November 23, 2012

David Foster Wallace, movie critic

As you read DT Max’s excellent biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, other books suggest themselves. How about a volume of the Wallace-DeLillo letters? And maybe Wallace’s notes on movies? The book gives us only a small taste of the latter.

For example, Wallace as a teenager “went to a lot of movies”. There was Being There, “which he saw over and over again and which fascinated him with its portrait of a man who learns everything he knows from television” (Wallace watched a lot of television). And there was Jaws, “which sealed his fear of sharks”. Later, in his twenties, Wallace “loved” Brazil – a detail that comes into the text because there was talk that Terry Gilliam might want to direct a film of The Broom of the System (later, Gus Van Sant was apparently interested in optioning Infinite Jest). But Blue Velvet was the revelation. Wallace wrote:
It was my first hint that being a surrealist, or being a weird writer, didn’t exempt you from certain responsibilities … That whatever the project of surrealism is works way better if 99.9 percent of it is absolutely real …
Later, Max reiterates that “Wallace never forgot David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the skein that separates unremarkable from abnormal in America”.

In the 90s, he sees Jurassic Park and Titanic, like everyone else. In the depths of reading the Infinite Jest proofs, he watches the family dog movie Beethoven over again and again on video as he works. 

“Movies, he liked to say, were an addict’s recreation of choice,” Max writes.
Then he wrote letters about the movies. DeLillo was his chosen correspondent and his opinions were anti-elitist and mildly contrarian. For instance, he saw and loved the cyberthriller The Matrix – “visually raw and kinetic and riveting in a way that only something like Bochco’s Hill Street Blues was in ’81,” he wrote his friend – and hated the acclaimed Magnolia, which he found pretentious and hollow, “100% gradschoolish in a bad way”.
DT Max doesn’t mention Lost Highway, which was of course the subject of an epic magazine-meditation-on-Lynch by Wallace back in 1997 (and it can be read here).