"It seems to me the expectations of a film are altered because of what TV feeds to the eyes."
"They have altered in a way in that TV produces a shallower depth of field. And more close-ups so there's often a less interesting use of space that's conditioned by TV. But then, you have directors who go against that trend and who try obstinately to do very cinematic things."
"I often think of TV as 'little movies,' as film on a small scale."
"But it's so much more domestic. You can get up, you can have a beer, you can go to the bathroom. I suppose you can go to the bathroom in a movie theater as well. It's not as magical. You don't surrender quite as much. It's more skeptical in a way. The lights are on."
Almost keening, I said, "I truly want to be enchanted. That's what I want a film to do."
Mr. Lopate laughed, and why not? "There's the question of, 'Do you make love with the lights on or the lights off?'"
I persisted. "But don't you want to be enchanted?"
"I want to be enchanted, absolutely. I still go to the movies with great hopes. It's strange that having seen so many movies that disappoint, how is it possible that one still gets excited. I like to get to a movie theater a few minutes early, so that I can feel the mood in the room. Now, of course, with film reviewers it's a different situation because they see a lot of films at screenings, and that's a very artificial situation."
"And you must take notes."
"Partly because you take notes and partly because there is a kind of competition and also a desire to impress. Some film critics will actually shift in their chair in a certain way to signal those around them whether they think something is preposterous."
"I think that reviewing makes you so hyper-aware in a way that hyper-awareness was not meant to be called upon in a book or film or painting."
"I don't know. I think in a funny way that it's like a two-track system. On one track you're being swept up in the action, as gullible as anyone else. And, on the other track, you're thinking, 'Now why did he put the camera there, why did he cut at that moment, what's that all about, why is it lit in that funny way?' So, I don't actually think that knowing all that about technique and being sensitized to it, necessarily wrecks the illusion or takes you out of it, but it's a second thought or an afterthought."
"Also, you're going to have to go home and write about what you've seen."
"Yeah, and you can't help sometimes but be composing the review of the movie as you're watching it."
"Do you have a good memory?"
"I have a good memory. I don't have the kind of memory that Pauline Kael had. She could remember lines of dialogue. I tend to take notes when I have to review a film. And sometimes I use a little flashlight but I find that that can be irritating to those around me so sometimes I write in the dark, and when I come home I realize that I've been writing over the same line. With luck, I'll be able to read my handwriting, but that's not always possible. Sometimes it takes a while."
"Have you noticed that the faces of 'stars' in movies have changed? They're no longer showing the smooth beauty of a Cary Grant."
"It's certainly true that you have the kind of star who's a common man, like Dustin Hoffman. And ethnic actors like Al Pacino. But don't forget that in the old days you had people like Edward G. Robinson. Wallace Beery. They were no beauties. Particularly Robinson, who was a fascinating actor. He had a strange face. But there was always something weak or vulnerable about him. Even though he was throwing his weight around, you felt he was going to be defeated in the end."
"Perhaps it was his small size."
"I suppose that's true. Cagney was little too."
"They both had the appearance of 'mama's boys.'"
"Yeah, exactly. Cagney certainly acted that role of 'mama's boy.' I don't know. I guess you still have some absolute ravishing beauties and handsome guys."
"Ralph Fiennes," I suggested, "he's very pretty."
"He's very pretty. Did you see The Constant Gardener? It's okay. It kind of falls apart, but he's very watchable. Some people, they just hold the screen. I think a lot of movie critics, whether they admit it or not, they fall in love with certain actors or actresses. There's a whole erotic side to going to movies. It just gets right into your fantasy list."
"What else should I ask you about your book?"
"Well, the book was something that I wanted very much to do because I'd already done two other anthologies -- The Art of the Personal Essay and Writing New York. I love this idea of trying to pull together a kind of personal canon. All my life, I'd been reading movie critics, and they certainly shaped the way I look at movies. I wanted my book to have certain surprises and to push people who weren't as well known, as well as obvious choices like Agee and Farber and Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. It was hard to select, when somebody was a really good writer, because every single piece they wrote might be worthwhile. But I tried to take things that were characteristic. You can't put in everything -- otherwise, it's too large a book."