'Forty Guns', directed by Samuel Fuller
Bill Georgaris is the webmaster of They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?, a regularly updated film site that aggregates film criticism and opinion for the benefit of curious cineastes – a ‘cinematic traffic cop’ to sort the wheat from the chaff – with a focus on directors.
TSPDT comprises sections such as comprehensive director listings, the best films of the 21st Century, appreciation for unsung classics and a resource on film noir; there are lists, links and essays to provide a wide base of knowledge if you’re eager to learn which films, directors and actors are important and why they are revered. By far the most popular part of the site is the 1,000 Greatest Films, an annually updated resource that collates the ‘best of’ ballots of over 2000 filmmakers and respected critics into one mammoth list.
It would have been about 2004 that I first discovered TSPDT, though it had already been around for a couple of years. In those days the site was much smaller, but its director database and Recommended Reading links became the starting point for every time I wanted to feed my burgeoning film obsession. The first 1,000 Greatest Films list came out in 2006, and the site has grown a great deal since then but, thankfully, has kept the same straightforward and easy-to-use interface.
As always with these interviews, it was a wonderful surprise to get a response to my initial inquiry, and then another when I received Bill’s answers. There is a relatively comprehensive About page on the site, but I tried to ask questions that would offer a little extra insight into who he is. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Bill & Vicki, his partner-in-crime, for the letter grades which I have co-opted from TSPDT’s rating system.
Why did you start They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?
Looking back, I’m not sure if there was any one reason in particular. I think it was a combination of probably three factors. Firstly, I had time on my hands (not so much these days). Secondly, I thought building a website would be a good outlet for my okay PC skills. And thirdly, and most importantly, my deep affection for cinema. It must be said that two books in particular hugely influenced the way I approached the initial version of TSPDT. They were Geoff Andrew’s The Film Handbook and Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema.
Have you always kept records of the films you watch and how you feel about them? If so, what form(s) have those records taken?
Absolutely. I’ve maintained a database since 1992 (currently in Microsoft Access format) of the films I have seen, and of the films I wish to see, and all else in between. I think it contains approximately 29,000 titles at the moment. I rate each film I see in the same manner we do on TSPDT (Highly Recommended/Recommended/Worth a Look/Approach with Caution/Dud).
What is your first memory of enjoying watching a film?
There isn’t one particular moment in time I could nominate, but I can say that my first fond film viewing moments were on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when I was aged probably between 6-10. These afternoons were spent watching matinee sessions on the local television channels. The films that left a mark on me were the Lewis/Martin films, the shockingly dubbed Italian sword-and-sandal films (who didn’t want to be Steve Reeves?) and – most memorably – the 1950s Westerns (particularly those with Randolph Scott). I only realised later that the Scott films I loved as a kid were in fact the very sparse and terse (and very adult, I might add) films he made with Budd Boetticher.
Randolph Scott in Shoot-out at Medicine Bend
Describe something that is beautiful to you.
In cinematic terms, that very moment in a film where your senses become overwhelmed with the sheer brilliance of what you are watching (tingling sensations normally ensue). An extraordinary film like Black Narcissus, for example, contains more than a handful of these moments. In non-cinematic terms, my partner Vicki, and my youngest cat Syd. Jean Seberg’s screen presence and Syd Barrett’s singing voice also come rapidly to mind. Stanley Baker in Hell Drivers is also a thing of beauty, as is Carrie Snodgress’s performance in Diary of a Mad Housewife.
What is your chief purpose in compiling ‘greatest’ film lists?
Mainly to keep a record of what films have received, and continue to receive, the most critical acclaim. I don’t know why exactly, but this is of constant fascination to me. These list compiling shenanigans assist me to plan my own film viewing experiences, and I hope that they also prove useful for those that visit TSPDT. As snore-inducing as it may seem for many, I genuinely enjoy playing around with formulas and collating data.
Jean Seberg in A bout de souffle
In the TSPDT 1,000 Greatest Films list, which film do you think should place much lower in the list (or be absent altogether), and which film do you think should place much higher?
There are countless films amongst the 1,000 that I feel should either rate higher or lower, so picking two is difficult. For me, Battleship Potemkin is perhaps the most over-acclaimed film on the TSPDT list. I can think of a hundred silent films that deserve to place higher. It’s an important film, that applied some groundbreaking techniques, but its 10th placing does irk me a little. Somewhere in the 500s would suit it better. In terms of deserving a higher placing, Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns, which is currently placed 985th, should be in the top 200 at least.
Have you ever made a film yourself?
No, absolutely not. I don’t consider myself to be a creative person. I try to keep within my limitations. I wouldn’t subject my lack of creative talent to anyone. That hasn’t stopped Michael Bay or Baz Luhrmann though, has it?
'Battleship Potemkin', directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Is there a section or page on your site that you are most proud of?
It’s hard to feel pride for the provision of an assortment of letters, numbers, images and hyperlinks. I don’t consider it that big a deal. I’m prouder of the fact that I’m still breathing after all these years! ‘Pleased to be of some use’ is perhaps a more accurate summation of the way I feel with regard to my TSPDT endeavours. In answer to your original question though, I’m pretty happy with the Film Noir pages at TSPDT. I think they are a decent resource. Additionally, I’m also pleased with the (mainly positive) reaction towards the 1,000 Greatest Films listing.
Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.
I am not the best person to ask this, because I am not much of a traveller. I’m a homebody at heart, but I am heading to the UK and France next May.
Do you believe in God?
I do not believe in imaginary beings. Watching films is my preferred mode of escaping reality.
This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click here.