Behind the Screen
Friday, May 23, 2008; 12:30 PM
As The Washington Post reconfigures its mission, it has offered career buyouts to many of its editors and writers. And Thomson is one of the many staffers to accept the offer to explore new horizons as of June 1.
While he will continue to write some reviews for the Style section in the immediate future, he is essentially going indie at
The transcript follows.
Desson Thomson: Greetings everyone. And I'd like to acknowledge all of the folks in the Washington region who have been such an enormous part of my reviewing life in the past few decades, starting with the great readers and posters of The Post, and all the super colleagues, friends, associate, folks in the industry and so forth with whom I have come into contact. Let's talk.
So Sad: Fab Desson, we'll miss your wordy ways. Sniffle.
Desson Thomson: You are sweet, and I thank you. I hope wordy wasn't windy and closer to worthy!
Arlington, Va.: Well, I see that the news is now out that you are leaving The Post. (Sniffle!) With Stephen Hunter leaving as well, who is left to do the heavy lifting on reviewing films? Ann Hornaday still will be there, I assume, but one critic isn't enough for a paper of The Post's stature. Will they be hiring some young kids at half your salary, a quarter of your film-viewing experience, and a small fraction of your insight?
I realize the economics of it all, of course, but it's sad to see so many of the people whose bylines I seek out (not just film critics, but reporters too) walking out the door. I wish you lots of luck and fun in your future endeavors (and hope that we will see you from time to time at the Key Sunday Cinema Club!).
Desson Thomson: Thanks hugely. I really appreciate that. Indeed, Stephen is also leaving. But as I understand it, he will continue to review at least until August. I also want to say that I will continue to review movies at The Post after June 1. But I guess after that date the byline will say "special to The Washington Post" as opposed to "Washington Post Staff Writer."
Your questions are good ones. I am not sure the paper even knows exactly how and with whom it will replace Stephen and myself. I think they are waiting for the dust to clear to figure that out. But indeed, it would seem that younger journalists -- who come cheaper and less informed but not necessarily bad journalists or critics -- would be the first option. But that's speculation. And none of my business any more. Anyway, I thank you for your support. And yes, I will be making appearances at the Key Sunday Cinema Club. I will also be presenting three evenings at the Avalon dedicated to the British dames of the screen, including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Julie Walters. I think they will be hugely successful events and full of laughs and fun. Check the Avalon's Web site for an announcement in the next few weeks. I also hope to be doing a few lecture shows through the Smithsonian Resident Associates.
North Carolina: Hi Desson. I've enjoyed your column over the years -- good luck to you in all your future endeavors. By the way, last month I finished reading the new biography called "Joe Strummer: Redemption Song," and you got a shout-out! If I'm not mistaken, it said that you were in Joe's Strummer's grade school/high school? I'm a big fan of Joe Strummer and was wondering if you could share some of your early memories of Joe and his brother? Thanks Desson -- I'll be sure to tune into your new site.
Desson Thomson: Thanks much. I appreciate that you have been reading me over the years. And indeed, I went to high school in England with Joe Strummer who was known then as John Mellor. The school was the City of London Freemen's School in Ashtead Park, Surrey. I wrote an appreciation of Strummer when he died in the Post, and an excerpt of that piece appears in the book you mention.
I have many, many memories of Joe, which would probably take up most of this web chat to recount. But suffice it to say he was a very witty, charismatic person and -- as a 10- and 11 year old kid at the time, I really looked up to him. He was very influential in my emotional development. And I adore his music, of course.
Che: Desson, this isn't really a movie question but given that you're no longer just a movie reviewer you might be the perfect person to ask. I read Booth's review of Soderbergh's new movie, and it contained several references to how much Che is still revered and admired. I grew up in the sixties and am very aware of Che and the reverence the left held him in; I was possibly even part of that. But today that seems a different issue. My sense of things is that for most people Che is nothing -- and if he is something, he's that guy on a T-shirt.
Desson Thomson: I tend to agree -- at least at first blush. He's more of a hand-me-down icon, I think, than a lasting paragon of idealism. It's like having a photo of Lenin, or Groucho Marx on your T-shirt. I am interested in seeing that movie though. Bill Booth's piece was interesting.
Glory, Glory, Man United!: Aw, do we really have to talk about films?
Desson Thomson: No we don't! What a deeeelightful victory that was for the Red Army. The most excruciating campaign I can remember, as a Red fan. I was so happy to see Man Utd win, especially on the 50th anniversary of the Munich tragedy. And to see Ryan Giggs reach and pass Bobby Charlton's record was amazing.
Washington: Any thoughts on "Redbelt"? Saw it a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it. I am a David Mamet fan, which is what drew me to it. While there I saw a poster for a film called "The Babysitters," ostensibly about high school girls becoming call girls for the fathers whose kids they babysit for. I'm no prude, but the premise made me feel kind of gross. Thoughts? Thanks!
Desson Thomson: I didn't see "Babysitters" yet, though I plan to catch up. As for "Redbelt," I liked it much. Mamet is such a genius about telling the stories of men and the tyranny and the mesmeric rituals of their man-made systems. He is a great, great writer.
Ocala, Fla.: Re: Taking the buyout, as Arthur Dent said when he was told by Ford that the Earth had been demolished, "I'm a bit upset about that." Good luck, and see you at your Web site.
Desson Thomson: Ha ha ha, thanks for bringing up Arthur Dent of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." What a fabulous book, radio series, TV series and even movie version it all was. I had the pleasure of interviewing Douglas Adams back in the 1980s, too. And thanks for the good wishes.
Alexandria, Va.: Can any movie match the drama of Wednesday? Or the schadenfreude of watching England's Brave John Terry get into a bust-up that led to the red card and then miss the vital penalty kick. Rio for England captain! P.S. I guess I'll have to wait to start going to movies until August.
Desson Thomson: I don't want to project any anti-Chelsea sentiments. They played a good game. And their fans were devastated. We were one penalty kick away from being in the same boat. So let's show respect for all fans! But in the heat of the moment, of course, we were all in the spirit of fierce competition. And I am thrilled United won.
Arlington, Va.: Desson, I'm afraid. I'm very afraid! Tomorrow night, I'm going to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" at Uptown (my first visit to Uptown since "Star Wars: Episode II" opened there in 2002) and I'm fearing a "Godfather III" scenario -- i.e., a long-awaited sequel that sucks. That alone is reason enough for me to be afraid, because I love Indiana Jones ... but what scares me even more is that Stephen Hunter, the ultimate movie naysayer, actually had good things to say about it! What is the world coming to?
washingtonpost.com: A Jones For Action: This Indiana's 'Crystal Skull' Is Empty -- But Awesome (Post, May 22)
Desson Thomson: In my transitional phase, I haven't seen it. But the word is not good at all. About the movie, I mean. I will not be racing to catch up with it, I must confess. Though I will.
Washington: Desson, I'm very sad to hear you're leaving -- your film chats are my favorites! So for a last question, I suppose I'd better ask about the big blockbuster out right now -- what did you think of "Indiana Jones"? As a big fan, I enjoyed the action but found the plot so disappointing it soured the whole film.
Desson Thomson: Thanks. I really appreciate this. Believe me, it's not the money that made this job so satisfying. You don't go into journalism for money. That would be like going into accounting for the white knuckle exhilaration of figure toting. No, it was the connection with people such as yourself. What a privilege that has been! And your feedback on the movie confirms what I have been hearing from everywhere.
Severely Bummed: You're one of my go-to film critics -- not only are you willing to take a film on its aspirations (e.g. "Godzilla" isn't going after the same cinematic goals as "The Godfather"), I find I always get a good sense of if I'll like the film in question, even if you don't like it. Compared to the opinionated myopia rampant from too many reviewers, that's rare. Hope I get to see your reviews elsewhere.
Desson Thomson: Dear SB: I will never tire of expressing my appreciation for comments like that. Thank you so much. I certainly aimed for the kind of reviews you mention. So it's wonderful to hear that I have connected with people. Thanks!
Alexandria, Va.: Rumor has it you're taking the buyout; Will you still be working for The Post at all?
Desson Thomson: It's not so much rumor as banner headlines. Yes, it's happening, as someone always seems to say in M. Night Shyamalan movies. I will be doing certain reviews for The Post for the time being. But it's up to The Post -- and frankly me, as well -- as to how long that lasts.
Washington: Hiya Desson, very sorry to hear that your time with The Washington Post will be less, but wish you all the best in your future endeavors! If you were only able to save five DVDs from your collection (say, a hurricane was coming), which five would you save?
Desson Thomson: If a hurricane were coming, I'd make sure my Direct TV antenna was protected, so I could come back and watch English soccer from the ruins of my devastated house. I would save all the comedy since I would need a great sense of humor to get me through the depression of homelessness. Any films by the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Monty Python, Billy Wilder and Mike Myers.
On vacation in the U.K.: So, Chelsea or Man U? Great, great excitement over here. But also, I'd like to raise the extremely remote possibility that U.S. cinemas follow the lead of their U.K. brethren and indicate in their listings the starting time for the "programme," and then for the feature film. If you don't want to watch 20-plus minutes of ads, previews and the odd charitable appeal, you arrive for the start of the film itself. I frequently take my elderly mother to films, and she tires easily, so being able to eliminate 20 minutes of preliminary "stuff" would be great. It might even work for the bottom line -- i.e. more people might attend movies, though I imagine that is why cinema owners here would oppose it.
Desson Thomson: I think by now you know where my sentiments lie. I understand what you mean about the program - or programme, as it's spelled (spelt) in England. But I find most people here love to watch the coming attractions. I remember in the old days in England, there'd be advertisements (commercials) for the likes of Martini. I can hear the jingle now: "Try a taste of Martini, the most wonderful drink in the world, it's the bright one, it's the right one, that's Martini."
Washington: Thank you! You helped me out a few weeks ago, and I finally caught the "secret" toward the end of the film. It gave me a whole lot more to think about, and it made me enjoy the film that much more ... on to my question: Why do you feel "The Fountain" was panned so harshly by critics? Story aside (which I loved, by the way) I thought that the lack of special effects in the movie would have been the talk of it ... it was amazing how they came up with them (chemical reactions), and even more amazing that they used very little CGI. Thoughts?
Desson Thomson: It took me a moment to realize which movie you mean. I think you are referring to Cache ("Hidden")? Glad you went back to see it. I think "The Fountain" is one of those movies that will be appreciated in later years. It was just too challenging for traditional audiences, I feel.
Man United again: Yes, it was excruciating but the win over Bayern Munich was pretty tense in 1999, too.
Desson Thomson: No kidding. On both occasions, I was so exhilarated after such tension, I climbed on to the bar and danced. Well, at the Lucky Bar, I stood up on a table and did so.
Alexandria, Va.: Tried to read the screenplay for Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- hated it, hated it, hated it. So boring.
Desson Thomson: Mamet's screenplays and play scripts are very hard to get by just reading them. He writes them to be performed. And when you see the difference, you realize what a genius he is.
Montana: Is it possible for "Che" to be any kind of commercial success when it is done in Spanish, is 258 minutes long, and comes in two parts? Or maybe the film makers had some other purpose in mind. Also, I see that even the NY Times has panned the movie for sugarcoating Che, saying that "his brutal role in turning a revolutionary movement into a dictatorship goes virtually unmentioned," and that the movie is at "worst sentimental and dishonest." Any thoughts?
Desson Thomson: Yes, the Times has raised an interesting point. The worst thing in the world would be to lionize Che for superficial reasons. Leftie chic is not the right stance to have as a baseline for an accurate portrait of such a significant, controversial figure. The commercial prospects wouldn't seem to be huge for a project like this, but there will be strong cult interest, I would think.
Washington: I read you are taking The Post buyout. No, no, no, no, no! I have enjoyed reading your reviews and the live chats, so I'm sorry to see you go. Best wishes on your next journey!
Desson Thomson: True it is. And thank you so so so much! I'll take all the luck and best wishes people will throw my way.
Alexandria, Va.: I will miss your reviews and chats. Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.
Desson Thomson: Hahaha. Another "Hitchhiker's Guide" reference! Thanks so very much. Thanks for taking my fish too.
Arlington, Va.: Re: Buy-out, I am sad to see you leave, but I have to say I am more startled to learn that you are over 50 (!). Best of luck and know you will be missed, but not forgotten.
Desson Thomson: I am only 50 in dog years. But I do appreciate that. Thank you thank you!
Concord NH: Very sad to see you go - I especially the opportunity to do these live chats with all of The Washington Post writers, reporters and critics.
A little follow-up on the discussion a few weeks back re: appropriateness of certain movies for small children. My sons' uncle took them to see "Iron Man" when it came out. They are 8 and 6. I had thought it was a typical superhero movie, but then at work that day, read about torture, executions, etc. I was surprised how many people online said it was fine for small children. Anyway, I went to the movie theatre and pulled my kids from the movie.
My 8-year-old was bummed cause he liked it. My 6-year-old was sitting there, petrified. His uncle had told him to "close his eyes" because he was the only one who wanted to leave. Not surprisingly, my little one was thrilled to be rescued.
The interesting thing is that I apologized to the theatre manager on our way out for disturbing the movie. She thanked me and said she wished more parents paid closer attention to movie content. I was expecting them to be peeved that I interrupted the movie.
Desson Thomson: I thank you as a reader but I salute and admire you more as a parent.
Indiana Jones some feedback (non spoiler): As one friend told me today about the movie to make me feel better -- if you remember that "Raiders" was about a box which when opened had god's vengeance, you'll feel much better about some of the more "ridiculous" parts of the movie.
I've heard from four others that its fun nostalgia, just don't take it too seriously and enjoy it for what its worth.
So I'm going in with no expectations tonight
Desson Thomson: You will enter the film with exactly the right attitude. On a side note, as I understand it from my workpod mate and colleague Neely Tucker who is right now talking my ear off about his feelings about the movie, you will see nothing but references to Spielberg's own movies. The only thing missing, he says, is a dorsal fin from Jaws.
Washington: Desson -- so sorry that you are leaving The Washington Post. Always enjoyed your perspective on the movies. Good luck on future endeavors!
Desson Thomson: Thanks my friend.
You and Stephen Hunter?: What? Is there a list somewhere we can see everyone who is leaving so I can lament all at once?
Sad to see you go Desson but I will look forward to your "special to The Washington Post" columns.
Desson Thomson: Thanks so much! I will miss this too. There is a story in The Post's Business section today about some of the notables leaving. And you can read The Post's daily buyout chronicles right here.
Bethesda, Md.: A fond farewell from the little old ladies of Bethesda! We've been saving up movies to report on, but you have forced our hand. Unfortunately not a lot of the current ones have been to our taste, even to the extent of our going to see them. However, there are exceptions, some of them no longer playing:
"Young at Heart" -- of course we loved this, although most of us are into the "Sound of Music" rather than the punk rock those old folks are singing. "The Visitor" -- heart-breaking and practically perfect. Are you listening, U.S. government?; "Return of the Red Balloon" -- we loved the views of Paris even though we were not as sympathetic to the heroine as we apparently were meant to be;
"Roman de Gare" -- more great scenery. Most of us liked this, though we didn't like any of the characters! "Flawless" -- A fun romp, though we don't understand how the Michael Caine figure did what he was supposed to have done (hope that's not giving too much away). And we all look much better than the aged Demi Moore character, even though she in fact looks much better today than any of us did at that age.; "Son of Rambow" -- we all like kids, but so far this movie just hasn't grabbed us. And, if it does, we will have nowhere to report this! Farewell and Godspeed. Keep well.
Desson Thomson: Thanks for your ever fabulous feedback. I am sorry you didn't like "Son of Rambow" as much as I did. But that's life. I will miss you spring chickens.
Washington: I had no idea you were leaving until I opened up this chat. Just wanted to say that you're my favorite film critic and will definitely be hitting your site if that's where I need to go to get your reviews. Actually looking forward to that, since you'll have more control over what movies you review. I don't go to you for reviews of "Made of Honor."
Thanks for the good times. I'll definitely miss these online chats.
Desson Thomson: This means a great deal to me to hear. Thank you so very much.
Baltimore: "Lawrence of Arabia" question (and a spoiler alert):
At the beginning of the movie when Lawrence dies in the motorcycle crash, is it really an accident or is a suicide because he can't deal with what happened to him in Arabia or with an ordinary life thereafter?
Thanks for the years of great chats!
Desson Thomson: I guess it's not much of a spoiler since the movie is almost 50 years old and it is the opening scene. I have always thought of as an accident but probably caused somehow by the ravages of his experience. There is light flickering intensely in his face -- I think it seems to be blinding him -- and he seems very panicked just before the worst happens. So you figure he's got some underlying emotional issues...
Thanks for the kind words.
Olney, Md.: Desson: You will be missed a great deal. There are not enough right good blokes like you. Best wishes all around. "Sex and the City" -- as I am almost certainly going to end up seeing this. I have to ask what are you hearing? The trailer I saw didn't look so hot...
Desson Thomson: Thanks Olney. Appreciate that high five, to use an American expression. Good wishes received and appreciated!
I have not heard good things either about "Sex and the City." I am thinking of catching up with it at a screening next week, so I'll soon find out.
Annapolis, Md.: Desson, I'm sure you have done a good thing for yourself in taking the buyout, but we will miss you; please consider doing the occasional chat at dessonthomson.com. For your last chat on washingtonpost.com I have a philosophical question: I have a friend in Minnesota who fulminates against the moviegoing public for willingly accepting mindless junk. He hates that "National Treasure" became a hit, for instance, because its story and plot depend on blatant contradictions of actual American history; "Serendipity" is an example of a junk romantic comedy because the romance depends on impossible coincidences and forces us to accept that a person who casually would spurn a fiancee is capable of deep and abiding love with another.
The counterargument is "it's only a movie, so who cares?" He argues that when we say "it's only a movie" we are giving filmmakers license to give us junk, and that's why truly intelligent and heartfelt movies are so rare: because most filmmakers don't take the time or effort to filter out the junk in the rush to get product on the screen, and we let them. Do you agree with this? I like parts of the argument but not all of it, and I wonder what you might think. Thanks for answering this, and for a number of enjoyable chats.
Desson Thomson: Great questions and very nice sentiments. Thanks for all of those. I think people (filmmakers) usually aim for "great" entertainment because it usually comforts people and makes them feel good about themselves, and avoid art films which challenge people to break beyond their complacency. But that said, there is more going on inside mindless entertainment than people even understand. "It's only a movie" is the superficial cover for people (filmmakers and audiences) to secretly indulge in a very profound conversation with their psyches, wishes, bigotries and deepest other impulses. And it is this kind of relationship in the dark that I hope to write about in a book sometime soon. So I am with you, in the sense that nothing is truly casual or escapist when it comes to movie going!
Baltimore: We'll miss you in The Post, but they had marginalized you recently anyway, so glad to see you moving on to bigger and better thing. What sort of classes are you going to teach?
Desson Thomson: Thanks for your keen observation and appreciation. I am going to teach A Survey of American Cinema at American University and an Introduction to Cinema at George Mason.
Boulder, Colo.: My Fridays won't be the same without you, Mr. T. I will miss your charm and wit. All the best to you.
Washington: I'm really sad to hear that you are leaving The Post. I've enjoyed your chats tremendously as I've always found you to be a wonderful combination of intellectual cinephile and down-to-earth movie fan. You will be missed.
Desson Thomson: I know I sound like a broken record. But I always am "chuffed" to hear that kind of flattery. Thanks!
Arlington, Va.: DT: "I have many, many memories of Joe, which probably would take up most of this Web chat to recount. But suffice it to say he was a very witty, charismatic person and -- as a 10- and 11-year-old kid at the time, I really looked up to him. He was very influential in my emotional development. And I adore his music, of course."
Good to know this -- there don't seem be many musicians (or others) out there like him, and that's a shame. Sigh.
Desson Thomson: He was an artist of the first order. A pure troubadour of the soul.
Ashburn, Va.: So very sorry to hear you will only be with us on a limited basis. Will you still do these great chats? Cutting talent is so wrong-headed. It's like a movie studio saying "we love to do Marx Brother movies, but to save money we will no longer use Groucho." Bah! Good luck my friend.
Desson Thomson: Ha ha, I love that analogy. And what an honor to be likened to Groucho, one of my all time favorite comic stars. Thanks for that!
At the moment, I would say, this is my last chat. But never say never, right? And I will be around in dribs and drabs for the time being -- doing reviews.
Beltsville, Md.: Sorry to hear that both you and Steven will be leaving The Post. I know that Steve will be here till August, and that you will be doing reviews as a freelancer on occasion, but it will not be the same having only Ann to do the chats with. These chats that The Post does are an incredible resource and it will be sad to have fewer of them.
Six- and 8-year-olds at "Iron Man"? Do parents not see the big PG-13 rating on the movie? That means kids under 13 really shouldn't be there and under 10 almost certainly. It's not Hollywood's job to a parent's job for them.
FYI, I'm listening to some Clash in your honor right now.
Desson Thomson: Thanks Beltsville! I hope you enjoy the music! You are so right that The Post is cutting off a lot of the reasons that people even read or come to the Web site in the first place -- for personalities with whom to interact, for experienced commentary, and for a little charisma with their Corn Flakes. Hopefully they will find a way to retain that.
Baltimore: Desson, noooo! Didn't you take our feelings into account when considering the buyout?
We'll miss you, and best of luck.
Desson Thomson: Hey Baltimore, I still take your feelings into my account! You were the main reason -- and the only one -- that made me enjoy writing for the paper in the first place. But some offers can't be refused. I hope to get back into everyone's life again, somehow, whether in the movies I hope to see made, my reviews for other places, my speaking engagements with the public, my classes with students and so forth. And I will have a presence, albeit very limited, in the paper for the indefinite future.
Washington: What courses are you teaching at American University?
Desson Thomson: Survey of American Cinema in the fall. And I hope to teach more in the coming semesters, depending on how well I do.
Salisbury, Md.: Desson, congrats on the new career (damnit)! I'll miss reading you in The Post but will look for your new venture. So, about Indy: I haven't seen it and probably won't, but my daughter was at that first midnight showing (even in Smallsbury!) and was startled by the appearance of aliens. Not that the other movies in the series have been historically pure, but aliens? Your thoughts?
Desson Thomson: Thanks, Salisbury, much appreciated. As for your question (why aliens?) re: Indiana, I have three answers: Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg.
McLean, Va.: I will miss your reviews, but will especially miss your chats. Any chance that you will be continuing them in some way? After all, where else can we get such a wonderful mix of cinema, Premier League football, and the Clash?
Desson Thomson: McLean, you are so nice. I am still trying to figure out a way for that to happen! Feel free to send suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Teaching at AU: Desson -- AU is great (my graduate school) hopefully some of the history kids will take a class with you since cinema history is great public history ... good luck!
Desson Thomson: Many thanks! My alma mater too.
"Lawrence of Arabia": I'd have to check my history to be sure, but I'm fairly certain that he skidded and lost control on a blind corner ... whether or not the film intended there to be some inner turmoil is up for debate, of course.
Desson Thomson: He sees an obstacle (People? A bike? Animals? I am suddenly not remembering) and then he skids, as I recall.
Sobbing: You ... you don't love us anymore?
Desson Thomson: You're making this very hard. Sob.
Ooh, the chat's not over yet: Will you have a newsletter/mailing list from dessonthomson.com? And I'm going to second the suggestion that you have chats over there!
Desson Thomson: As soon as I get the Web site designed, I will do something like that, I hope. I can't imagine not having a direct relationship with people that way. So stay tuned! Thanks for the support, really.
Washington I will miss your love for Paul Haggis. Best of luck with all future endeavors. Your chats were weekly highlights.
Desson Thomson: Cleveland, thanks for the kudos!
Don't stop reviewin': Also bummed that you're leaving because you're one of my faves as well. You do have a great way of not getting in the way of an actual movie critique, and still giving a sense of your own opinion. Most others just blather on. I really hope to read/hear your takes again soon! And I can't remember your take, but saw "I'm Not There" the other night and really thought it was too stylized, and super self-indulgent.
Desson Thomson: Thanks much and thanks again. I really did try to achieve what you talked about, so it's mighty nice to hear it worked! Yes, the movie was very challenging, as you point out -- as much of a Ph.D as a movie. But that was Todd Haynes's stylistic approach, and I do appreciate how deeply he makes a movie.
The Band: Hi Desson. Can you give me some info. on the band you are in (type of music, where you play, etc.)?
Thanks. And all the best in the future.
Desson Thomson: I'd be happy to! The band is called Cairo Fred (an indirect nod to "Lawrence of Arabia" -- that was Omar Sharif's nickname). We play eclectic pop songs, which we write ourselves. My band members are Brad Heck (co-writer with me), John Dawson (bass, keyboards), Buddy Griffin (pedal steel), Andris Plavnieks (lead guitar) and Brian Riordan (drums). We also do covers of Joe Jackson, Sting, the Kinks and Tom Petty. And we recently played a great show at the Outta the Way Cafe in Rockville. They will be inviting us back again soon. And we are participating in a tribute to Joni Mitchell in mid-August at the Strathmore Concert Hall in Bethesda. Come say hi, if you come to any of these shows. You can find out more at the band's Web site.
Cubeville: Ever since the late, great Siskel ended his reviewing career, you have been my movie reviewer of choice. Indeed, friends and family are probably tired of me saying "that Desson guy in The Post liked it, so it must be good!" How else would I have seen "Hitchhikers Guide" or "Eastern Promises"? Seriously, you'll be missed around here. Take care, and perhaps I'll see you at the Avalon.
Desson Thomson: Cubeville, what a nice tribute. Thanks for such a nice message. If you do come to the Avalon, come say hello.
That Former Desson Guy at The Post.
Rockville, Md.: Desson, I'm still not clear on the whole "buyout" thing. If you leave and get two years of salary, what happens after two years? What if you don't find a new job? And do people at The Post get a pension? Some of the people leaving have been there for 25, 28, 29, 30 years. Do they forfeit a pension, or does The Post not offer pensions? Or do they get the two years' of salary, and then an annual pension?
By the way, many of us have known people who have taken "buyouts" and then found themselves in some dire situations two years down the road, without a new job. Then what? It's not a pretty sight. You still have to pay for rent or mortgage, utility bills, education bills, food, gas, clothes, medicine, supplies, etc., during those two years of free salary. Many people believe this whole system needs to be explained a bit more clearly.
Additionally, why offer people "buyouts" and then turn around and fill their positions? Why on earth force a stalwart like Barry Barriere -- one of the main foundations of the Weekend section -- out of his job and then advertise for a successor? What earthly sense does that make? The Post needs to explain just what is going on. If you're pushing people out with large salaries, then just say it -- don't give a dog and pony show. People see right through that.
Desson Thomson: I suddenly feel very depressed! And some people walk in front of buses, too. But seriously, hey, life is full of challenges. Yes, we get a pension, though it's not nearly enough to support anyone. So we (most of us) will need to find a new position. And no, there is no guarantee of a future, and some people will have a tough time. I know I will weather some turbulence before it gets better.
I can't really speak to the deeper, darker questions you pose. I just wish everyone well who has moved on. And I wish well to those who are staying on and trying to keep this paper as great as it deserves to be.
Boston: My goodness Desson! While I'll miss your reviews and chats, I can only assume you're moving upward as well as onward. Good for you for taking advantage of what seem like a number of opportunities to get your thoughts and writings out into the world. I'll keep an eye out for your Style features. And I do have a question, as well: Are you hearing any buzz on "Pineapple Express"? I saw the trailer before "Harold and Kumar" this weekend, and was surprised by how inventive and funny it looks.
Desson Thomson: Thanks for your thoughts, really. I hope I am moving onward and upward too! I just know that I am looking forward to Pineapple Express. I have high hopes!
Before you go: Best of luck with your many-faceted career! So, what's your list? Favorites (movies, directors, actors)? Guilty pleasures? Inspirations? What recent movie do you wish you'd written?
Desson Thomson: Thanks so much and these are good questions. Maybe I will address such things on my future Web site.
Baltimore: Desson, what's the buzz on "The Fall"? The trailer is visually impressive and I like Lee Pace from his TV show "Pushing Daisies" -- is it worth a look on the big screen?
washingtonpost.com: A Filmmaker's Epic Journey to Strangely Familiar Territory (Post, May 18)
Desson Thomson: I only know what I have read. And it sounds fascinating, doesn't it?
Your neighbor: Sorry to hear you are leaving The Post and will miss your great reviews there but look forward to continue to read you online and elsewhere. Congrats on Man U -- great win. If this weekend you could only go to one movie, what is the must see?
Desson Thomson: My neighbor! All right! I hope I see you at tonight's happy hour on Peter and Jessica's porch! And thanks for the congrats. Man U fans are ecstatic. I think I would catch up on the Tina Fey movie, "Baby Mama." Or "Iron Man."
Howe will we live without your reviews/chats in the Post?: Desson -- I've been reading your reviews in The Post since you went by Desson Howe and I must admit that your unique view of the world of movies will leave a huge void to fill at The Post. Back in the day The Post used to run two reviews of each film and I always enjoyed reading your take on the movie in question. Just like I missed Rita Kempley's reviews and chats when she left, and I missed Phyllis Richman's reviews/chats when she retired (yes, she wrote about food, not film, but just as wonderfully as Rita and you have done when it comes to cinema), I will miss your reviews and chats in the paper and online at the Post. It was mentioned that you'll continue as an adjunct professor at AU and George Mason. How often will you teach and what kinds of courses will you be teaching? Grad? Undergrad? Thanks for the years of reading enjoyment. And glad to hear that you'll continue with your reviews on your site going forward. You leave big shoes to fill there at the Post. I realize it's a business decision to offer career buyouts but one has to wonder if the powers that be thought of the impact such a decision would have on their circulation/Web traffic when loyal readers no longer have the ability to look forward to their Desson fix.
Desson Thomson: Wow, I think I will pass this along to management at The Post! Thanks for such a thoughtful message and such compliments. The truth is, good people have been lost in the momentum and it's vital for a paper of record to hold on to its best assets. But at the same time, change is something the paper has to adapt to. And far more accomplished journalists and writers than I are also taking the buyout. I hope to have a continued presence at the paper, maybe even at washingtonpost.com, but that depends on the paper. Otherwise, I am going to be doing all the projects I have mentioned up top. And I look forward to greater success beyond. And to answer the college question, I have mentioned the courses I will be teaching earlier in this chat. Thanks again.
Washington: Desson, I was so saddened to read you are taking the buyout. You're my go-to critic when it comes to movies -- I respect your opinion and really enjoy these chats. You spoke to one of my George Washington journalism classes a few years ago (art criticism). You were the first writer I was able to meet whose work I admired -- I thought it was so cool to hear you talk and be able to ask you a few questions. Will you be staying with The Post in any capacity? If not, what are your plans for the future, and where can I read your spot-on reviews?
Desson Thomson: Thank you thank you. I have enjoyed those sessions I used to do at the George Washington University with Larry Laurent, a prince of a fellow, whose critic courses I always used to visit to speak with students. I am glad I reached you in that way. And I thank you again for remembering. Yes, I will be reviewing for The Post in a limited capacity. Look for me at my Web site dessonthomson.com. Best of luck to you in your endeavors too!
Del Ray, Va.: Lawrence slows the bike to go through some construction and then speeds up again, but is forced to swerve to avoid some boys on bikes and bam! The Vincent motorcycle he rode is known for having lots and lots of go and not so much stop. It's a British classic, and absolute accuracy would have shown a puddle of oil on the spot where it was parked, but this is a work of fiction.
Desson Thomson: Thanks, very helpful!
Death of T.E. Lawrence: Oops! Boys on bikes, not sheep.
Desson Thomson: All right, that's a yellow card, mate.
Falls Church, Va.: My wife and I have a night out without the kids this week. We haven't been out for a movie by ourselves in several months -- what would you suggest is the best film to see? While we do not need a laugh-a-minute movie, we would prefer not to leave the theater thinking, "that was a great movie, but boy was that depressing." Thanks for any help you can provide.
Desson Thomson: I would suggest "Baby Mama"!
Desson Thomson: Looks like we are done with this session. And what a great pleasure it has been to write for all of you over the years. My best to all of you. You were -- still are -- the best. I'll see you all sometime somewhere. Ciao.
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