The year is 1895. In a Paris cafe, Louis and Auguste Lumière present a 50-second film to a stunned audience. The black-and-white clip isn’t much to look at – it shows workers leaving a factory in Lyon – but it represents something momentous. This is one of the first public movie screenings in history. Everyone in the audience stares at the projection, in awe of what they have just witnessed.
Somewhere at the back of the room, a man turns to the woman next to him. “I thought it had a really interesting story arc. The workers enter the factory and then... they just… leave. Really deep, man. Also the use of black and white is just inspired. It gives it that social realist edge. You know what social realism is, right?”
When the Lumière brothers debuted their Cinématographe, a projector that allowed moving images to be shown on a large screen, they helped birth modern cinema. Their invention gave us something else, too: the Film Guy.
The Film Guy is a man who competitively likes film and wants you to know that. He shares his opinions at length, with the conviction of a Kermode and Mayo's Film Review but none of the credentials. Really, he is as old as moving image itself (in the Hollywood golden age, he reclines, saying that actually, he prefers Cecil B DeMille’s original silent stuff, before DeMille went mainstream and made talkies). That means he’s appeared in a number of guises. In the 80s, he was lauding Back to the Future as “this generation’s answer to the great American novel”. He spent the 90s in Blockbuster, with a Reservoir Dogs poster on his wall for about eight years longer than was appropriate, in hindsight. He popped up as a Nick Hornby character, refusing to date women who hadn’t watched Cool Hand Luke. Now, thanks to the proliferation of new online streaming services, the Film Guy has evolved again. Coming soon to a movie theatre near you, is the Film Guy 2.0.
The Film Guy 2.0 wrote his dissertation on Garden State. In his early thirties now (and well over his manic pixie dream girl phase, thank you very much), he is a tiny beanie-wearer and haunts many of the same south east London pubs as the Nu-Jazz Lad. With no mortgage or dependants, he has an excess of both time and money – most likely from a freelance creative job that only requires him to be in a WeWork two days a week. As such, he watches at least eight films – or “titles” as he likes to call them – a week. He subscribes to every streaming platform going: Netflix for the originals ( Roma made him weep), Amazon Prime (he will never be over Manchester By the Sea), Apple TV, Hulu, Now TV. Also MUBI and BFI Player for their “offbeat world cinema picks”. He adored MUBI’s Krzysztof Kieślowski season and subsequently got the Montpellier to do a The Three Colours trilogy screening in their backroom cinema. His girlfriend refused to come because she said she didn’t want to spend another four hours watching mopey French shit.
Of course, the Film Guy 2.0 loves going to the cinema too. He constantly brings up his Barbican membership and posted an eight-tweet thread about “the sanctity of cinema in today’s ever more frenetic world” when developers threatened to close the Curzon Mayfair. He is dying to tell you how rounded the Dolby Atmos sound is at Archlight Cinema Battersea, it really changes how you digest a film. He still wears the lanyard he got at last year’s Sheffield Doc Fest and has a separate Instagram account for his iPhone note film reviews.
And yeah, the Film Guy 2.0 does dabble in the medium too, cheers for asking. Despite declaring “anyone can write a screenplay these days” when Phoebe Waller-Bridge was announced as a new Bond script collaborator, his Google Drive is a graveyard of abandoned screenplay ideas (EXT: BROCKLEY OVERGROUND STATION – EVENING. A man, youthful yet with an air of dogged mystery, drags on a cigarette. He stares over the train tracks and locks eyes with a woman, waiflike, honey blonde. The desire she has for this stranger simmers; is palpable). It’s probably a masterpiece but he won’t let his girlfriend read it. He pitched Little White Lies a 1,500-word essay on Sam Mendes’ use of the one-shot take in 1917, a week after the film came out, as the most intrepid act of cinematography since Hitchcock's Rope. He hasn’t heard back yet.
The Film Guy 2.0 is enabled by the very industry he loves. White men developed Hollywood, building a storytelling business in their own image: Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart as the archetypal masculine heroes, and women as either virginal angels (Grace Kelly) or blonde bombshells (Marilyn). Decades on, just 15 percent of Hollywood’s leading roles are held by women and people of colour are woefully underrepresented on screen. The result, as film theorist Laura Mulvey writes, is a movie industry that uses “scopophilia, sexual pleasure through viewing, to communicate through a patriarchal system.” Despite diversification efforts by awards bodies like BAFTA or the Oscars’ Academy – and the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein revelations – film continues to prioritise a certain type of male gaze. The dangers of this are clear. In the 1972 BBC television series Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger argues that looking is a political act. When women are rendered as objects – whether in a Renaissance oil painting or camera close-ups of Cora Smith’s body in The Postman Always Rings Twice – it prevents their real selves from being understood.
To be clear, not every man who quietly gets on with enjoying movies is a Film Guy 2.0. But the lack of interrogation of the white male bias in film – coupled with the rise of home streaming services – has allowed the Film Guy 2.0 to thrive. Still, in all of his one-upmanship over an ~artform~ (Yes! Of course he watched The Irishman in full!), the Film Guy 2.0 is a product of other socioeconomic factors, too. When you’re 30 but you’ll never be able to afford to buy a home, let alone have kids, and all the nightclubs are closed and the planet is on fire, getting cosy on the sofa in front of the new Willem Dafoe film, then dissecting it with your mates at the pub like you are Francis Ford Coppola giving an exclusive Cannes red carpet interview, is a pretty viable leisure activity. Like any of us, the Film Guy 2.0 is just trying to get through late capitalism.
One thing is for sure: the Film Guy is not going anywhere. When humans finally fuck the planet for the last time and the population is decimated from a mutated influenza virus or 50-foot firewall, watch a guy in a Big Lebowski t-shirt crawl out from under the wreckage and ask whether you preferred the original or remake of Insomnia.