The magazine Film Comment was a tangible space for discovering and exploring the world of film; then the pandemic swept it away.
Even today, I could find that section of the library stacks blindfolded. The first floor of Stevenson Library, to the very end of the L-shaped layout, then a u-turn along the windows to the desk three rows up from the end. That’s where the stash of Film Comment could be found, almost within literal reach. I would grab the most recent copy on display, or if I had a lot of time to kill, I would lift the shelf and take them all back to the cubicle.
I grew up in a small town in Central Pennsylvania, and these were the days before streaming, before DVDs, before even VHS was widely available. Our town had two movie theaters, one of which was often shut down. One particularly cold winter, the theater was offering seating only in the balcony, and the center of the main auditorium there was a glowing propane-fueled heating drum. I managed to convince my parents to add Home Box Office (HBO) to our cable, but that was tightly managed. So Film Comment was my connection to a much bigger, broader world of films, even if I might not ever get the chance to see them. My mother even gave me my own subscription for my birthday one year, but nothing beat that stack of old issues at the college library.
On March 12th of this year, I was at Film at Lincoln Center, the home of Film Comment, when New York City’s mayor sent all the city’s theaters into an abrupt lockdown. I met a high school friend for what was supposed to be a double feature, including the Brazilian film Bacurau with a Q and A with the film’s directors. It never happened. We switched our tickets to the last remaining show of the day (possibly the last of the year), then headed across the street afterwards for drinks at a Mexican place where time seemed to have stopped. Lincoln Center literally shut their doors and locked them behind us, but at the bar, people were clustered together over their tequila shots as if the world might not actually end.
Our world since then has been full of difficult sacrifices and too many lives lost, but few things have…