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Fade to Black

I can’t remember who came up with the name for this column when it first started running in 1994 — whether it was myself or Elizabeth Pincus, then the L.A. Weekly’s film editor. I do recall that we both thought of it as a stopgap until we came up with something better. We never got around to it. Back at the beginning, I actually worked in a video store, and I thought of my weekly dispatches as letters from the frontline where cinephilia met consumerism. VHS was king, with DVD still a plastic rainbow in the mind’s eye of some industry-format working group. Now we’re on the cusp of the high-def, flat-panel revolution, and it’s never been less clear whether movie love or techno-fetishism is more responsible for driving the steady drumbeat of home-video change. No matter the format or hardware, however, a movie at home will always be only a reference to the act of seeing a film in a theater, like the difference between viewing a painting in a book and at a museum. At the same time, home theater is a totally different order of experience with its own sensual and aesthetic pleasures that no theater can match. Key among them has always been the ability to chart your own course through film history, and the past decade has seen an exponential increase in the number of avenues to explore, especially if you own a region-free DVD player. I’ve always endeavored here to shed light on films off the hype-beaten path, and I hope you made as many unexpected discoveries as I did along the way. Perhaps you even found among them a film or two that will stay with you a good long while. What’s always been so ironic about the title of this column is that I’ve never been able to imagine burning out on such a gig — even during those times when it felt more like a chore than a passion. Still, there comes a point when it’s time to move on, and the Weekly’s latest owners have given me what may be a much-needed shove by deciding that it’s no longer cost-effective to keep this column running. So this is my farewell, from these pages, at least. Before signing off, I want to thank Elizabeth Pincus for getting the ball rolling, Manohla Dargis for seeing potential in these short graphs and giving me a shot in the feature pages, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert for keeping me honest all those years, and Scott Foundas for fighting the good fight. And thank you, most of all, for reading. Here’s your parting pick: The Films of Luc Moullet: The Smugglers and A Girl Is a Gun, on DVD from Facets.

—Paul Malcolm


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