"When you see it in a movie theater, you often have nuisances. I wrote in a piece called 'Confessions of a Shusher' that I always try to police the theater and get people to stop talking. But I like the feeling of the surround and other people's responses, and close up of lips that are ten feet.
"Sometimes you see a film on TV and it doesn't look like much, and then you see it in the theater and it's interesting; especially intimate films do better on a large screen. You'd think it was the opposite, that films full of spectacle need the large screen. But, actually, sometimes films that are intimate are too small and they really need a larger projection of life. So, whenever possible I see them in the theater. Sometimes I review films and the publicist says, 'We don't want to give you a DVD; we don't want to give you a video. We want you to see it on the screen.' And you'll say, 'Well, I can't, so just send me the damn DVD, I will make compensations in my own mind.' I'll give 20 percent compensation, knowing that it would be more spectacular in a theater."
With DVDs, said Mr. Lopate, "now you can see everything -- we're almost at the point where you have access to all the wonderful films of the past. I dream of the day when you can punch in a title and order up something. Now films are in the theater six weeks or six months, but you can't order up the treasures of the library. That would be great."
I never had been much of a moviegoer. When I grew past dating age, married, and had children, I had neither time nor money. I have begun, however, to rent DVDs and see films about which I'd only read. Recently I had seen End of an Affair on DVD. I said to Mr. Lopate that, watching this, I realized I had never seen people have sex in movies.
"Right, well they're certainly having a lot of it now, yes."
"But it doesn't look to me like real sex -- it's stylized and tidy. No one seems hairy and brutish. No one grunts."
"No, it never is like real sex. It really isn't. It's strange how they anatomize sex. They don't really know how to deal with it. To me, a good sex scene is a scene that tells me something about the psychology of the characters. Very often every scene will tell you something about the psychology of the characters until the sex scene, and then it becomes a kind of abstraction. Almost like a musical interlude."
"In End of an Affair, the erotic scenes seemed choreographed. I felt I was watching Swan Lake ."
"Exactly. It's not the way I experience sex."
We changed the subject. I said, "You write about the difference between a 'film critic' and a 'film reviewer.'"
"Well, I tend to be skeptical that there's much difference between a film critic and a film reviewer. This is a snobbish distinction that some people make a lot of. I think there's good film writing and bad film writing. And sometimes a film reviewer, for a newspaper, say, in 600 words, can really do a beautiful job of analyzing the soul of a film. And sometimes somebody can go on for 30 pages and you feel like you haven't come close to it yet.
"This difference used to be partly a matter of periodical venues -- reviewers would weigh in immediately, and then critics could respond to the initial critical take and have the last word. They could write for literary magazines and periodicals and it was a more high-toned affair.
"Nowadays there are fewer venues for serious film criticism. But, of course, there's still room for reviewing. Some reviewing is like a consumer guide, thumbs up, thumbs down, and is pretty shallow. But I don't think that there's anything inherent in film reviewing that precludes depth. And I don't think there's anything inherent in writing for an intellectual quarterly that is necessarily going to produce good film criticism.
"One thing that's changed is that film criticism used to be a field for generalists. So someone like Edmund Wilson would put his two cents in about Chaplin, and Paul Goodman, for instance, would write about D.W. Griffith.
"But now, in a way, what's happened is that, with the growth of film scholarship and film studies programs, writing about film is polarized between a kind of pop vernacular and a kind of academic discourse. There isn't as much room in the middle for educated writing for the common reader or the common moviegoer.
"So many films are being released now because people can make them on digital cameras and then they sometimes release them just for two days and put them into DVD or video. So it drives movie reviewers nuts now because there's too much product out there."
"I like how you speak of film as 'product.'"
"Well, there's always been that tension between film as commerce and film as art, and it's often put the movie critic on the spot. Because should the movie reviewer pretend that every film he sees is a work of art, and therefore, most turn out to be sad works of art, or should a movie reviewer be more practical and say that a particular film, most of the films that are shown, never intended to be works of art? The real thing they were trying to do is get people to pass their time in a fairly pleasant, comatose state."
"More like TV."
"I think there are still good films being made. By the end of each year, I total up films that I've liked. So I don't think that we're living in a bad period for film-going. I think that if there was a golden age, part of what happened was that there was a different kind of apparatus surrounding film. There were more art theaters. There were serious film magazines. Whereas now, you get good films, but there isn't the same kind of reading section, you might say."