I've never been particularly comfortable with the idea of using this blog as a means of sharing personal details, but this perhaps-insane adventure I'm about to embark on warrants something more than a Twitter or Facebook update. Given that the site hasn't been doing much lately other than gathering dust, I figured...why not?
For those who avoid the social mediaz, the news is this: after 40+ years, I am leaving New York City for Berlin, Germany. It wasn't an easy decision, and as I write this (about eight hours before my departure) I am still questioning whether or not it's a wise choice.
With the exception of four years at university and a few additional ones abroad, New York City has been my home since birth. Though I'm admittedly filled with dewy-eyed nostalgia for the NY of my youth, when there was still a thriving middle class and Manhattan felt more like a home and not a mall, I still love the place. But the fact is that it's been kicking my ass for the last several years, and I no longer have the will to endure. I'm tired of the struggle. (My god, I never thought I'd utter those words.)
Like many of my fellow denizens, 9/11 changed everything. The corporate lifestyle that kept me financially in the black but robbed me of my soul would no longer suffice. I knew that I wanted to do something with film, but didn't know what. A year or two as a would-be-screenwriter yielded nothing, and spending time on other people's shoots confirmed that the world behind the camera was not for me. Though I didn't realize it at the time, this blog was the first (albeit unconscious) step that would launch this whole new "thing" (for I dare not use the word career).
In December of 2005, Eugene Hernandez of IndieWire invited me to be on a panel about film blogging along with IFC's Alison Willmore, Karina Longworth (then of Cinematical), Aaron Dobbs, Stu VanAirsdale, and Michael Koresky. Heady days indeed, when most of us were still trying to figure things out, and old media flippantly dismissed us with a wave of their print-will-never-die hands. Though I can recall very little about the panel itself, that was the night that changed everything.
If I think about the people who are part of my day-to-day life--acquaintances, good friends, online-only contacts, and even the odd nemesis or two--a vast majority of them trace back to the blog and/or Benten Films, and for that I consider myself very lucky. I've met a wide variety of people, and the time I've spent with them has been incredibly enriching in so many ways.
Yet at the same time there's been an unpleasant shift in recent years, significantly souring the mood, and the poor economic climate has only served to make matters worse. Too many gifted critics with years of experience are unable to find steady work, while younger writers willing to do more for less are churning out serviceable but ultimately uninspired content at an alarming rate. Okay, fair enough, everybody has the right to earn a living. But that some fancy themselves modern-day Manny Farbers and use Twitter and Facebook as tools to worship at the temple of their own narcissism is disconcerting to say the least.1 On top of that, critics have been spending way too much time bashing other critics' opinions (or simply the critics themselves) and second-guessing why it is that their peers don't share their views. It stifles rather than encourages discussion, and it's fucking depressing if you must know the truth.
As a distributor, things haven't fared much better. Indie film is certainly alive and well, but the discussion around distribution is increasingly becoming one of crass commodification, where the delivery mechanism supersedes the content. What we're seeing is a seemingly endless stream of repetitive and pointless panels at film festivals, blog posts by self-proclaimed "experts" who preach profitability over artistic integrity, and the emphasis on new and clever ways to market yourself instead of, you know, actually making a good film.
(To the many talented, daring filmmakers out there not buying into the bullshit -- I tip my hat to you all.)
As a result of all this, my passion for film has diminished to practically nil. I barely watch things anymore. Even my prized pile of rare, grey-market finds that I've been dying to dip into remains untouched. Losing interest in the thing I've loved since childhood...it's a suitable cause for concern.
Though I've made this promise before (and more than once I believe) it is my intention to revive this blog, and I'm hoping that the change of venue will rekindle my desire, and that living in a European city breeds inspiration anew. (Enthusiastic encouragement from the Self Styled Siren herself has certainly helped on this front.) The prospect of attending various film festivals throughout Europe has also served as a seductive lure.
At the same time, I can't pretend that there aren't other unrelated and deeply personal reasons for my leaving, but this isn't the place to discuss them...
To answer some questions many have asked: Yes, Benten Films will go on. It's long been a goal of mine to introduce our films to a European audience, and living there obviously brings me one step closer to realizing that goal. Aaron Hillis will head up Benten here in the States, and if all goes as planned, we'll be making some significant announcements in the coming weeks.
To everyone I've met over the past five years as a result of this site or Benten who has tolerated my bitterness and dime-store misanthropy....thank you. I also would be remiss if I didn't draw attention to a remarkably astute assessment of me by Twitter man-of-mystery The Futurist, whose words left me more than a bit choked up. Here's hoping that life in Berlin finds me happier, calmer, and ready to enjoy watching films again.
Now, I have suitcases to pack...
1I probably don't need to say this, but that's certainly not meant to be a sweeping generalization of every under-thirty critic. I'm no Armond. The good ones know who they are...