As one of the founders of the influential, democratic online film magazine Reverse Shot, Koresky is part of an institution that’s helped a whole generation of cinephiles figure out how to take movies seriously, with open-minded rigor. Setting the conversation is part of the job in his work as a writer for the Criterion Collection, and on the staff of newly unveiled movie palace The Metrograph. Up next, his first film(!), a half-documentary, half-fiction project currently filming locally with documentary filmmaker and Reverse Shot co-editor Jeff Reichert. (Update: Since this story was published, he’s been named Editorial Director of The Film Society of Lincoln Center.)
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to go to the movies?
BAM, obviously, for the diversity and breadth of its programming, especially its repertory programming. It’s rare you won’t find something worthwhile to see there on any given day of any week. That’s a gift. I find myself at the Court Street UA multiplex almost as often, though. If the former gives me my necessary dose of Japanese New Wave or off-the-beaten-path American indie, the latter provides just the right setting for Creed (audiences literally out of their seats cheering) or Fifty Shades of Grey (an audience of 95 percent women, one of whom bellowed “Yes!” when Jamie Dornan took off his shirt).
What are some films you’ve watched that you can point to and say, “That’s my New York”—films where what’s on-screen (visually, culturally, thematically) resonates with your experience of life in the city?
That’s a difficult question because I really do feel like the sexual, ethnic, racial diversity of my social circles (and most everyone I know) isn’t really up there on the screen very much at all. So when a movie feels like it’s representing “my” New York, it’s usually just how it conveys, for lack of a better term in this case, a state of mind. In that sense, probably nothing’s ever come as close as Woody Allen’s Manhattan (I know, duh) at getting at that simultaneous romance and dread of the city. Oddly the more artificial—literally, wholly created—visions of New York are the ones that resonate the most with me, like Eyes Wide Shut or the great 1943 Val Lewton horror movie The Seventh Victim, both of which were filmed on sets far from New York and feature extensive studio recreations of the Village. For some reason, these haunted, emptied-out, fake New Yorks seem even more vivid to me than grittier, shot-on-location films like those by Lumet or Scorsese.
Given the increasing availability of high-quality versions of esoteric films online; and the migration of much serious criticism to the web, what’s important about cultural centers like Brooklyn for film culture? Or should we all just move to far-flung places, learn trades, and report back from a more unique perspective?
Well, it all comes down to personal taste and preferred ways of seeing, but for me the widespread availability of once hard-to-find films as laptop downloads makes it all the more urgent that we keep traditional viewing methods alive. So having theaters like BAM or Metrograph or The Film Society of Lincoln Center that show movies the way they were meant to be seen—projected on film . . . on a large screen . . . in a dark room of communal cinema-lovers—is essential. So more titles may be available to stream or torrent than ever before, but if, like me, you choose not to watch movies that way, then you still rely on smart programmers to bring you the best. Living in a city, it would be a sin not to take part in such cultural offerings. Also, a weird byproduct of all this alleged availability, coinciding with Twitter culture, is that many young cinephiles are becoming mere completists rather than emotional, intuitive movie-watchers. Seeing movies in theaters, only when they are offered to you, keeps you more emotionally in thrall.
Do you feel like there’s an common ethos to your work across various platforms—a set of core beliefs about how we ought to relate to movies?
I suppose it’s all about communicating desire. And that applies to both writing about movies and making them. The key to writing and editing good film criticism is clarity; too many writers try to hard to write beautifully, or with “style,” without training themselves first to communicate clearly and plainly what they’re feeling and seeing and trying to say. You have to choose the right word, and that word has to fit into the right sentence, and that sentence has to fit into the right paragraph, and the paragraphs have to build on each other and make an overall point that reflects the deepest feelings of the writer. I think I’m learning that’s the same approach to filmmaking: every gesture in every shot has to be thought through, has to be there for a reason, and then those gestures and shots have to fit into scenes that then have to fit into an overall tapestry. And hopefully the result is emotionally honest. Nothing should ever be wasted. This is of course quite the moment for cultural waste, though, with the mindless churning out of “content” that keeps us all feeling like hamsters on wheels. Standards are very low right now (politically, morally, artistically, journalistically), so I guess the one thing that unites these platforms for me is my demand for high quality.
What critics, current or historical, demand a wider readership than they currently possess?
It’s a tough question, because it of course depends on what is considered a wide readership. In terms of current critics, brilliant writers like Nick Pinkerton and Eric Hynes and Genevieve Yue and Melissa Anderson and Ashley Clark are commonly read and discussed and respected in my circles, but outside of cinephiles they are not as well known. Is there a wide readership anymore in terms of critics? Everything is so spread out now, and the web is so “democratized,” that the profession of criticism itself has lost value. The diversity of opinions is of course great in its way, but part of me yearns for the days when a critic like Pauline Kael would throw down the gauntlet and the entire community would take notice. If only someone like Kent Jones, for instance, had that kind of cultural cachet, I feel like IQs would be rising rather than falling.