Hiroshi Sugimoto, Union City Drive-In, 1993

Synecdoche, New York just opened in the UK recently, and I’m glad it did, as the second wave of film reviews reminded me to see an unusually moving film I might have otherwise missed. If I saw it several months back when it played here in theaters, I might have gone with a group of friends and experienced it entirely differently. For as much as it is epic and the scale of the set is critical, I think it is best enjoyed alone in one’s apartment.

Movies are social and novels are private, and this difference is as essential as the addition of visuals and sound in storytelling. Movies are collaborative creations, novels are written by one. We watch movies together, you can’t ever really read a novel with another person. Reading a novel is always a private moment between you and the author. If you’ve never had that sense the author of the book you are reading must have read your mind somehow, you’re just not reading the right books.

People who really love movies are always trying to get that sense of one-on-one novelistic intimacy. My favorite way to start a weekend is to wake up Saturday at an ungodly hour, 5 am or so, make espresso and watch a film that will make me think. At that hour, watching a film feels less like passively enjoying a work of art than something you imagined and took part in. A hypnagogic revelation.

You see a movie with your friend, go out for drinks afterward, and this disrupts the process of letting it sink in. The best thing to do after a film like Synecdoche, NY is to walk around, aimlessly, when the city’s yet to wake up and you run no risk of your thoughts interrupted by people asking for directions, catcalling, wanting your attention.

The film itself, I’m not sure how to describe except to say it seems an example of William Gibson’s recent point about creative genius being atemporal. One character has a voice mail greeting that remains the same for 50 years. The protagonist leaves a message for her the day after she dies, knowing she’s dead. It’s like he left a message for every person she’d been all those years.

The Tomorrow Museum
May. 28, 2009