I Feel Guilty When . . . .

I was just looking at the blogs of two pals -- Michael Giltz of "Popsurfing" and Daryl Chin of "Documents on Art and Cinema" -- and I feel nothing less than shame. I mean, these guys post every day, sometimes more than once a day. Oh the degradation!

I could blame it on our cats, of course. After all, keeping tabs on Walter and Stella is a very time-consuming job. As I always tell Walter when he starts acting needy -- which is most of the time since he loves attention -- I understand that being a pussycat is a demanding job, it's 24/7.

That certainly doesn't cut it as an excuse. (Gee, the cats ate my homework.)

On a more serious note -- like this isn't serious already -- watching Children of Men on a really big screen a couple of weeks ago was a wonderful reminder of how exhilarating the sheer act of moviegoing can be. I love Film Forum and the Walter Reade, where I've been spending much of my film time these days, but there really is nothing quite like seeing a film image that just dwarfs you. I don't know if it is still the case, but in the heyday of Cahiers du Cinema movie theaters in Paris were designed the opposite of ours, with the screen elevated above the patrons and the seats raked back (i.e. descending as you walk away from the screen). Having never experienced this configuration, I can only guess what it does to sightlines; I suspect it makes them better, since the screen is the highest object visible, but I don't know what it would be like to sit behind, say, Shaquille O'Neal. (Okay, you sit behind Shaqille O'Neal and you are going to be unable to see the screen no matter how the seats are arranged. Unless you're Tim Duncan or Yao Ming.) At any rate, the result, sightlines aside, is that the film image becomes an object for adoration, worship. Explains a lot about the mindset of people like Godard, Rivette, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer and so on.

Speaking of film critics and blogs, I highly recommend the Chicago Reader's film blog, which can be found here. It gives you one more opportunity to read Jonathan Rosenbaum, who I think is probably the best working critic in America today (yeah, he's better than me). This week he goes after one of my great betes noirs, the wildly over-rated, ever self-promoting David Thomson. The sad thing about Thomson is that at one time he was quite a brilliant critic himself. His book Movie Man is extraordinarily astute. Unfortunately at some point he fell in love with the trappings of his subject, at the expense of any analysis he might have had to offer. By the time he began writing "novels" based on favorite film characters, he had become a truly lost soul, although the real nadir was his veritable love note to Warren Beatty.

As for the Atlantic's literary editor Benjamin Schwarz calling Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film the "finest reference book on the movies," all I can say is that a reference book is supposed to be a) comprehensive; b) a reliable source of basic information; c) at least somewhat objective in its judgments. Thomson's book is none of these. It is an idiosyncratic and occasionally frivolous collection of Thomson's opinions. As such it is often entertaining and frequently intelligent, but hardly a reference book. Mr. Schwarz, you'd be well-advised to look at the Ephraim Katz Film Encyclopedia, an actual reference book. I can't say I entirely approve of some of the choices made by the new writer-editors in the year's since Katz's death, but it is a vastly more valuable reference work, more usable, more inclusive and more objective than Thomson. Of course, for the slumming filmgoer of Schwarz's ilk, that is the point, isn't it?

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