"I hitchhiked. Once. I was in the seventh grade -- far too young to be exposing myself to the perilous adventures of road-and-thumb. And yet, young enough to believe that the open road could be thrilling, mind expanding, educational -- the way of, as Jack Kerouac said, the “crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way."
I wasn't as sophisticated as Kerouac. I hadn’t read On the Road yet. But I would have glamorized it as such. There had to be a little glamour. I felt the raw and the real and the dark, sometimes with excitement (sometimes with dread) so it was imperative to sprinkle fairy dust in there, somewhere -- even filthy fairy dust. There were too many dingy light bulbs in the world. One had to compensate."
- Kim Morgan, "The Diary of a Pre-teen Hitchhiker"
A friend of mine recently asked me about the place of the personal in my own writing, whether I thought it should be a part of the way one approaches writing about film, or whether it should be minimized in order to concentrate more fully on the work or subject at hand. Naturally, my answer was part justification for the way I go about things here, but it was a sincere justification. I think the personal can artfully lay the groundwork and the context by which all of what one writes can be seen. And certainly etching the personal perspective specifically into the writing of film criticism is not a new idea-- Agee and Kael and Sarris and Farber were all adept at it in their own ways. But in the age of blogs and online instant celebrity, where we seem to instantly know too much about people we couldn't successful feign interest in were we to see them in person, and where instant celebrity is desired for its own sake, a more personal kind of film criticism might be shrugged off without close examination as just another form of virtual navel-gazing. Certainly the reduction of film reviews to a commodity, as simple consumer guides, adds fuel to this fire, as does any value placed on the enduring myth of objective journalism, which has, for even the most casual observer, most certainly now exploded into a million pixels, all of them chattering and shouting amidst the fading echo of civil conversation.
But the personal is important, because it introduces itself precisely as such, and it provides a gateway to understanding more fully the writers we choose to follow and make part of our everyday reading experience. And Kim Morgan, never one to shy away from infusing the personal in anything she writes, has come up with a summer jewel of remembrance, a lovely piece that weaves together cinema and literature, experienced and yet-to-be experienced. It's called "The Diary of a Pre-teen Hitchhiker," and you should read it, like, right now. It's a funny, witty take on memories of a one-time-only experience with getting On the Road that Kim leavens and deepens with the connections she makes between her own tentative (and innocent) hitchhiking experience and the way this act of searching for freedom resonates throughout a history of movies and movie genres. Some of the hitchhiking tales she evokes are of the grisly kind, some of the gam-exposing kind, and all are far more eventful (thankfully) than hers turned out to be. But the mark of a smart, thoughtful writer can be uncovered in the way she delights in connecting all those apparently unconnectable dots to make the details of her own experience come alive. Click on the link and enjoy Kim's beautiful tale of the yearning she felt as a 12-year-old for the kind of seeker's adventure that a love for the movies would eventually facilitate and enrich. From now on, whenever anyone asks me about the value of the personal in film writing I will point to this diary right alongside Pauline Kael's review of Fred Wiseman's High School. It's a beautiful essay, full of feeling, humor and sharp wit, and it makes me exceedingly glad that these days Kim takes the train.