Monday, July 12, 2010


I used to review movies here. The reason was simple. For years, for almost as long as I can remember, I had been committed to the idea that films are art, that actors are artists, that directors had something important to say and that whatever it was they were saying was worth listening to, or at the very least worth analyzing. From Cronenberg to Kurosawa, from torture porn to historical drama--from sci-fi to horror to romantic comedy to nearly everything I could get my hands on--I watched it all. I was large in film. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the wonder, the amusement, the excitement, the arousal. I took it as a whole, as one amalgam, one attempt to trace the boundaries and fill in the gaps of the human condition. And all the while, I brought what I hoped was a dedicated critical eye. I didn't submit to film; I submitted film to judgment. My dedication to film grew from the same root as my dedication to literature: a desire to understand, and to sympathize with, the human.

I haven't reviewed a film here in almost a year. The reason was, again, or at least at the time, quite simple. I was busy. I had begun my graduate studies, see. Suddenly I didn't have as much time for old hobbies as I would have liked. I suppose that, like I did with other interests, I could have made time, rescued time, snatched time for movies. I didn't. I didn't even try. I didn't because what I'd discovered was a gradual departure, a sort of out-growing, that has made a new epoch in my life. There is a rift--and a rift that at this time I see no chance, or even desire, of bridging or repairing--between what I want from art and imaginative creation and what Hollywood, as a mythic whole, as an institution, as a collection of individuals artist working together, can offer.

As film gradually began to occupy less imaginative space for me, several developments within Hollywood itself enlarged the rift, made it more pronounced, made it a chasm. It was at first only an imaginative rift: I simply wasn't interested, either on an intellectual or entertainment level, with what was being released this last year. Never before had I been so disinterested in film. From Avatar to The Hurt Locker and even A Simple Man... I simply didn't care. It all looked boring. It all looked contrived and manipulative. I had better things to do. But then it wasn't just an imaginative rift that separated me from film. It was a moral and spiritual rift. When in horror I sat and read the list of names of Hollywood elites, filmmakers I'd dedicated time and mental space to, who had signed a petition to release Roman Polanski and absolve and forgive him for the the 1977 drugging, rape, and sodomy of a 13-year old girl--names such as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Wes Anderson; when I realized that people whose art I'd admired pretended to think their art and their status entitled them to a few liberties such as the occasional bit of forced anal sex with a minor; when I heard people like Whoopi Goldberg attempt to defend Polanski and say it wasn't "rape-rape" because, c'mon, the 13-year old drugged girl was just asking for it, and besides, Hollywood is "a different kind of society" that "sees things differently"; when I read, and realized, and heard all this, everything changed. Hollywood revealed itself. Perhaps not in a new light; perhaps it had always been like that, embracing a double standard and indulging in the worst forms of amoral transgression; but it was a a new light to me. Or maybe it was a light I simply didn't want to see it in or could until now ignore.

Today, Swiss authorities, who had been holding Polanski under house arrest until he could be extradited to the US, decided not to extradite and to release him. He's now free to do whatever he wants. Hollywood is quietly celebrating. And I'm done.

I'd always dismissed comparisons between Hollywood and Babylon, or things like that, as alarmist, if not ridiculous. I don't know now if Hollywood actually is Babylon. Perhaps it is. That seems likely. Who else but Babylon could give a standing ovation to an unrepentant child rapist? Whatever Hollywood is, however, I've turned away from it. I've turned my back on film. It will never be for me what it once was. It's not as if I'll never watch a movie again. That would be an absurd thing to say. But I'm now much more aware of the disconnect and the deeply distressing hypocrisy that separates what a film seems to be about and what a director or actor thinks and says. It may be helpful to trust the story and not the teller. Actually, it would be really helpful right now. I wish I knew nothing of the personal lives and opinions of the men and women who have produced so many of the films that I have loved. But I do know these things. I know them because Hollywood hasn't even tried to hide them, has been proud of them, proud of their moral deficiencies. Super-producer Harvey Weinstein defended Polanski and said that “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.” Its compassion, however, lies with the rapist and not the raped. And when the difference between the story and the teller is that enormous, it annihilates, at least as far as I'm concerned, the value of the story.

The strange thing is how easy film is to walk away from. I'm not distressed by this. This isn't a Lenten act of self-denial. My waning interest in what film can offer, combined with a new and ugly insight into the heart and mind of Hollywood, has made this an easy break, has made Hollywood a dead thing to me. It has simply ceased to hold any imaginative grasp on my mind.

That's okay. I have better things to do.

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