A couple of nights ago, I was opening Kent Jones’ terrific (at least what I’ve read of it so far) book Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism when I stumbled upon this paragraph in the Introduction:
“The pietistic strain in movie appreciation that makes a fetish out of moviegoing itself (and that consequently gets movies and the experience of watching them on big screens hopelessly confused) is doomed to a bittersweet finale, judging from the decreasing attendance figures and relative disinterest in the intellectual currents around cinema. Many writers are desperate for movies to mean something in the ‘national conversation’ that they simply don’t anymore and probably never will again.”
Reading that last night was a “holy shit” wake-up call to me; I am guilty as charged and Kent is 100% right. It’s strange, I always walk a tightrope on this blog, not writing much if at all about the films I do not like, reluctant to say what I think about certain movies for fear that it might conflict with my work in programming. In that way, I am constantly feeling constrained here, not free to express my true opinions. That, and the pressure to update the blog in a semi-regular (*ha*) fashion, have lead to a kind of sloppiness here that I wish I could overcome.
Instead of personal triumph, what I have done is turn my sense of these complicated constraints into a romantic narrative for myself, bringing the experience of seeing films, or as Kent says “making a fetish out of moviegoing itself”, into my own personal story. My understanding of cinema is, in many ways, as a dominant strain of my life’s narrative, from the smell of theaters to the walk to and from the red ticket taker’s ropes to the music on my iPod on the subway ride home, and this idea has become an impediment to my development as a thinker. I watch movies to feel, to contemplate, to get to know the world, to get lost in the dark. This romantic idea has grown, I fear, into an incomplete system for writing about movies. I want that to change.
I was looking back over this blog’s first five years (anniversary coming in June…!), and I realized how much of what has been written here has been impatient, a series of emotional responses that have the misfortune of being inhibited by my personal fears of whatever audience may be reading. It is not for a lack of want or an editor that this detachment happens, rather that I seem to be in love with film at any cost. And while that romance may never die, I think it is time to act the responsible partner. Reading Kent’s thoughts felt like a finger pointed directly toward me, one I should only hope to continue to point at myself from this moment forward. I want to be a better writer. I want to be a better thinker. A promise to myself, then, to do what is required to make it so.