I was reading an interview with my old friend, the great Michael Shannon, and he was talking about his Take Shelter co-star, the great Jessica Chastain, and he was saying how working with her, he would sometimes think to himself, “I’m working with Meryl Streep in The Deer Hunter. This is someone that, 20 or 30 years from now, it’s like, ‘You worked with her?'” And I thought, no matter how great Jessica Chastain is, somehow, I just don’t think people are going to be saying that in 30 years. Movies matter less and less. There are so many of them and they come and they go and most of them are seen on computer screens, in between or during long internet sessions. They don’t break through the din. They are part of the din. If some actor or director or writer slows down time enough and delivers some walloping stuff, it is mostly, somehow, accumulated back into the din.

The Tree Of Life, another terrific Jessica Chastain movie last year, perhaps came closest to being that old-fashioned movie thing—a special experience. People actually went to the theater to see it and people loved it and people hated it and people talked about it. But even The Tree Of Life felt compressed and beaten down—it played on small arthouse screens compared to, say, The Thin Red Line, which I saw at the Ziegfeld another lifetime ago, seemingly—no cell phones buzzing and lighting, no texts, no emails. Just us sitting in front of a huge screen.

Malick himself has told many people he couldn’t go to Cannes or any of the screenings, not because of his famous reclusiveness, but because the movie in the theaters, both the film and digital versions, didn’t look the way he wanted it to look at all. There are just too many flicks coming and going and not enough time and not enough care and not enough money and not enough focus and concentration. Maybe it is best that Kubrick passed before all this artificial intelligence took over.

Many critics went nuts over Tree Of Life and called it a masterpiece. But it almost felt like they were trying to force an impact that wasn’t quite there. And like half of them made up their minds to hail it as a masterpiece just on hearing the title many years ago. Almost like residue from a time when there were mysterious movie stars, and magical hermit directors, and strange secret projects that would blow our collective mind. Now Malick is on YouTube filming Christian Bale for a movie that hasn’t come out yet and actors are just publicist puppets and we’ve all seen the automaton mechanism and the enchantment is gone.

Things seem smaller now. Music too. Even a Springsteen album just pops up on iTunes like astronaut brunch. The majesty of Nebraska, an album of demos recorded with a 4-track cassette recorder after Springsteen saw Malick’s Badlands, has given way to android Wall of Sound productions that launch out into the night and then are commented on, graded, and fade away, disappearing into iClouds.

The one or two or five refreshing films that come out every year hardly seem to equal the fabulous amount of time wasted that a moviegoer has to go through these days. The commercials before the movie, and the terrible, irrelevant Oscar pushing, and the hollow onslaught of reviews and Rotten Tomatoes robot machinery and CGI and 3D and what did they do to Tin Tin’s face anyway?

In 30 years from now I don’t think hardly anyone will be talking about any of these movies. These movies are the last squeeze from another time. The way we see movies now will seem as distant and antique as drive-in’s. I am grateful though that I got to grow up believing in the tooth fairy, and got to sit in the slow darkness, undisturbed but by maybe some rats eating popcorn too loudly. I was eight when my dad and I went to go see Barfly at The Waverly Theater on Sixth Avenue, a matinee. Mickey Rourke mumbling words by Bukowski into our ears. There was nothing on my mind, I felt the beauty of the afternoon, no problems—or problems momentarily forgotten and washed away. I could understand how a drunk man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched.

— Noah Buschel

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  1. Lavinia Bristol Says:

    This guy is such a great writer.

  2. disappointeddude Says:

    Consider that any one of us is likely to see in a week more dramatic material than the typical inhabitant of all centuries prior to the 20th did in his or her entire lifetime, and it’s not surprisingly that the culture is no longer hospitable to a sense of the masterpiece.  It doesn’t help that film in the U.S. doesn’t attract the best minds, that the literary quality of the material tends to be juvenile or worse, and that the stuff we’re invited to celebrate, like The Tree of Life, is as forgettable as a nice meal.

  3. Craig Zobel Says:

    Be part of the din! Yay for the din! Noah, I think that you’re likely right, and always love reading your thoughts on such things. But I say, who cares about the sweep of history? Isn’t it okay if it’s no longer possible to make piercing cultural milestones like “The Deer Hunter?”  20 or 30 years from now, some movie will still resonate in some future Springsteen and inspire his future “Nebraska.” While it may be true that only he and a handful of his friends will get energized by it, I feel confident this will continue to happen. And maybe only a smaller handful of people will hear that dude’s new album, but it won’t be a waste for him and it won’t have been a waste for that initial film’s maker. In our modern world of constant choice, it can be frustrating that we don’t get to decide what age we are born into. But whatever. We gotta just keep tryin’ to swing for our own respective fences.
    Of course, as a self-described Malick fan, I was nonplussed by “Tree of Life.” I’m not sure it was the greater world’s fault it didn’t make a bigger impact. I felt it just wasn’t, you know—good enough—to actually be that type of film. I wouldn’t use the “M” word. So maybe I’m just irrelevant to this type of conversation, and don’t know what I’m talking about…

  4. Noah Buschel Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think I was talking about the sweep of history.  I was just saying that the way we encounter work now– I don’t think things have the ability to resonate that much anymore.  But it’s probably all just a big projection– I feel like my mind is kind of unblowable now from years on internet.  Well, I felt that way until Linsanity hit me last night like a hurricane.  Now I don’t know where I stand on anything.  Yeah, ever since Linsanity hit, I don’t know where I stand about nothing. 

  5. Anonymous Says:

     I just think that we are in a world where lines are officially blurred, at least when it comes to our processing of stuff. Which is to say that for me, Linsanity is neck and neck with This Is Not A Film and Beasts of the Southern Wild as my favorite films of 2012 (this is coming from someone who wrote off the NBA years ago, mind you). As someone who agrees with just about everything you say and think, Noah—barring your unwavering love of Mr. Eastwood’s increasingly questionable output—I think we are just struggling to come to terms with that feeling Brian Wilson described as “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

  6. Kimberly J Says:

    No not hooray for the din.  The din makes artist’s dim.  It speeds them up and makes them numb.  The din marginalizes great artists like David Lynch.  The din makes the audiences dumber.  Mr. buschel, please don not listen to Mr. Zobel.  Your films are far more less dinny than his.   

  7. Craig Zobel Says:

    Hah, I hear ya! I truly never know or understand what’s going on in sports, and somehow I found myself reading articles on Jeremy Lin two nights ago… I do hear what your saying, I am not sure much of anything I encounter nowadays hits me as much as I feel like it used to. But then I worry that just means I’m getting old or something.

  8. Elaine Louie Says:

    Dope article, as per usual from Mr. Buschel.

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