By the standard measurement of every seventh year, I figure I am due for my fifth sabbatical. So I will not apologize overmuch for taking my first. You are hereby notified, in plainest English, that you will be getting no help from me in navigating your way through the next Spider-Man, the next Shrek, the next Pirates of the Caribbean, the next Harry Potter, the next Fantastic Four, the next Ocean's however many, the next 28 however long, the next whoever Almighty, the next Daddy Day whatever, the next Hostel, the next Die Hard, the next Rush Hour, the next Bourne, the next Bean. (Even The Simpsons Movie has the feel of a sequel.) The entire summer, in sum, is to be sat out. Hollywood doubtless looks upon the approaching parade as a Strong Lineup. My opting-out may be taken, or left, as an Opposing Viewpoint.
Most of the people in my circle, when told of this hiatus, seemed truly delighted about it. (A little too delighted, maybe?) How great! How wonderful! How lucky! How long? The old friend who probably best understands me, however, came closest to echoing the muffled voice inside my own head -- You quitter! You pantywaist! You deadbeat! You! -- but he stopped just short. Clearly, my feelings about the sabbatical are contradictory in the extreme: abashment at taking one, abashment at not having taken one long ago. (Well, I'll have some time to grapple with that. The delight, if any, will come later.) Slow learner that I am, I seem to have needed better than three decades to achieve the perspective that a single movie season here or there is neither here nor there, that another dozen blockbusters, give or take, amount to no more than a pinch of sand in the infinite hourglass.
While I still do intend to keep up in some fashion, I can afford, for now, to be a good deal choosier in what I see. Which is to say I'll have more time on my hands to choose what I want to see on DVD. (Much like an unpaid movie fan, a voluntary movie fan, a free-willed movie fan.) It will be a treat, too, to be choosier in taking notes in the dark, to reach for pen and paper only when severely provoked. It will be an even bigger treat not to be making such notes afterwards into sentences and paragraphs, and not to be meeting weekly deadlines. (And let me nip in the bud any reckless speculation that I am following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Mike Penner, and will be coming back in the fall under the byline of Lily White.) One of the things I am looking forward to, experimentally, is seeing the new movies on a deliberate delay, seeing Ocean's Thirteen, let's say, when everyone else, having moved on, is gabbling about Live Free or Die Hard. The idea is to impose some perspective by force. To impose perspective -- to resist the hype, to step back, to take the long view -- is of course an important part of a critic's job, but it's a tricky part. You go into and come out of Grindhouse -- if, like me in any case, you attend the standing-room-only promotional screening -- with the impression that it's a big deal. A week or two later you know it's not. Or anyhow I do. As I say, I'm a slow learner.
But the first order of business, or first order of leisure, is a drive up to L.A. in the next week to catch the latest Alain Resnais film, Private Fears in Public Places, which I cannot expect ever to come to San Diego. Right around this same time a year ago, the same distributor, IFC, unveiled the latest Hou Hsiao-hsien film, Three Times, in Los Angeles, and snubbed San Diego. A pattern might be emerging in the treatment of the world's greatest living filmmakers. (Bluntly, too good for the boondocks.) The obligatory "limited" theatrical release naturally means that the Resnais film will soon enough be issued on DVD, and unless I am misinformed it is slated even sooner to be broadcast on the IFC channel (to which I don't subscribe). Up to this point in my life, however, I have managed to see all of the feature films of my favorite director on a big screen (for four of those, or five if we count Smoking and No Smoking as separate entities, I had to go to L.A., I could not have patiently stayed home), and I propose to keep my record spotless.
Nothing less, should the Resnais by any chance happen to trickle down our way, could tempt me to interrupt my time off. And there's nothing else I can think of that isn't less. The Coen brothers' upcoming film, No Country for Old Men, is coming up more precisely at Cannes later this month, though as yet I am unclear as to when it's coming up over here. But the brothers' first literary adaptation (of an overreaching Cormac McCarthy novel), following after their first remake (The Ladykillers Americanized), to say nothing of following after their five-minute segment in a compilation film (Paris, Je T'Aime, also upcoming, which I saw last year in Paris), quite snugly fits the definition of "less." If it can hold off until my return, great. If it can't, less great but still fine. Either way I won't miss it. And whether or not I write about it, I won't miss writing about it. If you catch my drift.
See you downstream.