by Sarah Gorr, June 11, 2017

I don’t know if I can describe, exactly, how film became an integral part of the fabric of my life. But I do know that movies and memories go hand in hand for me, each one unfurling as a square on the patchwork quilt that makes up who I am.

I’d always loved movies, and I loved them the way most people love them—with that kind of absent-minded adoration we stumble upon when something strikes us. Our joy in them comes as a surprise and a delight to us, and further thought doesn’t feel necessary. We love them and that’s enough. But in high school I had an English teacher put on Strangers on a Train and everything changed. She pointed to the shadows falling over Bruno’s face as he proposed his murderous plot to cleancut and brightly lit Guy. She pointed to the lobsters on Bruno’s tie, foreshadowing the strangulation to come. In my memory, my eyes widen. I am rapt. It was like I’d been given the key to a secret code or trove of treasures. Suddenly, there was more to see in every movie I’d ever loved.


I more or less immediately signed up for my school’s one and only film class. It was taught by a man who’d eventually become one of my favorite teachers and among the best I’d ever have, then a mentor, and finally a friend (I’ve babysat his children; he was even at my wedding). I remember hearing him say on what must have been the first day of of the semester that the whole point of the class was to give us the language of film. We all knew when we liked a movie, but could we really explain why? Did we know what made a great movie great?

I loved books and I loved writing and above all I loved language, yet there was this hole in my vocabulary that I desperately needed filled. That class was what led me to Westerns (cowboy stories are now among my greatest loves), to Rushmore, and to my minor in college. The gifts of my film education have been immeasurable.

My first college film class, one on teen film oddly enough, gave me Laura Mulvey and this fantastic, passionate professor who allowed me to dip my toes into the scholarly waters of feminism, a feminism that has grown to define me at my core. So now in this strange and beautiful way, I don’t know if I’d be who I am without CluelessBend It LIke Beckham, and “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.

Three of my strongest and longest lasting friendships are tied to movies in one way or another, whether through shared obsessions, a three-hour class on the global Western, or my desperate need to show Valley of the Dolls to anyone that’s never seen it.

On a deeper level, one that’s always felt more symbolic to me, film even brought me to my marriage. I met my husband at a movie theater, but not on a date—as volunteers for a film festival. Then nine years and countless movies later, just last September in fact, I married my best friend and our favorite movie was woven throughout our wedding day in half a dozen nearly imperceptible ways. The menus I printed, the cake topper I made, the colors of the fabric that draped down from the altar, the font on the placecards—no one noticed it, but all of it was there in homage for us: an unhidden secret.

Looking back, it feels like there’s a movie tied to every moment I was becoming most myself. So when I was feeling frustrated with my writing, when I was feeling like the things I’d been passionate about where slipping away from me, it felt like yet another gift that Aaron asked me to help him launch this site. He asked and the only possible answer was yes. Of course, yes.

We didn’t have a name or a brand or a staff or even a clear concept of what we wanted to create. But it was going to be an opportunity to write about film, to talk about it in a space where we could share it and build our own community around it. But here we are, one year later, and The Cinessential is still going strong. More than that, though, it's become its own piece of the quilt for me, but this time it’s one that everyone reading this had a hand in creating.