It’s another thing to be young and already decades ahead of those who are restricted to what is playing near them theatrically.
Ever since I was 14 or so years old, my goal has been to become a film critic. Now, how one goes about this goal is anyone’s guess—of course, these days the perception is that you just have to write Words and put them Online—but, lacking imagination, I went to film school and pursued the endeavor with an academic bent.
And now, academia calls. If you’d told Teenage Pete that he would someday voluntarily leave his film critic job, as well as walk away from an organization of professional film critics, he’d’ve thought you were crazy. But, here we are.
PLAYBACK has been my home for 14 years. While my name appears in the masthead in the very first print edition of PLAYBACK:stl, my first published piece for the outlet came in issue #2. In the intervening years, I have done all of the things I love here: attended film festivals, reviewed hundreds of movies, complained, forced my opinion on people. It’s been great. I owe a debt of gratitude both to those I’ve worked alongside here for so long, as well as any readers my ranting may have acquired along the way.
One thing I learned while covering film festivals for PLAYBACK is that there is in existence the concept of a “film festival friend.” This isn’t too far off from a work friend, or a friendly cellmate, or anything else. That is, there are people you hang out with and are happy to see anytime you run into them at an out-of-town film festival, though you don’t keep up with them between festivals (or even always remember their names, come to think of it). At the Cannes Film Festival, somewhere around 2006, one of these film festival friends groused to me that he was too busy covering the festival to attend the festival.
This logic applies to a lot of things, like when you’re jobless and broke. You have a lot of free time on your hands, but can’t afford some of the things you’d like to do, or else you have a job and you’re busy and, while you have money, you don’t have time to enjoy it. An extension of this dichotomy has been an affliction for a long time for me: Am I a film critic? A film student? A film teacher? I’d like to claim all of the above, but what does one do when those positions start to fight with one another?
Meanwhile, people both young and old like to grouse that movies aren’t as good as they used to be, that film fans aren’t as serious as they used to be, etc. In contrast, for some time, now I’ve held a more optimistic view of our future as a race of film-obsessed civilians. Yes, modern movies aren’t like they used to be. Yes, a lot of modern movies are awful. But I’d put good modern movies up against good older movies any day. Are they different in their strengths and weaknesses? Yes, absolutely. Is it okay to if you prefer watching older movies, or newer movies? Generally speaking, I’m okay with that, though I do always encourage an open mind when seeing something outside of what you’re used to. Are older movies inherently better than modern movies? Nope. Sorry. Same goes for modern movies being better than classics. Some years are better than others, some decades better than others, but the broader the generalization you make, the harder it is to defend.
Elsewhere, I personally have been quick to lament the local disappearance of repertory screenings, especially ones projected from film prints. And yes, this trend is a total bummer. But other things have cropped up in their place; for example, you’d be amazed at the frame of reference of your average teenage film buff these days. When I was a teenager in film school, my advisor at one point expressed amazement that I was a fan of the Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica while in high school, despite that I grew up in rural-ish Missouri (you used to have to live in or near a city to be exposed to that kind of thing). I had the rise of the video store to thank for my knowledge of Eastern European cinema, and when not watching a pile of VHS tapes, I’d spend whatever free time I had in the library reading any reviews I could get my hands on.
Just within the past couple of years I’ve had similar teenage film students who have seen stuff that has long been all-but-impossible to see, and remains obscure to this day. One student admitted having seen Frank Perry’s Last Summer when I made a passing reference to it in class; another had seen Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End. It’s one thing if you’ve been around for a while, checking off these rare films as opportunities arise, but it’s quite another to be young and already decades ahead of those who are restricted to what is playing near them theatrically.
It’s hard for me to ever name a movie that someone in the classroom hasn’t seen, and we have Netflix and, yes, YouTube and illegal torrents to thank for that. Further, after they watch whatever weird-ass movie they come across, they have a near-inexhaustible source of reading material about said film at their fingertips.
Is this better than seeing these great films on the big screen, and then reading up about them in the library? Nope. But it does have its merits, anyway. If the French New Wave filmmakers were the first generation of directors who had grown up obsessed with movies, and if Quentin Tarantino was the product of working in a video store, consuming all he could get his hands on, I anxiously await the films to be made by young directors who have whiled away their days unburying treasures online.
This is all a bloated way of saying I leave you in good hands. You need not worry about the future of film. It’ll be different, sure, but it will find new and interesting ways to be compelling. As will those who love it.
In situations like this one, it’s common for a film writer to evoke the Little Tramp walking away from the camera down an empty road, or the hero riding off into the sunset (with or without the love interest in tow), or some such movie-ending nonsense. For my departing image, how about we go with Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo), aka Pierrot, in Pierrot le fou: He paints his face blue, wraps his head in dynamite, and lights it. Bonus: An approximate translation of the title is “Pete goes crazy.” Somehow, that seems overall more applicable.
Thanks to you all; it’s been a pleasure. | Pete Timmermann