Issue 3 | September 2014 (Philadelphia, PA)

Foraging for films in Philly and finding an old friend |

There hasn’t been a lot of time for trip planning this last month, on account of having moved to Philadelphia to start a teaching position at University of the Arts. Though of course I quickly began scouting for independent cinemas and other film events of note, and so far have been pleased to see enough options to keep me satisfied. I’ve already become a member of the International House, where the Film Program line-up for the coming month ranges compellingly from L’Eclisse to Purple Rain. This weekend I took in a double feature, two films from the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series that just concluded its run there. Not only are the films, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind Chance (1987) and Krzysztof Zanussi’s The Constant Factor (1980), hugely inspiring to my project but so is the collaboration between Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Lodz, and the beautiful digital restorations that were its result. I admit to being under-informed when it comes to Polish cinema, loving the early works that Kieslowski and Roman Polanski made before leaving for points west but familiar with very little else. As luck would have it, I may have a highly motivating reason to learn more: the NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies), which I mentioned in Issue 2, has announced that the site of its 2015 conference will be the University of Lodz. Exact dates forthcoming, but I certainly intend to submit a paper proposal and, if accepted, work Poland into my route…somehow.

Back to the subject of my new home base of Philadelphia, I cannot help thinking how fateful it is that my arrival coincides with David Lynch’s return, forty-seven years after he came here as an art student, for the first museum retrospective of his paintings at PAFA. (For more information, read this New York Times piece.) You could say that Lynch was the first filmmaker I fell in love with, in the sense that I was thoroughly disarmed by seeing his films at an impressionable age – particularly in the case of Blue Velvet, the first of his that I saw, an extraordinary experience not just in the sense of opening my eyes to what cinema could be but also to a sensibility and world view so different from any to which I’d yet been exposed (having grown up in the culturally and otherwise conservative suburban South), it was staggering.

Immediately upon its airing on TV (network TV, no less) in 1990, I went on to become one of those Twin Peaks obsessives (How obsessed, you ask? I owned a well-thumbed copy of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer). For my money it’s the show that changed everything (as much as any one show can) in terms of paving the way for the “quality television” of today, and it still makes my day when a student tells me he or she has discovered the show and loves it. As we (Lynch and I) have grown older, my heart has stayed mostly true: I continue to think Wild at Heart is, as I found it to be while in my teenage throes of Twin Peaks-era devotion, one of the most romantic films ever made, and I believe Mulholland Drive is the best film of the 21st century thus far. But I have never grown fond of Eraserhead, and I endured Inland Empire twice to conclude sadly that it is a raving mess. And while I find his cult of personality for the most part endearing, the Transcendental Meditation patter he’s prone to stretches my patience. Yet I credit his vision with having grabbed me so intensely that, more than any other filmmaker, he compelled me to want to make my life about film.

The poster that hung on my bedroom wall from 1990 onwards...
The poster that hung on my bedroom wall from 1990 onwards…

So on this, the event of his return, all of the other cultural institutions in the city seem to have convened to welcome him back, with events such as the Bryn Mawr Film Institute event I mentioned I will be attending, to a talk with Lynch after a screening of Lost Highway (sold out but I intend to make an effort at entry) as part of a Philadelphia Film Society retrospective, to screenings at International House of films that inspired Lynch – including one of my personal favorites, Kubrick’s Lolita.

It seems I’ve been sidetracked from this blog’s central purpose – to document and discuss my ongoing plans for next summer’s trip – but again there aren’t many new developments to report. On Wednesday, which is officially 331 days before the end of my trip, I will be able to purchase (using American Advantage miles) the return portion of my ticket. On doing so for the first trans-Atlantic leg, I encountered a hidden fee that I hadn’t bargained on when budgeting my trip. It goes by the name “carrier-imposed fees” and what it amounts to is highway robbery, literally – airlines (in this case, British Air) tack it on to flights crossing the Atlantic, and because my miles are through American who is partnered with BA, I’m forced to pay a hefty sum (around $250 each way) on top of the regular taxes and fees, on top of my hard-earned miles.

Having decided to fly into Istanbul, I’ve settled on flying out of Paris. Initially this was to have been my first destination, so designated because of its reputation as the world’s capital of cinephila and because, speaking the language a bit, I figured it would be a soft place to land. This turned out not to be practical given festival dates and such, but I imagine it will instead provide a happy ending given the sheer number of independent cinemas the city boasts (though I recently learned that Toronto tops that list). And I very much hope to be able to attend at least one of these en plein air screenings in the Parc de la Villette, mounted nightly for one month starting in late July.

With my trip’s bookends in place (and not shiftable without incurring more hefty fees), I will hope to hear confirmed dates for film festivals soon and will begin the process of establishing contact with festival-runners and other folks whom I hope to connect with along my route. Should you know any European-based film programmers or cinema owners/managers, or should you be one yourself, please reach out via email or Twitter. Much more to come on the planning front – it still feels overwhelming – but at least the trans-Atlantic journey is set, and I’ve still got leftover miles (which will come in handy for Itinerant Cinephile: The Sequel).

Lynch's autograph, procured by my friend David Selsky.
Lynch’s autograph, procured by my friend David Selsky.

Until next month, I will leave you with some words from the man of the hour, Maestro Lynch, from Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity:

“Cinema is a language. It can say things – big, abstract things. And I love that about it…When I catch an idea for a film, I fall in love with the way cinema can express it.

Coming attractions: Surveying the expanse of contemporary film festivals and indie film distribution…