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The Fandom Tollbooth

Calculating the price of obsession.

Oct 15, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 05 • By STEFAN BECK
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These cavils are worth mentioning not to cast doubt on Dyer’s ardor, but to underscore that he really is the ur-connoisseur: vain, picky, spectacularly well-informed when he wants to be, and dismissive when he thinks it might add to his mystique. His book is a reminder of just how fraught the business of appreciation is. One loves a work of art, but then, sensing that one’s passion is itself a creative act, one becomes jealous of that passion. Do we not, after all, have a term, “cult classic,” for movies which most everyone enjoys but which some can’t even tolerate without imagining that they got to it first, that they alone really get it, really deserve the credit for getting it?

Stalker isn’t such a movie—most people don’t know it, much less like it—but it’s an ingenious reminder of why the finest cultural artifacts make people feel so proprietary. Great art creates a Zone, a Room, a palace of wish-fulfillment, where one’s desires and expectations are mirrored back, and fulfilled. This might have come across in a discussion of some other film, but in this book, it’s encoded in the subject itself. 

“So what kind of writer am I,” Dyer asks late in Zona, “reduced to writing a summary of a film? Especially since there are few things I hate more than when someone, in an attempt to persuade me to see a film, starts summarizing it, explaining the plot, thereby destroying any chance of my ever going to see it.” 

It’s a bit disingenuous. The summary is the least part of Dyer’s appreciation—a collage of memories, confessions, and digressions—and he knows it. He knows he’s issued a rebuke to the culture that clicks “Like” and expects a pat on the back. Zona is above all an injunction to slow down one’s responses to all things:

[Michelangelo] Antonioni liked long takes but Tarkovsky took this a stage   further. “If the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer, a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention.” This is Tarkovsky’s aesthetic in a nutshell. At first there can be a friction between our expectations of time and Tarkovsky-time and this friction is increasing in the twenty-first century as we move further and further away from Tarkovsky-time towards moron-time in which nothing can last—and no one can concentrate on anything—for longer than about two seconds.

This may seem like an old-fashioned, even curmudgeonly, complaint, but it’s a necessary one. We like many things, often without thinking for very long or hard about why. Books, records, films—they do matter, when they’ve truly caught and held our attention, when they have acted as a Room in the Zone of our cultural consumption. As Dyer writes, “[E]ven if you keep up-to-date with new releases (books, records, films) .  .  . you realize that these latest things can never be more than that, that they stand almost no chance of being the last word, because you actually heard—or saw or read—your personal last word years earlier.” 

We may be profligate with our “Likes,” it seems, but unless we’re very lucky, we may love only once.

Stefan Beck writes about fiction for the New Criterion and elsewhere.

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