I’ve written before about Zen Pencils, the amazing web comic/blog thing by artist Gavin Aung Than, who skillfully brings to life quotations, poems, speeches, and soliloquies through his illustrations. His work often displays a certain streak of melancholy, and it’s also undeniably sentimental, which is probably exactly why I respond to it so much. I often get a little misty reading these things. Today’s strip actually brought an inarticulate sound — I’m not going to go so far as to call it a sob, but you can imagine whatever you wish, I suppose — to my throat.
The text is taken from Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself. The story Gavin tells around it… well, let’s just say it hits me in a number of my soft spots:
The cartoon is a fantasy, of course. In reality, that little neighborhood moviehouse would’ve gone out of business because there’s a megaplex up the block and it couldn’t compete, no matter what its lone regular willed to it after his passing, and also because people more and more stay in and watch DVDs, BluRays, and streaming video, or they play videogames or surf the Internet, instead of going to the theater on the corner. The fate of these places is tied to economics and shifts in the cultural landscape, unfortunately, and there’s nothing in the world that can hold those back. And if the place ever did reopen, it wouldn’t be as a spruced-up cinema. Instead, it would be the rundown home to a community theater group’s live productions of family-safe musicals. I’ve seen this pattern repeated many, many times in the 20 years since my own days in the business.
But then, that’s one of the reasons this pushed my buttons. It is a fantasy… but it’s one I’ve had many times. How I wish some anonymous benefactor could have saved the old Cameo, where I worked… or the Murray, where my earliest memory of seeing a movie on the big screen took place… or the Centre, where an entire generation of Salt Lake Valley kids first saw the Star Wars trilogy… or Trolley Corners, which was just a neat place… or the Villa, the last of Salt Lake’s grand old movie palaces. But they’re all gone now, or at the very least, repurposed, which is almost as heartbreaking as the wrecking ball.
And of course there are Ebert’s words. He wrote so many good ones in his time, but these are among the very best, I think. And I think he knew that, too. It’s still hard to believe he’s fallen silent…