Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Dissolve's Keith Phipps Will Be Uproxx's Film/TV Editor The Dissolve's Keith Phipps Will Be Uproxx's Film/TV Editor Criticwire Survey: The Worst Movie and TV Accents Ever Criticwire Survey: The Worst Movie and TV Accents Ever What Quentin Tarantino Gets Wrong About TV Critics What Quentin Tarantino Gets Wrong About TV Critics 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Is Officially Part of the English Language Now 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Is Officially Part of the English Language Now How 'Mr. Robot' Hacks TV's Empathy Machine How 'Mr. Robot' Hacks TV's Empathy Machine Joe Hill: Review Aggregrators Like Rotten Tomatoes Provide 'Confusion, Not Clarity' Joe Hill: Review Aggregrators Like Rotten Tomatoes Provide 'Confusion, Not Clarity' Noah Baumbach's Characters Are Still Coming of Age 20 Years Later Noah Baumbach's Characters Are Still Coming of Age 20 Years Later The 'Hannibal Finale' and the Dangers of Post-Mortem Interviews The 'Hannibal Finale' and the Dangers of Post-Mortem Interviews British Film Critic Was a Soviet Spy British Film Critic Was a Soviet Spy Real Life Hasn't Punished Jordan Belfort. Why Should 'The Wolf of Wall Street'? Real Life Hasn't Punished Jordan Belfort. Why Should 'The Wolf of Wall Street'? 'Fear the Walking Dead' Starts Slow, and Interest Is Already Waning 'Fear the Walking Dead' Starts Slow, and Interest Is Already Waning Daily Reads: Sexism Isn't Just a 'Straight Outta Compton' Problem, How Samuel L. Jackson Lost 'Reservoir Dogs,' and More Daily Reads: Sexism Isn't Just a 'Straight Outta Compton' Problem, How Samuel L. Jackson Lost 'Reservoir Dogs,' and More Daily Reads: Why Yale's Library Is Preserving VHS, Who Wins When a Brown Actor Plays a White Character, and More Daily Reads: Why Yale's Library Is Preserving VHS, Who Wins When a Brown Actor Plays a White Character, and More Daily Reads: What Colin Trevorrow Got Right About Female Directors, the Art of Cynical Sincerity in 'BoJack Horseman' and 'Rick and Morty,' and More Daily Reads: What Colin Trevorrow Got Right About Female Directors, the Art of Cynical Sincerity in 'BoJack Horseman' and 'Rick and Morty,' and More Daily Reads: 'Mistress America' and the Art of Making a Living as an Artist, How Summer TV Surprised Us, and More Daily Reads: 'Mistress America' and the Art of Making a Living as an Artist, How Summer TV Surprised Us, and More Criticwire Classic of the Week: Nicholas Ray's 'They Live By Night' Criticwire Classic of the Week: Nicholas Ray's 'They Live By Night' 'Scream' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street's' Wes Craven Dead at 76 'Scream' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street's' Wes Craven Dead at 76 Daily Reads: The Evolution of TV Criticism, "Queen of Earth" Is the Scariest Movie of the Summer, and More Daily Reads: The Evolution of TV Criticism, "Queen of Earth" Is the Scariest Movie of the Summer, and More 'The Gift': A Great Thriller (Almost) Ruined By a Terrible Ending 'The Gift': A Great Thriller (Almost) Ruined By a Terrible Ending Daily Reads: How 'Peak TV' Is Undermining Quality Control, Ranking Quentin Tarantino's Movie, and More Daily Reads: How 'Peak TV' Is Undermining Quality Control, Ranking Quentin Tarantino's Movie, and More

From the Wire: The Origins of a Cinemaniac

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire June 4, 2012 at 4:33PM

A novelist's memoir of his childhood as a cinephile turns criticism into autobiograpy.
0
"Dawn of the Dead."
"Dawn of the Dead."

It is easy to forget sometimes how good we have it. While we're bitching about the death of film or video stores or American action films, it's probably worth taking a moment to recognize all the ways in which things are better now for cinephiles than at any other point in human history. I have thousands of movies at my fingertips, and I can watch any or all of them instantly with HD image quality all for one fairly low monthly price. I can rent or even buy movies without leaving my house. I can purchase them on my laptop and watch them on my television. Or my phone. If I can't remember which Tim Burton movie came first, "Beetlejuice" or "Edward Scissorhands," I can just look that up on my phone, too (and it was "Beetlejuice," incidentally). Even ten years ago, all of those things would have seemed just as science-fictiony as a flying car.

I was reminded that I need to be more grateful about these innovations by Colson Whitehead's wonderful autobiographical essay about his "Psychotronic Childhood" in The New Yorker.  He basically uses film criticism as a form of autobiography, and explores the way his early obsession with weird cult movies shaped his life as a writer. Growing up in the 1970s, Whitehead had none of the aforementioned luxuries we take for granted. I thought his perspective beautifully evokes what it was like to be movie crazy in this earlier era:

"I dwelled in a backward age, full of darkness, before the VCR boom, before streaming and on-demand, before DVRs roamed the cable channels at night, scavenging content. Either a movie was on or it wasn’t... Fate was cruel and withholding, and then suddenly surprised me with a TV announcer’s tantalizing words: 'Stay tuned for ‘The Flesh Eaters’ '; or 'Don’t go away! We’ll be right back with ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.’' I couldn’t look the title up on the Web, couldn’t know anything beyond what its luridness conjured, and there was the frightening possibility that I might never have the chance to see the movie again. Who knew when this low-budget comet would return to this corner of the galaxy? Its appearance was a cosmic accident, one that might never be repeated. Weeks before, some bored drone at the TV station had decided to dump it into this time slot, and today I happened to be home from school with bronchitis. Did I have time to grab some baloney or a bowl of Lucky Charms before the opening credits ended?"

I'm a child of the '80s; I can't remember a time before my parents had a VCR and our house was full of movies taped off HBO that my brother and I could watch over and over. Those days now seem downright paleozoic compared to today's modern technological wonders, but Whitehead's piece reminds me how good I had it back then, and how different my tastes might be if they had been shaped largely by the whims of the scheduling department at WPIX. There is something exciting about the radom discovery of a movie found while flipping through the channels, but it can't compare with the freedom of choice.

Read more of "A Psychotronic Childhood."

This article is related to: From the Wire, Colson Whitehead


E-Mail Updates