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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Devil In the White City and Why I Haven't Reviewed Inception

So one of my all-time favorite novels, Devil In the White City, is available via Google Books. For those of you who haven't read it, I'd encourage you to do so.

Larson's brilliantly-crafted historical novel about the Chicago's World Fair and its unfortunate coincidence with the murders of serial killer/con man H.H. Holmes uses the conceit that nearly every word of dialog in the book is known to have been spoken by the historical figures to which they were attributed via correspondence and interviews. It's such a clean and clear way of maintaining verisimilitude, and it was surely and exhausting process for the writer, who is of course no stranger to historical fiction with his Isaac's Storm and Thunderstruck dealing with life and other calamities for different sets of real-life figures of the 20th century. Actually, thinking about his depictions of real-life architects Daniel Burnham and Fredrick Law Olmstead has generated another piece - this one about game design with regards to Christopher Nolan's Inception - it should be live presently on Conducive Chronicle.

This sideways approach to the film instead of an actual review has a great deal to do with my lingering uncertainty about it - I just haven't decided if I like the damned thing or not and it bears revisiting sometime in the near future. I had a similar reaction last year to Inglourious Basterds which was finally resolved through a second viewing - like Roger Ebert I couldn't decide if I was seeing one of the best movies of 2009 or one of the worst (I ended up wholeheartedly in the latter camp, all things said and done). At the same time, my feelings about Inception are complicated somewhat not only by the admittedly dense experience of seeing the film but because I've read so much about the damned thing in the weeks preceding and following its release.

In fact, it's caused me to revisit how I'll be dealing with coverage of movies which I'm anticipating in the future, specifically with regard to reviews and even more pointedly when I plan to write one of my own. While it can be argued that the rich discussions of film before and after their release generate more interesting conversations and appreciation of movies, it also has the unfortunate consequence of coloring the experience beforehand. How much less would I have appreciated Inception if I had not read positive reviews from Devin Farci and Roger Ebert or alternatively, how resistant would I have been to it if I'd read David Edelstein or A.O. Scott's skeptical take-downs? All I can say is those reviews, read (foolishly) prior to seeing the film have had the side effect of making it difficult for me to process the movie critically and independently.


  1. Yeah I never read reviews before I see a movie. It always taints your experience.

  2. The thing that's been messing it up for me lately are the reviews that are responses to reviews. Dave Edelstein liked it? Where here's how he's wrong, etc..