an announcement of my retirement.

Well, not quite as drastic as that, so let me explain. If I can—not that much of this makes much sense even to me.

(Note: The following was written as a “prologue” for my “best of 2007” wrap-up that remains half-written, in that half-formed place where I’m not sure if it’ll ever be resurrected to see the light of day.)

***

No matter how I’ve tried to approach it, 2007 remains problematic for me. First, an admission of embarrassing facts: 2007 was the year I saw the least amount of new releases since high school, and if I had not attended TIFF this last year, I would have seen just a mere dozen or so of 2007’s offerings. But most disheartening for me was the realization that I read (or completed, more accurately) less books during the course of the year than I probably ever have. As a result, 2007 seems to stand as an alarmingly stagnant year, at least weighed solely in intellectual terms. During college, intellectual growth became my major (perhaps my only) yardstick for measuring personal growth, and holding to that standard, 2007, to be quite blunt, ranks as a dismal one.

Thankfully, one of the personal breakthroughs of 2007 was the realization that there are other means of measuring the self out there, and what’s more they are probably more accurate in their eventual assessments. Because even if day-to-day living seemed resolutely immomentous, 2007 actually stands as a year of tremendous personal growth—a rather stunning realization I made during my annual New Years Day recap that I sit down and write every year in my journal. Just taking just an hour or so to take stock of where I was, I was rather floored to realize where I started 2007 and how much progress had been made as I entered 2008.

Now as nice as this all is, why does this matter, especially as a prelude to unveiling my own contribution to that narcissistic but somehow very necessary tradition among film buffs in presenting their favorite films of the preceding year? On some levels its an attempt at an apology for the really stunning gaps in my film viewing this year, but I also offer it up a bit blindly because there’s something about it that I haven’t grasped fully but sure feels important. I’m likely overstating things, but at this moment I feel that without a firm grasp of knowing myself, any kind of intellectual enterprise is more or less like playing at making little towers out of playing cards—interesting, even occasionally admirable in its results, but much too flimsy and insubstantial to be much of anything at all. An example, because it’s been on my mind a lot lately: I’ve always been more than a bit embarrassed of my honors thesis, which in my most honest moments I admit I’ve considered an unqualified failure from the very moment I turned in the first draft for committee review. I never was really grasped why I felt this way, but I think I do now, and the reason surprises me—I wasn’t comfortable digging into any kind of genuine and honest analysis and dialogue with the topic that I selected. To not stray too far into tangential explanations I’ll just say even if it was completely unwitting, at its core the entire paper was an act of intellectual dishonesty, and as such, I doomed it to failure the moment I started it. And now, suddenly, the rest of my writing feels suspect.

Gah. All of that just to say that another of my great personal discoveries of 2007 was a growing sense that approaching films—and reading, and anything else—from a point of personal honesty and awareness of self is absolutely essential if there is any hope of grasping any kind of intellectual truth. Which segues into another of 2007’s revelations—that of coming to grips and ultimately making peace with what is increasingly beginning to feel like alienation from not only film culture at large (whatever that exactly encompasses), but most particularly from the cinematic-minded blogosphere that I was just beginning to feel part of. For the first time since I started taking cinema seriously, I’ve never felt so disconnected from what’s new and what is being hailed as important by those I consider “in the know;” looking at Film Comment’s critics poll, just looking at the top tier it’s rather staggering the films I haven’t seen: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Eastern Promises, The Lives of Others, Black Book, Michael Clayton, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the list goes on and on… of course, it’s one thing that I just haven’t seen said films yet—the fact time and financial resources were in short supply can’t be avoided—but what does it mean that quite frankly I just don’t really want to see any of the above listed? Of course, this isn’t unprecedented—I refused to bow to the pressure to see The Departed, as I can’t be less interested in Scorese’s film—but this year it just feels so, so widespread, so, overwhelming.

Inevitably, I feel left out, which is one reason why in the second half of 2007 output of this blog dropped dramatically, with only the occasional capsule review to give others some kind of indication of a vital sign (yes, I’m still here!). And I think I’m okay with that now, even as I continue to wrestle with the implications. I used to be very concerned—almost obsessively—with having something important or vital or interesting to say, which is probably why this blog was never as vibrant as I wanted it to be, even when I was at my most committed. I’ve let go of any aspirations of greatness and furthermore discarded once and for all the mantle of precociousness I cherished for years and years in my internet interactions. I no longer really possess the desire to say something important because I realize thet I’m not at a point where such expectations are even realistic. Instead, for the first time, I’m really allowing myself to merely be exposed to the things that interest me, and see where that eventually takes me. I feel like I need to see more films, read more books, listen to more music, experience more art, and simply live more before I dare even think I have a chance of coming up with something genuinely insightful. One of my resolutions for 2008: to undue my habit of watching a film or reading a book or whatever through a filter of “now what interesting thing am I going to say about this when I write my review?” I see now that such a mindset is severely limiting, and might even be robbing me of quite a bit of enjoyment I might not even realize I’m missing. Happily, I’m already seeing results—in the first months of 2008 I have read more books than I have during any period since graduating, and furthermore, it was on more wide-ranging subjects than I’ve ever let myself indulge in before. It’s been fun, it’s been terribly interesting, and for now, I’m going to stick with that.

I don’t even know what I’m getting to at this point, and I find myself already fighting thoughts of “what did I end up saying? Is it good? Is it insightful?” This is what it is, I guess. And I’ll end this thing here, and you know, actually get to the films themselves, which is why I undertook this thing in the first place.

***

And now, I guess an epilogue to my prologue, written from the perspective a month after the above was written. Just last night I had a long conversation with my best friend with whom I shared much of what is written here, and as always, her insight and empathy hit the bullseye. She emphasized that it is impossible to expect ever reaching a place of “knowing enough,” and as a result it should never serve as a deterrent for writing (because in reality it’s merely an excuse, a flimsy cop-out). So I think the problem lies in my burning desire of saying something meaningful, an exhausting ambition that I currently don’t have the time or energy to keep wrestling with. As a result I’m still not sure of the fate of Memories of the Future, but for now I have decided for now to turn my writing inward, that is, to focus more on my personal journal until I’m ready to start focusing outward again. This also comes as I’ve stepped away from internet use in general as I’ve thrown myself into redeveloping my intense love of books, literature and cinema, and also a new appreciation of music I have never reached before.

And that, in effect, is my “retirement”—though in actuality it’s more of an open-ended sabbatical. For a while at least the only thing that can really be expected from me is repostings of the capsule reviews I will continue to write for the IMDb Classic Film message board (simply means to save them for future reference). Maybe there will be more, I really don’t know at this point. I just wanted to let you all know the reason for my absence—and rest assure, I’ll continue to read you all in hopes of rejoining your ranks once again sometime in the future.

-jesse

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unexpected character configurations

Some quick observations about character interactions in Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2006): It’s there in the way that Dr. Nohng uncovers and studies the tattoo just below the collarbone of the sullen young man suffering from carbon monoxide poisoining; the same could be said about the loose, casual banter between a dentist who after hours is an accomplished musician and a young Buddhist monk who once wished to be a DJ. Ditto the comfortable, sun-dappled picnic shared by Dr. Toa and Pa Jane.

None of these sequences are necessarily erotic, but there’s something rather charged about them which produces an interesting effect as all three probably convey a greater degree of intimacy and personal understanding than we ever witness between members of the opposite sex (except perhaps the completely sexless reminiscing between Dr. Nohng and elderly Dr. Wan). What this means I have no idea, but I think it’s interesting to note that the central, elusive relationship with homoerotic undertones in Tropical Malady is carried over and multiplied less overtly several times over in Syndromes and a Century. Isn’t that, well, a bit odd considering the film was inspired by the courtship of the directors parents?

Representative images of interaction:

As opposed to:

Do you see the difference I see?