In our Yearbook series, Double Exposure contributors share lists and essays that attempt to define their year in film. In this entry, Julia Selinger describes two movie watching experiences that defined her year.

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Watching a new film for the first time yields a very specific type of happiness. But where and when you choose to do this can completely transform the film-viewing experience. A reticent walk into a theater to see a film you know virtually nothing about, followed a couple hours later by sheer satisfaction and fulfillment, is nothing short of blissful. This often-joyous spontaneity of film-going is perhaps only paralleled by its opposite: carefully calculating a time and place to watch a movie by yourself. I undertook these two opposing modes of film-going this past semester. Although they were in some ways very different, the two experiences that clearly defined the year in film for me shared some significant similarities: both were intensely personal, both films were strikingly ambitious, and both were directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

I had been planning to see Magnolia for months. The DVD had been sitting alone in my house while I devised a time and place for us to finally meet. I had very specific criteria in mind: I needed to be somewhere isolated – somewhere where I could watch the three-hour behemoth in peace and really sink my teeth into it; Magnolia and I needed to be away from homework, away from other responsibilities, away from the noise on Broadway that creeps regularly into my dorm room. An early fall exodus to my house outside the city proved the perfect opportunity. I set up camp in my room, a decision that in retrospect seems oddly appropriate.Magnolia, like most of PTA’s projects, is saturated with content. The film is as unapologetically ambitious as it is exuberant. Characters and themes bubble up throughout, weaving seamlessly into one another, linked by coincidence. My childhood bedroom was similarly brimming with content; nineteen years of accumulated artifacts and tchotchkes lined the walls of the room where I stared at the glowing screen. When Aimee Mann’s voice reverberated in the homes of Jason Robards and John C. Reilly, it also filled my four walls. Magnolia managed to sustain my misty-eyedness for at least an hour and a half. When it was over, I relished having taken in a film of operatic proportions. I went to bed that night sans roommate, sans street noise, with only the satisfaction of my solitude and my recollections of the last three hours.

Paul Thomas Anderson entered my world again a few months later. I went downtown one afternoon on a whim. It was finals week, and I had finished my papers the night before. My friends weren’t so lucky; as they sat in exams, I headed to The Village East. My trip downtown to see The Master was quietly euphoric. For the first time in a long time, my thoughts weren’t plagued with “you have so much to do,” or “you should be reading.” Instead, I was left to people-watch in peace and join in the subway’s community rich with furtive glances. Walking alone in the East Village was invigorating for several reasons. For one, it was a cold December afternoon. There was also the freedom of liberation from finals. And lastly, there is something to be said for being a not-quite-adult by yourself in New York City, and being able to unabashedly absorb all of the sights and sounds. I was particularly excited to be going to The Village East for the first time, and proud that the experience would be accompanied by a Paul Thomas Anderson film. But upon entering the lower level of the theater, the carpeting and stairways were all too familiar. I realized that I had been here once before—not to see a film by an acclaimed director, but rather as a freshman attending a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It seemed my allegedly brand new afternoon in the city wasn’t so brand new.  But this was merely a hiccup in what proved to be an afternoon otherwise characterized by firsts. I was the first person to enter the theater, and took in the joy of engaging in a staring contest with the rows of vacant seats. I selected a seat in the middle of the room, and watched as other spectators trickled in. The Master was being shown in 70mm, making the opening shots all the more breathtaking. The churning cerulean waters and Joaquin Phoenix’s cracked face were vibrant and alluring. Like Magnolia, The Master was very much an exercise in character study, with the visual chops to back it up. As large as the theater was, it fostered the intimacy of film-going. When Freddie lurched, I lurched. When Lancaster Dodd spoke, I felt his captivating influence. As the credits rolled up the screen, the same dull murmuring echoed in the theater as always. But this time I lacked a compatriot with whom to contribute to the chatter. Instead, only the events of the last three hours occupied my headspace. During my solitary sojourn back uptown, the host of images and ideas continued to rattle around in my brain, until I was filled with the kind of satisfaction that only a great movie going experience can bring.

My year in film was partially characterized by being a young adult in New York—exploring downtown, venturing into theaters by myself, and feeling out the ever- expanding boundaries of my independence. But 2012 was also about coming home, and watching a movie alone in my childhood bedroom. And whether it occurred in the East Village or the quiet suburbs, in a theater that seats hundreds or a bedroom built for one, 2012 was about exploring different ways to experience film. 2013 is sure to be filled with new experiences, too—after all, Paul Thomas Anderson is working on his next movie.

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