by Walter Chaw I've been better now for a long time. I get depressed. I'm in recovery, and it's going well. There's a line in a new song by The National that makes me cry every time I hear it. It goes:
I say your name
I say I'm sorry
I know it's not working
I'm no holiday
My wife noticed one day and said that she hoped I didn't think she was disappointed in me. She said she wasn't. I said that I do hope she's not disappointed in me. I'm broken, I know that. But I'm surrounded by people who love me. It's taken me years to accept that; I can't quite figure out why they do. I've come to realize that I don't need to understand it.
At the foot of the gondola that acts as this mountain town's public transportation, every year around festival time, a tent springs up for swag and information called "Brigadoon." Every year I attend Telluride, I think about moving my family up here, and every year by the time I leave, I realize that whatever's restorative about this place for me is every bit the Brigadoon: temporary--magical, but temporary. Telluride as I know it is only Telluride in this way, with these friends I meet once a year to eat and drink with, laugh and watch movies with, while I pretend this is the path I took instead of the other one. It's not regret or nostalgia, it's that rare thing where you get a glimpse into the world as it could have been, but you get to return to the world as it is. There was a time I was so depressed that I probably would have left Telluride with regret and let that regret swallow me whole. Now, I annually visit a brilliant possibility only to return to a brilliant reality three days later. I'm lucky. I know that.
Right before Telluride, I finished a massive rewrite of a project I'd been working on for two years: a Walter Hill book that covers, in some detail, each of his films as well as his television work, which is expansive and impressive. When I visited with Mr. Hill at his Beverly Hills home, I stared for a good long while at his Emmy for "Deadwood". I was maybe more in awe of that than of being in a room with Mr. Hill. It was close, anyway. I wrote the book after that meeting but it didn't sit well. I left it alone for a few months. When I came back to it, I tore it apart, restructured it, and finally put a bow on it. It's with Bill now. The only people I trust more than Bill are my wife, my blue heeler, and my kids (in that order).
James Ellroy is writing an introduction for it. I love James. He's become a mentor for me. He helped me find my way through this rewrite.
I read a lot of things this year I didn't expect to have to in order to write a book on Hill. I reread The Iliad, Keats's letters, and Pilgrim's Progress. I read all of Borges's short stories and poems. I read Poe's "Philosophy of Composition." I got smarter. I thought it was going to be sort of easy; it ended up being one of the more challenging intellectual and philosophical projects I've ever undertaken. I hope it doesn't suck. It should be ready to go by early next year. If we can manage to shake a tail feather, we may get it out for Christmas. Ho ho ho.
My father-in-law passed away earlier this year. We all loved him very much. My son had a particularly special relationship with him and cried every day until we planted a tree for him. Now I catch him looking at it from his window at night. At my "day" job as the VPO of the Alamo Drafthouse in Denver, I started a monthly bluegrass show in our bar called "John Grow's Bluegrass Medicine Show" in his honour. He loved bluegrass.
What's hard for me is accepting when things are good. When I was a kid, when I did something good, I was told it wasn't a big deal. It broke me. So when things go well, I wait for the hammer to drop.
Alexander Payne's new movie, downsizing, played at Telluride this year following a rapturous response in Venice. It's a bad satire that shits on science-fiction as a genre for its first hour, then introduces a Vietnamese character played by Hong Chau, an actress I adore, who is a horrific Asian stereotype--two of them, in fact--that the Telluride audience, for the most part, thought hilarious. It was the gook they wanted. It made me feel more isolated and despairing about our culture than any single movie had in years.
I've read enough thinkpieces about why monstrous assholes are monstrous assholes. I think they get enough press and attempts by good people to understand them. I don't think they need to be understood. I think they need to be exterminated. Autopsy the corpse.
While writing my Hill book, I kept returning to Yeats's "Leda and the Swan," which posits the idea that Leda, as she's being raped by Zeus in swan form, takes on his power before he can let her drop. That power, Helen, becomes the destroyer of nations of men. Hill's films are remarkably sympathetic to women: he's Ripley's father, after all, and his pictures are full of women who kick ass without sacrificing their sexuality (Mercy from The Warriors, Calamity Jane, The Player from The Driver) and myriad LGBTQ-coded characters who are allowed to be heroic. He suggests that women become heroic sometimes as a direct response to how extraordinarily terrible men are. The time for a reconsideration of Hill is now. I wonder if that few months I took off were the zeitgeist catching up with me.
Until Trump became President and immune to prosecution, a lot of women came forward to sue him for harassment they'd endured at his literal hand for decades. Cosby's "survivors" came forward in droves when it served them no profit. Recently, Amber Tamblyn called out James Woods's reptilian pedophilia. Same Rose McGowan and Hollywood's boy's club. Same Lexi Alexander, jeopardizing her career with every single tweet speaking truth to power. Same all the women I've read recently who've decided they've had it with not being believed. Good. It's time. It's time to realize that minorities, women, the disenfranchised, outnumber the yahoos braying at a "hump me hump me" caricature in a privileged environment amongst others as comfortably secure in their worldview. They shouldn't have woken us up.
Telluride is Brigadoon for me. It appears in the mountains for a couple of days every year and it's perfect and then it's gone. This year, I left with a few things. I left with an interaction with Ai Weiwei where I quietly told him in my terrible Mandarin as he was taking a picture of us (so I would have an "original"), "Thank you for protecting us." I left having had a quick chat with Ben Mendelsohn on a dark path on the way to a screening where he remembered our interview from years past as the best he'd ever had--a kindness whether true or not. And I left with the feeling that I had maybe turned a corner on this dear depression of mine, even as this culture that I love was beginning the laborious process of confronting itself at last for the disease at its heart. I have hope. Telluride is a bubble that downsizing almost popped this year. It's the reminder that for 40% of the population, I'm not from here. That would've made me miserable once upon a time. Now it just makes me angry.
I know I'm no holiday. I'm imperfect but there's strength in that. I'm listening. I'm active. Art can define us. Art can improve us. I realize now it's always been my mission. Are you with me or against me?