Ryland Walker Knight
1. My dad. With a Masters degree and peculiar cinematic tastes running from lowbrow genre work up through the revered classics, he showed me movies as often as possible and bought VHS tapes like there was no tomorrow. Plus, when he sold his first novel, he took me along to New York and I’ve been in awe of that city (I know, I know) ever since, despite a tainted stint there last year.
2. Mick LaSalle. I grew up in the Bay Area and Mick helped prime my weekends with his often hilarious reviews. But for all the snarking, he’s an accomplished essayist and his style taught me more than I ever realized. His podcast his a hoot..
3. Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida & The Empire of Signs. Liberal arts studies in college are useful.
4. The November 2005 issue of Harpers. The Frederick Busch essay-story taught me more about how to write appealing confessional writing. The Lawrence Weschler piece, “Valkyries Over Iraq” informed me a little more about Walter Murch and helped me explain my attraction to the film version of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead. And finally, Dwight Garner’s critique of James Agee’s body of work (then newly published by the Library of America) was my first signpost towards a new brand of criticism. I saw in Agee a kindred spirit, as many have, I’m sure, but also I was awed by his nimble career, moving from poet to critic to novelist to screenwriter. And you can’t deny the allure of a successful drunk: it’s mystifying he ever wrote at all, much less the volumes he produced, given his liquid diet.
5. The New World and online criticism. The film opened my eyes to a number of things but, as far as criticism goes, it illuminated its champions, mostly of the online variety, and chief among them our very own Matt Zoller Seitz. Also, Malick’s masterpiece saw me find a new inspiration from another current critic I have nothing but respect for and, somehow, share a masthead with: Keith Uhlich. His gifts for prose construction are enviable for any writer in any medium. And, of course, he’s as generous as he is talented, evidenced by the committed (and brilliant) piece he wrote delineating the differences between The New World’s two incarnations thus far. (Did you spot that Miami Vice rave last summer? Or the recent Casino Royale dash-off? Killing me bluntly.)
6. Manny Farber. I’d heard the name for a while – since the Agee epiphany – but I didn’t dive in until Keith recommended Negative Space in an email. Terse prose indeed. And a set of unflinching eyes, quick to deflate any reader’s pre-conceived notions. You simply cannot argue with a Farber essay. When he likens Godard to a zoo master, it’s the most apt analogy imaginable. And the interview that caps the revised edition is essential reading for any aspiring writer, critic, artist, whatever you want to be.
House Next Door contributor Ryland Walker Knight is the infrequent publisher of the blog Vinyl Is Heavy.