by Sam Juliano
Note: This is the fifth entry in an ongoing series that honors creative bloggers who have really made a difference, raising the bar for quality and productivity on the cultural front.
One of the blogosphere’s most renowned film communities, Living in Cinema, was launched in April of 2007 by Los Angeles native Craig Kennedy. The forty-ish Kennedy, who was an active blogger at Sasha Stone’s Awards Daily for several years before the advent of LIC, was born and raised in the Seattle area before heading south to the “City of Angels” in 1995. Kennedy, a low-key sort who seems to have been born to be a moderator, admits that he was motivated to start up his own place “out of frustration over the content of many of the professional sites I read at the time. There was too much focus on box office and celebrity gossip and too often they put the awards cart before the movie horse. Film festival coverage seemed to consist of sticking fingers into the wind to anticipate what was going to be the next Little Miss Sunshine. I wanted a site that approached movies with movie enthusiasm for its own sake – one that didn’t judge the quality of a movie based on how much money it made or how many awards it received, so I started one.”
Almost by design, Kennedy’s formula for an alternative blogsite immediately began to attract fellow movie lovers, many of whom have stayed on tenaciously for the three-and-a-half years the site has been thriving. The site’s core supporters include close friend Joel Ehly, an Oregon native who in the three year duration of the site has commented on over 90% of Kennedy’s postings, and has triggered many lengthy discussions in the unique cummunity-style discouse that often escalates into what can rightfully be refered to as “live discussion.” Jennifer Boulden of Arkansas, Alison Flynn of New York City, New Zealander “sartre”, Daniel Getahun of Minneapolis (himself the proprietor of the popular and long-running bogsite Getafilm), Don Haumant (a.k.a.”Pierre de Plume”) of Minnesota, Slant critic Chuck Bowen, San Francisco-area film writer Alexander Coleman, and the Big Apple’s Dorothy Porker have stayed with Kennedy since the site’s inception, spending countless hours rendering verdicts on their recent movie viewings in the theatres or at home, and in contributing thoughtful commentaries on coming attractions, passings or happenings in the lives of the site’s other regulars. A number of others have recently appeared, as Kennedy’s affable demeanor and flexibility has accomodated (and indeed has attracted) those with a passion for the movies.
Kennedy himself is a gifted writer, who has kept up with every technological advancement available to him, including twitter and facebook tie-ins, a revamped and expanded blogsite front, and the recent inclusion of podcast discussions. His Twitter numbers have gone over 1,000 as of late, and he may well be the only online proprietor to post at least one post every day for three and a half years. Recently named to the Online Film Critics Society, Kennedy prolifically posts reviews of films on the day of release, or even a day or two before to give readers an advance word on how to plan their weekends. Indeed two of the blogosphere’s most successful threads are authored by Kennedy: “The Watercooler” and the “Weekend Forecast.” The former is the model from which the “Monday Morning Diary” was created, and it’s a prestigious weekly thread that has produced some stupendous comment numbers as well as some of the net’s most meaningful discussions on movies. While there has certainly been some contentiousness in the discourse, Kennedy has always managed to steer conversations to a fruitful middle ground, rarely taking sides and always looking at both sides of teh coin. “The Watercooler” for many has become a place to pontificate on weekly accomplishments and to expand on initial opinions with cerebral embellishments. In any case, at a site where postings sometimes appear as often as every few hours, “The Watercooler” has been the bread and butter for LIC regulars, and one of Kennedy’s most reliable conversational devices. While “The Watercooler” is faithfully offered up every Monday morning, the equally popular “Weekend Forecast” is published on either Thursday or Friday. Kennedy researches all new releases nationwide (and the platforming in NY and LA) and offers up star ratings for the titles he’s seen in advance at critics’ screenings. The enthusiastic comments on that thread range from weekend plans to predictions based on prior knowledge of directors and various artists responsible for the openings.
Kennedy is a master at including you tubes for future openings, and some of the latest news out of Hollywood and elsewhere, and in keeping readers up-to-date with celebrity obituaries and the maneuverings of critics’ awards and policy changes. During the real heat of the movie season (from October to March) Living in Cinema is a mecca for all serious movie lovers who closely monitor ten-best lists, award nominations and the hoopla surrounding some of the key prestige releases. At this time Kennedy is invariably pumped up, engaging in his comment threads with verve, erudition and authority, fully validating the meaning of his blogsite’s name.
With most blogsites catering to a cross-section of the blockbuster and art-house variety, Kennedy candidly admits: “I try to approach supposedly highbrow arthouse movies with the enthusiasm of a fan rather than the ego of a hard core intellectual. I don’t want movies to be intimidating to people so much as something new and exciting. I also focus as much as I can on movies that don’t have $50 million marketing budgets. I’ll talk about the really interesting ones, but I don’t ever want them to drown out the small movies.” Hence, Kennedy’s own year-end lists are always divided between the popular and the esoteric, the domestic and the international, and films praised and derided by fellow critics. When critics were split on Wong Kar-Wei’s My Blueberry Nights and the animated feature Speed Racer, Kennedy vigourously stood by them, naming them to top ten berths in December. Conversely, when Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker won validation from even celestial authority, Kennedy admitted he liked both films, but balked at naming them among his very best.
When asked about his favorite films and filmmakers Kennedy answered:
“I’m less of a genre guy than an era guy. I love pre-war French cinema and the German expressionists. I love classic post-war Hollywood pictures as well as Hollywood in the 1970s. I love all the big directors and stars to one degree or another. My first real passions were Hitchcock and Kubrick. These days I love the Coen Brothers, Soderbergh, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Fincher.” Kennedy prides himself in being a tough grader, and rarely gives a five-star rating to more than one or two films a year. It’s a policy that gives Kennedy the luxury of a later upgrade, in the rare instance when a film might impress him more on a second viewing. (which happened with Pixar’s Wall-E) With amazing regularity, LIC’s founder pens both capsules and expanded essays with consummate artistry, maintaining a torrid pace and topicality with his review postings. Few blogsite proprietors post as often as Kennedy, and few keep closer watch on the most recent developments in the movie industry. His personal friendship and professional association with Sasha Stone of Awards Daily has resulted in one of the net’s most reliable sites for insider information and live feeds. And Kennedy, who works a full-time job, runs Living in Cinema by himself, investing an un-Godly number of hours in planning and managing his well-traveled movie showcase.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the Evergreen State College in Washington, Kennedy admits he has more generalized focus at the time, before finding his voice with film. “Between working a full-time job, blogging and sleeping I have little time for anything else these days, but my ultimate goal I suppose would be to one day make a living with this. I love the freedom of having it not be my main source of income, but it would be great to be able to focus all of my energy on Living in Cinema. In the short term I just want to continue to grow my readership and to expand my connections with movie PR people so that I can stay a bit ahead of the curve in terms of what’s coming to theaters. Most of all, I want to keep getting better and better at what I do.” On his home city, he admits: “I’ve lived in LA for nearly 15 years and it probably took me 5 to really start to like it here. I love the mix of cultures and classes and I love the access to the arts that you can only get in a big city. It’s a great place for movies, though it’s not as good as NY. Plus, I have to admit I love the Mediterranean climate.”
With an expanding readership, active cognizance of technological advancements, and a remarkable gift in dealing with people, Craig Kennedy is well on his way to realizing his aspirations. Not only Los Angeles, but the entire international movie community gains.