derek_g

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Aug 9th, 2019
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  • blog retirement

A confession: I have more or less given up on the idea of being a working film critic. Not a professional film critic; any delusion I ever had regarding being a bread-winning film writer was dashed around the time I was halfway through my master's degree. What I really do mean is a working film critic. To watch the relevant new releases, to keep up with the the bevy of boutique re-releases, to have a take about everything I see that somehow sticks out from the glut of existing ones... all of that sounds like a day job to me, at least in terms of pure labour. But I already have a day job. A decent one, too. I don't need a second day job, certainly not one where the hours are bad, the pay is worse, and the bosses might as well be ghosts. Plus, I have a family and friends and other hobbies far away from the multiplex. The reward of a job I once coveted isn't worth the grinding needed for it to happen.

A silver lining: in a way, getting off the take treadmill (even given my meagre contributions here and there over the years) makes it that much easier for someone who probably needs the few cents per word more than I do. Not because I'm King Shit of SEO Prose or anything. It's just a matter of mathematics. The market becomes infinitesimally less crowded if I'm not in it. Also I just abhor pitching; it's one of the nastier tendrils of grind worship. The current arts journalism model is as efficient and dastardly a burnout generator there is. To me, a rank amateur on the fringes of the profession, pitching is just an annoyance. It's all the grunt work of turning each and every one of my best ideas into messages in a bottle, chucking them into the abyss, and waiting for the abyss to reply. Pitching is like praying, but with a way worse hit rate. But for way too many people I know, it's the only way they get their car fixed or pay the heating during the long, hearty northern winters. I've read umpteen horror stories about stingy HR departments who played fast and loose with a paycheque. It's just another way for someone to be on the ass end of a power imbalance. It's a ghastly way to live.

Back in 2014, I, perhaps naively, started Dim the House Lights with my brother-in-arms Juan Barquin as our little film-crit soapbox. We didn't have much of a mission statement then, and we still don't have one now, but the closest we got to one was calling DtHL our "sandbox." It was a place for us to play, to write about movies we wanted to write about, however we wanted to write about them. The idea being, naturally, that writing film criticism was fun. It didn't matter if we wrote about a marquee release six weeks after its premiere. It didn't matter if we did stupid shit like protracted year-based single-elimination tournaments. It was a blast! But five years on, if the analytics are to be believed, we have maybe three dozen loyal readers. We've never gotten a dime for our work there. I can't speak for JB, but for me, it has remained but a hobby. "It ain't much, but it's ours, god dammit." Despite our dismal numbers, I love our little operation with all my heart. I have solidified cherished friendships thanks to it. I still dutifully edit pieces in the backend between shifts at my day job. And should the itch strike me, should I feel I have something of value or substance to say, Dim the House Lights will always be there to host my byline. Because yes, I am not swearing off this whole racket completely. Cinephilia is a life sentence, and I love stringing words together too much. It's bound to happen. I just have to bury this notion that it's a good idea for me, at this juncture in my life, to pursue this on someone else's clock. I'd say "someone else's dime," but let's be real, no one is getting fat off crit. They should be. But they aren't.

There was one point where it might have fallen into place. During grad school, I was living off government loans, working three days a week, and watching more movies than I had before or since. That was the time to do it. I was young, hungry, and full of opinions no one wanted to hear. I had a ton of time on my hands.

Ideally, I get back to a point where watching movies and thinking aloud about them isn't a second job. It has to be fun. What is even the point of any of this if it isn't fun? Not to be that guy<sup>1</sup>, but that's what capitalism does to a hobby: it hounds you until you're convinced you're a sucker for not milking "value" from it beyond the pleasure of the act. It can't just be fun, it has to earn it's keep. It's got to be worth the time you spend on it. So deeps runs the poison of capitalism that I can't even watch Road House without feeling the sting of turning it into content. I've got to push back against that, for my own sake. I can't let the take industrial complex turn this fun thing I have and make it a burden. So to the garage with you, content treadmill. May you rust into disrepair.

[1]: That's a lie, I 100% want to be that guy.

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