Knowing What I Know

Anybody know what this is?

Or who this is? Maybe that’s easier. I honestly have no idea if it’s obvious or murky.

It’s just history. My history, anyway. This is a still from Two-Lane Blacktop, a 1971 film that popped up on this Top 250 Films list by Sight & Sound. I remember the film vaguely but I can place the night I saw it, a drive-in theater somewhere in a sketchy part of town, at least to a 14-year-old. I’m assuming I was 14 or so; I’m pretty sure one of the neighbor guys drove.

The three people in the picture are Warren Oates (foreground), Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, and James Taylor. I probably went because of James, seeing as Sweet Baby James was an album I wore some extra grooves in.

It was a good list, I think. There’s a quiz involved (of course) if you want, checking your personal viewing history against cinema historians. And let me stop you there.

I’m trying to imagine a person who doesn’t watch movies. I’m sure they’re out there, even limiting it to only those in the western world. I just can’t quite see it.

For the rest of us, though, we don’t need a list to know what we like. It’s more of a convenience and maybe inspiration. If you’ve never seen 8-1/2, Tokyo Story, or for that matter Two-Lane Blacktop, maybe you’ll see about checking them out. I was lucky, when I was a teenager and slightly older, to have time and access to a couple of nice repertory film houses, where I saw a lot of these movies just because.

I was just thinking about reactions I’ve seen in the past to things like this. There’s been a lot of ink spilled regarding our collective disinterest in expert opinions, although I think it goes deeper. I think there’s a distinct push-back in some quarters on opinion itself.

I’ve seen it personally, but of course. I offer my opinion up once a week. These days it’s not likely to be a controversial opinion, although you might be surprised. People object to all sorts of things.

It just surprises me that there’s so much hostility to opinion, and it’s been building for longer than you might think. People seem disinterested in disagreeing with an opinion on its merits or for whatever reason; they just want the opinionated person to shut up. That’s essentially the response. Shut up.

I was in the office of one of my newspapers six months ago, just after I’d received an email (also sent to the paper) taking me to task for suggesting that people who felt the election of Donald Trump freed them up to commit assault and battery or worse on people who didn’t resemble them, and particularly people who wore clothes or had skin color that suggested they didn’t spring from somewhere in Europe.

It was a bullshit response to my column, sort of a petulant, whiny email about broaching a subject that didn’t involve grandparenthood or my lawn. I told the writer that he should do himself a favor and stop reading, which didn’t help matters: He seemed insulted that I didn’t roll over, apologize for my insensitivity to whatever and promise never to do it again.

We talked about this in the office a little, this strange letter and my reaction to it, which is honest and pretty much always my reaction. I don’t care. I acknowledge, but I don’t care. I’m comfortable with having an opinion, with understanding that it’s by definition subjective and mine. I’m aware that people might disagree.

I just don’t know what it means anymore.

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