Thursday, December 12, 2013
Purple State of John
Thoughts of a wordslinger…
by JOHN MARKS
Zombies, as we know them, are Americans, created in the late 1960’s in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. In folklore, the walking dead, or deeply sleepy, had existed for centuries, drifting in and out of world culture much like the vampire, the witch and the demon. This ur-zombie was no cannibal. He was a slave, the victim of magic, a day laborer in the vineyards of evil. What he ate hardly seemed to matter.
By hiring a few non-actors, putting them in greasepaint and shooting them in black and white as they fought over intestines, a lapsed Catholic named George Romero changed all that.
“They’re coming for you, Barbara,” says a soon-to-be victim in Romero’s game-changing classic Night Of The Living Dead. Soon enough, they were coming for us all, still are, but no matter where they turn up, in the cosmically screwed up metropoli of Lucio Fulci, the ransacked London of Danny Boyle or the cleared-out Atlanta of Frank Darabont’s and Robert Kirkland’s new AMC series The Walking Dead, they owe their identity to one man.
George Romero never gets enough credit for creating the definitive monster for the age of demonization: human beings as lurching, repulsive, utterly malevolent target practice.
In 1967, Romero and his crew of costume designers and make-up artists made the zombie into an unconscious cannibal who hunts humans in dumb, ravenous packs. That’s the key innovation. There were other ghouls in the 1960’s, and a few of them–like the ghosts in Herk Harvey’s Carnival Of Souls–look a lot like the dead in Romero’s first movie. But Harvey’s creations didn’t bite. They goaded or seduced. They were unkempt, brooding ghosts.
Others, like the undead vampires in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, aren’t technically zombies, but seem much closer in spirit and in the flesh to the creatures in The Walking Dead than to Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula, their contemporary. Bava’s vampires don’t have fangs and don’t eat flesh, but actress Barbara Steele has a peculiar hungry quality, a portrait of thwarted gluttony in gaunt cheeks, livid eyes and pale skin. A design concept had started to evolve, but it needed a context.
19th Century vampires had consciousness, if not conscience, and they tended to be proud individualists. They drank blood, but they also craved companionship and status. Bram Stoker’s Count conformed to those earlier patterns, but he had brutish tendencies. More interested in gorging than knowing, he was arguably the first modern zombie. By the middle of the 20th Century, cinematic interpretations had begun to strip away the romantic yearning in the vampire and revealed the monster to be mostly a blood drunkard who lured his nubile female victims for sport and pasttime.
With Christopher Lee and his portrayal of furious bodily hunger, sexual and gluttonous, the center could no longer hold. The vampire split in two. One version led to Robert Pattinson of the Twilight series, by way of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows; the other led to Romero. Fury and horror attached to the zombie, who became in Romero’s vision the cockroach inheritor of the earth, a devolved human who abandoned all civilization, urbanity and pretense to civility in the search for food sources. Fears of population explosion and race genocide further shaped this monster.
The key text would be Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, in which one man, Richard Neville, faces a horde of genetic vampires in the wake of a worldwide plague. In the novel, the monsters are identified as vampires, but that’s not the bit that made its way to Romero. What really stuck was the apocalyptic scenario. Neville lives like a survivalist in a dead city. He arms himself with the latest weapons, boards up his besieged house and waits for other living humans to make contact. He sends out radio signals that go unheard. He rounds up supplies in decaying grocery stores and hunts sleeping vampires in their nests. His wife and children are dead of plague, like everyone else, but he feeds on memory like a vampire on blood. One memory haunts him, in particular, the night his dead wife came back for him.
In 1964, an Italian company made a low-budget but very atmospheric version of the book starring Vincent Price, entitled The Last Man On Earth. In the movie’s best scene, the wife comes back, and we hear her voice, her nails scratching at the door, and we are very close to Romero. She has a consciousness, but it is already fading. All she really wants to do is feed. In general, the vampires in the movies are schlubs. They dress in whatever they died in, suits, sports wear, party dresses.
In The Walking Dead, the zombies are direct descendants of Matheson by way of Romero. They roam the streets at night–maybe because “it’s cooler”, one of the surviving humans speculates–and in the pack bobs a familiar face, the wife of a man who can’t bring himself to kill the woman he loves, even if she would sooner eat him than kiss him. She wouldn’t know her husband if she saw him; her mind is gone. The husband knows, though, and as the audience, we can’t help but see that relationship as a big part of the horror.
People we know, people we’ve loved, have died and come back as our irredeemable enemies. They have been inhabited by a virus, and the virus possesses them. They don’t want anything from us but our flesh. They can’t be reasoned with. They can’t be bought off or made love to or in any way reached by friendly or hostile persuasion. They can only be dispatched by a shot to the brain.
In a way, they are ideal occupiers. Moral complication is moot. You can never have a conversation with them, so they are easy to kill without conscience. No matter what they may have believed in life, in death they assert only one value. They are the most reductivist of monsters. Survivors rarely know exactly why the dead have come back to eat the living, but it almost never matters. The battle to survive so completely eclipses the need for explanation that attempts to understand begin to feel like suicidal tendency.
In a world overrun by zombies, intellectual pursuits get you eaten fast.
All of which should give us happy pause as this staple of low-brow, gut-bucket cinema goes decisively mainstream in the hands of one of our most sentimental filmmakers. Darabont makes movies about decent people caught in hell. His characters tend to be richly rounded in the grand manner. Their conflicts and identities rise above cliche, but never quite become original, which is a commercial plus. His best-known work, The Shawshank Redemption, a movie I don’t particularly love, has a devoted following because it walks the line so well between maudlin sentiment and human complication.
It’s clear to me already in The Walking Dead that Darabont has big plans for the genre. Though he’s working from the text and images of a graphic novel by Robert Kirkland, the novel itself is steeped in forty years of Romero-inspired zombie mythology. That’s the starting point, but it’s going to vanish in the rearview quickly. In one scene, a man who doesn’t know what’s going on sits on a sidewalk step while a lone figure approaches slowly in the distance. In an earlier scene, a little girl with a half-devoured face looks perfectly innocent at first. Closer inspections reveals the truth and makes her a threat.
These may or not be frightening sequences, depending on your tastes, but they are very definitely direct lifts from earlier movies, which is shrewd. Darabont seems to be offering an olive branch early on to those who prefer the old ways, that primal world where zombies meet humans in mute combat, and no one tries to understand, and no one can afford much cosmic speculation on the meaning of it all. But it’s only an olive branch. The series will definitely go for bigger prey. Early scenes suggest an uncustomary pathos.
My favorite involves a sheriff who goes out of his way to find a haggard woman who had earlier menaced him. She’s been left with half a body, and he just wants to put her out of her misery. When he finds her, he says, “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
It’s a lovely and unexpected moment. It’s also flagrantly emotional for a zombie flick, practically illegal. If I’m not mistaken, a suggestion of angelic choirs hovers in the background. Darabont goes there; it’s what he does. I don’t usually like this heavy touch, but it’s a welcome approach here. He’s making a promise. If it’s true that the zombie is the ultimate monster of the culture war, our Godzilla, then we could use a long interrogation of that lurching creep. In the process, sadly, the walking dead will be lifted out of the realm of primal nightmare and into the sunlight of literary respectability, but that doom was inevitable.
Zombies won’t be scary for very much longer. They’ve crossed the Rubicon of AMC. That doesn’t mean they’ll go the way of the vampire, but they will have lost forever the element of surprise. Through Darabont, we’ll get to know them extremely well. They will leave behind their dirt past and rise to significance, and their reign of terror will quietly end. Sesame Street will get a zombie puppet to replace the out-moded Count.
Meanwhile, happily, unseen as yet, other monsters wait for us in the depths, not yet captured by art or commerce, but lethal and vital and indispensable to the maintenance of our fevered imaginations. Compared to them, the zombie may one day look as quaintly comforting as the vampire.
BY LIZ JOYNER
Take a little Pepto Bismol or serve yourself up a stiff drink and wade into the mud for the lowest, slimiest, ickiest ads of a very icky campaign season, a season so generally foul that Politifact rated the 2010 campaign as “barely true.” If you can make it through the choices without losing your lunch, vote on the foulest HERE.
And the nominees are:
1. Sharon Angle accusing Harry Reid of voting to provide federal money to sex offenders for Viagra.
2. Harry Reid accusing Sharon Angle of subjecting women to domestic abuse.
3. Jack Conway, in the Tennessee Senate race, breathlessly wondering why Rand Paul did a whole bunch of kooky things in college.
4. Pat Quinn in Illinois suggesting that Bill Brady’s top legislative priority is killing puppies. Yep, puppies…
5. Sue Lowden for accusing Sharon Angle in Nevada of paying for prisoner massages with your taxpayer dollars.
6. American Action Network for accusing Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter for providing Viagra to rapists. (Sound familiar? Surprised we didn’t see it in every ad across America, in case we still might, here’s the explanation for why it’s so low….)
7. Florida Congressman Alan Grayson for “Taliban Dan Webster.”
So many good choices, eh? Vote HERE.
by JOHN MARKS
Last summer, I had one of the peak movie-going experiences of my life. Outdoors, against the backdrop of Monument Valley, courtesy of the Navaho tribe, I watched a screening of John Ford’s The Searchers, one of the two or three greatest westerns of all time. Even as I watched, though, a thought nagged at me. David Thomson wouldn’t approve.
The night sky was vast. The desert beyond the hotel gave off an aroma of million-year stone. John Wayne unspooled out of a primal darkness. It should have been a perfect cinematic moment. Yet I could hear Thomson’s voice, as I’d read it in his masterpiece about the movies, The Biographical Dictionary of Film, and as I’d heard it in a phone conversation in June, erupting in dismay. “You mean to tell me you were in Monument Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and you were watching a John Wayne movie?!”
I silenced the voice, but only after conceding his point and telling him to please go away so I could return to my bliss.That’s how it is with Thomson. If you’ve ever enjoyed the deep pleasures of thumbing through the Biographical Dictionary, out in a new edition this week, you’ll know what I mean. The latest version contains a total of 1300 entries, everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Peter Lorre, James Cameron to Frederico Fellini, Kenji Mizoguchi to Wim Wenders, but with every name, in addition to the usual filmography, you get a strong dash of agony and ecstasy.
You get love. You get hate. You get life itself, as filtered through a lifetime of watching the movies.
Thomson isn’t a compiler. He’s what George W. Bush might call a conversator. He’s a ferocious conversator. He wants to talk to you about the pictures, and when he talks, he means to be quite clear about where he stands. If your love of Jane Fonda can’t bear assault, you should leave the room immediately. If your hatred of John Wayne and Tom Cruise won’t tolerate approval, please feel free to take a hike.
This has been true since the very first edition of the dictionary in 1975, when Thomson punked with the extreme prejudice the movie establishment. Long before it was popular, he dissed the beloved John Ford as a sort of accomplished American propagandist, he downgraded Federico Fellini as a facile ladies man, and he kicked the tires on Akira Kurosawa with the disdain of a man who knows the real blue book value of an expensive Japanese car. Generally speaking, and with great flair, he slaughtered a host of sacred cows and basted them all in English bitters.
To this day, Thomson tends to split readers. Some can’t take his judgmental attitude. Others find it bracingly addictive. I fall into the latter category, but will go much further. I consider Thomson one of the under-appreciated masters of modern English, a critic whose style was blessedly formed before the influence of critical theory did so much damage to academic and critical prose.
Furthermore, I consider his Biographical Dictionary one of our few unmistakable contemporary masterpieces, the work of a single authorial voice ringing out in notes of humor, sorrow, rage, shock, disdain, desire and, now and then, despair on a subject that feels plumbed to its depths and yet at the same time inexhaustible.
The work is singular, because it unfolds over time, moving through decades, taking new trends and faces and talents in the movies into account, and yet always doubling back to survey the damage done, to reassess once dearly held opinions, and most telling of all, to reengage with the meaning of the original impulse to write the book. In a very real sense, The Biographical Dictionary of Film is an autobiography, and in its pages, as you jump around from Winona Ryder to Spike Lee, you begin to grasp the contours of a life and the shape of a dying era, when cinema mattered more than any other art form, when it was possible to feel anyway that cinema mattered more than almost anything.
Thomson’s passion has matured. He’s outlived the last golden era of the American movies. Yet the testament to the passion remains, a glorious howl of appreciation tempered by disillusion. In the following interview (the first of two parts), conducted over the phone last June, the author speaks candidly about the movies he still likes, the ones he doesn’t, and the medium as a whole in the digital age. It’s a great honor to have him.
Q:I thought that we’d talk a little about the summer’s movies. Do you still go to summer tentpole movies on occasion?
A:Yeah. I mean. I try to. I would love to go. I would love to feel that I was drawn out more often than I am. I have a 15-year-old, and we go sometimes. My wife and I go. I saw Robin Hood, you know, so I’m doing my best.
Q:You’ve said some kind things about Ridley Scott. You’re a fan of some of his movies. What did you think of Robin Hood?
A: I think Ridley Scott is enormously inconsistent and versatile. I don’t mind that. I think I once said he’s a little bit like the Michael Curtiz of our day, which I meant as a compliment, because Curtiz made some very, very entertaining fims. I don’t think that I know a great deal about Ridley Scott, having seen probably most of his films, if not all of them. I don’t think I really know him very well. I don’t think he’s offering a persona in the way that some directors do. But there are some Scott films that are awfully well made and are very entertaining.
I still have a big soft spot for the original Alien. There are several of his films that I enjoy. I frequently dip into Black Hawk Down, which seems to play on television all the time. I think it’s a wonderful combat film, a very restricted genre, but still, he tells the story of that battle very well.
I didn’t think Robin Hood was very good, but there we are.
Q: I agree with you about Black Hawk Down. I remember seeing that movie for the first time and being surprised that he was able to pull off that particular kind of war film. Not only do I remember having a really great first experience, but on second viewing, third viewing, something about it feels internally riveting. You feel you know where you are in that crazy city.
A: I agree with you. I agree absolutely. It’s not attempting to deal with the politics of the issue really, beyond a certain skepticism towards it all expressed in the Sam Shepard character, but it’s just men going out to do things, and it’s amazing. From the moment the helicopters come in at low level over that beach, it’s truly a beautiful film. And Scott has that.
I remember seeing The Duellists, which I think is another very entertaining film, and I can see that again every few years and realize it’s being made by a man who’s been brought up on commercials and can’t get them out of his system so that it’s all sort of a commercial for Napoleon brandy. But still, you feel the madness of this story, and certainly in the Keitel character, there’s something very special about it all.
So yeah, I have a soft spot for Ridley Scott, but I would never rely upon him to make a good film.
Q: Because there have been some duds.
Q:I’m leery of Robin Hood because I went with some excitement to see the Orlando Bloom crusade film, Kingdom of Heaven. There were moments that I thought were good, but over all, it was hard to sit through.
A: I don’t think Robin Hood works either. It’s partly the fact that Russell Crowe gives every sign of being bored stiff with the whole process. To go back to a Curtiz film, if you’re going to play Robin Hood, you owe the public a certain liveliness, a certain vitality, and Erroll Flynn had that. Now he was light indeed and very silly, but that is still a fabulous Hollywood picture of a certain era. And Russell Crowe is so eternally disagreeable and grumpy and slouchy and overweight. Robin Hood should not be overweight.
Q:Last summer, my most anticipated film, one that even thrilled me watching the previews, was Public Enemies, but I had very mixed feelings, and your review of it, really your consideration of the movie and Michael Mann’s, touched a chord in me. Because I didn’t dislike it as much as you did, but I really understood where you were coming from. Could you talk to me a little bit about what bothered you so much about that film?
A:I’ve had this feeling for a long time with Michael Mann that he has it in him to be about as talented and about as facile with movies, thinking of it as a language, as almost anyone we’ve got. He does fabulous stuff, and he knows how to shoot these things, and he has major limitations, the biggest of which is that he really cannot understand what women are doing in the world, and he totally trusts and relies upon the attitude of men who can’t understand that either. But I have liked some of his films very, very much, and I would always watch them.
The Dillinger story is a good story, John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, it’s a fascinating story. [[Public Enemies tells the saga of 1930's outlaw John Dillinger and his pursuit by G-man Melvin Purvis]]. I like the John Milius version of this story very much [[Dillinger, 1973, starring Warren Oates in the title role]]. There’s a film being made on a fraction of the budget that Mann would have had, yet it’s full of life and vitality and fun and interest, and I thought that Mann’s film turned into a stylistic exercise. I didn’t think he was very interested in the period. And I’m getting increasingly troubled with and bored of Johnny Depp not quite delivering.
It was a film I was looking forward to. You know what I mean? There are a few films you see coming on the horizon, and you say I’d really like to see that, and I felt that way about this, and I was just very disappointed. It’s extremely proficient. Proficient is not an adequate word for it. It’s beautiful in a certain kind of way, but I just found it very empty.
I’ve seen these glorifications of gangsterism. One of my big gripes is the way the gangster has come back since The Godfather, I suppose, as a saintly figure, a warped saint maybe, but a saint nevertheless, in the American movie. I think it’s done terrible damage to Scorsese, for instance, that he can’t see past it, and I feel the same way about Michael Mann.
Q:When I saw the movie trailer, I realized I had some intrinsic interest in these characters, in these gangsters, and I went back and read the book that the movie is based on, and when I did, it hit me as a central problem with the movie Public Enemies. There’s all this stuff in the book that tries to give a rounded picture of who these people actually were, and Mann almost completely throws it out, throws out all the sense of grounding these people in the realities of the era.
A: I wish he hadn’t done that.
Q: And I don’t think Depp bears any resemblance to the Dillinger depicted in the book.
A:Yeah. Well, there we are. Public Enemies certainly won’t put me off seeing Michael Mann’s next film, when it comes along, but the disappointments add up. I think the public feels that way. I think the public has been taken too many times. Once upon a time, we used to go to the movies and pretty much enjoyed the movie we were seeing, but also loved the trailer we were seeing, and we thought—oh, can’t wait—can’t wait for next week—there was that optimism, and a buoyancy. But I think for an awful lot of people who go to the movies now, that trust in the entertainment to be at a certain level has declined, and that’s a tough thing to bring back.
Q:Which, by the way, is a good way to start talking about the new edition of the Biographical Dictionary of Film. I was reading the introduction to the last edition, and there you’re expressing some real ambivalence about the movie-going experience. I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to read you something from that passage. “I am left wondering whether I am heavier, or less “passionate”—or are the movies less? I’d far rather blame myself, but I know, from talking to others, that I am not alone in finding those transforming experiences less often.” Thinking about that passage, then, your Public Enemies review raised a very big question. Why are we going to the movies at all these days? And why do the filmmakers think we’re going? What is the contract between us anymore?
A: You raise what for me has been the big question. Let me put it this way. I know a lot of the community of film critics and film buffs and film enthusiasts, and by now, most of them are younger than I am, although I find that hard to believe, but that’s the truth.
There is a tremendous effort on the part of such people to say, well, the cinema has changed, and we have to recognize the change, but it’s still capable of good work, and I know that’s true, and it’s not that I don’t see and admire and love the good works still, when they come along, but I do think historically we have passed a real watershed in which the movies have slipped from being a true mass medium, when there was the kind of confidence and trust in the public that I was talking about, to the point where the movies are like theater, like the novel, like whatever, where you say, some are good, some are not. More are not good than are good, probably, but, you know, you just have to search them out and take your pick, but I still remember the days when the movies were it. They were central to the culture.
I know you can’t bring that back, but I’m not yet so addicted to the job of being a film critic or a film writer that I’m prepared to defend the medium as a whole. I think the medium is going through some very awkward, problematic transitions. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know where it’s going to end up. I don’t have enormous confidence that we’re going to beak through into another golden age and fresh dawn. I think that the truth of the matter is that an awful lot of the pictures we see today aren’t very good.
It isn’t just that audiences feel that. I think people who make films even feel it. Whereas once upon a time, a first film had, let’s say, a quality that Terrence Malick put in Badlands. You just felt here’s a bright kid, saying let me get at that medium, just let me do it. I’ve just got so much to show you and say and feel. You felt an excitement in the direction and the whole function of the film. You don’t feel that very often these days.
I think the saddest thing of all is that filmmaking is no longer as compelling as it once was. The thing about Martin Scorsese, for instance, is that he used to be wildly excited about what he was doing, up until certainly Raging Bull, and the excitement has sort of drained away. And I don’t feel prepared to accept that or to deny that it’s happening. And I think we have to face the fact that the transition is awkward and difficult.
I fully understand the fact that my 15-year-old simply does not love the movies.
Q:Is that right?
A: If you give him a chance to go to a movie, he’ll say okay, but he does not love going to the movies, and he thinks that the movies are kind of silly, and maybe they are. All I’m saying, as a person who still spends a good deal of time writing and thinking about them, I’m just not prepared to overlook those things.
Q:I’ve just finished reading Peter Biskind’s book , Down And Dirty Pictures, about the rise and fall of the independent film business, and that is a sobering history, when you look at how many gifted filmmakers, really talented people, came up in the late 1980’s and 90’s and made quite a few, really good films, and yet you look now around now and you see how few of them are still making movies, and the ones who are struggle to get out one small one. Or they may shoot a big blockbuster every now and then, but there seems to be less and less in those big blockbusters. For instance, Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean movies. The first one was fun, but if you remember what he did at his best, it’s almost shocking, and I think of Soderbergh as one of the filmmakers you’re talking about.
A: I agree with you, and I think you’ve picked on a key figure. Soderbergh is having a career where he says, I can do one for you, maybe two for you, and then one for me. That is a very tricky compromise, and I don’t think historically it’s worked too well. The directors who have lasted the best and whose careers and histories are the most admirable are the ones who said, well, I’ll tell you I’ll do one for you, but you know I’m doing them for me every time, and it may kill me in the end, and it may destroy my career, but that’s what I’m doing, because it means too much to me.
Q:Sort of the Peckinpah model.
A: This kind of cold-blooded balancing, I don’t really believe in it. Soderbergh is sort of mysterious to me. He’s done some very interesting things, but how can he do these Ocean films over and over again. It’s very strange, but he’s only one of a whole generation of people. It’s very tricky to get a handle on their careers.
Then you take people like Brian De Palma. I don’t know that he was ever a great director, but he certainly had something once.
Q: He did.
A:But Brian De Palma has just turned into an unrecognizable version of himself. That’s happened to too many people.
It was so breathtaking when George Lucas started directing again in the 1990’s, when he went back to Star Wars. It looked as if it was no fun anymore. I’ve never been a huge George Lucas fan, but he made it fun once upon a time. American Graffiti! American Graffiti is a terrific entertainment, still. A lot of that has faded away. There are a few people that I think very highly of nowadays, but only a few, but you wait to see what’s going to happen with those people, too.
Q:It’s funny. Where I feel the fun now, and the kind of excitement that I used to feel about the movies, is in the best of American television. You touched on that in a marvelous review of the British television mini-series Red Riding for the New York Review of Books.
I thought, there is this woman from a world so different, and there she is, down in New Orleans, and she’s shooting it with a kind of languor and ease, that is jazz-like, very American, and I was just bowled over. I think the discipline under which television is still shot—television is shot the way movies used to be shot—it’s a testament to the creative power of that discipline, when you’ve got a tight budget, and you’ve got a certain number of minutes shot every day, I think it’s good for you.
And HBO is not the only place that does it, but it’s the great modern American studio. I don’t mean to say that everything they do is flawless, it isn’t, but they’ve got such ambition, and such range, and some of the miniseries that we’ve enjoyed in the last ten years, they’re simply outclassing almost all American theatrical movies made in the same time period. That’s where the quality is, there’s no doubt about it. That’s where the tightest acting is, and it’s a lesson.
British television has had a longer tradition with this, and the Brits complain with justice that the quality of their television is fading, but Red Riding was quite simply an enormously ambitious project. And it said to viewers, I know you can’t see it all, I know you can’t hear it all, but here it is, just try to deal with it. In the last year, nothing I have seen on a screen made me know I had to write about it more than Red Riding. It gave me that feeling that I used to have of wild excitement at getting to see a certain film. I can’t wait to get home and start to try writing about it. Red Riding was like that. I think it was an extraordinary achievement.
Q:So, thinking about that, you’re coming out with a new version of the Biographical Dictionary of Film. Does it violate somehow the terms of your engagement with this book project to say that, in our era, the most interesting filmmakers are David Chase, David Simon, Alan Ball, these HBO producer types, the creators of Red Riding? How far can you stretch the term film before you lose the sense of what it was in the first place?
A: There again, the lesson of what’s happening today is that film is anything that anyone calls a film. I think we’re heading towards a situation where kids are watching stuff that you and I might not call a movie, but they’re calling it a movie. And I don’t think I have the ability or the energy at this time in my life to redo the Biographical Dictionary of Film in a way that would recognize this. There was a moment when I came to do the fifth edition where I thought, I could do something quite drastic. I could draw into the book a great many people from television, from video games, from other versions of what we call a movie, from commercials, just as a way of saying, look, it’s so many different things nowadays.
But I backed off. I didn’t have the feeling in my late sixties of confidence and energy that I could do it, in the way that I did when I did the first version of the book in the early 1970’s, I felt I could take on everything. And that’s a failure on my part. What I’ve done is continue to update it. As you read the book, the notes of caution and disquiet and alarm are there, and they’re growing in the book, there’s no doubt about it.
David Chase, for instance, is someone–He and I talk a little bit on the phone. We have a sort of mutual admiration society, and I know I ought to get to know him better. And I know he ought to be in the dictionary, and he’s not, even in the fifth edition coming up, and that was because to have done him, and to have done the other people you needed to do, would have been a stretch of work I didn’t quite feel I was capable of any longer.
The Biographical Dictionary, if you can understand it, was a young man’s book, and it needed a young man’s recklessness and energy and craziness to do it. I also realize now it needed the feeling of an Englishman who wanted to be in America. It was driven with a kind of satisfaction of where I was, and a yearning to be somewhere else. But, you know, I have not avoided growing older. In growing older, tiredness and compromise and caution have crept in, and if anyone wants to accuse me of that, I’m volunteering the charge myself. It’s not as grand a book as it maybe needs to be and ought to be, but you know, I’ve done my best.
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