by Ola Tjornbo

Itís hard to fathom exactly what drives one to take the step up from just enjoying films to developing an almost obsessive knowledge of them, but it's probably boredom; all those hours that we spend alone need to be filled. Becoming a buff gives you the perfect excuse to spend them alone at the cinema. Unless you know someone as obsessive as you are, there is no way youíre going to be able to drag a friend along to all the films you have to see.

Becoming a buff is no easy decision, however. It requires training. Youíll need to know not only a number of directors, actors and cinematographers, but should also be able to talk intelligently about lighting, music and special effects. Finally, youíll also need an understanding of the development of cinematic history. It can all be a little daunting but you have to start somewhere, so why not start where I did?

A local cinema is the ideal place to begin. When I was starting out, not a day went by when I did not stop off at my neighbourhood picture house to see what film they were showing that week and what special screenings they had. Soon I was picking up on all of the major indie releases and beginning to build up a solid base of knowledge, exploring films like Ghost Dog and Boys Donít Cry, that I would never normally have seen. I was taking my first step into a larger world.

The trouble is, that at this stage the film buff is no better than any other layabout -- he could practically be just another student with time to kill. So you have to move on. For me the next natural step was into the past. Sure, loads of people saw Being John Malkovich, but how many people have watched The Battleship Potemkin? Well, that was my reasoning, anyway. If youíre lucky enough to live in a big city, chances are that thereíll be some suitable repertory cinema to oblige you. If not, you might have to start becoming a regular renter, though of course nothing compares to the big screen. Stop seeing films only for pleasure and start seeing them as an educative experience.

Soon, your friends will no longer be able to keep up with your sage discourses, and they probably wonít have the sense to admire you for your prodigious knowledge. The sensible thing to do is to ditch them, but like me, you probably wonít be ready for this yet. Instead, simply expand your search for knowledge beyond the walls of the cinema. Pick up film magazines like Empire or Total Film, and be treated to articles about the man behind the special effects of The Matrix or the script doctor who wrote the famous Dirty Harry speech.

With the help of these magazines, and the internet, you could conceivably build all the knowledge you need to become a true film buff, so if that was all you wanted you could end your journey there, but lets face it, whatís the point of having it if you canít flaunt it? The time has come to seek out other buffs. Over the years I spent at a university, I could perhaps have made contact with my fellow devotees, but at that time I wasnít yet ready to choose film over my friends, and so for three long years my journey stalled, plagued by the bonds of socialising. Luckily, my term in purgatory soon came to and end. After graduation I discovered that there was nothing like trying to survive in London when it came to destroying your social life. Old friends were scattered all over the country, and those who remained close at hand were busy trying to build lives for themselves. The time of my ascendancy was at hand.

It was then I had my stroke of luck. A colleague at work introduced me to a film website with a whole chat room filled with film fanatics. Countless conversations all revolving round the minutiae of film. Stumbling into such an environment can of course be frightening for the young buff who suddenly begins to understand just how small he is. One's own knowledge of film pales to insignificance in the presence of the venerable masters. Whatís more, you are not likely to be welcomed with open arms -- film buffs have learned to be suspicious and wary of strangers who might defile their sanctuaries. But in order to fly you have to leave the nest, and so, I swallowed my pride and began offering up my own humble opinions for public scrutiny. In the early days, hardly anyone bothered to respond, but gradually they came to accept me. I had become one of them, a newbie to be sure, but a genuine buff.

So was it all worth it? My real social life was ailing and I did little to help it. Nobody was impressed with what I knew, and watching a film was like dissecting a rabbit before lecturing a disinterested audience on the virtues of its oral bone structure. Why should anyone bother to become a buff? I can only answer from personal experience and say that despite everything, I now love film more than ever. The process of committing oneself so utterly to one thing must, I suspect, be a little like getting married. As long as my partner keeps rewarding my affection I will continue to love film. Perhaps one day our relationship will turn sour and end in bitter curses and recriminations, but until then, nothing is as sweet as young love.

©2004 Ola Tjornbo