It was a flattering phone call. A Film Comment editor wanted to know if I’d consider taking on the annual “Grosses Gloss” column. I had been a reader of the magazine for many years, and the idea of writing to the level demanded by such a publication was intimidating, to say the least. But what was most daunting was that the assignment would require me to walk a very fine line between my position as a critic on the one hand, and a producer, rep, and sometime marketer of independent films on the other. Speaking my mind was going to be tough without jeopardizing my relationships in the industry. And I wasn’t ready to give up my professional involvement in the business that I would be critiquing. Thus, Jeffrey Spaulding was born.
The pen name was lifted from Groucho Marx’s character in Animal Crackers. (A close look at the credits reveals that the good captain had a first name.) I had no idea that I would continue writing the annual report for seven years, and so I have to compliment the folks at Film Comment for keeping my identity a secret for so long. I’m not sure how many people actually knew—other than the magazine’s editor with whom I was in touch on a yearly basis, my wife, and my kids. Most miraculously, I kept my own mouth shut, even when several of the articles had been the subject of amusing party chatter in my presence.
Late last year I received the call to confirm that I would again rise to the occasion. I agreed, but with a caveat: that it would be my last—and I wanted to convince Film Comment to retire the column altogether. It wasn’t just my ego talking (i.e., if I can’t do it, no one can) but rather a sense that this kind of analysis had run its course. I was getting tired of reading (and writing) the same things each year: Independent Film is dead! The major studios are spending too much money! The economics of the business are strangling all creativity!
These things used to be cyclical: every 10 years or so, indies rose, fell, and then rose again; the studios retrenched, bought out the indies, divested, and retrenched again. Unfortunately, current business cycles are unlikely to change in the near future. The economics of the industry are no longer based on any sense of reality. The fact that a small number of giant multinational corporations control every revenue stream imaginable only exhorts them to continue to increase the price of entry for any potential competing entity. They will only grow larger, and it’s unlikely that our government will step in to curb one of the few industries that is actually helping our balance of trade.
And then another thing happened. I got too busy. Finally, I called my editor and he graciously let me off the hook.
So why come out of the closet? Because I’m proud of the work I did for the magazine. And I’m hoping, perhaps naively, that no one will re-read the old articles and get pissed off about things I wrote years ago. (But if they do, fuck ’em!)
I wish my successor well, and perhaps I’ll weigh in with something once in a while. After all, Groucho left behind many other possible names.