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Admit Your Sadism, Win a Prize
A Backward Glance at ‘Sideways’

But I Digress — Finally

  • 9/14/07 at 7:13 PM

"Is it just me, or is it vague and corrosive in here?"Photo: Courtesy of Warner Independent

So I went to see In the Valley of Elah two weeks ago and the colors were desaturated to the point of monochromaticism and I thought, Hmmm, that’s a choice. The palette made sense, though, in the context of the film’s emotional tone. Tommy Lee Jones’s ex-sergeant Hank Deerfield returns to Ft. Rudd, his old stomping grounds, and feels profoundly out of place, unsettled, and isolated. All that was solid in his life is now in vaporous. In last week’s column, I wrote:
Everything — and everyone — seems faraway, a little stuporous. The palette is washed out — khaki, military green — but shadowed. The vistas are empty. The tone is both vague and corrosive.

The day after my piece closed, I got an e-mail from a publicist: “Hi there — I understand that the print of In the Valley of Elah you saw on Thursday appeared very washed out. I'm having that print checked and wanted to offer you another screening if you wanted.”

My response was succinct: “Oy.” I had mulled over many possible reasons for the color, but none was, “It was a fuck-up.”

In the last act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus defends the Players’ hilariously inept production: “The best of their kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them.” It’s doubtful that Theseus’s somewhat philistine view of plays and players represents Shakespeare’s — he surely made distinctions among great and lousy art. But Midsummer is a comedy about the unreliability of our perceptions. In the forest, under a spell, a man sees his beloved and finds her repugnant, and a Fairy Queen regards a fool with the head of an ass as the sweetest stud muffin this side of Illyria. Try as we do for objectivity, even the most conscientious human (and critic) is a prisoner of his fancies. We might see bold artistic choices in bad prints. We are all projectionists.

And so I welcome you to my occasional blog, the Projectionist, a place for second thoughts, third thoughts, musings both important and self-indulgent, and — I hope — a fluid exchange with readers.

I’ve missed that here at New York. In my nine and a half years at the online magazine Slate, I got thousands of e-mails from readers. That last one I got here was two months ago. It’s not, I’m convinced, that I’m that much less read. It’s that the distance, literal and existential, between a glossy weekly print mag and cyberspace is vast. I send e-mails to bloggers and online writers often but can’t remember the last time I mailed someone at a glossy, even when I’ve read an article online. My fingers aren’t poised over the keyboard in the same way.

Cyberspace being infinite, at Slate I had license to write between 250 and 2,500 words on a movie, and no digression was too digressive. Now, there’s the horror, the horror of eliminating whole paragraphs to fit the page — in addition to changing, for example, “did not” to “didn’t” to pick up a line and removing anything in parentheses. I do not always want to use contractions, and I like parentheses. You never know where they might lead.

And who knows where this might lead? Movies connect with us on an unconscious level, and blogging is a pipeline to the id. I might even write open letters to filmmakers begging for nude pictures of actresses. As Larry Craig might say, I plan to take a wide stance.

[Update: This post originally misidentified Tommy Lee Jones' old stomping grounds as Ft. Bragg, not Ft. Rudd.]