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:
Go to the thrift store on the main street. There's always something there--old festival gear, glass-framed posters, sweatshirts (because it's never not colder here than you expect it to be). Especially go there at night after the trams stop running and you're walking in the pitch black on the side of a mountain. I've done this without a flashlight and with a dead cell phone and it's terrifying. Also, there's no air. Also, there are bears.
Hello, we recently turned twenty. That means we've been around as long as "Gunsmoke" was. That means we're old enough to play Aunt May in the next Spider-Man reboot. That means if you started watching a Hobbit movie when we started it would just now be wrapping up. Of course, Hobbit movies didn't exist then; them's were halcyon days.
by Walter ChawThere are conundrums presented by what I do now for a day job and this moonlight I won't quit. Let me get at that by telling you an old, old story about filmmaker Peter Hedges that is sort of current again because he's acting in a good film out this year called Little Sister. (His son, meanwhile, co-stars in Manchester by the Sea.) When I met Mr. Hedges, it was to interview him for Pieces of April. As per my usual process, I saw and reviewed the movie first, logging it with Bill before going to meet him. The idea behind this is that I never want my work to be coloured by any personal feelings I might develop for the artist over the course of a conversation--for good or for ill. It's not that I don't trust myself to be fair, it's that I don't know how knowing someone changes the environment in my head. I will be fair, but I'm not the same person before I meet someone and after. The world essentially changes when you meet someone.
by Bill ChambersThe reason film and physical media are prematurely pronounced dead every few weeks is that the mainstream keeps narrowing, limiting the visible spectrum of both industries. Studios remain halfheartedly committed to Blu-ray Disc but, as this Top 10 list incidentally shows, it's really become the domain of boutique labels restoring and annotating studio-neglected fare, capitalizing on streaming's short-term memory and populist leanings while inspiring devotion among connoisseurs. Please note that I limited my selection process to titles I've personally audited and would endorse anyway, with or without frills. Some of these may be reviewed in full at a later date.
Apologies for the radio silence this week. Honestly? No will. We have plenty of stuff on the horizon, though, and in the meantime here are links to our festival reviews of Arrival and Elle, which open in theatres today.
by Walter Chaw We've decided to get rid of our comments section here at FILM FREAK CENTRAL. We kept it for longer than we should have, I think. Our world isn't getting any better. It's getting a lot worse. I stopped engaging with our commenters a while ago. I've come back a couple of times in the last few years, but for the most part it's just been this thing that festers, this thing in the basement that gibbers to itself. I've asked friends to not tell me what's being written about me in there. I'm a lot happier not knowing.
There was a time when I tried my very best to answer every comment, to engage in conversation and debate. I would defend every word, point by point. I never changed any minds, though, and I'm sure I made a few enemies. It's funny, but looking back at every time I scored a point, I got cheers from the people on my side and sullen silence or escalation from my victims. I took some pleasure in that. I guess I understand the compulsion in leading the ugly parade.
I learned about trolls before there was a term for them. They're not there to debate, they're there to shit on the carpet and then defy you to notice. The more things fell our way, the more trolls showed up here to talk about my race, my family, the state of my mind. People impersonated friends and colleagues to leave awful remarks...anything to get a rise. The deciding moment for us was when NPR announced they were closing their comments section because after conducting a few surveys, they discovered that their commenters are predominantly white males. There's nothing wrong with white males. A lot of my friends are white males. Most of them, in fact. But they're not the genre that comments in comments sections. They don't even read them because of what's in there, or might be.
They don't attend Trump rallies, either. This isn't a non sequitur, it's precisely the point. Trump is the physical manifestation of the comments section. The reason it doesn't matter what he says or does is because he's just a flag, the inciting symbol behind which a mob of angry people can gather to express their frustration, rage, and fear most of all. Just as folks don't care what the Confederate Flag hid on its taxes, they don't care that any two sentences out of Trump's mouth contradict each other. It's not about the man, it's about the catalyzing agent. That's what makes him dangerous. That's what makes comments sections dangerous, as well. They allow the absolute worst representatives of our society to find one another and join hands. Without them, they don't have the wit to organize.
So that's the main reason comments are kaput.
Another one is that when it's not a breeding ground for hateful people to agree on something, it's a place for dull people to say the same things other dull people have said for centuries. There's nothing new in being critical of critics. It's as old as criticism itself, which is as old as art. Yet here they come, film upon film, piece upon piece, with the same clichéd rejoinders and witty one-liners meant to wither the critic. They range from stuff like "tell us what you really think" to other winners like how the critic is out of touch/hates movies, how 'movies are for entertainment and I was entertained,' or, Geez, you must lead a really sad life. Most of these statements are rank with their own embedded ironies. Back in the day, an angry e-mailer gave my Episode II review a take-that! star rating that was still better than the rating I gave the movie. That one's a keeper.
In other words, the comments section is going away because it's either full of ignorance and hate, or full of boring people saying the same boring things other boring people have been saying since they started talking. It gets to the point where you look at them and think to yourself, Yeah, buddy, give it a year or so and tell me again how this is the best movie that was ever made.
I do wonder now and again how many people who died on the hill defending stuff like Episode II or Forrest Gump are feeling about their Waterloos today. Good, I hope. Hell, it's nice to have things you like.
There's one aspect of the comments section I'll miss. There was a comment that turned into an e-mail exchage a few years ago after I wrote about my depression and how it hamstrung me and how I was trying to work my way through it with film as my agency. I had before; I was going to try to again. The guy who wrote me told me I'd helped him through my writing to not kill himself. That's sobering as shit. It's a weird thing to say, but save a few pieces like this one, I never really imagine anyone's reading my work. I have an audience of one: Bill, FILM FREAK CENTRAL's founder and editor. He's among the dearest friends I have and this writing thing of ours is how we keep in contact. We live 1000 miles apart and have not, to this day, met in the flesh. It's a miracle, right? The Internet, I mean. Bill and I met through the comments section on another site.
In other words, what I'll miss is the odd time a commenter becomes a friend. It's not about agreement, it's about respect and the honest desire to engage. That's been drowned out by the din of abhorrence and rampant trolling, although I know it's still out there somewhere, even if it's buried beneath the rubbish.
Anyway. I'm still on Twitter for the time being: @mangiotto. Bill is, too: @flmfreakcentral. And Bryant Frazer: @deep_focus. And Angelo Muredda: @amuredda. And former FFCers Jefferson Robbins (@Soulsmithy), Alex Jackson (@wokelstein), and Ian Pugh (@MetaEnthusiast). I like Twitter because it lets me mute and block and prune my echo chamber to my heart's content. You can @ me if you want. Oh, and please donate to our Patreon. Every penny goes to the site's upkeep. I've been here fifteen years and running. Here's to fifteen more.
by Walter Chaw Telluride rests in a valley on the Western side of Colorado. It sits at 8,750 feet. You have to cross Monarch Pass (elevation approximately 12,000 feet) to get there from where I live, a six-and-a-half hour drive away. If you're doing it right, you walk everywhere in Telluride, taking the free gondola service over the longer stretches up and down the mountain, and feeling the sharp constriction in your chest when your body, even one acclimated to a mile above sea level, discovers there's noticeably less oxygen to breathe at such great heights. I wonder if mild hypoxia has something to do with my euphoria while I'm here. I am the best version of myself at the Telluride Film Festival, even as the festival itself continues to subtly decline by inevitably becoming more beholden to middlebrow interests and tastes at the same pace it now sells out the highest level of ticket package they make available. Not the ones you can buy off the website, the ones you secure through $100,000 donations.
"Fished" out of the archives in memory of Bill Henderson (1926-2016).-Ed.
by Bill Chambers The movie is called Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish. I have it on my list of what to see during the Festival--near the bottom. Its premise sounds congenial enough, but that title has obviously been conceived to inspire double-takes.
BEST PICTURE The Big Short = sure Bridge of Spies = um... Brooklyn = yay Mad Max: Fury Road = yay The Martian = always nice to see a musical comedy get nominated The Revenant = sometimes you eat the bear... Room = whatevs Spotlight = yay
Note that there are other Disney movies that begin with the company's name over a starfield (The Black Hole, Toy Story 2), but given Lynch's history of paying tribute to The Wizard of Oz, these two seemed less of a coincidence.