Wednesday, May 13, 2009

7 Random Matters


From time to time over the years, people who know me have said . . . always in passing, always as if it were a self-evident proposition, and always as if they were engaging in understatement . . . some variation on "Boy, you really love film, don't you". I've been hearing it most of my life, and God knows I've provided people with enough cause to make that observation, but . . . frankly, I don't know that I do, or that I ever did.

I'm certainly obsessed with cinema; have been from the time I was a lad of just fourteen years. It's a story I've told elsewhere, and perhaps I'll retail it here some day, but from that age my life was centered, almost inexorably, around this strange, incantatory medium; consuming and being consumed by it in (roughly) equal measure. Like so many cinephiles I would never begin to count the hours I've spent watching, reading, writing (trying to) and talking about the twisted splendor of the moving image. The final tally would, I'm sure, be too depressing, too nakedly revelatory. I couldn't handle that numerical epiphany, not even with 80 proof fortification to pave the way. I question how many cinephiles could.


A friend of mine . . . one who makes his living teaching otherwise sensible adults with too much disposable income on their hands how to watch motion pictures . . . gushed to me a couple of years ago in an email about meeting a movie reviewer of immense status among his peers. His excitement was palpable (and by the way, this is not some annoyingly reverent and idealistic kid cinephile we're talking about here; this guy is middle-aged working on superannuated) So much so that when he highlighted the fact that this eminence had actually consented to shake his hand, a thought instantly occurred to me:

We cinephiles really are the Arts equivalent of Trekkies, aren't we.


About five months ago I posted a few cryptic words about receiving an incensed email from a film studies professional. I never disclosed any of the specifics then, but I will now.

The scholar in question is one Berenice Reynaud, who teaches (though she does not like that word) at CalArts. Her outrage was occasioned by my referring to her as a "schoolteacher" in an article on Barbara Loden's 1970 film 'Wanda. It was published in 2006, during my short association with Ray Young's majestic Flickhead.

Why it took her two solid years to express her outrage (I mean, even if she hadn't seen the piece, surely someone would have passed along word of so grievous an insult); indeed, why she appeared so determined to be outraged, that's something which I fear will remain always a mystery . . . and not a terribly interesting one.


I'm seriously thinking of taking my name off the roster over at Bright Lights After Dark.

The thought has been rolling around my skull for a while now. I can't remember when I contributed anything to it that didn't originate either here or at that other blog I'm involved with; and even if I had I can't believe they've been thrilled to have me since my stream of articles for Bright Lights Film Journal itself fell to nothing almost two years ago. As I say, it's a course I've been considering for some time, but as is usually the case with these things, I've heretofore been reluctant to pull the trigger, as it were.

I think I am now.

The other day a post appeared in that blog which, for reasons I will confess are not entirely known to me, left me both pissed off and marginally outraged for quite a long while. I'll not go into details except to say that that it contained a plug for a certain film jourinal whose talentless majordomo once attempted to play a very very filthy trick on this reporter; one that would have finished me off in this racket more thoroughly than if I had photographed myself pouring pig's blood over the George Eastman House archives and emailing the spectacle to every cinephile in Christendom. Other words, Instead of it taking a year for me to be deemed unpublishable by any so-called serious film journal, this would have done me over in a matter of weeks.

Now in absolute fairness, the plug-ger at Bright Lights After Dark could not have known any of this, and I've got no beef with anyone over there. I only mention it because my inner-reaction surprised me: It was lethally (and, as I say, inexplicably) cold; and for whatever reason, it boiled down to a single sentence: I can quit this blog now.

Dunno if I'll actually do it, but I now realize (as I did not before) that I can.


A sentence I wrote last evening:

Paul Thomas Anderson, the candy-colored Renoir who may yet be the last major American filmmaker to have emerged in the twentieth century, entered this one with a project that, by any rational measure, seemed to have doom written all over it.

Don't ask me why I write this way . . . if anything, I understand it even less than you do.


As you no doubt can tell, my resolve to maintain silence on this blog until October 1 . . . when an agressively unfinished, rather bleak article on Billy Wilder, 1964's Kiss Me, Stupid, the death of the American 'auteur' and the cinephile vultures who profited from it (then and now) is supposed to materialize . . . has gone the way of all flesh.

That said, I don't know that there'll be another post on this blog before the fall arrives. I only know that the last post wasn't the penultimate post. For all I know, this one is.


A Relevant Quote:

"And then I got just plain lonely and just so fed up with all the badness in my life and in the world and I said to myself, 'Please, God, just make me a bird - that's all I ever really wanted - a white graceful bird free of shame and taint and fear of loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly, and give me a sky so big and wide that if I never wanted to land, I would never have to.'

"But instead God gave me these words, and I speak them here."
-- Douglas Coupland


Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

All I can say is...hopefully the plug-ger at BLAD wasn't me (and further elucidation is not necessarily needed either way). My neophyte eagerness to bask in the creative commune that is online film criticism has already gotten me into similar proverbial hot water before; basically, I am learning the hard way that intense vetting is necessary whether I am collaborating with, commenting on, or simply quoting other sites, because web politics run deep and run bloody.

Either way, you've made some fine contributions to the BL journal in the past and must bashfully admit that I greatly admire your blogging -- you were one of the folks I watched ever so closely after being invited to join the BLAD melee.

And your "candy-colored Renoir" paragraph is as fine a swatch of film crit as anything I've read recently.

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Marilyn said...

Tom - These random thoughts make me quite happy that I have chosen a space in a quiet corner of the film blogging world. Abandoning the academic acolytes at Girish and ensuring only limited popularity by being resolutely a "brainiac" (thank you, L.A.M.B., for that), I feel quite content - just enough credibility to get press passes so I don't go broke and not enough to make my every pronouncement a cause for personal angst and argument. I hope you find your balance.

Marilyn said...

BTW, I loved you review of Wanda.

Tom Sutpen said...

Joseph Jon:

Thanks for the kind words re: swatch of FilmCrit. With respect to the rest, the BLAD blogger in question was not you . . . but even if it had been, I hasten to add that I gots no problems and much love for my fellow Bright Lights-ers . . . well, maybe one a little bit less than the others; but that's immaterial . . . you've no idea how much I'd love to rejoin that quarterly chorus in the land of the living.

No, it was simply having that incident zoom to the fore of my consciousness after almost five years, and as though it had happened only yesterday. Granted it's no reason to quit BLAD, but I won't say it wasn't one of the options that crossed my mind.


Thanks for that. That kind of balance would be a thing of beauty to me, but I've got one massive obstacle blocking the way to it: I am immensely ambitious; far more than I thought I was when I started writing for publication again back in 2005. It's the kind of ambition that, I suspect, no amount of success will ever satisfy. I see everything through a rigorously competitive prism and, though I will forcefully avow that I'm not proud of this, there is a part of me that has come to see anyone else's success as a thing to be dreaded. It's like the old stories one reads about Al Jolson, sitting backstage in a thousand dressing rooms, hands clamped over ears that had been stuffed with wads of cotton to prevent his hearing even a second of applause that was not intended for him and him alone; and the higher his star rose, the more such insulation he required.

I'm not quite that insecure . . . but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a tiny bit more than halfway there. Problem is, when you stack those Daniel Plainview tendencies of mine up against the fact that my film writing is . . . as I've been told repeatedly . . . too "transgressive and inappropriate" for any serious film journal to even consider publishing, then add the fact that anything I write takes me forrreverrr to complete (with the final results in no way justifying the amount of time consumed) . . . well, the word 'frustration' simply doesn't cover what goes on in the heart of me.

Any rate . . . thanks for the (very) good and never unwelcome vibes, and the words on my long-ago 'Wanda' thingmajig.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I'm really glad to see you continuing to update this blog and I do hope you continue to contribute to Bright Lights whenever the mood strikes since I've enjoyed all your articles there.

Lately I've been seriously debating if I should continue with my own blogging efforts so I think I understand some of your frustrations. At the moment I'm sure it has something to do with my age and interests, which don't seem to coincide with anyone but myself lately.

p.s. Apologies for any awful typos in my previous comment a few posts back since I did not do a spell check and just hit the submit button. Anyone who bothers to read me must know that spelling, grammar and punctuation are not my strong points.