My Personal Interests

My main interests outside of computer science are film and music.

Film

This spring I wrote a half-dozen movie reviews for the Carnegie Mellon newspaper The Tartan. This was, I felt, a useful experience insofar as it forced me to put my thoughts about movies on paper instead of just making good conversation out of them. However, I learned a few unsavory things about being a movie reviewer:

  1. Going to see a movie or two in a theater every week or two takes a bite out of my busy schedule.
  2. Thinking about a film I have just seen in enough depth to write an interesting review takes me a long time (on average, about five to seven hours).
  3. If a film is really good and I only spend a couple of hours thinking about it before rattling off a review, I will probably not be doing the film justice.
  4. On the other hand, if the film is really bad, the only chance my review will be interesting is if the film looked interesting to begin with. (This is unlikely, and when it occurs, the review feels more like a public service announcement than an artistic analysis.) I find that regardless of how skilled a reviewer is at doling out diatribes, a scathing review of Friday the 13th is still bound to be far less interesting than a glowing review of...well, anything.
  5. On the third hand, if the film is just so-so, then writing a review of it is just plain boring for me: I am neither exuberant nor vindictive, and the result of my pained scribbling is usually lifeless.
  6. Caveat: I find it can actually be quite interesting to review a movie that is partly successful and partly flawed and to examine the origins of those flaws. This is what I call a "Pauline Kael review." Pauline Kael is the renowned film critic of The New Yorker (now retired) who has been a major influential voice in film criticism since championing the French New Wave in the 60s. To be honest, I am in the sheepish camp (that dare not speak its name) of reviewers who hate Pauline Kael. I respect the cultured and literate nature of her reviews, especially in comparison to most of the hackneyed crap out there, and they admittedly make for interesting reading. But this does not excuse her from knocking several of my favorite directors like Woody Allen and Fellini and being wrong about 90% of the time.
  7. Another caveat: I have only written full-length reviews for a half-dozen movies. The above observations are generalizations of my experiences at best.

That said, I am not through with reviewing movies, for sure. I guess what I've realized, though, is that reviewing new movies in the theatres is not my cup of tea. What gets me going more than anything else is showing movies that I love to people I like and respect and watching their reactions, hopefully positive, as I introduce them to something beautiful.

Thus, my new desire is to write recommendations of films that I cherish and that have shaped my sensibilities, in the hope that they will mean something to other people out there as well. This will include films from throughout the century, most of which should be available on home video for rental. It remains to be seen whether The Tartan will approve of this concept, but at the very least I will post my recommendations to this web page. As soon as I find the time to start writing, that is.

Music

I have no idea exactly what to say here about music, which is such an integral part of my (daily) life. I love classical music, especially modern and contemporary classical (which some view as an oxymoron), but not exclusively. One of these days I'll get around to constructing a page with links to other web pages devoted to my favorite composers. Of course, web pages devoted to my favorite composers are, with a few exceptions like Dmitri Shostakovich, few and far between.

I'm also a big jazz fan and I have great affection for other assorted genres, such as the musicals of Stephen Sondheim which are unparalleled anywhere else in musical theater for their originality.

However, since I find it much easier to review movies than music, and because I have an infinitely better chance of popularizing the films of David Mamet than the twelve-tone compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, I'll stick to writing about film.

Other Interests

I haven't played pool or racquetball in ages, but I would love to start up again. Let's hit some balls!!


Derek R. Dreyer
dreyer@cs.cmu.edu