Monday, January 01, 2007

From the editor

By Matt Zoller Seitz

In the international terminal of JFK Airport, a woman asks a man she's sweet on, "Are you coming or going?"

"I don't know," he replies. "Both."

That exchange doesn't just underscore the story of Steven Spielberg's marvelous new film The Terminal, about an Eastern European man forced by circumstance to spend several months living in an airport. It ricochets in the imagination, prompting us to flash back through some of the striking images we've seen up to that point, revisit Spielberg's canon in search of related ideas and images and realize there are so many that counting them is impossible."
The above is from a piece on Spielberg's The Terminal that was originally published in NYPress in the summer of 2004.

I revisited the article at about 5 AM on December 31, quite involuntarily, after realizing that the introductory paragraph I'd been working on for the past half-hour sounded weirdly like something I'd heard or read someplace before; terrified of rehashing movie dialogue or someone else's criticism without meaning to, I did a Google search on keywords, and realized I was circling back around to images and phrases I'd toyed with in print two-and-a-half years earlier. It was deja vu all over again. Writing is a hall of mirrors, a combination journal and photo album that exists in your head from cradle to grave, present tense; so I guess it's inevitable that no matter what I write about, it somehow circles around to something I've seen before or written about before, someplace I've been before, someone I knew before.

I should not have been surprised. Hell, I spelled it out to myself in the banner of the main site: "A long, strange journey toward a retrospectively inevitable destination." The site's inaugural post made it even plainer:
My grandfather, a self-educated German-American farmer from Olathe, Kansas, believed that no journey, however seemingly circuitous or self-destructive, was ever truly unnecessary, or even avoidable. Sometimes we just have to continue along a particular path for inexplicable, personal reasons, disregarding warnings of friends and family and perhaps our own internal voices, until we arrive at our destination, whatever it may be. This type of journey, my grandfather said, was the equivalent of "driving around the block backward to get to the house next door."
One year later, and here we are again. To quote Stephen Sondheim's "Sorry -Grateful" from Company, "Everything's different/Nothing's changed/Only maybe slightly rearranged."

Well, maybe more than slightly. I originally intended to use this piece for a Top 10 or 20 list, or a free-ranging look at movies and TV in 2006, but because the holiday rush and the time constraints of editing have taken too much out of me, those will just have to wait. Instead I'll try to convey how much this site has meant to me personally during what proved to be a long and difficult year.

The House Next Door started out as a hobby -- a place to put writing that was too personal, too out-of-the-mainstream, too unclassifiable or too random to publish in NYPress, which employed me as a film critic, or The Star-Ledger, where I worked as TV columnist. But that changed when critic Jeremiah Kipp emailed in February to ask if I'd be interested in publishing his interview with former Salon film critic Charles Taylor. I said yes and published it Feb. 18 under the title, "Against Consensus." Unbeknownst to either of us, Jeremiah's contribution subtly changed the conception of The House; now it wasn't just my little writer's playground, it was more of a publishing house or gathering place, one where anybody could claim the spotlight as long as it was tangentially related to movies, television or pop culture generally. Jeremiah published other critic interviews in 2006 -- with Godfrey Cheshire, Walter Chaw, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Phil Hall.

And to my astonishment, as the year unfolded, 27 contributors joined the masthead, many of them publishing multiple pieces. They weren't just fellow ink-stained veterans, either; they were a mix of professional print journalists and online critics and talented newcomers or nonprofessional film buffs from all walks of life; the roster currently includes an active-duty serviceperson, a former rock-and-roller turned stay-at-home dad, a truck driver, a security guard and numerous college students. The amount of content increased to the point where I had to bring in help, in the form of my good friends Keith Uhlich, now the site's managing editor, and Jeffrey Hill, the art director. The only thing all these folks have in common is a love of moving pictures and a commitment to the idea of The House as a place to talk about obsessions, argue theories, drop knowledge and news, and of course, crack wise whenever possible.

When I peruse the archives -- collected in the sidebar on the main site, and grouped by month -- I'm struck by how often certain subjects recur, from Terrence Malick, Michael Mann and Steven Spielberg to Looney Tunes and Disney to Deadwood, The Wire and the Sci-Fi Channel to persistent arguments over politics, sex and violence in popular culture. Some of these were my obsessions -- in fact, the impetuts to start the site was to beat the drum for The New World, a masterpiece that had inexplicably met mostly with indifference, condescension or hostility in its home country. But other people brought their own fascinations, and over time, those fascinations jump-started mine -- and in a couple of cases, took me places I might not otherwise have gone. The list would have to include N.P. Thompson's interview with screenwriter Stewart Stern, which prompted me to revisit much of what Stern wrote; Odienator's ongoing interests in Douglas Sirk and Wilder's Wares; Wagstaff's appreciation of the original Bad News Bears, which caused me to revisit not just that movie, but much of director Michael Ritchie's work; Odienator and Keith Uhlich's diametrically opposed views on Miami Vice, which got me thinking about the aesthetics of television vs. movie drama, digital video and commercial storytelling conventions, in order to better justify my interest in Mann, and Steven Boone's review of Iraq in Fragments, which made me want to pick up a camera and start making movies again. Peruse the sidebar for more.

Strange that what started out as a solo venture became a collective enterprise. This has happened to me throughout my life, from elementary school comics newsletters up through independent film projects that were originally intended only as screenplays, but that ultimately morphed into self-directed ventures involving dozens of people whose only shared trait, it seemed, was a willingness to get drawn into another person's obsession. Everything's different, nothing's changed.

Over and above a well-deserved "thank you" to all the site's contributors, I would be remiss if I didn't give special praise to Jeffrey and Keith, whose hard work, fine writing and original ideas have kept The House in a perpetual state of construction and expansion -- and who kept the lights on while I was lost in a fog following the events of April 27. Thanks also to Sean Burns, the surliest sweetheart I know, for taking over my "Sopranos" recaps mid-stream, and imbuing them with a whiskey-and-sawdust toughness befitting the subject.

Love to you all, and have a happy and productive 2007.


Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Cheers. Here's to more tape-looped beauty from here on out, day in and day out, with each new eyeful.

In lieu of a hug, a typed HIGH-FIVE!!

An idea: If I ever make it back to New York (in 2007-8-9, whenever) we should form a softball league to fight -- no, play -- other rags to the death. Bring it, Paris Review! Can't get that cheese past me, Atlantic!

11:11 PM  
Blogger Todd VanDerWerff said...

Ryland, despite my West Coast-ness, I am all for a softball league. I will play right. DEEP right.

2:30 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

I'm an adequate fielder, a decent pitcher and a solid hitter. So maybe we could make this thing work. But who would we play against? Not Slant -- half the damn staff also writes for us. Reverse Shot, maybe?

4:56 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

PS -- Hate to break it to you, Ryland, but other online publications are our only possible opponents. Print outlets would never deign to get on the same diamond with the likes of us.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've been reading the blog sice day 1 and am just as surprised as you are to see that it's become the best new multi-author movie publication in years. Cheers to that, and to a better 2007 in all regards.


7:26 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Hey, you never know, Matt. But, if it stands that we have something like OFCS softball league we could take on Reverse Shot/indieWIRE, sure, I see no problem with that since, you know, we'll kick some butt either way.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous robbiefreeling said...

Congratulations to a great first year. I can think of no better jumpstart than spreading the New World gospel, and no greater delight than seeing just how the site (not blog!) has expanded and morphed and changed. You, Keith, and everyone else do a terrific job throughout. And Travis Hoover's now joining in the fun with a much deserved Pan pan. Love it.

But is it just me or are we being challenged to a little softball match? I'd have to, uh, dust off the cleats....

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Nick Pinkerton said...

We will fucking end you. Do not step.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Name the date, fellas. And since you won't be spending much time in the dugout, bring a shitload of sunblock.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

HA! This is too good. If only...

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about we box instead? I propose me against you. All of you. At once.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous eshman said...

The House that RS/Indiewire dismantled. The Reverse Shot heard round the world. March/April? No ringers...

11:57 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

No ringers?? Well, there goes that scheduled Maya Deren appreciation by Derek Jeter. But there is such a thing as a higher law.

Let's say May for now. I'll contact your illustrious leader via email and set the details, after which I'll begin my training regimen of shotput-hurling, hammer throwing and interpretive dance.

And Anonymous, you're on, too, provided you can locate a ring big enough to hold two dozen contributors. I'll ask Odienator to leave his pimpstick at home.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous MoroccoMole said...

Happy 223 x 9, mister.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous sean burns said...

No, thank you, sir - for creating one of the warmest and most welcoming communities I've ever been a part of. I am at a loss right now to adequately explain how much this site has meant to me over the past year, or how many wonderful new friends I've had the pleasure of meeting at this here house party. (Yes, even you, Odie.)

Here's to having just as much fun in 2007, and put me on the roster for the softball team... just as long as we can drink on the field.

-Your Surly Sweetheart

3:43 PM  
Anonymous anon said...

This is probably the most chock-full-of-content blog I read these days -- and the only one to even update on weekends (five for the day, every day!). Just want to thank you and your contributors for putting out a fine, fine product.

And good luck with your new venture in the new year. Hope to see you in print again soon.


4:05 PM  
Blogger Keith Uhlich said...

Is this softball thing gonna be like some weird mix of The Broken Hearts Club, Bull Durham, and Major League, with a little Field of Dreams uplift thrown in for good measure?

Any way you slice it, Tim Olyphant's mine! :-)

6:04 PM  
Blogger Keith Uhlich said...

Of course, an Uwe Boll-esque boxing match mightn't be so bad. Loser has to sing the praises of Bloodrayne and this thing. (Statham and Reynolds, baby! Together at last!)

6:08 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Don't forget fat-faced Liotta!

I wish I really could play ball in Brooklyn: that'd be great. And I hope it does happen -- especially with tasty beverages onhand -- cuz I'd like to see a field congested with bleary-eyed bloggers pretending and laughing in the sun.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

I wish it was gonna be like a movie blogger version of Field of Dreams. Only at the end, the guy who takes off his catcher's mask is the young Altman.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Keith Uhlich said...

Aw, Matt. You're making me tear up man. And then the young Altman says, "What the fuck you crying about Hot Lips?!!"

7:14 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Then the camera pulls back to a God's-eye view shot of the diamond while Bob Sheppard reads the credits aloud over the antlike figures of drunk, sunstroked film critics upchucking on the new-mown grass.

8:49 PM  
Anonymous Adam N said...

The Reverse Shot Canadian contingent would surely prefer hockey...

7:52 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

I'm sure you would. I can't skate for shit.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can take the lot of you in softball. By myself.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Sars said...

"Are you...CRYING? There's no crying in BASEBALL?!"


1:11 PM  

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