I recall being an avid reader of Matt Zoller Seitz’s reviews in the New York Press and even the Newark Star-Ledger long before he first turned the key to open The House Next Door back in January 2006. And I remember the sense of excitement I had at the prospect of one of my favorite film critics turning his attention to blogging. Back in that first post, Matt talked about the title of his site:
“My grandfather, a self-educated German-American farmer from Olathe, Kansas, believed that no journey, however seemingly circuitous or self-destructive, was ever truly unnecessary, or even avoidable. Sometimes we just have to continue along a particular path for inexplicable, personal reasons, disregarding warnings of friends and family and perhaps our own internal voices, until we arrive at our destination, whatever it may be. This type of journey, my grandfather said, was the equivalent of ‘driving around the block backward to get to the house next door.’”
Well, it seems now that, if he hasn’t completed his journey, then he’s made it around the block. In a lengthy transcript of a podcast conversation with Keith Uhlich, Matt has revealed that he will be leaving the world of print (and Internet) film criticism, after 17 years, in order to pursue full-time his talents and inspirations as a filmmaker. (Keith will assume House-keeping duties as the overseeing editor.) Those who have seen Matt’s first feature,Home, already know that this announcement hardly heralds a shot in the dark. The movie pulsates with keen observations about human behavior and a convivial atmosphere both in subject—a house party where connections are made remade, and broken—and spirit of filmmaking. He shows a remarkable fluency and agility with narrative conventions in Home that often conjures up the benevolent spirit of Robert Altman. As David Hudson has already noted, it’s clear that Matt is not making this decision lightly and has considered the implications from A to Z. From a purely selfish perspective, I have ambivalent feelings about Matt’s announcement-- it’s going to be weird not having his writing to refer to on a regular basis, at the House and in The New York Times. On the other hand, as someone who loves the art of film, as we all do, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of witnessing a genuinely intelligent voice move into producing and directing movies. For all of us who complain loudly about the dumbing-down of American movies, indies as well as Hollywood blockbusters, this is definitely one for the good guys.
I share the feelings of Jim Emerson, who was the one to break the news to me today. Jim wrote of Matt’s announcement, “When I consider the exceptional, collegial atmosphere among our extended network of movie bloggers, and how much we learn and grow through exposure to one another's work, there's nobody of whom I'm prouder to consider myself a ‘colleague.’” In early 2006 I interviewed Matt at length, with the intention of posting it here on this blog. But shortly after came the devastating, sudden loss of Matt’s wife, Jennifer, and suddenly the interview didn’t seem relevant anymore. In Matt’s own words, “I’m not the same person now that I was when we talked.” So the interview was shelved, and instead we began exchanging occasional phone calls. And in January of 2007, during a trip to Los Angeles, Matt and I finally met in person. We tossed back some beers at a local Burbank watering hole and talked about Jennifer, traded stories of fatherhood, and of course yammered on about the movies. Three hours later we parted company, and though I haven’t seen him in the flesh since, I feel like, through that extended network of movie bloggers Jim refers to, Matt has, as have many others, always been as close as a quick posted comment. And his announcement today makes me more glad than ever to be able to call him my friend.
In dropping my own comment on Matt’s site today, I told him that “as this is only a good-bye to a particular form of expression, I'll try not to allow myself to sound as if it's anything more than that.” Matt will still be around, making the occasional contribution to The House Next Door, and maybe even popping up here every once in a while when the urge to not-lurk grabs him. He’s off on an adventure that I feel confident will take him places that will create for him even truer, more fulfilling avenues of expression than has his distinguished career as a film critic. He leaves us today with one more indication that we will have many gems of cinema to treasure from him in the future. Here is his tribute to his wife Jennifer Dawson, a moving journey which ought to make each one of us understand the privilege of being so deeply loved.
Thanks for all the great work you’ve done so far, Matt, and all that is surely to come. Be talking to ya soon!
UPDATE APRIL 30 12:49 a.m.: Jim has put together a brief tribute to Matt's House-pitality that is as eloquent a testament to this talented writer-- one in which Matt's words speak for themselves-- as I could imagine. Thanks, Mr. Emerson.