The Offscreen Scene
Here, I express some thoughts on the demolition of a local cinema.
If there’s been a lack of reviews from this whole-hearted critic lately, the blame rests squarely at my bloody feet. Running around like a headless chicken, I’ve been accomplishing errands like mad and freelance hustling with great effort - though it seems, it hasn’t been great enough.
Gigs have dried up, applications left unselected, and specific future assignments might disappear completely.
Still, there are plenty of movies left to discover and plenty of words to write about them.
The following newsletter - what I hope will be a weekly exclusive feature - is made up of links, an essay, and a recommendation. This will be the pattern from now on, give or take. For free subscribers and general readers, only the opening piece and links sections will be available. For the full version, please upgrade with a paid subscription:
Sharing is caring, but do so at your own risk:
Oh, to be an “influencer.” Might being happy-go-plucky and social media savvy grant a critic more access? Probably, but for those critically-minded few (yet many), so much energy can turn into diabetes. And why catch that from studio publicists than from theater soda?
I’ve been whittling away at this book called Seeing in the Dark: A Compendium of Cinemagoing for some time now. It’s a treasure trove of entries from movie patrons of the past, and it makes me smile with every anecdote that I read. The Guardian reached out to the audiences of Barbie for an article that’s similar in subject.
The Eyeslicer series and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair were the start of something great from director Jane Schoenbrun. A new feature from her is on the horizon, but in the meantime, she directed and cut a wonderful music video for artist Lucy Dacus. Some Wizard of Oz, some romance, some dancing. So lovely!:
“I’ve always been interested in something we could call a non-narrative cinema. I don’t really believe that cinema needs to tell you a story. I’m trained as a painter, and the very best paintings, I sincerely believe, are non-narrative. They are about statements, about ideas. And I took this particular viewpoint into the manufacture of cinema.”
“Movie theaters need to be about more than just movies.”
Do they? I mean, maybe a coffee stand or library, but…
In the Pre-Hurricane Katrina daze of 2002 Northshore New Orleans, I was in a state of flux. My family had just suffered a heartbreaking move, and I was bitter, seeking out any outlet at all to vent my frustrations and anger. Thankfully, the area had a few interesting movie theaters to visit - perfect places to find an emotional release in positive ways. Homes away from home.
There was The Holiday right across the highway, where I first watched Attack of the Clones. There was Causeway Twin, where I watched Jackass: The Movie on a severely scratched screen. And there was The Star, where Rocky Horror played on weekends at midnight. Regretfully, I never caught a showing at The Star, always passing it by for another day.
That day never came, as the theater would close, sit abandoned, and go through various ownerships and renovation proposals.
I always hoped to get a peek inside, to maybe film some kind of movie review show in the empty seats or at least take pictures. Unfortunately, many months after an announcement of the building’s transformation into a club, it was determined that the former cinema was beyond repair.
The Star was torn down recently, putting an end to my wish to go inside.
Wanting. It was something I was wanting to do but kept holding back on. Excuses would be made over and over, almost as acts of self-sabotage.
Director Paul Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis once teamed up to make the Hollywood-set lurid thriller The Canyons, by way of crowdfunding. At the time of its release, I wrote a pretty negative review of it for the now-defunct publication PROPAGANDA New Orleans. The article is no longer online (I don’t think) but I do recall being particularly disturbed in my writing on the film. Charged-up, it made me.
No matter my opinion, there was one thing in the movie that stuck with me all of these years later: the abandoned theaters. In between the scenes of erotic melodrama, there would be periodic shots of these palaces from the outside, showing ruins where once was beauty. I liked how these buildings were juxtaposed with hyper-sexual sequences of Los Angeles lovers and haters, and I liked the buildings by themselves, even if there were in distress. Moviegoing as a romantic if faded memory. There’s something sweet beneath the bitterness of that.
Same with The Star Theater. In the last few years of its standing around, I enjoyed driving past it and sometimes parking nearby, taking pictures of the out-of-order popcorn machine, and reading the futile flyers on the windows asking for help to fix the cinema.
I miss the things I never had the pleasure of experiencing…
…but I take comfort anyway, at least in knowing that these experiences were had by others. This isn’t technically the message of The Canyons, but I can’t help pulling that sentiment from my looking back on the movie. It’s what I do as a film critic, and what I do in general.
Sometimes, just writing about these things can rejuvenate and refresh my passion in the midst of personal and financial insecurity. Sometimes, just walking by a theater can do that too, even if there’s an empty lot in its place.
What: A Useful Life
Where: Streaming on Pluto TV
Why: Starring the late film critic and programmer Jorge Jellinek, this is the film that ignited my interest in cinema from Uruguay. It’s a tight but tender feature, about coming of age well past your prime but still with a pep in your step. Set in a Montevideo cinematheque, a theater manager who lives and breathes movies chooses to take an act of near-divine intervention - the possible final days of his work - to make real from reel the kind of romance he’s seen on screen many times over. It sounds sappy and happy-go-lucky, but there are stretches of challenging and thoughtful sequences, where the protagonist just takes things day by day without stopping to smell the roses so to speak, and enjoy life. The film doesn’t make his job appear lowly, nor does it dress it up for our or its own sake. It is what it is, and it has pros and cons. The potential for true romance is the beating heart in this picture, with a schlubby but lovable pursuit of a perfect match underway toward the halfway mark of the story. I think about this often, and how I can easily see myself living that life in some other universe or time.
Thank you so much for reading this exclusive newsletter, and for supporting the publication. If you have friends or family that might be interested in subscribing, please do forward things along with a referral or by sharing: