About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has relaunched a bigger, better version of this blog at LookingCloser.org. The new Looking Closer doesn't have any of the trashy click-bait advertisements that you're probably seeing all over this Patheos page. So give yourself a break.

When It Comes to Love, We’re Beginners

MV5BMjAyNDcxNTk3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk4MDU2NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_By Jeffrey Overstreet

During a lecture last March [2011], I spoke fondly of a friend whom I had recently lost to cancer. Halfway through the anecdote, I suddenly recognized his wife, the mother of his two young children, in the audience, listening in rapt attention. She was far from home, a surprise visitor. I almost choked. And I suddenly began weighing my words with much greater care. Had I represented her husband well?

Loss makes artists out of all of us. We become storytellers, portrait painters, recreating the departed.

During grief’s early days, we break heavy silences to recall the scenes we want to remember. For strangers, we’ll sketch an outline, fill in some details. We simplify, generalize, organize.

We consider questions that will never be answered, dreams never realized. And we might carefully acknowledge their rougher edges, the ways they tested our patience—but we’ll wince if anyone blurts out words of criticism or judgment.

It’s a challenge, to keep someone’s memory alive with honesty and honor. It’s a responsibility, a delicate art. [Read more...]

The Boy Who Believed in Airplanes

This is Jeffrey Overstreet’s last post as a regular contributor to Good Letters. We thank him for the thoughtful words and reviews he has shared so faithfully and wish him well in his next pursuits.

Matthew was a high school senior, two years ahead of me. He was a gifted musician, a generous friend, and not too cool to hang out with a sophomore like me. I learned a lot from him. His interests in books, music, and movies influenced mine.

But one Saturday afternoon in 1987, as we emerged from a matinee of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Matthew startled me into silence by complaining about the movie. He was smarter than me, a better talker. I was too intimidated to respond. But I disagreed. Fiercely. What he found dispiriting (and “way too long”) I found enthralling and transcendent.

It may have been that afternoon, as I wished for the eloquence to argue, that I began my journey into film criticism. [Read more...]

The Hobbit on Steroids

In a public library, there waited The Hobbit. And in a cineplex, there screened The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

These two things are related. But only somewhat.

I vividly remember Mrs. Tuttle, a children’s librarian in Portland, Oregon, putting a book by J. R. R. Tolkien in my hands when I was only seven years old. The book began simply, introducing me to a hobbit and his habits. Bilbo Baggins was a likeable, fastidious fellow, fond of good food, smoking, and safety. I liked him. But he was clearly a little too comfortable and contented, lacking any interest in engaging the world beyond his neighborhood.

The excitement in Tolkien’s narrative began with the arrival of a wandering wizard on Bilbo’s doorstep. That led to a parade of unexpected visitors—dwarves gathering to plan their quest eastward into a dragon’s lair to regain their conquered kingdom. Bilbo became their reluctant accomplice, accepting the risky job of “burglar.” [Read more...]

Holy Motors’ Motor Skills

As Holy Motors begins, a sleepwalker leans against his bedroom wall, upon which a forest is painted.

Or might it be a real forest after all?

The sleeper—played by filmmaker Leos Carax—moves into it, like Lucy stepping into Narnia, where he finds a strange movie theater and a catatonic audience.

Here comes an ancient dog—both magnificent and menacing—stalking down the theater aisle. Perhaps he’s a portent of the death of cinema in the age of digital media. Perhaps he’s Carax himself, transformed, an old dog come to show us some new tricks.

And wow, does he have some new tricks. The wallpaper forest and the phantom dog are only the first of this movie’s many big-screen wonders. It’s a mesmerizing, multi-genre marathon, as if the director knows he’s dying, and so he’s showing us trailers for all of the films he’d make with world enough and time.

Still, this isn’t just a series of incongruous short films. Common threads bind these vivid sketches together with the sense of an urgent appeal. [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Rivers

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others…”

Whether you’re a moviegoer or a reader, I suspect you’ll recognize that passage. It opens A River Runs Through It, and Robert Redford reads it with appropriate reverence in the beloved big-screen adaptation he directed.

It sets the stage for a story about a family living between the rivers of religion and art. And although I’ve always been a city boy, this story set in the great outdoors, has felt like a gift meant for me. In fact, the film opened on October 9, 1992 — my twenty-second birthday.

Last week, I sat my forty-two-year-old self down to watch this twenty-year-old picture once again, and it moved through me more powerfully than ever. Basking in Phillipe Rousselot’s patient, observant, Oscar-winning cinematography, I experienced a mysterious solace. [Read more...]