How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less. — Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
These quotations from Annie Dillard, reproduced by Maria Popova on her brilliant BrainPickings website, made me think about what I do with my hours; the particular forms of anxiety and greed and desire that drive my cinephilia, and the fact that this year, I want to see less, but experience it more deeply.
I spend my days watching films, writing about films and making lists of titles I need to see. Last night, for instance, I caught up with the beer-soaked and surprisingly wise relationship drama Drinking Buddies. Tonight, I’m going to the premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street. (The invitation says the dress code is ‘80s excess’ – surely an indication the marketers are confused, like the rest of the world, about whether Scorsese’s latest film is a celebration or an indictment of stockbroking fraud.) Tomorrow morning, I’ll check out an emaciated Matthew McConaughey, widely touted to win an Oscar for his depiction of a hustling businessman afflicted by AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.
Writing about films for a (meager) living is a privileged way to pass one’s days – as long as you don’t mind being in the cinema at 10am, and maybe again at 1pm, and then watching a screener at home on DVD at 8pm. (According to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia there were 408 films released in Australian cinemas in 2013. Nobody could see them all!) At first it’s like being let loose in a lolly shop. And later, it can seem like working in a lolly shop, year after year, sampling sweets that are sometimes rotten, but occasionally sublime.
It’s the experience of the sublime that keeps me going, keeps me searching. I think I got there for a couple of hours last week when I sat enraptured through Spike Jonze’s quiet masterpiece Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man in love with a computer program; and again in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, a soulful, melancholy meditation on being an average artist and a grieving human being. I swooned again watching Paolo Sorrentino’s grand Italian homage to Fellini, The Great Beauty. The portrait of a debonair world-weary aesthete (Tony Servillo) wandering through modern Rome took me places I’d never been before. It’s been a good year so far.
Being able to count film (and theatre and book) critics amongst your dearest friends is a rather lovely side effect of this work – so much free stuff, so much great advice, personally curated to your tastes! But it gives rise to a peculiar form of anxiety; a special breed of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which springs from the realisation that if you don’t see those vital film titles that are the talk of the moment, then you won’t be able to participate in the conversation – both for fun, and for work. And if you’re not participating in that conversation, then who are you? Certainly I’m not that 23-year-old girl who watched the same ten films over and over again in order to write a thesis about them. Yet, if I’m honest, that feeling I had back then, of truly inhabiting a beloved or bewitching film, exploring its every crevice and trying to convey that experience in words, is the very thing that set me on this path. I want a little bit more of that.
This year, I want to go deep rather than wide; to savour what I have instead of greedily trying to consume more and more. It’s true that I will miss out on a lot. Everybody does, in this finite lifetime. There will be some conversations that go over my head. That’s alright, I remind myself.
Note: Drinking Buddies, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her and The Great Beauty are now showing. Dallas Buyers Club releases 14 February.
Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor.