by Sam Juliano
Note: This is the thirteenth 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.
The cynic might well apply the ‘diverse interest’ qualification as proof parcel of one who dabbles with many interests but is a master of none. In the case of Garden State author and erstwhile purveyor of literature and cinema David Schleicher, it’s more a case of the Midas touch in action. Schleicher, whose independent novel The Thief Maker brought him a fair share of attention and acclaim, is a man of ceaseless activity and a hankering for passionate immersion in the arts, politics, travel and sports, with each pursuit a glowing example of spirited commitment. Born and raised in south-central New Jersey a stone’s throw from Philadelphia, Schleicher has proctored a blog titled The Schleicher Spin for five years running to allow him to expand on his voracious opinions on movies, books and even art exhibits and eateries, that he has seen and frequented in the wide range of settings from Philadelphia to the Big Apple. Schleicher is wildly opinionated and is never bashful to lock horns with those who he differs with, though he’s as amiable as any blogger out there, and within the sphere of a wide range of opinions and tastes he’s humble and generous with praise for others. Schleicher knows he’s talented, but has long acknowledged there are others standing under that same umbrellas with him.
Like several other of his colleagues Schleicher enjoys the compilation of a good list here and there, and at The Schleicher Spin he’s often asked those who comment under his reviews to add a numerical appraisal of a specific director’s work, which provides enhancement for the discussion at hand. A number of movie genre lists have graced the threads of The Schleicher Spin with just the right dose of expertise, passion and bravado, and never with less than a comprehensive assessment of the subject at hand. Schleicher’s appreciation of the ‘life experience’ has manifested itself in some fascinating features on local restaurants and historical landmarks for which the young author has further demonstrated a propensity for the photographic image. No ‘movie’ blog out there has diverted into other spheres of interest as often as Schleicher’s, and few have offered documentation as regularly. (only Twenty Four Frames’ John Greco is as notable in this direction). The writer concedes his original intent with his blogsite was to display his own writing, mainly on the movie front, he quickly developed some good friends and a devoted following after initially posting some views on politics. While regularly posting at The Schleicher Spin, David has moved forward with his digital literary magazine. Says Schleicher: ”Most recently I launched my own digital literary magazine, The Stone, which has thus far produced two issues featuring new writers from North America, Europe and Asia as well as some of my own short fiction. My goal is to make it a truly global magazine delivering great stories to the masses in the digital age utilizing the most cost-effective, democratic, easiest to access way possible – which is currently through the Kindle app.”
Raised in a household with movie lovers, David is employed in the corporate world, one in which he deals with numbers on a daily basis, which he likens to an extension of his hankering for baseball statistics. He’s an ardent traditionalist who extols the virtues of seeing a movie in the theatre and of celebrating the work of classic authors like Graham Greene and John Steinbeck, and favoring film artists such as Lang, Bergman, Hitchcock, Allen and Scorsese. When asked about his favorite films and genre, Schleicher opined: “I would have to say noir and neo-noir, and anything with a complex psychological bent.” He enthusiastically identifies The Third Man, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 2001, The Grapes of Wrath, Bicycle Thieves, There Will Be Blood, and Casablanca as among his favorite films, while Bresson, Tarantino and Cronenberg would sit among the most overrated, even with a few works from them held in decent esteem. To Schleicher, an author who appreciates the pre-eminence surrounding his craft, ”the script in a movie is the key” and usually leads to a worthy result if accomplished. Schleicher is also a huge fan of quality television and his latest post at the site is a stupendous appreciation of Seinfeld. Past posts have glowingly attested to the worth of Game of Thrones, and virtually nobody in the blogosphere can match David’s coverage and appreciation of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
While Schleicher has afforded book reviews and his literary magazine some well-deserved attention at The Scheicher Spin, and has given ample attention to other outdoor pursuits in and around his bustling New Jersey home, he is most proud of three past and on-going projects at his site: “Decade in Film Retrospectives,” “Annual Davies Awards” and “Spotlight on the Independent Arts,” all of which have attracted exceeding interest from fellow bloggers. Schleicher is outgoing and unafraid of asking the kind of questions that will inspire fruitful film discussion, and as a result he has managed and maintained one of the most popular sites, with an impressive number of regular bloggers and continual updates. With a vast and expanding sphere of interest inspiring it’s accomplished prose, it is hoped an anticipated that The Schleicher Spin will be spinning it’s cogent insights well into the future.
The following are the questions and answers of an on-line interview conducted two weeks ago with David:
1. When did you launch The Schleicher Spin, and what were your initial goals with the blogsite?
I was initially very reluctant to enter the blogosphere, but when my independent novel, The Thief Maker, was published in late 2006, I joined some co-op independent writers’ blogs and thought, “Why not start my own?” I quickly realized it would be fun to start posting and formalizing the film reviews I had been doing for years just as a commenter on the IMDB, and the blog (originally christened “davethenovelist”) grew from that.
2. How has the site developed, and do you feel you’ve accomplished your original aims?
It started out simply as a way to promote my creative writing and publish/hone my skills as an amateur film reviewer. Along the way I dabbled in other areas (book reviews seemed natural, travel & photography came next, and drinking games to favorite TV shows/films were a way to harken back to my college days and add a little humor). Very early on I posted quite a bit on the 2008 presidential race (most of those outdated posts have been removed). I try to stay away from politics now, but still will post drinking games for the big events such as The State of the Union and perhaps the upcoming 2012 debates. I feel I exceeded my original aims and through conversing with other fantastic bloggers who are into film and arts appreciation, my drive to keep it polished, professional and interactive has grown and made me a better blogger and better writer.
3. Your site is one of the most versatile out there, taking in film, theatre, literature, food, travel and art coverage. Was this how you originally envisioned the site, or did you slowlu incorporate the all-encompassing angle?
No – it was not the original angle. I didn’t even imagine keeping the blog active for very long. But as I made friendships and started conversations with other bloggers and evolved the look, feel and purpose of the site, I decided to start adding in these other facets and turn it into a longer-term proposition.
4. You are one of the few bloggers who is also a professional writer. Can you give us some background on your writing achievements to date, and of the writing projects you’ve recently featured at The Schleicher Spin?
You’re very kind to classify me as a professional writer. Most recently I launched my own digital literary magazine, The Stone, which has thus far produced two issues featuring new writers from North America, Europe and Asia as well as some of my own short fiction. My goal is to make it a truly global magazine delivering great stories to the masses in the digital age utilizing the most cost-effective, democratic, easiest to access way possible – which is currently through the Kindle app. I also had a short story published by Scratch in their yearly anthology for 2010. And my independent novel, The Thief Maker, was released in 2006 and was a finalist for independent publishing awards issued by Writer’s Digest and The Eric Hoffer Awards. I have a few other unpublished completed manuscripts in the pipeline as well as a new novel I am currently working on.
5. You have always shown pride in your home state, New Jersey and of the great cultural opportunities that avail themselves both east and west of your hometown? Can you dicuss what it means to live between Philadelphia and New York City, and how you take advantage of this unique locale?
I always joke it’s the “center of the universe” – so much easy access to so much diverse culture. I’m lucky to have friends who live in Manhattan so I get up there as often as I can and always try to catch a film that you couldn’t see anywhere else as well as take in museums and live music shows and restaurants. I live just ten to fifteen minutes away from the bridges into Philadelphia and in some months I might be in the city every weekend doing one thing or another. Having lived a number of years elsewhere (in the South) I never take this location for granted (as I did perhaps in my youth growing up in the area). There’s really nothing else on the Eastern Seaboard (or perhaps anywhere else in the country) to compare to the “closeness” and cultural complexity of the Philly-Jersey-NYC metro area. And Boston and DC and Baltimore and mountains and beaches are all just a day-trip away, too.
6. Can you talk a bit about your education going all the way back to grammar school, and including your college years? What was your major?
I grew up under the hilariously harsh tutelage of an old-fashioned Catholic grammar and high-school education in South Jersey. I eventually escaped to a liberal arts college in North Carolina where I majored in psychology with a minor in criminal justice…so that I could try to understand Catholics. I also took many film and literature courses for fun.
7. What is your current employment status? Long-term goals?
I have a full-time career in the corporate world where I deal with lots and lots of numbers – kinda like two of my favorite things – analyzing baseball stats and box office receipts – or, well, not quite, but you get the drift. If I told you anything more about it, I would have to kill you.
8. You are one of the blogosphere’s most gifted and versatile writers, with a particular hankering from film and literature. Can you explain this tradition and how it evolved over the years?
I grew up in a household where my parents encouraged a love for books, movies and the arts – but especially movies. I grew up watching everything under the sun thanks to my parents and especially my father who was and still is a huge classic film buff – especially the old Universal horror films and later the Hammer films. My parents came of age in the 70′s – so the films from that period really colored my childhood as they were always eager to share them with us. I’m also proud to say every member of my immediate family has at one time worked in a movie theater – even though mine was just a two week stint working at a theater outside of Atlanta during a very non-conventional spring break.
9. Do you have some favorite authors and novels that you’d like to broach here?
My favorite author is hands down – Graham Greene. My favorite novels would include Faulkner’s “Light in August”, Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” and Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” – (also a great movie!)
10. Are their some film directors and cinematic periods that you favor above all others?
I’m a huge sucker for the prolific – Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese. But I also love the recluses like Kubrick, David Lynch and currently Malick. As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed a great affinity for many films from the 1940′s – something about the milieu in which they were made and their style really speaks to me – films like Shadow of a Doubt, Casablanca, Bicycle Thieves, The Grapes of Wrath and especially The Third Man.
11. What would you say is your own favorite movie genre?
I guess I would have to say Noir and Neo-Noir – though anything with a complex psychological bent (be it a dark comedy, horror, satire, crime thriller, biopic or historical drama) usually appeals to me. I’m also a big fan of independent and foreign cinema – anything deemed “arthouse”. My guilty pleasure is absurd spoof films like Airplane!
12. Who would you identify as the most overrated film artists?
Wow – what a loaded question! I know this will hurt Sam – but I’ve not been too impressed by what (admittedly little) Robert Bresson I’ve seen – though I appreciate what he attempted. Currently Wes Anderson really annoys me, as do Baz Luhrmann and Danny Boyle. I don’t and never will understand Hayao Miyasaki. I feel Tarantino and Cronenberg are a tad overrated though I’ve really enjoyed a few of their more recent efforts.
13. Like a number of others, you enjoy compiling lists of the greatest films, performances, and artists. What would say are you own favorite films of all-time?
The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Third Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Network and There Will Be Blood.
14. Can you discuss your attitude about seeing films in the theatre vs. seeing them on DVD and blu-ray? Is there a major difference or advantage?
For me, you can never replace the experience of seeing a film in a theater…in the dark…with a bunch of strangers…all looking up in wonder at the giant optical illusion on screen. I like the advances in quality with blu-ray – but to be honest, all that “extra” stuff usually takes away from the film and prevents the film from speaking for itself – though with some favorite films it’s fun to see the history or behind-the-scenes stuff.
15. What are you own theatres of choice for commercial and art house films?
Theaters in Old City are arthouse meccas for the area. In NYC – I’m usually at the Sunshine Theater on E. Houston.I’m lucky to live in a town with a very nice multiplex (The Rave at the Ritz) that reserves 3 or 4 screens for arthouse fare amongst the commercial stuff. In Philly – the Ritz/Landmark
16. Can you discuss your vast travel experiences?
Most of my travel is back and forth between my current home in NJ and my former home in North Carolina to visit friends and anywhere in between. If I want to get away, Upstate New York is a paradise for me with all the lakes and mountains and wineries and breweries (and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown). I travel often to Canada for work and I hope to one day orchestrate a visit to the Toronto Film Festival. I’m also trying to save up frequent flier miles to get to northern Europe soon.
17. What single reviews or series of reviews are you most proud of and why?
I really enjoyed creating my “Decade in Film Retrospectives” that I’ve done for the 1940′s to the present (inspired, of course, by the Wonders in the Dark best of the decade polls). My “Annual Davies Awards in Film” are always fun – especially when others share their best/worst from the past year. I was really proud of my “Spotlight on the Independent Arts” where I focused on promoting independent filmmakers, writers and musicians – but the recurring feature never took off like I had hoped it would.
18. What are your own favorite blogsites?
Wonders in the Dark (naturally!), Movies over Matter, Condemned Movies, Ripple Effects, Very Short Novels just to name a few. This list could go on and on and I would hate to leave anyone out…but essentially any blog I include on my sidebar links is there for a reason.
19. You have amassed an enviable collection of photographs, and have greatly immersed yourself in visiting some historical landmarks. Can you discuss some of these experiences?
Most of my vacations as a kid were of the road-tripping variety – so I like to find interesting sites and then drive there. It’s as simple as that. Old architecture, historic sites, natural wonders – whatever catches my interest, I’ll try to find a way to get there. I actually don’t enjoy taking pictures – I feel it distracts from the experience and “being there in the moment”, but it’s fun to dabble in the art of it and document where you go. What I really love is to look at other people’s photographs documenting historical events or places I’ve visited – the older the photograph the better. It inspires the writer in me to think about the stories behind these old photographs.
20. How would you evaluate the present state of film criticism in America?
I’m not even going to go there – ha ha! To me reviewing films is simply putting a personal spin and interpretation on a film. I don’t subscribe to the notion that there is a right way or wrong way to go about film criticism. It’s all about what you bring to the films.
21. Do you have an opinion on the upcoming Sight and Sound decade polling, and how it might turn out?
I hadn’t really given it much thought – I hope it’s as interesting and diverse as the Wonders in the Dark polling!
22. Being a writer yourself, how would you access the particular importance of a good script in a film? What are some of the best-scripted films to you?
Script is key to me. Not even the greatest director can salvage a bad script, which is why many of the best directors also write their own scripts – then they only have themselves to blame. Just off the top of my head – some of the best scripts would have to be The Third Man; Casablanca; Manhattan; Network; Paris, Texas; Goodfellas. Hmm – oddly I might have disproved my point as I think only Manhattan was written by the director. Or maybe I proved my point as it was the great script in the other films that defined it and empowered the director to pull out all the stops.
23. What is you favorite type of music? How important do you rate the use of music in films today?
A unique film score can sometimes make a great film even greater (see The Third Man or There Will Be Blood). I don’t discriminate with type of music – the best directors know how to use any music to compliment and enhance their visuals and narratives. Whether it’s using classical pieces like Kubrick and Malick, original scores written for the film, or utilizing pop music like Scorsese – it’s all about that perfect marriage of sound, story and visuals.
24. Do you see The Schleicher Spin as a viable blog well into the future?
As long as there are films worth talking about…in one way or another I plan to be a part of the blogosphere.
25. What are some of the upcoming film releases you have a particular eagerness to see?
For the summer I’m really excited about Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises. Skyfall has some promise, too, which surprised me when I saw the trailer. I’m probably most stoked about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master…and beyond that we have – what is it up to now? – three new entries from Malick. I can’t wait! There’s also the Susanne Bier adaptation of one of my favorite recent best-selling novels, Serena – which I imagine I will either love or loathe.