Somehow, we have been doing this thing called Reverse Shot for twenty years. It's been a long time since spring 2003, when we first put our thoughts down on (actual) paper, stapled them, and started passing our hopeful clusters of movie writing around New York. Over these two strange decades, a lot has changed in the world, and certainly a lot has changed in the world of film criticism and culture. When we began, the word "blog" was only just gaining traction and "social media" might as well have meant friendly journalists shaking hands. Rotten Tomatoes still seemed like a gag site, The Village Voice appeared invincible, and a substack was a modest pile of pancakes. Nearly all film projectors had to be threaded, and we were still wondering if this "digital" thing was really going to stick.
What happens when starry-eyed youngsters fervid with movie love grow up, yet somehow still believe in the possibilities of film even as all signs point to its demise? As it ever was. Perhaps it's the contradiction of cinephilia that keeps us going. Fueled by that combination of passion and ambivalence, we soldier on. In movie love, self-doubt is nourishing, and we've been doing this so long that we've had time to second guess ourselves a lot.
Writing about film requires a certain amount of confidence—in one's opinion, knowledge, and aesthetic taste. But we also have long believed it requires a greater dose of humility—before oneself, before a film, before the text. We've all composed, edited, and wrestled over film criticism over the years, and we may not always want to be faced with what we’ve written. But because we grow with movies—and often outgrow or reassess them—we decided this was a good time to challenge ourselves to do just that. So much film criticism is done in the heat of the moment, and all of it is always, usually unbeknownst to the writer, connected to the circumstance, age, and ever-shifting experience of the time of life in which it is written.
This fall, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary with events at Museum of the Moving Image, we also are pleased to launch this latest symposium, Reverse Shot Does It Again. We asked our contributors to select a film they have written about in some form in the past (whether at Reverse Shot or not). It could have been a review, a term paper, a passionate email, or a Post-it note. The writer may disagree with what they wrote, or they may stand by it. Nevertheless, they are now a different person, and we wanted to know about their personal journey with this particular film.
We asked: How have you changed, grown, or shifted since you first wrote about it? What is it about this particular film that has made you want to revisit, reassess, or retrench your original evaluation? Has the film changed with you, or has your approach to criticism changed in a way that casts a spotlight on what you wrote, for better or for worse? The resulting essays range from coming to terms with opinions made in the mad dash for festival coverage, to films first adored in educational contexts, to childhood favorites long forgotten, to movies we suspect we might have been too harsh with once upon a time.
What are we bringing to cinema, each of us, in a field that has become "democratized" to the point of incoherence? Reconsidering not only a work of art but how we once considered it—how we turned it over and over in the light of some past version of ourselves—can maybe bring us closer to the work itself. It can also bring us closer to a question we've been asking ourselves as we reach this milestone: why do we do this at all? At least it's an attempt, which is all this can ever be.
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