Kael, Kael, Fire and Snow! (Part 2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday...)

Her reaction to my beloved Star Wars? She trashed the thing. Savaged it. She dismissed the film as "the new cultural puritanism"; she mocked Lucas writing, saying he had the "tone of bad movies down pat"; she ridiculed the cardboard characters and cartoonish action. Like any reviewer, she was neither right nor wrong, merely opinionated. But, I didn't understand that then. I really didn't accept that people could have opinions that ran counter to my own personal beliefs, and I seriously believed that their inclusion within the same brain that bore my own would damage my psyche in some monumental fashion. I took her broadside against Star Wars as a both a personal attack and as a threat against all humanity. I railed against her. I threw the magazine across the room. And then I read her review again. I probably even threw it again before I returned it to Mr. Brooks. And then I asked him if I could have the copy, which he eventually relented to me. When I later ran across Kael's name in the card file at the local library (of course, I had to do this), I found her books and tore into them. And thus began a life of seeking out the disparate critiques of a wide swath of reviewers.


I read Ebert, Schickel and Ansen. Agee, Canby and Crowther. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. I bought a used copy of
New York Magazine's resident critic John Simon's Movies on Film, and ran into a guy who never seemed to enjoy any movie ever. At least, he wasn't saying so on paper. But, gosh, he could make the language of the dour sing so beautifully as he put a film down. (It often seemed as if he was being bothered too much to leave the cocktail party, let alone set down his martini long enough to write a mere film review.) Simultaneously, there were non-film influences in my life: I had taken to reading Rolling Stone and Creem, when I could get them past my father (my mother didn't give a rat's ass what I read, as long as I was reading); I started to delve into the history of music at roughly the same moment as film, and the two types of reviews became rather inseparable in my mind. I would occasionally get a glimpse of the whatever-he-could-get-enhanced bugfuck energy of Lester Bangs, who purposefully set out to change the language of his realm of criticism all by his sad and declining lonesome. (Seeing as his style led to a to-this-day unceasing avalanche of copycat leaners, but no true inheritors who have taken it to the next mount, I would say he was only partially successful.)

You can bring Hunter S. and Ellison (Harlan, that is... from whom I graciously swiped the highly poetic term bugfuck) into the equation as well, both of them blowing different quadrants of my brains in multiple directions, only to have them crawl worm-like, in minute bloody shards of gray matter, back to me, allowing them to coalesce into something resembling a minor form of wit. They, along with Kael, more than anyone else, are responsible for my youthful interest in anything outside of a comic book, pulp novel or the television. Thompson allowed me to begin wondering about politics and society as a whole (plus, he was goddamned hilarious); Ellison, whether through his vibrant novellas or his angry young-"old man" television and film reviews, had me thinking about social responsibility and change, at the same time as teaching me about ego run amok on its own teetering axis. These three more than anyone affected my interest in writing, in much the same way that John Doe and Exene would eventually teach me that punk, though I already knew it as the sometimes home for the would-be social liberator (and always the refuge for the self-righteously angry or pose-needy, or both), could also be the home for the true poet. There were those who wrote mere reviews as a matter of process, as a job. And then there were those who, whether for a job or not, just flat-out wrote and what they wrote just happened to end up as reviews. What was important was that they were writing and why and how they wrote it.

This is not on purpose, my friends. There is no grand plan. There is no job search in Schmuckityburg, USA and a nervous reply to a classified that says "Lowly Film Reviewer Wanted". I'll take such a job if it proves to be where my life is going at the moment, and if I actually were considered to be up to the task, but this is something that just is. Where the interest lies, so go my pen and myself. I've never been quiet -- I've been an overly verbose jerk for much of my life -- but I pulled the ribbon from out of the Selectric a long time before I should have, and since I moved away from everything I knew, I sensed it was time to put the ribbon back. Even if the Selectric has since morphed into a PowerMac, and all of my #2 pencils are only being used to hold Jen's hair in place in an improvised situation.

Formed by chance and luck, opportune connections and a dogged pursuit of whatever seemed interesting. Taking everything that has ever been mashed into my stew, tasting it, and regurgitating the parts that haven't spoiled out into a new form on the screen before me. Perhaps, like Bangs, I am interested in developing my own language of criticism. Such attempts most often fail miserably, but why not take the chance? You have to keep things interesting for yourself. Why not try? Am I doing anything else with my time? But if I were to forge on with this possibly Quixotic quest, what form should this language take? Well, that's the chief reason why one writes in the first place, and why one reads as a result: the sense of discovery. Stay tuned...

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