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Film Reviewer

The film reviewer attained cult status, his writing prized by many readers. His fans looked forward to Wednesday evenings, to savoring his precise but not precious prose and the nuggets contained therein. His recommendations helped them plan out their weekend. And then he did the inexplicable: he began writing about movies that were never made. Or he was writing about films that were lost, or existed only as rumors, or never amounted to more than failed schemes. He reviewed them as if they were real which, of course, they were.

Many of his fans were puzzled by his refusal to distinguish between what he had seen and what he could not have seen, even as they continued to bask in the mellifluous arrangement of vowels and consonants he offered up to them, week after week. No one else came as close as he did, to describing the sensuous pleasure of sitting alone in a darkened theater — anonymous as an unidentified shadow in a murder mystery. No one else rendered — with such sculptural fire and sonic flights — the intense delight of watching the interplay of light and shadow, and what happened when every surface was doused with color.

Not all the movies the film reviewer saw got positive notices. In those theaters the seats remained empty, the light shining back on an empty room. Occasionally he urged his readers to seek out a film, which might be playing briefly in an out-of-the-way cinema. Some made the trek, while others — the majority — let it vanish into the borrowed air, seldom seen again. For some fans — especially the ones who had gotten on in years — his writing began to replace the movies he was writing about. They didn’t need to deal with public transportation, or with possible mishaps. They could stay at home, or wherever it was that they had taken up residence, and read the review: the worthy surrogate.

There is the fanged mouth that feeds on loose ends. We wonder if this is what heaven is like — an old movie theater with thick velvet curtains that part, as the lights dim and the naked cherubs peering down from the blue and gold ceiling vanish, like comets. Surely, this must be the place the film reviewer is asking us to find: the room where lost movies are restored to their former glory, and where we are invited to make detours that not even our dreams take us on.


Ten Enduring Statements from Lost or Forgotten Films

1. It was like our souls got sucked through a straw and what was waiting on the other side was a preliminary sketch of the future.

2. It is not every day that you can pick out your poison and be happy with the results.

3. Listen, will you — it’s doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen anything like this before: No one is going to believe you anyway.

4. I’ve seen your face someplace before, and I don’t like where I seen it.

5. Just look around — we got photos of every catastrophe imaginable and that’s not all.

6. The law requires them to keep you alive until they are sure you are dead.

7. Death isn’t a brick wall but a racing bike with a bent back rim.

8. I start getting concerned when I feel the cool mud rise between my ears.

9. When happens when you learn that your first language has been put on a ventilator?

10. You are destined to make the headlines; you just don’t want to read them.


“Film Reviewer” and “Ten Enduring Statements from Lost or Forgotten Films” reprinted from Bijoux in the Dark by John Yau. Copyright © 2018 by John Yau. Used with permission of the publisher, Letter Machine Editions. All rights reserved.

John Yau is the author of fifty books of poetry, fiction, and criticism. He is the arts editor of The Brooklyn Rail and teaches art criticism at Mason Gross School of the Arts and Rutgers University. He lives in the Garment District neighborhood in New York City. Letter Machine Editions published his chapbook Exhibits as well as his full-length collection, BIJOUX IN THE DARK (2018).

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