Everybody Has a Secret Life in the Movies

Authors Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree eloquently show us how.

Everybody Has a Secret Life in the Movies

This is a post about something that's part of this weekend's many-splendored Texas Book Festival.

This is a response to Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree's Our Secret Life in the Movies, the new book from Austin publishing house A Strange Object, wherein the authors wax reminiscent and fantastic during a year in which they watched the entire Criterion Collection of classic films. Wherein they were inspired by what they saw on their screen at home in San Francisco, with their dedicated program of viewing and writing fueled by "pizza boxes, sambuca fumes, and whatever is damaged on the Y chromosome."

This is a recommendation especially for anyone who appreciates the movies among the Criterion Collection, because that appreciation suggests a person will have both the good sense and the refined taste to enjoy the compilation of vignettes that McGriff and Tyree have created here.

But, know this: Such refinement, merely imagined or otherwise, is unnecessary.

You can have perfectly refined taste, or you can have taste as unrefined as the sugar that people with refined culinary tastes are pleased to tell you they prefer to ingest, or you can be a schmuck who's only barely functionally literate, and I think you'll still love this book. Because McGriff and Tyree are writing about their "parallel trajectories as the last children of the Cold War, coming of age in the 1980s amidst the white noise of intercontinental-ballistic mayhem and Reaganomics." And these are trajectories that many of us have shared and can empathize with, for one thing; but also, in chronicling those arcs of being, the writers relate them in such a way that it seems like the best of genre writing.

No, let me explain.

Like, when, especially if you're in college to study writing, you're reading some literary thing that's ever so well-written but it's missing a certain oomph, really, whether plot-wise or character-wise or situation-wise or whatever; and you're like, "Aaaargh, this shit would be so much more readable if it was about a zombie attack or some hardboiled private eye or somebody who was doing something actually interesting, you know?"

But imagine a literary work – such as you might expect from a man who's been a professorial lecturer at Stanford (McGriff) and a man who's an associate editor at the New England Review (Tyree) – imagine a literary work, I say, that is just as gripping and compelling as some belles-lettres version of "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" because it captures, without any pinchbeck zombies or whatnot, just being human, just being an ordinary, reality-suffering human, so perfectly spot-on and with no small amount of humor.

Because that's what Our Secret Life in the Movies does.

Because that's what Our Secret Life in the Movies, delightfully, is.

Hell, the inspirations themselves – the films of the Criterion Collection – are almost irrelevant as far as the reader's concerned. We probably wouldn't be aware, within having been told, that these sharply recorded fragments of existence were called forth by what once flickered brilliantly through celluloid. But hallelujah that those films exist to spark such writing – and to subsequently provide such a handy marketing hook, you know what I'm saying?

You can give a copy of this book to your movie-loving friends, not just to your book-loving friends – because, hey, everybody loves movies.

And who doesn't love an exchange like this one, from the piece called "Mom's Morphine":

       Voices started talking to me.
      They said things like:
      "We're going to kill you and make it look like an accident!"
      "Why?" I said, very loudly and distinctly, trying to drive off the darkness.
      "Oh, your crimes," they said.

You see? You see what you have to look forward to in this little book? You see how it figures that one of the movies that Tyree's written about at length, elsewhere, for the British Film Institute is The Big Lebowski? It doesn't take a hardboiled detective to realize that Our Secret Life in the Movies is an excellent addition to any library, regardless of whether that library's ever going to bear the brunt of a zombie attack.

A Strange Object has brought us another fine diversion from our plummet to the grave, a diversion that we'll continue happily snacking on between the features of our Netflix queue.

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