“Film lovers are sick people.” – Francois Truffaut
“Films are even stranger, for what we are seeing are not disguised people but photographs of disguised people, and yet we believe them while the film is being shown.” – Jorge Luis Borges
The SLIFR Tree House has been shuttered for another season, the movies and moods and movements of 2011 having been effectively and entertainingly mulled over by our august membership. There’ll be more from me vis-à-vis my annually tardy year-end consideration post, which should be coming your way sometimes before Oscar night. But I just wanted to reflect for a moment on what an honor the five participants, all from different backgrounds and perspectives and temperaments and sensitivities, bestowed on me and this blog by deigning to take part in this project.
The SLIFR Tree House was initiated by me last year out of my desire to participate in the Slate Movie Club. No invitation was forthcoming to join that group (and neither did I expect one!), so I thought, why not just borrow the concept, give it our own fresh coat of paint and take it down the road for a spin? The first year it was only Sheila, Jim, Jason and I trading thoughts, and that was a lot of fun. Not that the four of us were in perfect harmony and needed rattling, but I came into this year’s edition thinking that adding a couple more voices might spice up the mix even further. Yet as the day of the first posts came nearer I fretted that maybe six writers was just too many. How would we ever fit it all into one week?
I needn’t have worried. Who said we had to fit it all into one week just because that’s what the Salon folks did? At the end of one week, each one of us had only posted once and we knew we weren’t close to being finished. So we agreed to extend the party into the next week, and by the time Jim submitted his final post we had 20 separate filings for Tree House readers to pore over. Think about that—at an average of about 1,800 words, some fewer, most far more, by the end of it all we Tree Housers had submitted for your approval close to 40,000 words about the year just past. Most publishing companies would consider that about half a full-length book. And here it is for you to print out, argue with, nod in agreement to and otherwise enjoy at your leisure.
What’s most pleasing is that though the intellectual quality of what was offered here was most sincere and integrity-packed, the fact that it was pitched as a celebration didn’t preclude critical analysis and certainly didn’t mean that any of it was going to read like a dry academic paper. The people invited to the Tree House this year had their own distinct personalities and takes on the movies, yet it never ever came close to the kind of one-upsmanship and carping that conferences of this sort often find themselves descending into. For example, Simon’s exhaustive and exhausting experience with movies many of us haven’t seen provided inspiration and guidance to expand our palates and where we might go to do so, while we were prompted to smile at his humor-laced, self-effacing style. Sheila brought passion for the art and craft of acting to the table, and it was such rush to read her impassioned words on Iranian film, how the movies can be a force for sociological as well as artistic expression, and what movies can mean to their potential audience Meanwhile, Steven and Jason expressed personal and political passion about the movies, about what they can mean, what they must mean, about the very meaning of a mass audience, and guided us all in a enriching discussion of The Tree of Life illustrated with their own overwhelming experiences. Finally, Jim brought his considerable experience to bear on a fascinating examination of what it means to write, and write well, about the movies, bringing it all home with, among many other trenchant observations, a moving remembrance of the recently deceased film distribution figurehead Bingham Ray.
To boil it down to the sparest nugget, this year’s Tree House so surpassed my hopes for what we would do and how much fun we would have doing it that I almost hesitate to suggest doing another one. How could it possibly match this year’s model? Yet propose it I will again next year, in the hopes that all my friends who came by for a visit this year will be back, maybe in the company of still other writers who want to take the time to consider the year in the company of like-minded and enthusiastic colleagues. With all due respect to the membership of the Slate Movie Club, which includes one of my favorite film critics, Stephanie Zacharek, I hope it’s not too arrogant to express my feeling that this year we surpassed our model of inspiration. In just two short sessions, the SLIFR Tree House has become, for me and I hope you too, a place where friends gather and thoughtful expression about the movies is the standard, a place to which I’ve begun looking forward to returning almost as soon as the doors are closed.
I’d like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to Simon Abrams, Jason Bellamy, Steven Boone, Jim Emerson and Sheila O’Malley for classing up the joint during the month of January. I’m really proud of our achievement here, where no subject was too high or too low for discussion. It was like a really fun convention of writers and fans gathered together to express love and concern for this most dynamic of arts... but in a tree!
See you next year!
AN INDEX OF SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE v.2011 ENTRIES
TREE HOUSE POST #1: INTRODUCTIONS AND AN OPENING SALVO (Cozzalio)
TREE HOUSE POST #2: AGONY, ECSTASY AND THESPIAN PRIDE (O'Malley)
TREE HOUSE POST #3: FESTIVAL FAVORITES AND NETFLIX NUGGETS (Abrams)
TREE HOUSE POST #4: CHURCH OF THE MULTIPLEX (Boone)
TREE HOUSE POST #5: PEDIGREE "BETTER THAN" HYPE? (Bellamy)
TREE HOUSE POST #6: DISCOVERY THROUGH A SECOND LOOK (Emerson)
TREE HOUSE #7: BOMBAST, BIG BUDGETS, BREAKFAST BURRITOS (Cozzalio)
TREE HOUSE #8: RARIFIED REACHES (Boone)
TREE HOUSE #9: WHERE'S MARTIN YAN WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HIM? (Abrams)
TREE HOUSE #10: MESSAGE FROM THE MANAGEMENT (Cozzalio)
TREE HOUSE #11: REVOLUTION AND SHOW BUSINESS (O'Malley)
TREE HOUSE #12: THE MOVIES MUST MOVE US (Bellamy)
TREE HOUSE #13: SPIRITS AND INFLUENCES (Emerson)
TREE HOUSE #14: ACADEMY LEADERS (Cozzalio)
TREE HOUSE #15: MALICK'S GOD, CORNISH'S MONSTERS (Boone)
TREE HOUSE #16: FAITH LOST AND FOUND (Cozzalio)
TREE HOUSE #17: STORIES, DREAMS, MEMORIES (O'Malley)
TREE HOUSE #18: THIS ONE GOES TO ELEVEN (Bellamy)
TREE HOUSE #19: CIGARS FOR EVERYONE! (Abrams)
TREE HOUSE #20: FACES AND MOMENTS IN THE CROWD (Emerson)