Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Goodbye, cinephilia

with 3 comments

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

For as long as I can remember, the movies have been a huge part of my life. Growing up, I raided my parents’ videocassette collection on a regular basis, and may have been the only eleven-year-old in my fifth grade class whose favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In high school, I was lucky enough to live only a short train ride away from the wonderful UC Theater in Berkeley, and spent many a wonderful weekend there taking in a double feature. (The only time I ever cut class on purpose was to catch an afternoon screening of Last Tango in Paris.) I continued this tradition in college, with countless visits to the Brattle and the Harvard Film Archive, and in New York I had an embarrassment of riches at the Film Forum, Lincoln Center, Landmark Sunshine, the Ziegfeld, and even the Angelika, despite its awful seats, screens, and location above a rumbling subway line. Chicago, meanwhile, offered the Music Box, Landmark Century, and many others. As a result, for the past fifteen years, I’ve probably averaged a movie a week, and sometimes more.

And although I’ve tried to make my mark in a different sort of art form, I’ve learned a tremendous amount as a storyteller from the movies, to the point where I sometimes feel, to misquote Ishmael, that the local movie theater was my Yale College and my Harvard. Part of the reason is that the movies allow us to experience a wide range of styles and subjects more quickly than a lifetime of reading: I can watch most of the movies on the Sight & Sound poll in the time it takes me to read War and Peace. The movies have omnivorously stolen whatever useful tricks were available from the other arts, and have raided the literary corpus for stories, often transforming them in fascinating ways. Of course, there’s some danger in taking the lessons of cinema too literally: a novel isn’t a movie, and both forms are capable of effects that can’t be achieved in the other. As a novelist, I have far more control over the finished product than I would as a director or screenwriter. But there’s no doubt that the play of my imagination on the page has been deeply shaped by my love of such filmmakers as Kubrick and the Archers, to the point where I can only echo John Irving: “When I feel like being a director, I write a novel.”

Life of Pi

Which is why one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make as the father of a newborn baby centers on the fact that I’ll no longer be able to go to the movies as often as I’d like. For someone who has long been used to seeing the latest releases on opening weekend, and plenty of art house and revival movies on a regular basis, this is a real shock. The last movie I saw on the big screen was The Hobbit, and I’m not sure when I’ll have the chance to catch another. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if Beatrix had happened to arrive, say, in early February, when there isn’t much worth seeing in any case. But as luck would have it, she was born at the height of Oscar season, which means I haven’t been able to see a wide range of movies that I otherwise would have caught on opening day: I haven’t seen Django Unchained or Silver Linings Playbook or Zero Dark Thirty or Amour or Les Misérables or even This is 40. I owe Christopher McQuarrie a personal apology for failing to at least check out Jack Reacher. And in a year that was already shaping up to be one of the best for popular filmmaking in a long time, it’s a loss that I feel deeply.

Nevertheless, beginning tomorrow, I’ll be counting down my ten favorite movies of the year, as I’ve done every year since starting this blog, despite the fact that the list will contain a number of startling omissions. At first, I was tempted to skip this year’s ranking, or to hold off on the outside chance that I’d at least see a couple of the movies mentioned above before Oscar night. At the moment, this doesn’t seem likely, so I’m going ahead with what can only be seen as an incomplete pool of contenders. Yet even if you arbitrarily cut the movie year off in the middle of December, as I’ve effectively done, you’re still left with an extraordinary year for cinema, and especially for big popular movies—a better year, in some ways, than either of the two I’ve covered here in the past. As such, it was perhaps the best year imaginable for me to say goodbye to cinema, at least for now: I’ve missed a lot, but I feel blessed to have seen the movies I did. The ones I’ve been forced to omit will still be waiting for me when the time comes, even if I end up watching them months from now, at home, with a baby in my arms. And when I put it that way, it doesn’t sound so bad at all.

Written by nevalalee

January 21, 2013 at 9:50 am

3 Responses

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  1. It is always better to see stuff on the big screen, but think about how fun it’ll be to introduce your daughter to movies! You can create a special film series for her to watch in 10 or 15 years called “The Movies I Missed When You Were A Newborn.”

    le cul en rows

    January 22, 2013 at 6:53 am

  2. That’s a great idea! I know she’s going to love Holy Motors.

    nevalalee

    January 22, 2013 at 8:47 am

  3. BWAH! I don’t think *I* was ready for Holy Motors and I’m significantly older than 15.

    le cul en rows

    January 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm


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