Playwrights' Perspective

On falling out of love with the movies: Annie Baker on "The Flick"

I don’t remember when or how it happened. 

It felt like one day I woke up and realized that I loved other things in my life more. I would even go so far as to say that it felt like waking up from a decade-long dream.

From age 9 to 19, movies were my greatest happiness. They were the thing that got me through the day. Watching a movie was always, always What I’d Rather Be Doing. I never felt fully present in my life, except when I was watching a movie. Which is to say, I never felt fully present in my life except when I was pretending I was in someone’s else’s life onscreen, which is to say maybe I was never fully present at all.

I was unhappy, and movies made me happy. They didn’t feel like a distraction. They felt like access to a deeper, truer, more profound side of myself. Like a great lover, they changed the way I saw the world. There was my brain before Fanny and Alexander, and then there was my brain after Fanny and Alexander. I don’t know what I thought about desire and projection before I saw Jules and Jim; that movie probably taught me about those two things before I even knew what they were. 

When I was fifteen, my brother came home to visit from his sophomore year of college. He had taken a film course that semester. “Quiz me, quiz me,” I begged him. “Quiz me about any movie, any director. I’ll know the answer.” I felt like people didn’t fully comprehend the extent of my love, the depth of my knowledge. I wanted someone to love me for loving the movies. They were my Jeanne Moreau, my Rosebud; in the movie of my life, my love for the movies would be the thing that made my story worth telling, worth watching. I romanticized my romantic love for movies, because that was the only way I could bear looking at myself.

And then, slowly, as a young adult, I started stepping out of the past-tense romance of the movie screen and into the live theatrical reality of my own life. I fell in love with a man. I fell in love with books. I fell in love with New York City. I stopped fantasizing about the movies or feeling like my real life only happened while watching a movie. I guess I became sort of interested in myself. Then I started going to see plays. In many ways I think I became interested in being a theater-maker because it forced me to stay in the ephemeral present tense in a way that was harder and scarier for me, but when it worked (and theater so seldom works, but oh, when it does) it was world-shattering. Theater forced me to be a little bit more of a Buddhist, and I liked that about it.

But a few years ago I started missing the movies, or, more accurately, I started missing my love for the movies. So I went to see a revival of Fanny and Alexander at the IFC Center.  And although I really do love that movie, something felt very off. The colors weren’t quite right. It didn’t feel—for lack of a better word—alive. Was it really just a lack of passion on my part? It was like staring at one of those remote-controlled gas fireplaces instead of a real crackling fire. Halfway through, I realized that they were showing us Fanny and Alexander through a digital projector.  

I have no interest in this Playwright’s Perspective turning into a rant against digital projection or digital moviemaking. I have mixed feelings about the whole issue.  If you’re interested in finding out more I recommend some of Daniel Eagan’s excellent articles on the subject (here’s one) or this wonderful book of essays that the artist Tacita Dean compiled for her show “Film” at the Tate Modern. The point is, I fell out of love with film and when I tried to fall back in love with it I was shocked to realize that most of our country had fallen out of love with it too. But instead of falling in love with the theater, they had fallen in love with computers.

So this play is partly a tribute to my first love. I thought film would always be there, but it is fast-disappearing. And even though everyone talks about the theater being dead, hilariously enough, it persists. While there are almost no more 35-millimeter projectors, while there are almost no more trained projectionists, while the light and shadow and color depth and cigarette burns in the corner of the screen are no longer a part of our lives, the thing that remains constant, whether you go to a multiplex or a small-town independent theater (although those are closing daily), are the guys in polo shirts who come out and sweep the aisles and perform their own little ten-minute play before the next movie begins. I love sitting through the credits and watching those guys. They’re my favorite part of moviegoing these days. And so ultimately The Flick might just be about them, and the theater that will always happen between the movies. 

Annie Baker
December 2012