Saturday, May 14, 2016

CMBA Blogger Profile: Virtual Virago

The CMBA profiles two classic movie blogs per month – on the 1st and the 15th. Today we're honoring Jennifer from Virtual Virago.

Virtual Virago is one of those blogs that helps you see films a little differently.

It's no wonder, considering Jennifer Garlen taught English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville for several years. She is also the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching.

Her blog offers thoughtful analysis of films you thought you knew, and she explores delightfully surprising territory such as Classic Movies for Cat Lovers and Southern Voices on the Silver Screen.

"One of the most successful posts on Virtual Virago is about Laird Cregar, one of my favorite actors," says Jennifer. "I think Cregar had tremendous talent, and he deserves to be remembered and more widely known. His story is so tragic and utterly Hollywood that it really ought to be the basis for a book or a film."

You can read Jennifer's post on Laird Cregar HERE.

CMBA: What sparked your interest in classic film?
Virtual Virago: Like a lot of classic movie bloggers I grew up watching old films with my family, but I really became invested in them when I started studying film as part of my literature courses in college and graduate school. I remember watching Easter Parade in my senior seminar on comedy at Agnes Scott College and really being blown away by the treatment of films - especially older ones - as "texts" to study and think about seriously. I like movies of all kinds and from all eras, but something about classic film continues to draw me back to it. Partly it's the stars, but it's also the stories and wonderful dialogue. I especially love the films of the 30s and 40s.

CMBA: What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
Virtual Virago: It depends on the audience or the kind of conversation I'm having with someone. I generally think of classics as films made before the end of the studio era, but at this point a lot of pictures from the 80s could very fairly be said to have stood the test of time. Bringing Up Baby might be a classic in a somewhat different sense from, say, The Muppet Movie, but both of them have special places in my heart, and I think both of them deserve love and attention from future generations.

CMBA: What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
Virtual Virago: Gosh, I worry about people who say that! I used to teach film units to college freshmen, and I had great luck luring them in with classic film noir. Noir is sexy, violent, and often pretty short, and the stars have such smoldering appeal. It's hard to resist Mitchum in Out of the Past or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. Other good starter films are the Chaplin and Keaton silents, Some Like It Hot, and, again, Bringing Up Baby. If you don't laugh at those you just don't have a sense of humor.

CMBA: Why should people care about classic film?
Virtual Virago: Like all narratives, films offer us a sense of what it means to be human, not only to be someone else but also to be ourselves. That's tremendously important. All art matters, but classic movies shed so much light on both the good and the bad about our past, sometimes unintentionally. I also love the way classic films rely on language and suggestion to convey complex, nuanced themes and concepts. So many modern films are tailored for the international box office and keep dialogue to a minimum in favor of big set pieces and explosions. 

CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
Virtual Virago: It's really reassuring when I have proof that someone actually read and liked a post, but sometimes I do it just because I enjoy putting my own thoughts together. I like writing. Getting a post up always feels like an accomplishment (and it's so much easier than finishing the most recent book project!).

CMBA: What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
Virtual Virago: Finding time to watch and then write about the movies can be a challenge. I have a family, I do other types of writing, and I have a lot of irons in different fires. I'd love to have time to sit down with the really long films to watch them, take good notes, and put together thoughtful reviews, but sometimes I just have to go with the 90 minute picture because I know I can get through it before I'm interrupted!

CMBA: What advice would you give to a new blogger?
Virtual Virago: Think about the films you watch. Don't just summarize them or do play-by-play posts. Critical thought is more original, but it's also harder. A lot of other classic movie bloggers have already seen the movie in question, but they want to know what you think is going on in it. That might just be the English professor in me, but I really love to read thoughtful pieces about why a movie works or doesn't work for a particular viewer. I like to know how a writer sees a film; it might really be different from my own reading of it, and I learn something from that. Engage your text!

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! You can visit her blog by clicking HERE.


  1. I look forward to checking out your site, Jennifer! Thanks for the thoughtful responses here.

  2. I'm not worthy.

    Fantastic interview.

    Once Upon a Screen