January 18, 2012

The Long Goodbye- Part 2


I'll confess, with no shortage of shame, that I had been putting this off for more than three months and am only writing it now because the Sundance Film Festival is starting tomorrow and some may be wondering why I won't be covering it. You see, I have retired from film writing; for Film Freak Central and a little less definitely for my personal website I Viddied it on the Screen. I had been going in this direction for a while, I fear. It’s too difficult for me to get up at five in the morning, work all day, and then come home to write. Furthermore, it became too difficult to justify spending my free time writing. This work is rewarding, but it is work and I guess that I reached the point where the payoff didn’t really warrant the effort. Most of the time, it’s a struggle knowing that my wife was in the other room watching television and instead of joining her I was on the Word Processor trying to sort through my feelings about THE BABYSITTERS.

I tried, but never could figure a way to balance work, family, and this. But the actual cataclysmic event was being accepted into a part-time Master’s program for social work. I’ve always seen film criticism as kind of a romantic dream job, not all that different from wanting to be an actor or director actually. Or a painter or novelist. Social work was kind of a synthesis between that romance, the social worker is at heart a kind of bohemian after all, and some kind of grounded pragmatism. No, it doesn’t really pay all that well, but it IS a real career. But social work really isn’t a compromise for me. All those years I covered Sundance, I came to realize that the people I was really jealous about weren’t paid film critics, but LCSWs. After only one semester, I’ve realized that this isn’t even just a career for me. It’s making feel... whole in a way that no other career ever could. When I die, I don’t know if I will look back on this life as being one of accomplishment. But I do know that I will be able to say that I was there when other people were at their worst , I was there when I was at my worst, and I never hid from any of it.

Maybe that was what I was trying to get at in writing about movies. I was trying to be honest and develop a real set of values that spoke truthfully of my own feelings and attitudes. And maybe I felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere because I was dealing with the shadow of reality instead of the reality itself. That’s just my best guess at this point. You could probably argue me down from it.

I feel pretty confident in saying that Korine and Morrissey have a more accurate understanding of poverty than DeSica or Rossellini. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a tragicomedy. To some extent, it’s a cartoon. There was one boy I worked with that I don’t think I will forget. He was a tall, skinny, “African-American” was lazy eyelids and big donkey teeth. He was always talking. He talked so much that you could see white stuff form in the corners of his mouth. He would ask female staff if they “had any black in them” and said that he was going to go into porn because you don’t need to be good looking you just need to be well-hung. When the patients were allowed to make their own pizza he asked for one with chicken wings. At one point he asked me if “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was based on a true story. I am not making any of this up. None of it. I occupied the same physical space as this person. Am I racist for noticing him? Obviously, he is not representative of all black people and obviously he is an outlier. But I tell you that he exists and I’m not going to pretend that he didn’t exist. I wonder though, maybe it’s not political correctness that keeps people from acknowledging his existence. Maybe most people aren’t very film literate and don’t understand the tradition that he comes from or they haven’t learned how to regard other people as abstractions. See, I don’t really know. I’m still working through this.

This really does feel like I’m breaking up. I have written about movies for almost half my life and it’s hard to think that I’m really giving it up. It’s been part of my life for so long and I don’t think that it will really ever fully get out of my system. These last three months I’ve felt the itch quite a few times, but I’ve notably never quite worked my way to scratching it. I think this is all for the best.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Jack Sommersby said...

Best of luck to you, Alex. I've considered hanging up the reviewer gloves up myself, but I write for a site that lets me review as frequently or infrequently as I want, and I can concentrate on older obscure titles while the others do the new releases and film festivals. Then again, I don't have a career like yours that definitely takes a lot of time and mental energy; in fact, I don't even have a career, to tell the truth! I've learned a lot about writing from your extraordinary reviews, and though we'll always disagree on the merits and demerits of "Pulp Fiction", "The Shining" and "2001", I can always look at your opposing views and ask myself, "Hmmmm, maybe I'm missing the boat on this?" I especially love your unrivaled analyses of all the "Friday the 13th" films, and you're the only critic out there who even *remotely* makes me think I should give Kormine a second chance -- no small accomplishment, this!

Take the best of care, thanks for setting a great example for the rest of us critics with your stellar reviews, and also for sticking up for me on a blog some years ago when someone accused me of being a contrarian, when I'm far from that.

You're a real class act, amigo.

Jack Sommersby

renfield said...

Mr. Jackson, yours has been a truly unique and valued voice in film criticism, and will be missed. Like the above poster, I have you to thank personally for introducing me to Korine, perusing AOL message boards as a young man and scared out of my mind by the possibilities of cinema. I have made a point of following your work since then. I think you are more open and self-aware about what assumptions you bring to your filmgoing than any other film writer I'm familiar with.

I hope films will continue to surface, perhaps on rare occasion, that you simply cannot help but engage with the pen, and that we will see your thoughts from time to time on the Viddied site.

Ricky Bobby said...

This is sad. Ian is MIA, Walter's mostly working on "Miracle Mile" greatness (can't wait, BTW) and now no more Mr. Jackson?!

I return to your Kubrick reviews often, Alex. I'll re-watch "2001" or "Full Metal Jacket" and then have to jump back on Film Freak Central and continue that open dialogue with your work. It's that insightful and a pleasure to read. Thank you.

Also, if someone on this site doesn't tear "War Horse" or "Tintin" a new asshole soon I'm gonna have a hissy fit. We get two Spielberg's in one month and neither are reviewed?! Arguably the greatest director of all time while also paradoxically the most disappointing and nada?! Please remedy this immediately. I nominate Alex Jackson. That is all.

Jack Sommersby said...

I've also missed a review of Fincher's "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Bill C said...

@Jack: Will try to rectify that when the BD comes out. In all sincerity, things are hopelessly fucked up right now and we're doing the best we can.

renfield said...

Bill, why has Walt's Contagion review been removed from the site? Or did I hallucinate its existence?

renfield said...

Um....sorry, I found it in the video reviews. I feel ashamed.

renfield said...

Triple post but fuck it. I thought maybe Chaw's ridiculously distasteful comments regarding the glee he took in Paltrow's death. So according to his interview with Charlie Kaufman, Walt views women as another species. And he explicitly fantasies about murdering at least one of them (we can assume he has similar feelings towards Penelope Cruz, non?). And he's in love with the children in Kick Ass and Fright Night? Jesus guys!

Bill C said...

@renfield: The "children" in FRIGHT NIGHT? You mean 23-year-old Imogen Poots?

renfield said...

Right, the age of consent is 17-18. My bad, it's clearly perfectly okay.

Bill C said...

How old does a woman have to be before you can publicly admit she's attractive? 30? 50? 100?

Frankly, your original (well, third) post is a weird little ambush and I don't really get where it's coming from.

renfield said...

I do not mean to troll. Am I totally off base to be concerned by a thread of misogyny I perceive in Walter Chaw's rhetoric? Perhaps I am being severe to the point of rendering my points unfounded. Chaw is one of the writers who got me into film criticism, and I've been in a number of conversations in which I found myself defending certain comments he's made, but it seems to be a little out of hand. You yourself chastised him re: the Cruz comments.

Maybe I'm just bringing my own hang-ups to the table. If so I apologize. I know bad juju is not what the site needs at the moment.

Jack Sommersby said...

Uh, renfield, can we please keep this blog focussed on Alex's unfortunate-but-understandable departure? If you want to indulge in a flame war with Walter, you can always e-mail him and go about it that way.

ZeroSummer said...

Good luck with your future adventures, Alex. And thank you for putting up on your site, the only two film essays, I ever wrote. I liked what you had to say about "shadow of reality", a realization I came to myself a while back. I discovered that there is no profundity to be found in the "shadow", especially if it is your own. That you find by living in the big nasty world. TC.

Anonymous said...

damnit, i have a ton of your review essays collected in a binder that i still look at now & again; i keep checking back at 'i viddied' for a fresh one. This sucks, though that 'shadow of reality' stuff is truer than ever for me too

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