Commonplace

In honor of the beginning of this year’s Toronto Film Festival, which starts tomorrow.

“A reader scans the lines and the page and can pause, to repeat a phrase, or to let meaning sink in. He or she is in charge, or has that feeling. The reader’s understanding determines the pace of the experience, or even its continuation, and everything about what is happening encourages the notion of a private insight being gained. By its very nature, reading says we are alone, dependent on ourselves, pledged to the validity of our unique identity. For a moment in history, a dangerous moment, a movie will offer an alternative; it will say, ‘We might all be together!’

“One hundred students in the same space (an examination hall), reading their own copy of a standard text may be said to be reading ‘together.’ But, in fact, the readings are all proceeding at slightly different speeds or whims. The hundred is (or is not) attending to the same book, but the experience remains solitary.

“Take the same one hundred people and put them down in a cinema (no matter how primitive) and something has changed. Attention may vary. Some may close their eyes; some may think of something else; some may conjure up other ways to defy or resist the group experience. But the film ticks over; the light from the screen bathes everyone; the ‘reading’ or the performance of the film cannot be stopped or slowed or adjusted to individual pace. There is no stopping or repeating. More or less, the one hundred are obliged to have a shared experience. This is absolutely fundamental to the beauty and art (and even to the social marvel) or what we call ‘movie.’”

—David Thomson, The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood (2004)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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