I guess the rumors of my demise have not been exaggerated…
SO, GOODBYE AND SHIT…
About ten years ago, Nick Nunziata had a contest on Chud. I can’t remember how I found the site, but there was a contest where people had to come up with taglines for movies that involved being clever. Mine weren’t that great, but I entered anyway, and got an honorable mention. That was the first time my name – my real name – was to appear on the front page of the site for almost a decade. I started here as message board poster Andre Dellamorte while the real me, Damon Houx, worked in film exhibition at a cushy desk job that gave me the free time to post on message boards. There I met people I still call friends today. One of whom has since passed away (I still miss Paul Prischman).
I didn’t write anything for the front page until 2005, when Devin Faraci had to leave town quickly after Comic-con, and asked if I’d do a set visit for the Tenacious D movie. How could I say no? I didn’t. And so I went, and met Todd Gilchrist and Eric “Quint” Vespe to talk with the D and – eventually – got put in the movie as an extra. You can see me if you know where to look. It was thrilling to be on set for the first time, and back then the idea of the movie and Jack Black were pretty fucking cool. I was green, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was unintentionally hungover. But I don’t think I embarrassed myself. I think the next thing I did for the site was a Knocked Up set visit a year later. Going with Jeremy Smith, it was an easier time – though I did have a Chris Farley moment with Paul Rudd (I love Wet Hot American Summer, so I geeked). But for me this was just a goof. It was something to do if it came up, which at that point was once a year or so. But when Jeremy left Collider, I would get invites from Steve Weintraub to do set visits for that site and eventually I got better at it.
But by that point I had been writing online for years, though mostly reviews. I was comfortable writing, talking to famous people less so . Both Nick and Devin had floated the idea of me doing a box office column, and when Nick invited me to do this column, it was at the point when Russ Fischer, Nick, Devin and Jeremy were all writing for the site. I felt like I was joining a supergroup, if only to play the violin solo. I had previously made a lot of comments in the box office threads on the boards, but mostly because I felt (having worked in the industry) there were things I knew that were slightly more informed. When Dave Davis left – who used to do Box Office before me – it seemed a natural fit. I started in April of 2007, finding my way into the column. I was also happy to find myself helping with anything I could, including the “You’ve Got it All Wrong” list we did.
Of course, things changed over the years since then, and a number of people went in and out but my column was – for the most part – consistent. Weddings, funerals, trips abroad, I tried to be regular, but as a writer having a deadline and a schedule can be good. Some weeks I had nothing, some weeks I had too much. Sometimes I went deep into left field, sometimes I felt like I was a laser. Such is writing. Every once in a while a real fire would get under my ass. But the thing that always kept me going was that feedback was almosst always positive, which is good when you do things on a lark. As I’ve said before a filmmaker told me that he knew everything about box office from reading my column. That’s a moment I’ll hold on to long after this column has stopped.
But doing more writing for the site also led to one of my most favorite moments for the site, which surprisingly isn’t interviewing David Lynch. It was talking with Wong Kar-Wai. I was introduced to his work by the woman I first fell truly, madly and deeply in love with. She was a French girl I met who stayed in Portland for a month, and we shared a love of cinema. I was so awestruck by her that our courtship was passionate, but couched in my then-inexperience. That she led me to WKW’s films only served to illustrate why I love his work, and I why I loved her, our relationship – even when immediate – was filled with longing. But more than that, I still think it’s a great interview. And for me that was a turning point. If I could have a good interview with Wong Kar-Wai, if I could get him engaged in a conversation, maybe I could do this.
When Devin left Chud, I was given the opportunity to do more, and so I bumped up my involvement with the site, and through that I’ve had some good interviews. Of course, I’m especially proud of my talk with Roger Deakins, and with Marti Noxon. Having done more interviews, from sitting in the corner saying nothing to doing all the heavy lifting, when you’re curious about something often you get the most interesting answers. And though I can fall back on the tired “how was it working with so and so,” sometimes you need that, and sometimes you find a thread and the discussion gets heated. Mostly still all I’m looking to do is not embarrass myself.
Of course, things are changing at Chud, and recently two things have happened. One is that Chud has had to make some cuts in these hard times, and the other is that I’ve been able to turn writing here, doing my web-show First Dollar Gross with Todd Ghilchrist and Amy Nicholson and my other writings into a living. As someone who’s been writing online since the last century, I can’t say this is much of a change in orientation, but I’ve managed to turn a hobby into – nearly – a profession. I’ve been doing a lot of writing over at Screencrave, and there is where you will likely be finding me for the next couple. The site is currently not at full speed – we’ve been dealing with some technical issues – but I should be a nearly daily presence there, and currently I’ve got some interesting things up, including a fun interview with Takashi Miike.
Though I owe my life in Los Angeles to the late Paul Prischman, none of this would be possible without people like Devin Faraci, Jeremy Smith and – of course – papa bear Nick Nunziata. I’d especially like to thank Nick for letting me hone my craft, and letting me go on the learning curve of writing for the internet with a comment section. You learn a lot from that. But I owe a lot to everyone who writes here, and so many of the board members I’ve come to call as friends. I would list them, except in fear of forgetting someone. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the site, even when I don’t or can’t do certain things. Even when I simply ghost the boards.
Ironically, I’ve always hated the box office, which I think my columns have always shown. Or – if not hate – had a zen-like approach to it all. I can’t control that Transformers 2 made $400 Million at the box office. The numbers are the numbers. They do not lie that much, and they are cold, but from them we can see when things work or not. Ultimately the United States is having a hard time economically, and the paradigm shifts of how people get home entertainment has changed the landscape for film-making in both good and bad ways. In the near future we will likely see the death of 35mm film, for better or ill. How audiences take in films, from theatrical and through on demand is still not yet determined, and something like Netflix could just as easily be the next Blockbuster. And though there are ways that cinema is changing that I find disheartening, there are a number of things that keep me cheery.
One is that you truly never know. Though I think it’s best to be pragmatic to cynical about box office, that’s a terrible approach to film going. In a million years I would have never thought the fifth entry in a franchise that’s existence seemed preposterous to begin with would deliver one of the most entertaining Hollywood films in years, but Fast Five is one of the best summer action films in the last decade. I never thought I would type those words, but I hope I have as much fun with another movie in the near future, because that film is kind of perfect.
Another is that when you talk about any period of cinema history, there are always good and bad films. The nineties – at the time – seemed so refreshing, but the independent movement gave us some great directors, but it’s a very overrated decade for American cinema. And the 1980’s were considered something of a wasteland, but – as tastes and time has passed – what was great has proved to be truly ingenious. Yes, they are back to making movies about board games, but with such non-existent narratives those films can be anything. And the video game genre of films may yet achieve something approaching quality with the upcoming Uncharted film.
Thirty years ago Pauline Kael wrote about how the numbers are ruining cinema, and they have and do, but superheroes and reboots and bad sequels add up. It cannot last, and ten years from now, it’s hard to suggest that these films will still rule the roost. And we may all wish for more Christopher Nolan’s, but that’s the nature of modern cinema. Nolan is a genius, and we are not seeing plays and novelists being brought to Hollywood as we were so many ages ago. But 2007 is one of the single greatest years of cinema we’ve seen in my lifetime, and I would stack it against any year I’ve lived through. And 2011, with Fast Five, 13 Assassins, Meek’s Cutoff, and some of the upcoming films like Bridesmaids and Tree of Life mean this is going to be a fairly solid year of cinema. Just as 1939 was loaded with terrible films no one talks about. We’ve yet to see a year that hasn’t produced at least a handful of great films, and as we’ve changed how we perceive movies, we may yet see archeologists discover lost treasures from the last two decades. Films that grow because of what they are, not what they were thought to be at the time. It’s happened throughout cinema’s history, why not now?
Instant access has changed how we watch movies, and the democracy of the internet gives a great voice to people who are insanely passionate about the things they love – which often aren’t movies. And so you’re going to continually see films like Serenity championed as great art. But as long as The Criterion Collection keeps going, there will be numbers of titles of great films that you should watch. And if I am to leave with a piece of advice, allow me to say that if something excites you, please follow through. Understand that not every film by a director or actor is going to be a winner, but watching the body of someone’s work – like Sam Fuller, Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, Akira Kurosawa or Christopher Nolan – can be educational. And if you can, watch them in as much order as you can to see how they grow and regress and regroup and rethink. I’ve learned a lot in life from watching as many films as I can get my hands on, and being passionate means there are tidal movements – you can’t maintain constant enthusiasm, not every film or meal is going to be a winner, but you have to keep eating, and cinema has nourished me at my highest and lowest points. Because that’s what what art does, or can do.
And never be afraid of being a novice. Never be afraid of not knowing. Because you can always learn, you can always see something through different perspectives, and appreciate things. There are still films I’ve yet to see, and that excites me. And though I go through periods of being less excited about – say – going to the New Beverly, or watching a Bergman film that’s still unseen, it’s always worth something to me to go. As I get older, I get less interested in some new experiences, but it’s always worth fighting against that. To tie this to all my passions, I never thought I would be a good dancer, but whether or not I’m good, I love dancing, and so I dance. It makes me happy. And if you love films, and you keep watching films you’ve never seen before, you’re going to find something you love. And I did this out of love, and I watch movies out of love, and I try – even though sometimes it’s hard – to never forget that. I try to never forget the seven year old me who saw Jaws and eventually came to understand it wasn’t sharks that gave him that adrenaline rush, it was cinema.
Fast Five is going to open to over $70 Million, I would peg it to go mid eighties, and everything else is weak. I guess I’ll be back Sunday to say goodbye-goodbye.