~ There are films that stand, and I believe will continue to stand, the test of time. ~
by Mark Danowsky, Managing Editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal
[from the opening of The End of the Tour (2015)]
Writer David Lipsky has this appreciation.
To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open.
Some writers specialize in the 'away from home' experience.
They have safaried, eaten across Italy, covered a war.
Wallace offered his alive self, cutting through our sleepy aquarium, our standard TV, stores, political campaigns.
Writers who can do this... like Salinger and Fitzgerald... forge an unbreakable bond with readers. You didn't slip into the books looking for a story, information, but for a particular experience...the sensation, for a certain number of pages, "of being David Foster Wallace." If anything, there was a conscious attempt... to not give overt direction, although, of course, you end up becoming yourself.
It’s said that the music you come to love in early high school will calcify. So too, I suspect, with the films you encounter in those impressionable times. But it’s not just that music, those films—it’s what it felt like to be you engaging with the media.
Famously, Marshall McLuhan says: “The medium is the message.” Is this not reductive? Sure, the medium plays a role in how we perceive content, but the medium itself cannot be everything. Nowadays, nearly all the novel-length fiction I opt to consume is via audiobook. None of these novels were dictated and/or first disseminated as auditory media; I have determined what works best for me (given my own idiosyncrasies) and selected my ideal medium.
“A good idea is a good idea…forever.” -David Brent (The Office, UK)
This is false. There are films that are very much of the time and for the time. These films do not hold up.
In his 1837 address, The American Scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaims, “I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.” This puts the TV viewer in a particularly uncomfortable space. How are we supposed to feel about actively enjoying our passivity?
We don’t watch a movie like The End of the Tour for plot, and it’s not a documentary—we enter for the sensation—we enter because, for the duration of the film, those 106 minutes, we get to be a satellite in the solar system that is David Foster Wallace.
[When we talk about David Foster Wallace there’s a factor of preterhuman intellect that comes into play. I’m by no means the first or last person who will say they engage with a DFW text because they feel smarter while doing so.]
I’m doing my best to establish that tone, in a broad sense, is a reason why viewers enjoy a film like The End of the Tour. I believe we take pleasure in watching Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) for very much the same reason.
In atmospheric cinematic experiences, we want to feel the way we feel while we’re watching. There are an impressive number of films that pull off this transaction and I’m admittedly tempted to begin unpacking them here and now—but my point is that: because the takeaway is experiential these works stand the test of time.
[This is not unlike the way good poetry operates. You can’t “explain” a good poem, the act of reading (and re-reading) the poem is the only option.]
Films like Lost in Translation and The End of the Tour are not about the message; they are not so much an escape from so much as an escape to.