February dawns with a lot of intriguing little news bites about The Green Lantern, First Avenger: Captain America, and how your favorite characters may be mangled by odd story choices. Last year, I described this very same week as one where "everything is taking a breather before Watchmen, Wolverine, and all the madness that will follow the filming of Iron Man 2, Thor, Scott Pilgrim, and Captain America. In weeks, we're going to be bombarded with Terminator: Salvation, Star Trek, and Sherlock Holmes – and maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of Avatar. I can't wait for that stuff to hit the web so we have something to really tear into."
Ah, the innocence and excitement of February 2009!
In fact, seeing as there's so little to write about this week, I thought I'd go back to that very column and revisit its mawkish sentimentality. The Geek Beat has once again hovered very close to my Cinematical anniversary and my birthday (Wolverine style, we're going to avoid that topic), so I thought a retrospective was in order. I've been on this column and on this site for two years now, which is stunning and strange. I know it's corny, but it really seems like it was just yesterday that I was shyly talking to Erik Davis for the first time, and logging into our blogging software to write a Punisher: War Zone update. I now measure time by movie seasons and release dates, and it's a really surreal way to live. Two years goes by in a flash of casting news, rumor reporting, initial set images, and ranting.
When I first applied at Cinematical, I think it's safe to say that I had no idea what I was in for. I had an idea of "writing about movies" and what that entailed. I thought that I would like to do it. I wasn't sure I'd be good at it, or that I was qualified for it (and I'll always be convinced I'm not, as will 99% of my readers), but for whatever reason, I pursued it. At the risk of sounding very maudlin, joining this world has justified my sad little existence. Not because I think I do something incredibly important, but because I now know it's okay to love movies.
I know how silly and small that sounds on a film site that is speaking to fellow cinema devotees, but it's true. Like most of you, as a kid I ate up movies. I bought the t-shirts and toys, I subscribed to the magazines, I watched Entertainment Tonight for the behind-the-scenes spots. I obsessed about them, I dreamed about them, I was utterly consumed by the whole art of it. Like any kid, I was convinced that it had all been made especially for me, and that I was the only one to discover them. That's the great conceit of childhood -- you think the rest of the world overlooked The Wizard of Oz. Childhood is also a great bubble of timelessness where movies like The Wizard of Oz or Snow White were filmed yesterday. You don't know how it threw me to find out Judy Garland or Groucho Marx had done their filming a long time ago, and were no longer on this earth, or that Shirley Temple was now a grown-up. It made no sense to me.
But if that was difficult to comprehend, try explaining how you feel about this stuff to your friends. Initially, I never realized anything was "wrong" with me because my grade school class had a core group of fanboys that was all too happy to have a fangirl. But like lots of geek kids, I hit the awkward years, and lost that core group thanks to switching schools. I continued to assume that my friends would feel exactly the same as I did about Star Wars. It's a painful jolt to realize they didn't. Worse, they think you're pretty odd because you can't stop talking about it or showing them your mom's 1977 Star Wars soundtrack. Isn't it cool? It has pictures of the movie inside and if we just had a record player, we could hear it, and it'd be like watching the movie again. So what? Why is that fun? I don't know, it just is. Isn't it? No. Not to anyone I knew back then.
By the time I got to college I had convinced myself that liking movies was a really, really childish thing and I needed to think about important things like politics. My freshmen year only cemented my reasoning. Lord of the Rings came up on the first day of a classical literature class, and I excitedly said, "You know, they're actually making it into a movie!" One of my classmates sneered. "No, I didn't know. I don't pay attention to pop culture." I became very aware that knowing and caring about such things was unnatural in the halls of academia, unless you were at film school, which I wasn't. From that point on, I actually made a conscious effort to quit my world of movies and their fandom. I threw my obsession into ice hockey because I felt that was more normal. (It's not. Big Fan doesn't lie about the people you will meet while looking for a cool t-shirt in a sports memorabilia shop!)
I didn't stop watching movies -- I could never do that -- but I stopped paying attention to who was cast, and who was directing, and what was being made. I hung out at the library instead, and read biographies of Lev Trotsky and tried to crack The Clerk's Tale, convinced that was a more mature and ordinary way to spend my time. I was miserable. And yes, I cracked. Nothing as dramatic as what you might imagine, though. Nor was there a specific moment of depressed fanfare. I just had a gradual realization that I wasn't happy anymore, mixed with a slow and embarrassed recognition that half the things I had poured over -- Russian history, medieval literature, Edith Wharton -- were inspired because I had wanted to know something more about a movie I had loved. I should add that I don't regret studying a single one of those things (and I quite enjoyed it for years), particularly since it also helped me to realize that what most of what the world now regarded as Classic and True Art was once derided as ugly popular culture. Just think! In some stuffy 19th century classroom, there was a student sneering that he didn't read Charles Dickens because he didn't follow popular culture.
Of course, that's probably implying some arrogant analysis on my part. Last year, I wrote that "I may not be the writer my audience or my topics deserve, this gig was the hero I needed one year ago" and that still holds true. I walked away from everything I had built and worked towards. It was a horrible decision to make. I didn't do it with the intention of "I will go and write about movies now!" I didn't know what I would do. I just knew I wanted a different life, and one that movies would be a bigger part of. That it led to this was unimaginable. It's the stuff of fairy tales. I can't even begin to say how grateful I am to be in the nebulous club, friends with people I've admired, or how bewildered I am by the fact that people like to listen to me or read what I write. I'll never be comfortable with my position here.
But what I'd forgotten to praise last year was how much I love being a part of this wider, crazier world. When I was sitting at my computer miserably contemplating my thesis, this all seemed so far away and insurmountable. The people I read -- from Roger Ebert to Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny and Harry Knowles -- were these distant, glittering figures that you didn't actually talk to. So many of those barriers (and perhaps I imagined them out of my own poor self-esteem) have cracked wide open thanks to the ever-changing face of social media. I now feel like the discussion of film is bigger and more open than it's ever been. Whether that's good or bad for the art of criticism and filmmaking remains to be seen, but I appreciate that we can all talk about this stuff so freely. As wonderful as the platform is, what I truly cherish is that I'm now able to engage about movies with so many people. I'm permitted to run wild with my personal obsessions of the moment. It's a wonderful feeling to be accepted for that. I'd like to think that this new frontier means no awkward kid with their movies, comics, and collectibles will ever feel alone and freaky again.
When I wrote about fandom on the eve of a new decade, that sense of community was one of the feelings I was vaguely trying to touch on. Some felt I was critical of fandom in that piece, or that I was too narrow in my thinking, which was probably true. It was born out of a long year of combat. But one of the discoveries -- or perhaps rediscoveries considering I had once written it down in my class notes -- was the fervent belief humanity has always had in drama. So, when I say this gig justified my existence, I don't mean that my life was meaningless before I wrote casting news and The Geek Beat. It's that I now appreciate what the Greeks knew all along -- being deeply moved and devoted to the art of drama isn't silly, immature, or foolish. It's mystical. It's bigger than me, or you, or the words that are written about it. It was weak of me to ever think otherwise, and I can only thank Cinematical, my peers, my friends, and my readers for helping me realize that once and for all. I sincerely hope that you too can take pride, satisfaction, and comfort in that thought too -- and if mysticism is too touchy-feely for you, then at least remember those who sneered at Charles Dickens. Where did that ever get them, anyway?