In Which We Say Hello to Science Fiction & Wish a Fond Farewell to a Beloved Editor
“Science fiction films are not about science," Susan Sontag once wrote. "They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.” Sontag wasn't wrong, but neither was she telling the full story. Science fiction films, a lot of them anyway, surely are built around future disasters—but the good ones also have plenty to teach us about the present, about what it means to be human, about the mystery of existence, about love. Science fiction speaks to us, especially in these strange times, because it so often reflects back to us our deepest anxieties, and allows us an imaginary overcoming of them. It creates and allays fears, intrigues by extrapolating, distracts by abstraction.
This month, we're taking a look at a broad range of very different science fiction films, from last month's Midnight Special to Richard Lester's little seen 1969 film, The Bed-Sitting Room, from the canonical (Blade Runner) to modern day contenders (Sunshine)—and everywhere in between. Yes, even Steve Martin's early 80s sci-fi comedies, and how they relate to modern internet dating.
But before we get into all of that, we first have to say goodbye to someone who has been with us since the beginning. This month's issue marks the last one for Elizabeth Cantwell, one of the original founding editors of Bright Wall/Dark Room, and our managing editor since 2013. We are all quite sad to see her go—she is one of the finest editors and friends I've known—and wish her nothing but the best as she makes her way back to real, non-magazine life. Elizabeth wanted to say goodbye to all of us, and all of you, so I'm turning it over to her now for some final thoughts and reflections.
Over six years ago, in 2009, I wrote a little essay about Withnail & I for a blog called Filmosophy. I honestly don’t remember how that essay came about; whether Chad reached out to me since I think we followed each other on Tumblr, whether I saw a call for submissions and volunteered to write something, whether… Actually, scratch that, I’m talking to Chad online and he just forwarded me our first-ever correspondence, so I’m looking at it right now. April 14, 2009! Chad reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in pitching something for his new film blog and, as they say, The Rest Is History.
I wrote that piece, and another one, and another one. Gradually, Chad and I developed a great writer-editor relationship, and I started writing more for the site, and thinking about film more, and at some point (not entirely sure when), my writing morphed into editing, and that morphed into sort of being a Consulting Brain on stuff like: Should we turn this Tumblr into a magazine? What does that magazine look like? What voices do we want to represent? What is our ultimate mission here?, and I acquired an official Managing Editor title, and Chad and I became friends as well as colleagues, and gradually, before I could really determine how it had happened, this publication had wormed its interesting and strange and thoughtful presence into my life for the better half of a decade.
In the time since I wrote that first piece, Filmosophy has turned into Bright Wall/Dark Room, and has evolved from a free Tumblr site to a subscription-based monthly magazine. We have columnists now! And poems! And beautiful art, and a real editorial process, and a lot of people who are working very hard towards a common goal. A lot can happen in six years. Turns out that, just as BW/DR has turned into something nearly unrecognizable from its larval inception, so too has the landscape of my life. I have gotten married, written a book of poems, had a kid, said goodbye to grad school, thrown myself into high school teaching, and grown a whole lot more gray hairs. I feel like telling Bright Wall It’s not you, it’s me, and gazing moodily out a coffee shop window at a cloudy LA sky, but really, it’s both of us. It’s time for me to move on to different things and for BW/DR to continue to grow and evolve and acquire new voices and points of view. And I’ve come to that conclusion with both sadness and a confidence that BW/DR will continue to surprise and delight me, long after I’ve stopped editing.
It’s hard to part with something you’ve been involved in for a long time—and, what’s more, to part with something you still truly believe in and love. And it takes a caring and empathetic leader to understand when it’s time for someone they work with to move on, and to accept that resignation with grace and gratitude—and for that, Chad Perman, I am very very thankful.
What’s more, I’m thankful for the writers I’ve had the privilege to edit at this magazine—the writers who have challenged me with opposing viewpoints on films, who have proposed stylistic or grammatical constructions that make me grit my teeth, who have reminded me I’m not always right, who have written something that’s made me think, or feel, or sit in silence for a minute. I’m thankful for the readers and subscribers who have made this magazine possible, and for my fellow editors who have argued with me and laughed with me and been there for me in both professional and personal ways.
And if any of them could edit this they would likely cut it down by half, so I’ll try to wrap things up here and just say one more thank you, this time to the magazine itself: Thank you, Bright Wall/Dark Room, for continually expanding my understanding of film and the way it affects us weird people here on earth trying to figure out what any of us is doing and why it matters.
I’d say See you at the movies but I think that line has already been claimed.