within the understood vernacular of the medium. (Due to self-selection, I see a lot of 7's.)

[6] - Mostly a positive reaction, but some basic undeniable flaws (formally undistinguished or incoherent; well-informed but uninspired doc; well-crafted but run of the mill a-g film). Often comes down to one or two major missteps.

[5] - A primarily bad film, with clearly redeeming facets: good ideas, a good performance or two, or just generally inoffensive. A lot of mediocre avant-garde festival filler ends up getting 5's.

[4] - A bad film in a very basic, pedestrian way. Plot stupidity; shoddy acting; no formal engagement to speak of. Docs and a-g are often here due to incompetence. Occasionally an ambitious or interesting failure will get a 4.

[3] - An actively bad idea poorly executed; a disingenuous money-grab that is insulting to the intelligence; utter incompetence that shows no spark of potential and is difficult to watch.

[2] - Rare. A film so actively awful (bad dialogues, shit acting, shot by a chimp, directed by a clinical moron, or Eric Schaeffer) that there is truly nothing redeeming about it whatsoever.

[1] - Very rare. Worst of the decade contender. All of the above, plus willfully offensive to me on some social grounds (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, child abuse, animal abuse) for no greater point than to be "edgy" in a juvenile-frat boy manner. Fuck this film.

[0] - I would erase this film from existence were it possible. I have awarded this grade exactly once.

11. I keep my archives up, even though a lot of the old stuff is quite embarrassing. My earliest "reviews" were often just a few sentences long, and I really didn't have the hang of this whole 10-point scale yet. (Look at -- or don't -- the number of 9s and 10s in 2001. SMDH.) But it's all there, part of "the journey," I suppose.

12. This is not a blog. I use an ancient website platform, partly because it's what I'm familiar with (I hate technology), and partly because blogs mean comments, and I do not want anyone's comments to become part of this enterprise. No offense.

13. You will notice that I post everything in the same format: 10-point Times New Roman, with no pictures to speak of. This makes The Academic Hack look pretty stone-age, and I recognize that it limits the appeal of this site in a major way. However, my reasoning is this. First, I really do care about looks and uniformity, and so I have chosen a font and format that are easy enough to insure pretty absolute stylistic harmony, with minimal difficulty. I'm not totally immune to "branding" concerns. Second, pretty much any film I write about will have stills and images available elsewhere on the web. Often you can find the whole films on the web, if you know where to look. So why do I need to add to that clutter? I think you know how to use the Google Machine. The only exception here may be the avant-garde films, and either they are online (try Vimeo) or they are not, and in those cases a still image won't really help you all that much. Bottom line, I do words. It's all I've got. So stop by for some of them, and then move on to the next site.

14. Nobody's really asked, but the name of the site has a particular history. Of course, I chose it largely because I was an academic when I started the Hack, and I am still (tangentially) an academic today. In starting out as a critic, I felt very much like a "hack," just some guy attempting to ape his betters. As it turns out, several years after I began my site, there was a university resources blog that was called Academic Hack for a time, but -- and this really surprised me -- the popularity of this site meant that those people had to change their name, to something like AcademHack. Whoo hoo! I win. (Strange, that.) But anyway, I heard the phrase spoken on "The McLaughlin Group" one day, when they were discussing the 1991 special election to fill the Pennsylvania Senate seat vacated by the death of John Heinz. McLaughlin was marveling that Democrat Harris ][9, "an academic hack," had defeated former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. (In the 1994 regular election, Wofford was beaten by a young Congressman named Rick Santorum.)

15. Niggling personal details: I was born in 1972. I am of Polish and Mexican extraction, which may have unconsciously affected my film-viewing choices. (See below.) On occasion, I will mention my wife Jen and (especially) my young daughter Nola in my reviews, not to be "folksy" but because I am a person, and because they are often a useful point of reference for responses outside myself. My writing seems to have more of a following abroad (especially in Germany, India, and Malaysia, interestingly) than it does in my home country of the United States. Similarly, I seem to be read throughout many areas in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, but have a fairly small audience in my hometown of Houston, Texas. For this reason, I find the Internet freeing. I think of my desk as a nerve center that connects me with all corners of the world, and conveniently leapfrogs over all the local crap in which I sometimes find myself stranded.

16. Although I have not been completely successful, I have tried to keep my likeness off the Internet. Even though I have a substantial web presence, I consider myself a private citizen, and feel that the culture of total visibility is a 21st century trap. I also want to set an example for my child. Also, I think I write like a better-looking person than I am.

17. I tend not to like a lot of Hollywood filmmaking, blockbusters especially. I try to remain open-minded and maintain catholic tastes, but it's just a fact. The last time a wide-release Hollywood film got an [8] from me was in 2009 (the double-shot of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Duplicity, neither one a conventional Hollywoof effort).

18. Aside from the avant-garde, I have a marked preference for foreign-language fare. It's best for all concerned if I lay these cards on the table. I also prefer auteur filmmaking to collective studio product.

19. I have a very bad track record with two national cinemas in particular. Historically I have not liked Polish or Israeli cinema very much, although there have been exceptions, such as Policeman from Israel. I worry that my biases in these areas may be unconsciously political, so I try my best to overcompensate. I will never give up trying to correct this national cinema prejudice. I find it highly unbecoming in a critic.

20. I consciously try to see more cinema made by women, African-Americans, and other U.S. ethnic groups, especially where avant-garde film is concerned. I feel there's not one of us who couldn't stand to improve in this area (especially avant-gardists), but I know that I have plenty of room for improvement myself, and have worked on it and plan to keep doing so. I always invite constructive criticism in this area, because there are aspects of this problem that I will invariably not see, in spite of my best good-faith efforts.

21. I need to see much more Latin American and South American cinema. It's a deficit I can't really account for, but older Argentinean film, Mexican film, and especially Brazilian film are a huge blind spot for me. By contrast, I think I've seen more African cinema than your average critic.

22. I have some embarrassing historical gaps in my viewing. Among the most egregious: Greed, The Godfather I & II, virtually all canonical Fellini aside from 8 1/2 and Juliette of the Spirits, any Visconti, Jules and Jim, Heimat, Lawrence of Arabia, and, um, North By Northwest. Credibility = shot.

23. Favo(u)rite directors (deceased): Stan Brakhage, Robert Bresson, Vera Chytilova, Maya Deren, Carl Th. Dreyer, Hollis Frampton, Stanley Kubrick, Yasujiro Ozu, Maurice Pialat, Nicholas Ray, Alain Resnais [sniff!], Douglas Sirk, Jacques Tati, Dziga Vertov, Andy Warhol, Manoel de Oliveira, Abbas Kiarostami.

24: Favo(u)rite directors (live and active -- sponsored by Fage): Apichatpong Weerasethakul, David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, David Gatten, Ernie Gehr, Jean-Luc Godard, Hong Sang-soo, Abbas Kiarostami (RIP), Dani Leventhal, Lucrecia Martel, Manoel de Oliveira (RIP), Jafar Panahi, Abderrahmane Sissako, Michael Snow, Scott Stark, Lars Von Trier

25. As an adjunct instructor in Film Studies and Art History, I make approximately $350 / mo. This is why, unless I am a sponsored guest, I pretty much can't go to film festivals anymore. I did recently become a member of the National Society of Film Critics, which means I am connected to the U.S. arm of Fipresci. So maybe some kind festival director somewhere will take pity on me and fly me out to serve on a jury. I'm very good at negotiating compromises and breaking stalemates!

26. If you feel like making a small contribution to my hopeless career, including this site (and you should feel under no obligation to do so), you could send money to me through my PayPal account, using my email address: mjsicinski@gmail.com. Thanks so much!

 

And that's about it.

Goodbye for now! Come again!