[Crossposted on Goodreads.]
I was really looking forward to picking up this book — movies being a passionate interest of mine — but found it to be a rather uneven collection. Organized, kind of, around the provocative question “if movie-watching has become in itself a primary source of experiencing the world, what kind of movies are our lives imitating?”, Life as We Show It features pieces that use “films and the culture that comes with it, as an ingredient for narrative impetus,” as coeditor Masha Tupitsyn puts it.
One or two essays are almost full-blown academic papers that are explicitly engaged with film history and theory; some have little to do with even cinema at all. Sometimes knowledge of the film being discussed is (probably) crucial to appreciate the piece (and therefore, my non-appreciation); sometimes it’s not. Creative nonfiction, a screenplay, poetry: it sounds like a fairly open-ended Call for Papers — both to its advantage and disadvantage — and the fragmentary, journal-entry nature of some of the pieces only helps to underscore the looseness of the collection. (Granted, the fragments do mimic the way in which cinema seeps into our dreams and flickers at the edges of our everyday consciousness: in half-remembered scenes, in random bits of dialogue.) But one person’s “fluid and limber” is another person’s “disorganized”. Eye of the beholder and all, no pun intended.
On the other hand, the more substantial pieces are really well-crafted: Kevin Killian, on seeing one of his students in a porn video; Wayne Koestenbaum, on Elizabeth Taylor (but then, it’s Wayne Koestenbaum we’re talking about here, whose capacity to meld sometimes stunning critical acuity with campy hilarity is probably second to none); Veronica Gonzalez, on Herzog (barely), tourism and marriage; Tupitsyn, on the bodies of Ralph Macchio and Jamie Lee Curtis; Richard Grayson’s “The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County”, on the ephemeral life of suburban theaters; and Myriam Gurba watching Kids and remembering herown traumatic adolescence.
Best piece, hands down: Dodie Bellamy’s “Phone Home”, a piece prompted by Spielberg’s E.T. What follows is a heartbreaking, almost obsessive examination of the film (and crucially, the DVD extras) as a way of working through her grief.
A good chunk of the book (sorry, I don’t have my copy in front of me, and it may even be more than half) deals with love and sex — limiting at first glance, but actually superbly appropriate. For what other medium lets us sate our scopophilia so easily, letting us hungrily consume (and vice-versa) the larger-than-life objects of our desire, with strangers in the dark?